Ruby Powers | The Intersection of Family Law and Immigration

Today on the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, our guest is Ruby Powers. The child of a Mexican immigrant, Ruby has both a passion for service and a cultural understanding of issues that are of concern for immigrants. Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, her firm, Powers Law Group, P.C., is an immigration law firm focused 100% on U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law.

Ruby sits down with us today to discuss the intersection between family law and immigration.

Listen as she walks us through:

  • Is your client’s immigration status dependent on their marriage? Here are the questions you need to ask to find out and what you need to keep in mind right now (knowing this will help you effectively serve your clients)
  • The 3 key issues that can change your clients’ petition status
  • What about the children? How a child’s status is determined, and the special provisions for children under the age of 18
  • Plus much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Ruby Powers: This is fascinating about immigration. But a person could have a US citizen status and not have documentation to prove it. The next thing is they would have to go apply for a certificate of citizenship to establish they are a citizen or and or a passport. So a parent’s status definitely affects the kid’s status.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Ruby Powers to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Ruby is the founder of Powers Law Group, P.C., a Houston based full service immigration law firm. She’s board certified in immigration and nationality law. Ruby author, the AILA’s Build and Manage Your Successful Immigration Law Practice (Without Losing Your Mind), and recently began providing law practice management consulting services.

She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Leadership Houston and American Leadership Forum. She’s also run for public office. Ruby has lived and studied in Belgium, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates. And she speaks Spanish, French, and a little Turkish. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Ruby: Thanks for having me.

Holly: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background?

Ruby: Well, as you listed a lot of different things that might be like, that’s interesting. Basically, my mom was born to American missionaries in Mexico. So I grew up some of my summers in Mexico and just saw the difference between the two countries as I traversed back and forth from the border. So that’s really and having family from all over the world that really is what got me excited and interested in immigration. I later was exchange student to Belgium, learned and traveled around the world.

Made of friends all over, still in touch with, and you know, I wanted to do something in international relations, human rights, political science and business. And here I am running an immigration law firm, being an advocate, writing book, helping others guide them through the path of their immigration journey, or even with their law practice management. So that’s a little bit about myself.

Holly: So how did you land in the United Arab Emirates?

Ruby: Well, in 2011, after I just given birth to my firstborn child, it was the Arab’s Spring, my husband was getting a little, let’s just say, I don’t know, I think you want to change. So so he was wanting to change work. And I was like, you know, I don’t want to move to another state. If we’re gonna go out, we’re gonna we need to make it worth it. Let’s just go halfway around the world. And so he had a consulting gig in Dubai. And I was like, you know, this is interesting, you know, I kept hearing it was like the Disneyland of the Middle East and, or something like that.

So definitely, culturally, a change. But I have lived in UAE and Turkey. So I have lived in the least a couple, you know, total, maybe almost two years or more. But I was a mommy by day until about 2pm over there. And then I was attorney by night, when the US would finally wake up and I could conduct business. So in 2011, I was running my law firm remotely. I’m joking now before it was cool to run your firm remotely. So back in the tech of a decade ago.

Holly: Well that’s interesting. So you didn’t ever have to make in person appearances even back then pre COVID?

Ruby: I hired my friends as contractors to attend interviews. They did allow telephonic hearings. And so I once had a phone call at like my midnight, and the judge was like, where are you? I’m like, I’m in Dubai, your honor. Um, so, I mean, I made it work. I did have to shift my practice to be less interview and court focused, but there’s a lot of practices that are like that, anyway. But I was leveraging Skype and phone consultations. And I had a phone number that was a local number. So many of my clients, you know, it wasn’t international phone calls or anything, and they I was doing Skype and video. I mean, I guess before we all realize what Zoom was and and that was pretty a great way to build a connection with my clients and raport and get the job done.

Holly: I love that I may need to look into that someday. So far, my, I have lived in the exciting places of the Dallas area, Lubbock in Austin. I have not ventured far, although I have traveled quite a bit. So maybe. So how would you describe your current practice?

Ruby: So I have a full service immigration law practice. Sometimes I feel like I’m running five businesses within one because we do a family based immigration. So that’s basically people getting petitions and green cards and such based on family. I also do asylum, which is its own, like niche within immigration, that helping those who are fleeing their home country, and meeting the burdens of being protected here. I also do immigration court removal defense. Usually, it’s because someone either was not in status, or had a petition that was filed and denied. Or maybe someone was encountered with a criminal record or something that gets them or entered without inspection or got put in court at the border.

So we do that. And then I also have employment based immigration. So you’re thinking like, H’s visas, L’s, and also investment based immigration. So like, E-2’s, and things like that for small businesses who are wanting to to come here. As well as naturalization. So someone who had their green card or legal permanent residency for a really long time, and or short time, you know, shortest time is three to five years, and then finally becoming a citizen. So I’ve been doing that a lot recently, as people want the power to vote and have more of a permanency here in the country. So when I say full service, we do all things within immigration. And I’ve been practicing 13 years and my firm is 12 years old, just just recently.

Holly: So today, we’re here to kind of talk about the intersection between family law and immigration since our podcast generally targets family law attorneys. What are some key issues that family law lawyers should be aware of with respect to immigration?

Ruby: Okay, so I came up with about four that came to mind right away when I was thinking about this topic, because I know everybody we have our specialties. And so what are some of the things that you just need to know maybe some bare minimum to keep in mind? So one of my first points is marriage can disqualify someone from an immigration petition. For example, if a legal permanent resident petitions for their 21 and up unmarried child, and that child later marries, a lot of the terminology when immigration is a person is no longer a child once they marry. So marriage could disqualify somebody for something. I’ve always wondered why some of my clients never legally marry like at all.

And I don’t know if it’s because of this like lore of if you marry it will, you know, screw up your chances of getting a green card or something. I don’t know. Because, like for some people, it is a long wait. But I think it might just because they just their their common law in their mind and are not officially registered or something. Which anyway, so marriage can disqualify someone from a petition. But for the most part. So that’s just one thing to consider. The other thing that I see an inner, well, it’s a little bit of an intersection, but it’s just a point that I think is important is that immigrations, always trying to figure out if there’s marriage fraud. That just you know if you ever watched that was a green card with Gerard Depardieu. You know, back in that was the old one.

And then there was the other one, the proposal and things like that. But basically the movies. Everything is pretty much wrong with those movies as factually, but that’s what people think is what’s happening. But for the most part, USCIS is trying to interview individuals, and when they go for a green card based off of marriage, legal permanent residency, they’re trying to see do they commingle funds, do they live together? Do, you know sometimes they’ll say bring out your key and they’re trying to see if the key is the same. They want to see taxes, they want to see and people need to do their taxes married joint or married separate. But they if you do head of household and you shouldn’t have done them, then that’s a problem.

So marriage fraud is a really big thing that we’re we’re concerned about, but that’s really more about you know, living the life of what USCIS perceived as a married couple. And you know, the other thing that was wonderful as if several years ago when when same sex marriage was deemed valid in terms of federal laws. So then that that was that was great because I’ve been practicing when a time when that wasn’t deemed valid enough to petition for your your spouse. Now, another thing to note, my third point that I thought about is that you know, divorce can someone can sometimes make someone eligible for a petition in some cases.

So just like a marriage could disqualify you for petition, if you later get divorced, maybe you then are eligible because you’re unmarried. And so really, you know, basically your marital status can affect your immigration status. That’s the bottom line in this answer. And then the fourth idea is about Violence Against Women Act, which is not just for women, it’s for men as well. But basically, the biggest thing is like if there was a couple in a relationship, and one was abusive, the American or legal permanent resident, the immigrant could potentially qualify for a green card based off of that, that abused in the real valid marriage living together and all that as long as they apply within either while they’re married, and separated, obviously, or within two years of divorce.

So some people don’t realize that. They’re just what I found, and I’m sure you all listening, you know, all you know, is that people are just so emotionally engaged in the separation of and of that in the divorce process, that they’re not maybe thinking about their immigration status. And so I think that’s why USCIS gave people that two year time. But basically, after two years, and you met that qualification, but you’re over two years, very, very rarely can you overcome that. So that’s something to consider. So those are different ways that, you know, I see an intersection between immigration and family.

And and then the other little wildcard is what are we one of like, is it six or eight? I don’t know how many states that we have common law marriage. And so the federal government really, I don’t think they like federal, they don’t like common law marriage, because it’s so you know, funky, they don’t have proof of it. So usually, when somebody says they’ve been, they’ve been living together, they’re calling themselves out as married, I usually have them and we want them to be married. We have them go register their common law and backdate it to when they said that they’ve been living into an in that position. So and that sometimes we’ve done that a few times where that was really beneficial for their case.

Holly: It sounded like when you were going through the list of things they look at on marriage fraud, that that would be similar to the things that you’re trying to prove, when you’re proving a common law marriage.

Ruby: Yeah, that’s, that’s true. I don’t really have to, you know, approve common law marriages, mostly that that often. Usually, it’s if I had to do it is because I wanted to establish that that person was a qualifying relative for a waiver. I might be getting a little too technical here. But sometimes, having a US citizen or legal permanent resident spouse allows you to be eligible for a waiver. So like if a person has a crime, or they lied to the government or something like that, or they overstayed they need a US citizen or legal permanent resident spouse or parent to overcome that waiver. And so that’s why sometimes they might have been living with someone but they call themselves out as married. But they weren’t really like, legally, like had a piece of paper.

So then that was like, we’re like, no, go, come on, go go register that already. Because I mean, it’s sort of funny, like, I’m an immigration attorney, but I feel like sometimes it’ll be a given day, I’ll be telling people go get divorced, because then you can go do this or this or go get married. Like, why haven’t you gotten married yet? Like, you’ve been together 20 years. And now you, you know, like, I have a U Visa case of you’re a victim of a crime. And this couple have been together for like 20 something years. And if, if they’re legally married, one, I only have to pay for one petition and the other one gets to join in. Otherwise, I have to do two twice as much work and they have to pay twice as much. So anyway.

Holly: So in doing a lot of divorces, I normally have thought divorce is going to be bad for somebody’s immigration status, or that they’re jeopardizing, somebody who’s going to get deported or somebody is gonna lose their immigration status by virtue of divorce. Is that a valid concern?

Ruby: It is. And that’s, and that’s, you know, one of the questions that family law attorneys should be talking with their clients is, you know, is your status dependent on marriage? So, for example, an E2 like an investor visa or E1. Yeah, basically 1, E2, those are investment treaty treaty trader visas, the spouse gets the visa only based off of marriage. So the moment the marriage is dissolved, are no longer valid. Boom, you don’t have that visa. Dependent visa. Another one, H1B, you know, you hear that in the news a lot. Their spouse is called an H4. As soon as the there’s a divorce, the H4 doesn’t have a visa. There’s also like student visa, there’s the F1 for the student and F2 for the spouse and, or even the L visa.

So you’re right, if you’re a legal permanent resident and it was within. So if you’re a US citizen, we don’t we don’t really care, right? It doesn’t matter. But if you’re a legal permanent resident, the question might be, well, do you have a conditional green card? So the general progression is you first you get the marriage based green card. And if you’ve been married less than two years at that first marriage based green card interview, then you will get a two year conditional one. If you’ve been married over two years, you get the 10 year green card. So whether your stay marry or not really doesn’t matter. That’s really their threshold of figuring out whether it’s fraudulent or not, if you made the two year mark.

So that even if you get divorced, and you have a conditional green card, you can still be fine, as long as you prove it was a real marriage. So it’s really not that bad of a deal. But really, it’s more of an issue when you have one of these other like, student, work, investment visas. That’s really when it’s more cause concern. And you would want to be strategic as to what other visa could you start moving yourself over to if you wanted to stay in the country. And I know that can make things super crazy with like child custody matters and where do people plan to live and things like insurance and all that stuff. So you’re right.

Holly: If we have a couple that’s divorcing, and they’re here on visas related to let’s say that the husband has a visa to work here and the wife has a visa tied to him, but this does not allow her to work here. What should we, if we represent the wife, what should we be advising her to do? So that she’s not going to lose her legal status as soon as she gets divorced? And so she’ll be able to support herself.

Ruby: Well, so on. And the reality is, there’s not a ton of different visas that accommodate all different scenarios. So I think the hints that something’s going on, they should go talk to an immigration attorney and see what were we what maybe we can make a plan A B, you know, to strike a transition. What what sometimes might be as like, move over to student to buy some time, and then may or maybe just.

Because like, for example, if you talk about H1B, which is like the one most people talk about, you know, you’re subject to the cap, which opens up only once a year, and then you can’t start working till October. And then if you’re not subject to the cap, you no matter what you have to be offered a job. And someone wants to have to get you know, and of course, right now in the labor shortage, you know, it’s probably easier, but when times are not so good that people don’t, companies don’t want to offer as many positions. Maybe they’re eligible for an E2 and do investments on their own, and they can work with their business.

But basically, I would say in that moment, have a consult and plan it very far ahead if you possibly can, because USCIS is not fast. Like things are taking a really long time. They’re trying really hard, I think to get faster. But like just for example, if somebody were to switch from like, let’s say an H4, their spouse was an H1B, they’re about to get divorced or something and they need to get out of H4 dependent visa, and we were just trying to move them to a tourist just just to do something. That tourist visa change is taking like 18,16 months.

Holly: Wow. Meanwhile we have case, family law cases where they’re going to dismiss you if you’re not set for trial and six months.

Ruby: Yeah. So you might, we might have to have send the person abroad to switch them to another status, you know, so just know that things are not fast. And if you need, we need to have time to strategize and consulates are not running at full speed. So some of them are not even having appointments. They’re only having for certain visa types, you know, because of COVID. I mean, a lot of the Foreign Service were pulled back home during COVID. They were short staffed after Trump administration. And, you know, it’s slowly trying to pick up and it’s not uniform across the world as to which ones.

So that being said, because you can usually do your change of status here in the country, or you can go change it at the consulate. And so those are things to consider. Bottom line, consults. Think far in advance if you possibly can, otherwise we have backup plans with maybe switch you to tourists and then make a plan in the meantime.

Holly: So sometimes as family lawyers, we find ourselves with clients either in a divorce or custody case that have no legal status. And there’s often concern about you know, if I go to the courthouse, is somebody going to show up and deport me. What should we be aware of if we find ourselves with a client who does not have legal status?

Ruby: I mean, I think that it’s just good to send them to have a consult with an immigration attorney just to just, knowledge is power. Normally when things like deferred action for childhood or DACA or other big things came out in the news, people came in droves to have consults. Found out they were eligible for stuff. But they’d been avoiding, like actual legal advice. They’ve been just surviving off of news and telling them scaring them away. So I mean, first of all, I say have the consult.

But I mean, second of all, like under this administration, we haven’t heard horror stories of people detained at the courthouses. I know, there is a fear. Like I know, sometimes immigration lawyers don’t have their offices downtown, because people are just afraid of being close to the courthouses. And I understand, they get they get their heart races when they see uniforms. I get that. But there’s more of a protection under this administration and the ice priorities are delineate, you know, we’re only going after more recent arrivals, people with crimes, and things like that. People who’ve been here a long time who have children who have no crimes, like they are super low on the priority.

So I would probably try to give them that feedback and let them know that they should be fine. You know, really, it’s more of a concern when a person with no status encounters a border official that might be inside the interior, you know, along I-10, for example, or inside, you know, 26 miles inside our border, like that’s more of a concern. If you’re traveling, or you’re traveling around the US, than I think going to the courthouse.

Holly: So one of the issues, you touched on this a little bit ago is about what questions family lawyers should be asking their clients about immigration. And I think you mentioned about what’s your current status, right?

Ruby: Yeah.

Holly: Are there other questions we should be asking?

Ruby: Well, I think, you know, if you ask them their status and they’re a US citizen, you know, no, cause for concern. Legal permanent resident, was it based on marriage? Did you, are you, have a conditional green card or a 10 year green card? You know, either way, you’ll still be fine. But if you have a conditional card, and you’re, you’re in the process of divorce, that’s definitely you should go talk to an immigration attorney to make sure you’re preparing and preserving documentation that will help you transition. And then the whole, is your status dependent on marriage. I mean, I think those are the big hot ticket items.

You know, another thing could be if any of your children are about, what their age is. Because another point is that when your kids turned 21, and let’s say they’re on one of these, you know, E, H, F, you know, L, those letters that I mentioned, then they’re they’re no longer you know, a child. So really, a lot of the way USCIS works is if you’re over 21, you’re not a child and you get married, you’re not a child.

A lot of times it’s whichever one comes first. But you know, I don’t want to say a blanket, because sometimes there’s different ages that affect different statuses. But, so if one of your children is getting, you know, close to 21, and there’s no plan to get them a green card, or what are you going to do? Because maybe you’re talking about college funds, or who’s going to live where whatever. Or maybe the family is going to get split, because maybe one spouse is and a child is going to lose status pretty soon.

So those are things to consider. I don’t know how detailed you you all want to get into the into the immigration side. I mean, I you know, I think other, you know, crimes can affect immigration. But I mean, your family law, so, you know, so so we have to look at the whole picture and immigration to see what person is eligible for can can move to something else or to retain what they have, or if they’re going to have any issues when they’re traveling. But you know, status is really important and age of children.

Holly: So if people have children, do they automatically get the same legal status as their parents until a certain age? Or how does that work?

Ruby: Okay. So, how a child becomes a US citizen can depend on lots of different things. Like if you’re born in the US, we have jus soli, you’re born on the land. Very rarely, does that not qualify for you automatic citizenship. A person can be born abroad to America one or two American parents and still get US citizenship. They have to, depends on the year the child was born and how much their parents which one is the mom or the dad if they were married or not. So there’s a lot there’s like this whole chart we have to look at. And if that parent lived in the US enough to pass on Americanness to their kid, I kid you not. And when it’s a dad, you know, they want to double check that that dad has been really involved in the kid’s life.

And you know, before the age of 18, it gets a little messy when the dad’s name is not on the birth certificate and things like that. If you’re chill, if they’re a legal permanent resident, and their children are under 18. There’s this provision that says if the child has a US citizen parent. So let’s say the parent naturalized and became a citizen, the kid is under 18, and live has a green card and lives in legal physical custody of their parents, the parent that just naturalized or became a citizen recently, then that child automatically becomes a US citizen. This was created around, I think, like 2002 ish or something like that, because there was a lot of kids that were getting sort of screwed over.

And parents thought they were okay, the kids were okay. And they weren’t. So this is actually protects the children. So, that that could be an incentive, you know, to keep track of who’s about to naturalize? Is this child going to become a citizen? Because it can affect the mobility of the child. And as soon as that child, this is fascinating about immigration, but a person could have a US citizen status and not have documentation to prove it. Like in that story, I was saying about a child.

The next thing is they would have to go apply for a certificate of citizenship, to establish they’re citizen or and or a passport. So a parent, a parent’s status definitely affects the kid’s status. And then going to the whole alphabet soup we were talking about earlier, you know, the E’S the H’s, F’s, L’s, things like that, the child predominantly is a child, as long as they’re under 21. And they’re a child of the parent that has the visa. And so you know, that’s why we keep tabs on are they about to age out what we call it?

And what do we need to start doing because just like we were saying, about the spouse who’s about to get divorced, like with a child who’s about to age out, we have to have a plan, usually within a couple of years in advance. Which usually might be either they return, or we try to push the parent towards getting green card before the kid turns 18. Or definitely 21. You know, are we just basic, or they might go back home. You know, the kid might just say I don’t, I don’t want to stay here anymore.

Holly: So we’re just about out of time. But one of the questions I like to ask everyone on the podcast is, if you could give one piece of advice to young lawyers, what would it be?

Ruby: You know, my immigration law professor said, find somebody who is doing what you want to do, you know, 3, 5, 20, 10 years out and ask him what, you know. Are you glad you did what you did? Would you do something differently? What advice do you have for me? So I think that goes in line with my advice is have a variety of good mentors, that you can call on.

Different areas of law, do maybe non lawyers, people that you can ask for advice, who guide you along the way when before you know just so you have them in line in case you have when you do need them. Because you’ll definitely need them but, and cultivate those relationships, don’t not just have like a phone call every five or 10 years, you know, but really build that relationship. Meet, reach out to them on a regular basis, because then they’ll be more invested in you and know you more to be able to give you more valid and onpoint advice.

Holly: I think it’s also super important to cultivate relationships with attorneys that are in other practice areas, especially when we see overlapping issues such as immigration and family. So if you’re a family lawyer, you’ve got to know an immigration lawyer, you’ve got to know a criminal lawyer. There’s probably others. Business lawyer.

Ruby: Definitely. Those are like the trifecta. The family, criminal defense and immigration for us, you know.

Holly: Right.

Ruby: And in different locations and different specialties within that, that area of law, so because they’re always asking for referrals. And also, you might have an issue that you like, just like this whole intersection that we just discussed. I mean, I hadn’t really thought about it until preparing preparing for today. But it is really important. Because I’m sort of in a vacuum a lot of times talking a marriage, like I know, the fastest you can get divorce is like 60 days, I know you have to wait 30 days to get remarried, you know, for here in Texas.

I know sometimes my clients are married to multiple people at the same time, and they don’t know it. You know, I’ve I’ve had lots of crazy stories about that. And sometimes my clients think if they get married in one country, the other country doesn’t know or it’s not valid, or if they get divorced in one it doesn’t exist in the other. I don’t know. I don’t know how they come up with this stuff, but.

Holly: Yeah, I think it’s important to remember you don’t know what you don’t know. But if you have someone who knows, then you can get your answer, right.

Ruby: That’s right.

Holly: So where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about you?

Ruby: Well, I would say you know, LinkedIn is a great one Ruby Powers. Twitter, website is great. Rubypowerslaw. And we’re also on Facebook Ruby Powers Law and Twitter Ruby Powers Law. So the law firm is Powers Law Group and and you know, finding me on one of these, you know, we can connect other ways. We give out a newsletter in English and Spanish every, every other week. And we try to give the highlights of what’s going on in immigration because it’s so much has changed in the last six years or so.

So just you could connect with me on LinkedIn or our website, get on the newsletter, and just a sidebar. I also have a business called Power Strategy Group, aligned with the book that I wrote about law practice management for AILA. And we do monthly webinars on different law practice management topics and so people can find my Facebook group at power up practice or power up my practice and, and you can find out more at my website, so.

Holly: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. For our listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, take a second to leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

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