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Vouching for a refugee: what are the responsibilities and risks of those who are ready to vouch for new immigrants

Against the backdrop of the ongoing war with Ukraine and the mobilization announced in Russia at the end of September, the flow of political refugees from Russia and Belarus to the United States has increased significantly. Many of them, unable to obtain an American visa, seek asylum on the southern border of the United States.

Photo: Shutterstock

As lawyers note, it is very difficult to predict how easily a particular refugee will be able to cross the border. Some petitioners are released almost immediately by US border guards, while others may spend several days in temporary detention facilities at the border. Some even fall into the process of "expedited deportation", in which they are sent to the so-called "immigration prisons". In order to get out of such a prison, a guarantor is most often needed. About who can vouch for a refugee, what requirements apply to such a guarantor, and what risks he takes, ForumDaily talked to immigration lawyer Ekaterina Muratova.

Letter of Support

Maxim Vernikov from Yekaterinburg had to abruptly leave Russia in 2021. In fact, the security forces put the Uralian before a choice: either become a perjurer, helping to fabricate criminal cases against civil activists, or end up in prison. Maxim preferred the third option - leaving the country. He made it to Mexico City and then left for Tijuana, where the main US checkpoint is located. At border crossing Maxim was detained by American border guards. The young man was released only a few months later, when the refugee's friends were able to guarantee that, if necessary, they could provide him with housing and financial resources.

As Ekaterina Muratova emphasizes, unlike family reunification sponsorship, in which US citizens or green card holders bring their spouses or close relatives to live permanently, in this case, the people who vouched for Maxim do not really have to be his relatives. A refugee can be sponsored by any citizen or permanent resident of the United States who can prove their immigration status and housing.

The degree of guarantee may also vary. Sometimes it is enough for a sponsor to simply give his phone number for the border guard to make sure that he really knows a particular person. However, if the asylum seeker is already in a temporary detention center, the guarantor will most often need to provide additional documents in order to secure his release.

There is no closed list of such documents, just as there are no specific requirements for the financial condition of the sponsor. Most often, the guarantor needs to confirm the grounds for his stay in the United States (citizenship or green card), as well as the availability of housing (lease agreement or certificate of ownership). However, in practice, there are cases when immigration officers ask for financial documents showing that the sponsor is able to provide the necessary support to the ward.

«As a rule, the guarantor writes a letter in free form, where he asks for the release of a new immigrant, and also expresses his readiness to receive all correspondence related to the refugee's immigration case. Often, the guarantors also indicate that they are ready to provide housing and food to the immigrant if necessary.", - explains Ekaterina Muratova.

Help in good faith

Counsel emphasizes that this letter should not be confused with a statement of support (affidavit of support) - a formal agreement with the state on Form I-864, which sponsors sign in the event of family reunification.

«When it comes to family reunification, the sponsor concludes an agreement with the state. This means that if a newly arrived immigrant applies for any type of social assistance, the state has the right to recover all costs from his sponsor", - says Ekaterina. Typically, these are food stamps, disability benefits, or other types of subsidies. Then the state has the right to present claims to the sponsor within these amounts and demand a return and compensation for the costs incurred.

In the case of a guarantee for refugees, such a document is not signed. Thus, as the lawyers emphasize, no one forbids a refugee to apply to the state for social support, and the sponsor does not bear any responsibility for this. Moreover, as the immigration lawyer notes, a refugee guarantor cannot be forced to provide his ward with any resources, and the fulfillment of the obligations assumed depends on the goodwill of the person himself.

«Based on the guarantor's letter, the immigration officer decides to release the potential immigrant from prison. Most often, this decision is positive, because the officer is convinced that the person has somewhere to go, and he will not be left without support at large, ” - Ekaterina Muratova explains.

However, the lawyer emphasizes that such a letter does not give the officer the right to go to court and demand that the sponsor fulfill its obligations.

«Firstly, an immigrant does not have an obligation to live with a specific sponsor, and he can find any other accommodation for himself. Secondly, even if a refugee wants to live in the apartment of his guarantor, the latter can at any time ask him to leave the premises. The law does not provide for any specific period during which the sponsor must provide a newly arrived immigrant with housing, and therefore he can refuse him at any time"She notes.

That is why there are no clear requirements for the level of income of a guarantor for a refugee by law, and the only thing that is required of him is the physical ability to provide food and a place to sleep. At the same time, the income of the sponsor for family reunification, who fully takes care of the maintenance of a relative, must not be lower than 125% of the poverty threshold.

Limits of liability of the guarantor

According to the immigration lawyer, the main responsibility that falls on the refugee guarantor is the willingness to provide his address to receive all correspondence addressed to the new immigrant and notify him of incoming letters. However, if the immigrant fails to appear in court for any reason, the sponsor is not responsible for this. A similar rule applies to crimes committed by an immigrant.

«The sponsor's only inconvenience is if the sponsor fails to appear in court, and the immigration police may go to the sponsor's home address and ask if the sponsor is hiding the missing immigrant. However, the law does not imply any responsibility for the fact that the sponsor did not control the appearance of his ward in court.”, emphasizes Ekaterina Muratova.

Immigration lawyer Ekaterina Muratova. Photos from the personal archive

As the immigration lawyer notes, the guarantor, in fact, acts as a "good Samaritan" who volunteered to the best of his ability to help a particular person. It does not matter whether he was previously familiar with his ward.

«In practice, Americans from various local communities called me more than once and expressed their readiness to vouch for one of my clients. Especially often such calls began to arrive after the announcement of mobilization in Russia. The Americans said that they themselves encountered something similar during the Vietnam War, and would like to save Russian guys from being sent to the front", - says Ekaterina Muratova.

At the same time, the lawyer notes that no one has the right to prevent the guarantor from acting as a witness in court when considering the case on granting political asylum to his ward - if he knew this before and can confirm that he was really persecuted in his country.

You can sign up for a consultation with immigration lawyer Ekaterina Muratova by phone (305) 778-7198 or by e-mail:

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Refugee problems on the southern border of the United States: an immigration lawyer explained how to solve them

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