Law Office of Michael Tonder, P.C.

65 Pineville Road, Suite 2
Monroeville, AL 36460

P.O. Box 337
Excel, AL 36439‎


Michael Tonder

English Requirement

Recently, I spoke to a group of immigrants regarding obtaining citizenship.  The question that kept being asked dealt with the English proficiency requirement.  The audience was concerned about elderly immigrants who never received any type of education.  The audience wondered how such a person would ever pass the English Proficiency Exam and obtain citizenship.

If all the other requirements are met for citizenship, the person applying for citizenship must then pass an English Proficiency Test and Civic Test.  These test prevent many from applying for citizenship.  They think they are too old or uneducated to learn English.  Many of these people are not aware that if someone has been a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) for 20 years and is 50 years (20/50) or has been an LPR for 15 years and is 55 years old (15/55) then the English proficiency requirement can be waived.

Although the English proficiency requirement can be waived, the Civics test will still have to be taken.  There is a Medical Disability Exception to the civics exam.  Your doctor will need to fill out a form explaining how your medical disability prevents you from taking the civics exam.  If the person applying for citizenship is 65 years old or older and has been a LPR for at least 20 years (65/20) special consideration will be given for the civics test.

If you are a Legal Permanent Resident and wish to obtain citizenship, please contact an immigration attorney to review the requirements for citizenship.

Something to do in Mobile, Alabama

If you enjoy good music, you might want to check out the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.  MSO is presenting the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB).  If you have ever been to New Orleans you probably know about the PHJB.  If you don’t know about PHJB, now would be a good time to get to know them.  They are performing Saturday, May 11, 2013 – Sunday, May 12, 2013.  Please visit MSO’s website for more information.

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

I’ve had a handful of people ask me questions about renewing their green cards.  After reviewing everything I asked the person “have you ever thought about becoming an American citizen?”  I was surprised to hear that many did not know they could become a citizen.

The requirements for a green card holder to become a citizen are listed here.  The last requirement, good moral character, has tripped up many applying for citizenship.

The definition of good moral character is broad and the catch-all “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude” (CIMT) has caught many immigrants off guard when applying for citizenship.  As stated in the regulations, a CIMT can bar citizenship.

To determine whether a CIMT has been committed, the state criminal statute where the crime was committed has to be examined.   Different states might have different requirements for a crime, although they are named the same. A thorough review of the statute is required.

Because the issue of CIMT can cause so much trouble, it is best to sit down with an attorney and discuss your legal history.  Write down every arrest, conviction, or any run in with the authorities you have had, when it happened, where it happened, and the outcome.  This will allow the attorney to research and determine whether you have a chance of gaining citizenship.

Good luck!

Your Doctor’s Opinion

How important is your doctor’s opinion when you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits or SSI?  It is very important.

A treating source is usually in the best position to give an opinion regarding your limitations, such as your ability to lift, carry, sit, stand, walk, pay attention, concentrate, use your hands, climb, squat, stoop, crawl, etc.   Social Security does not care if your doctor thinks you are “disabled”, they only care about the limitations placed on you by your doctor.

Social Security drafted regulations that state the weight to be given to a treating source’s opinion.  It is called the “treating source rule”. Usually, Social Security will adopt your doctor’s opinion if the medical records support the opinion.  Social Security will give little weight to the opinion if the medical records do not support it.

For example, Social Security will likely not pay much attention to your doctor’s opinion if your doctor opines that you could only lift and carry five pounds but your medical records rarely mention any problems that would equate to such limitations. There has to be documentation to support the opinion.

A treating source opinion that is supported by the medical evidence often is the difference between a case be awarded or being denied.

Feel free to contact me if you have a disability claim pending and have questions about your claim.

The Disability Hearing

You applied for disability benefits and were turned down.  You appealed the denial and have waited at least a year for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  The big day is right around the corner and you start to wonder, “What do I do?  What goes on in a disability hearing?”

First off, a hearing is a non-adversarial proceeding.  What does that mean?  It means there is not another “side” at the hearing trying to prevent you from getting benefits.  The hearing is inquisitional, which means it is basically a fact-finding proceeding. The Judge will introduce himself and ask you some basic questions regarding your work history and medical conditions.  Many Judges will give you the floor and let you tell them anything that relates to your disability.  Other Judges exert much more control over what you can say.  The Judge will then ask some questions to a Vocational Expert and allow you to cross-examine the Vocational Expert.   The hearing will last anywhere from twenty minutes to one hour.

You might ask yourself whether you need an attorney to represent you at your hearing.  Many people do not use an attorney and some of those people win their case.  You might be one of those people whose case is so strong that there is nothing to do except show up for the hearing.  Unfortunately, most cases are not that strong and need an experienced attorney to review the medical records and help you put your best foot forward at the hearing

SSI: Children Autism/PPD Claims

Children’s SSI and Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders:

I am frequently asked if a child with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Autism is eligible for Supplemental Security Income.  The short answer is yes.  A child with PPD or Autism may be eligible for SSI depending on the severity of the impairment.

Social Security first looks to their Listed Impairments to determine whether the child is eligible for SSI.  Listing 112.10 states the requirements to be found eligible for SSI based on Autism or PDD. The child is eligible if these requirements are met. If these requirements are not met, Social Security determines whether the child “functionally equals” a Listing.  What this means is that the Administrative Law Judge will determine how the impairment, in this case Autism or PDD, impacts the child’s ability to pay attention, complete tasks, interact with others, and the ability to care for themselves.

Documentation is the key to show the child is eligible for SSI.  Medical records, school records, Individual Educational Programs, statements from family and friends, pharmacy records, and a statement form the physician are all vital to show the impact PPD or Autism has on the child.

If you are in the process of applying for SSI for a child with Autism/PDD or have already been denied, please feel free to contact me to discuss your options.

Student 504 Plans

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 plan is a creation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which states that no one can be excluded from federally funded programs, including elementary, secondary, or postsecondary schooling due to a disability.   Section 504 attempts to level the playing field for students with disabilities.   A Section 504 disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Diabetes is a prime example of a disability under Section 504. Section 504 applies to all schools that receive federal assistance.

A 504 Plan is a contract between the student/parents and the school that states the accommodations the child will receive.

Please be aware that a 504 plan is not the same as an IEP. An IEP is for children whose disabilities adversely affect educational performance and is much more proactive in that it states services available to the child.  A 504 plan is used when the child’s disability does not affect educational performance.

Take the example of a child with diabetes.  If the condition does not adversely affect educational performance, then a 504 plan would be utilized.  The 504 plan could state that the school would have trained personnel on site at all times who could administer medication to the child, state that the child is able to administer medication to herself if needed, state that the child will have access to food/drink if experiencing a drop in blood sugars, etc.

If your child suffers from a disability, you should speak with the school to see if accommodations are available.  If you cannot resolve the issue with the school, please feel free to contact me to discuss your rights.