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30 November 2015

Adoptions from Asia: Our Twenty Years of Adventure and Love – By Judy Wheeler

November is National Adoption Month, and over the past three decades, Judy Wheeler of Roanoke, Virginia has raised 15 children, two biological and 13 adopted. Twelve of her adopted children were orphans from Vietnam and China. Many of her adopted children had special needs that were easily treatable in the United States, but would have remained untreated in their home countries. The following is her story, in her own words, of determination to love and help children in need. 

It was in the mid 1990's when I first heard about baby girls being abandoned in China, due in large part to the “One Child” policy, and my heart was deeply touched by their plight. In 1996, I traveled abroad for the first time in my life to adopt my baby, Rebekah, the first child I adopted from a foreign country. Traveling to such a foreign place was terrifying at first, but my faith and other members of my travel group kept me going, and it ended up being the greatest trip of my life.

Rebekah, who was 8 months old at the time, was very malnourished, weighed just 11 pounds, and was living in a loving but very overcrowded Chinese orphanage where many of the children were likewise undernourished. It was mid-winter and many of the children were sick.  Little Rebekah was handed over to me wrapped in layer after layer after layer of clothing. I was crying tears of joy when I held her for the first time.

Once I returned home with Rebekah, I told my husband, Patrick, what I had seen. We both felt compelled to adopt another child, but we couldn't go back to China due to the adoption center in Beijing being reorganized, allowing only childless couples to adopt.

From left: Judy, daughter Rebekah, husband Patrick

Another adoptive parent told me to look at adopting a child in Vietnam. Right away we saw our Seth, who was 8 months old, but he had a special need. He was born with a cleft lip and palate which was still unrepaired. My husband Patrick went to Vietnam to get him in 1997. Fortunately, we were able to treat Seth’s cleft lip and palate with a few surgeries which were easily accessible in the United States, but inaccessible to him in his home country.

From left: Judy, son Seth, and husband Patrick

Then the door opened up for us to go back to China in 2000. Patrick again traveled and brought home a 15-month-old baby boy named Nathan who also had an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. What touched our hearts is that after we accepted him, our adoption agency told us that nobody else would have adopted him. He is now 17 in the gifted program at his high school, takes college classes, and makes top grades in his advanced classes. His dream is to be a neurologist and he is fascinated by the human mind.

In 2014, we were very humbled and honored when our U.S. congressman selected us for an award called, "Angels in Adoption". We traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive this award with our children. At the time, we felt our family was complete with 10 children from China and Vietnam.

Then one day in May 2015, I saw a boy named Samuel in China. Samuel was about to age out of the adoption system.  According to China's law, once a child turns 14, he or she can no longer be adopted. I did everything I could to advocate for him, but nobody came forward to adopt him. I called several agencies to get their opinions, and each told me that there wasn't enough time to bring him home before he turned 14. 

Despite the obstacles and limited time, I was determined to press forward. With the help of a wonderful adoption agency, support from my friends, and the dedication of an "angel", a USCIS Officer named Brenda, I was able to make it work. With only days remaining, I was able to adopt Samuel. While I was working to adopt Samuel, a social worker told me I could adopt two children, and I decided to also adopt a 12-year-old boy named Aaron who had wanted a family of his own for many years. I travelled to China and completed their adoption process in two different provinces. When we arrived home on U.S. soil, our sons were U.S citizens. We feel so blessed to have Samuel and Aaron in our family.  And, as with the other children in our family, they are adjusting well to their new family, and their new lives in America.

What I want to tell others considering adoption is that if they have love in their hearts, adoption is a wonderful thing, and I hope that I can always encourage others to share their lives with a child in need.


Stay in touch with USCIS: Change Your Address

Do you have a case pending with USCIS, and you recently moved? Remember to change your address to continue receiving notices and documents related to your case. Even if you don’t have a pending case, most non-U.S. citizens must report a change of address within 10 days of moving within the U.S. or its territories, though there are certain exceptions. To update your address, file Form AR-11, Change of Address, or use the online Change of Address tool. Both options are free. We offer more USCIS services online.

The online Change of Address tool is simple to use. You will need your pending case receipt number and your old and new addresses.

If you have any pending or recently approved applications or petitions, you must complete a paper or online version of Form AR-11 and change your address on them online. If you are unable to do so online, you may call our National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or 1-800-767-1833 (TDD for the Deaf).

You may not change your address online if you have a pending or approved Violence Against Women Act, T or U visa, and you have also filed any of these forms:
Instead you must change your address by contacting:
Vermont Service Center
75 Lower Welden Street
St. Albans, VT 05479-0001


23 November 2015

Turkey Day in an Immigrant Home

(By Jeff Carter, Office of Communications)

My name is Jeff Carter, and I work in the Office of Communications. In my home, Thanksgiving Day means travel, family, leftovers and, most importantly, a deep appreciation for our wonderful bounty. Each year, we eat a standard meal of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, jellied cranberries and vegetables, but occasionally there are variations - sometimes because new family members bring their traditions and sometimes just to experiment.

In discussing our holiday traditions with others, I began to wonder: "What about immigrant families? Do they mix and match culinary traditions?" So I decided to ask you to show me and the rest of America - in 140 characters or less - how you and your family celebrate Thanksgiving through food. Just tweet your tradition in a photo: a dish and its name, you cooking and what you’re cooking, or your family eating together. Whatever you tweet, tell us your tradition and use #ImmigrantThanksgiving. Then we’ll share through social media.

From a feast in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag commemorating a good harvest to today’s fourth-Thursday-in-November observances, Thanksgiving Day has progressed with America. Please help us celebrate what you bring to this wonderful celebration.

My mouth is watering just imagining the possibilities. Happy Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

19 November 2015

Attention Workers and Job Seekers — Let myE-Verify work for you!
Are you currently working or looking for a job in the United States? If so, myE-Verify can help you!
How? myE-Verify provides great features:
  • Self Check: Verify your personal information against records that E-Verify checks. Workers and job seekers can confirm that their records are accurate or, if a mismatch occurs, learn how to make updates.
  • Resource Center: Explore multimedia content to learn about the employment eligibility verification process including your rights, your roles, your employer's responsibilities, and your privacy. Information is in text and video. Many resources are available in multiple languages.
  • Case Tracker: Track the status of your E-Verify case to know if your action is required.

Create your own myE-Verify account to access additional features!

You don’t need an account to use Self Check, Resource Center and Case Tracker. However, myE-Verify account holders also have access to the following features:

  • Self Lock: Protect your identity by preventing unauthorized use of your Social Security number in E-Verify.
  • Case History: For your security and interest, see where and when your information has been used in E-Verify and Self Check.
myE-Verify® Get Started; Create Account

There’s a good chance your employer or potential employer uses E-Verify to confirm employment eligibility of new employees. myE-Verify helps prepare you for employers who use E-Verify by informing you about your rights and employer responsibilities. You can also participate in the process and use tools that help protect your identity. All services are available nationwide and in Spanish at myE-Verify en Español. It’s all free!


11 November 2015

We Asked Immigrant Veterans: What Did Becoming a U.S. Citizen Mean to You?

This Veterans Day, we asked our colleagues who are both immigrants and veterans what becoming a U.S. citizen meant to them. We received a different answer from each person, but a common theme was service and pride in becoming an American. Their responses and photos from past and present are featured below:

"Becoming a U.S. citizen filled me with pride and lit a fire inside me that drove me to want to serve in gratitude for all that I was given."

- Freddy Duron, Immigration Services Officer, Hialeah Customer Service Unit

Above: Freddy Duron, U.S. Army

"Duty, honor, country; these three words have guided me to become the citizen-soldier I am today. U.S. citizenship opened many doors of opportunities for myself and family. I'm glad to do my part to bear true faith and allegiance. God bless America!"

- David Salazar, Immigration Officer, Fraud Detection and National Security, San Bernardino Field Office

Above: David Salazar, U.S. Army Airborne

"Becoming a U. S. citizen meant a lot to me as it was the first time I felt like I had freedom and it gave me all the opportunity life can afford."

- Kelechi O Eke, Immigration Services Officer, Texas Service Center

Above: Kelechi O Eke, U.S. Army Veteran

"When I became a U.S. citizen it was a sense of belonging. Even though I was a Lawful Permanent Resident serving in the military, I still felt like a visitor. After becoming a U.S. citizen, this became my country. Immigrating to the U.S. and serving this great nation has been a great honor for my family and me."

- Rashpal S. Virk (Rocky), Immigration Officer, Fraud Detection and National Security, Seattle Office

Above: Rashpal S. Virk, U.S. Navy Veteran

"Becoming a U.S. citizen was a proud moment because my new country accepted me. I could be what I wanted regardless of my race or sex."

- Andy Ffrenchnowden, Immigration Services Officer, Los Angeles County Field Office

Above: Andy Ffrenchnowden, U.S. Marines

“When I became a naturalized citizen in May 1980, it opened up a wide range of opportunities in the service, made it a NAVAL career - rightly believing all along that military service is the most patriotic of all professions.”

- Mario Alvarado, Immigration Services Officer, Southeast Region

Above: Mario Alvarado, U.S. Navy

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10 November 2015

Honoring Service: Veterans Who Became USCIS Employees - Vanessa Hansen

If you ask Vanessa Hansen why she joined the Air Force, she'd tell you she felt a need to give back to the country that provided her family with asylum from Nicaragua. She entered the United States when she was 16 years old after her father was arrested by Nicaraguan police. After naturalizing in an asylum ceremony, Hansen decided to give back to her adopted country by entering the U.S. Air Force, where she served for almost six years. She continues to serve her country in the Air Force Reserves.

Hansen has been deployed to Afghanistan three times during Operation Enduring Freedom. As a result, she spent a significant amount of time away from her children. Her son was 6 months old for her first deployment and her daughter was 7 months old for her second deployment. The time Hansen spent serving her country away from her family and her children illustrates the level of sacrifice she was willing to pay to her adopted country.

“I wanted to serve because of my feelings of patriotism to the United States. I wanted to give back to my adoptive country for everything that it did for my family and I when we were granted asylum in the United States,” she said.

Hansen spent a considerable amount of time at her favorite duty station, Hurlburt Field, in Florida. She said she couldn’t have done any of it without the support she received from her family. Her husband of 16 years and her parents were instrumental in caring for her small children while she was serving her country thousands of miles away. Hansen said, “It’s an honor to serve in the military and to defend the Constitution.”

Air Force Tech Sgt. E. Vanessa Hansen
Hansen is currently an immigration services officer. When asked what citizenship means to her, she said “honor and family.” Vanessa Hansen is yet another example of a naturalized citizen who chose to sacrifice and serve her new country, both as a solider and a USCIS employee.

We thank her for her service and honor her on this Veterans Day.

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09 November 2015

Summary of USCIS Twitter Office Hours on Nov. 3

We held the third live question-and-answer session hosted on Twitter called USCIS Twitter Office Hours on Nov. 3 to answer your questions about immigration benefits and our other services. Below are all the questions and answers we were able to address during the hour, as well as answers to two additional questions we received during the event.

Thanks to everyone who tweeted questions. We look forward to engaging with you during future USCIS Twitter Office Hours.

Q1: @rafaelfei EAD card is expiring at 10/22. My college will issue my I-20 at 10/21. Still on time to apply STEM OPT extension? #AskUSCIS
A1: @rafaelfei You can apply for a new EAD when the designated school official (DSO) issues the new I-20. #AskUSCIS
Q2: @Dugandzija USCIS sent my renewal Green Card by mail on 10/23 but I never received it. What am I supposed to do? #AskUSCIS
A2: @Dugandzija Please allow up to 30 days to receive your card. Then inquire about it online or by phone:  #AskUSCIS
Q3: @rjenx18 How long do I have to wait to apply for Naturalization? #AskUSCIS
A3: @rjenx18 First, you need your Green Card. Then it varies. See our citizenship resource center. #AskUSCIS
Q4: @JulienFountain Unable to create an account. Keep receiving Error message #AskUSCIS
A4: @JulienFountain If you’re having issues with ELIS, please contact us for assistance: #AskUSCIS
Q5: @olimanish Can I change my community college and study program if I am on TPS status ? #AskUSCIS
A5: @olimanish Yes, TPS does not affect your student status. Check for more information. #AskUSCIS
Q6: @KITKATALHANEEN I had been granted asylum after I return back to my home... how can I return back to US #AskUSCIS
A6: @KITKATALHANEEN You can find info on asylee travel documents here: #AskUSCIS
Q7: @ONELOVEONEWORLD Can previous bankruptcy effect the outcome of my husbands I-130 petition as far as the I-864 is concerned? #AskUSCIS
A7: @ONELOVEONEWORD Bankruptcy history might not affect I-130 sponsorship. Visit #AskUSCIS
Q8: @FATIMAASSANI Got an interview letter after 11 yrs. My name isn't included bc i am older. How do i add in and file for CSPA? #AskUSCIS
A8: @Fatimaassani Learn how to qualify for CSPA by visiting this page: #AskUSCIS
Q9: @AMEEERALYEMEN Can a U.S Citizen apply for form I-130 for a spouse?  #AskUSCIS
A9: @AMEEERALYEMEN Yes, U.S. citizens can file an I-130 for a spouse. See for more info. #AskUSCIS
Q10: @INDIKAPATHIRAGE I have an approved and then withdrawn H1B. COS from F1 to H1B. Do I still retain the Cap Number? #AskUSCIS
A10: @INDIKAPATHIRAGE No. Visit this page for H1-B regulations: #AskUSCIS
Q11: @ADE5HMUKH Can my employer apply for Green Card when I am on F-1 visa ? #AskUSCIS
A11: @ADESHMUKH Not while you are on F-1 visa. For info on getting your Green Card through a job offer: #AskUSCIS
Q12: @TIGGA117 do I still need to take all documents to interview that I sent in already for N400 interview? #AskUSCIS
A12: @TIGGA117 Yes. Evidence submitted might be needed for review. What to expect at your interview: #AskUSCIS
Q13: @NYYANKEESFAN24 I filed 601a provisional waiver last year. uscis denied my waiver... I want to refile. #AskUSCIS
A13: @NYYANKEESFAN24 You may be eligible to refile the provisional waiver. Check the requirements here: #AskUSCIS
Bonus Questions…

Q14: @ANTOINEJAY4 my stamp in passport expires next week, awaiting judges written decision, how long will it be renewed for? #AskUSCIS
A14: @ANTOINEJAY4 (1/2) Extension time frames depend on the type of case. #AskUSCIS
A14: @ANTOINEJAY4 (2/2) Need legal advice? Find legal services here: #AskUSCIS
Q15: @COFFEEBREAK808 Sponsored my wife's app for permanent residency but we are currently living apart in CA & VA. Where will our hearing be? #AskUSCIS
A15: @COFFEEBREAK808 The address on file is where it will take place. Verify your address here  #AskUSCIS


Honoring Service: Veterans Who Became USCIS Employees - Ely Borjal

The following is an interview with Ely Borjal, a veteran and employee at USCIS. Borjal spent 21 years in the United States Navy and attained the rank of chief warrant officer. He was recruited at Subic Naval Base, Republic of the Philippines, on June 19, 1974 and served as a machinery repairman.

Ely Borjal (hand raised, center) re-enlisting for the fourth time in the U.S. Navy while stationed at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida
He spent 17 years performing technical repairs on machinery and equipment onboard nuclear submarines. His leadership and supervisory experiences span from section leader, leading petty officer, leading chief petty officer and division officer.
Borjal (left) congratulates a fellow Sailor on his re-enlistment.

On his last tour, Borjal was an officer in charge of a forward submarine repair site. He completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees with Roosevelt University and Florida Institute of Technology while on shore duty at the Naval Training Center Orlando, Florida, in 1986 and 1988, respectively.

Ely Borjal - Proud Veteran
On May 21, 1996, Borjal joined the legacy Immigration Naturalization Service as an immigration inspector. Over the past 19 years, he has served in numerous capacities, and is currently an adjudications officer in the Citizenship Branch of Field Operations Directorate at USCIS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

Mr. Borjal, thank you for your service to our country. What motivated you to serve?

I grew up in the Philippines in a part of Manilla that was the pits – the poor of the poorest. My father was a laborer, and I was the oldest of six children with five sisters. The main reason for joining the United States Navy was economics. That is the basic truth. Out of 2,000 who applied, I was one of 34 who passed the entrance test. Being surrounded by poverty, my father kept me out of trouble by asking me to read English-language books when I wasn’t doing chores, and that was how I was able to do so well. After I graduated from high school, a friend who had already joined got me interested.

Tell me about your career in the Navy. How did it start out?

I remember we travelled from the Philippines to the training in United States on a boat with nothing more than a rain coat. Coming from the Philippines, it was freezing! Our first night in the barracks, we were forced to evacuate during the middle of the night because someone was smoking in bed.

During training, I excelled and moved up quickly. I went to a technical school and became a machinery expert. I was already a petty officer after just six months. My first duty station was in Spain on submarine tenders – ships that maintain subs.

So when did you decide to become a U.S. citizen?

Remember now, when I joined I was a Filipino citizen. I qualified as a radiological control worker on nuclear reactors in subs. I did hard, dangerous work, and I was successful - but I wanted more. To move up and be able to do all of the jobs available and become an officer, I needed to be a U.S. citizen. I took courses and went back to school. I did research on my own and found out what I had to do to apply. I became a citizen in 1982 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  

How did it feel when you finally took the Oath of Allegiance and became an American?

I was in a ceremony in a stadium with 5,000 people. It was mostly civilians. They put me at the head of the line because I was in my uniform. I was the very first person to receive my certificate. There were local dignitaries who shook my hand. I was thinking: “Holy cow, am I dreaming?” I remembered back to my childhood in the Philippines when I was pushing carts, picking up bottles and cardboard to make a few pesos, and rummaging through trash, sometimes even for food. There were times we would eat porridge the whole month long we were so darn poor.

Today I share those experiences with others becoming citizens. I tell them to look at my experiences and how far I have come. I’m not embarrassed to admit that. That is why I love this country.

What do you tell new citizens and people who are considering becoming citizens?

I share my journey. I tell people who are thinking about becoming citizens that they have to ask themselves if it is right for them. Your heart has to be in it. Don't do it for selfish motivations. We are here to contribute to this great country. You have to make an effort to be successful and obey the law.

When I attend naturalization ceremonies, I provide a word of encouragement. It means a lot, I see people crying. I try to impart to new citizens that it is not just a piece of paper. It is not just like a driver’s license or some other document. Being an American is in your heart, you embrace the flag. Now you wave that flag (the American flag) instead of the flag where you came from.

Mr. Borjal, thank you very much for your service to our country as a member of the United States Navy and here at USCIS.

Thank you.

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