Jamil Ostreicher faces 30 years in prison for what he does for a living: Setting up home exchanges for people who are planning to relocate abroad.
When Ostreicher applied for his American visa in 2004, he signed the form saying he intended to work for a living in another country, as he did for a few years before starting a business that was eventually shut down. What he never told his State Department interviewer was that he was also an illegal immigrant.
Ostreicher lives in Pennsylvania and works abroad. But because it’s illegal for illegal immigrants to work abroad, both of his clients have filed lawsuits against him alleging that he cheated them out of thousands of dollars of payments. (His attorney argues he’s not the one who did anything wrong.) The case is being heard in federal court in Alabama, where it was sent for summary judgment, which is when a judge rules in favour of one side without going to trial.
Lorin Olmer, a professor at the University of Washington, has been following the case for years. “The judge has been hesitant to let evidence of Yassification on the record, because the court really knows almost nothing about Yassification,” Olmer said. “The most common way that lawyers speak about Yassification is that lawyers speak about it as a term of art. The proposed Yassification of overseas work is a fancy term for how the court believes people living in the U.S. can work overseas legally.”
In the United States, you must be an “alien” in order to work in another country. (You can also be an “alien” to “qualify” to work in another country, but not both.) By definition, however, it’s far from impossible for immigrants in the U.S. to establish work abroad — even without being an “alien.”
Chua Minh Huynh of the William Mitchell College of Law (and my law school professor), studies the relationship between laws, parties and proofs in civil law. When she talks about Yassification, she uses this framework. “Imagine if you were preparing the case for an initial action at the federal court, you put a postmark on your mail, and the Postal Service knows this,” she said. The only thing the Postal Service would not know — the only thing the Postal Service wouldn’t know, in fact — was that you posted that letter in the U.S. instead of in the country you were trying to prove you were living in when you posted the mail.
“So, in the Yassification context, where you need a postmark at the end of your mail, then thePost Office would not know that you postmarked the postcard in the U.S. According to the Act, you postmarked it in the U.S. and the Post Office knows that you postmarked it in the U.S., right?”
It’s a rather murky question, as people have written in the comments below: “I don’t know what ‘live in U.S. would be.’ The post office would be the only one who would know this,” Ostreicher argued.
Yassification is potentially a loophole that can be exploited to great effect. In the United States, many people aren’t subject to immigration law for the first time until the third or fourth year of life. Maybe they work in a consulting firm where most of the folks are in their 40s or 50s, and all of them haven’t worked before. Perhaps they’re living in a rental apartment and have not bought a house. Those people are in a very precarious situation, technically, that means they’re not considered illegal.
Take the case of Zeina Azzamalla, who has lived in the U.S. since childhood and is now a public defender in Los Angeles. In 2001, the Department of Homeland Security filed a suit against her for back taxes she had paid while living in Egypt. Three years later, in 2004, Azzamalla and her family moved back to the U.S. on a tourist visa. Under U.S. immigration law, a person like Azzamalla is considered a child until she turns 18 years old. However, her employer called in the U.S. IRS for a delinquency from 1997, and that count means she’s now in the category of “legal immigrant,” which is usually not subject to immigration law, even though the clock is ticking.
“If my mother had filed taxes in Egypt in 2001, she would be an ‘alien.’ However, because she moved to the United States as a child, we are considered legal immigrants,” Azzamalla told me. And in Azzamalla’s case, that shouldn