Frustrations with H-1B Processing Delays Exacerbated by USCIS Stonewalling

Author: on 02/04/2016


shutterstock_154341992AILA members and their clients are well aware of the lengthening processing times for several product lines at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service centers.  However, most pronounced is the extraordinary expansion of processing times for H-1B extensions at both the California and Vermont Service Centers.  AILA has brought concerns regarding the delays in processing to the attention of USCIS in several different forums over the past several months.

We pointed out that according to the posted processing times, on September 30, 2015, the California Service Center was processing routine H-1B extensions that were filed on or before June 2, 2015.  Several months later, the November 30, 2015, report indicated that the processing date moved only 11 days – to June 13, 2015. Those who have tried to inquire with the National Customer Service Center regarding cases pending beyond the normal processing times have learned that the date has not moved significantly beyond June 13, 2015, in the 2 months since November 30, 2015.

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New Opportunities to Move Forward in 2016

Author: on 01/19/2016


shutterstock_332894387The American people are frustrated by the inability of Congress to take action and tackle the challenging, yet not insurmountable, task of reforming our immigration system and bringing it into the new century. That shouldn’t be too much to ask now that we are already well over a decade into the 21st century.

The Administration attempted to alleviate this frustration in November of 2014 by announcing plans to keep families together, ensure our communities are secure, and enable employers to keep the talent they need to remain competitive.  Though many of these actions are still pending implementation by DHS, the litigation brought by Texas and other states has delayed implementation of President Obama’s signature initiative which would grant a reprieve from deportation to many undocumented individuals who have extensive, long-term ties to the United States.

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U Visa: A Sliver of a Silver Lining for Victims of Violent Crimes

Author: on 01/13/2016


shutterstock_123147769Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. As the USCIS website explains, this legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking of undocumented immigrants, among other crimes. These special nonimmigrant visas are for individuals who have suffered substantial mental and/or physical abuse as a result of a crime committed against them and who are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.

As an immigration attorney, I have worked with immigrants, like Jose, for whom the U visa offers a way forward, free from fear. In 2006, Jose, a 30-year-old Hispanic laborer, made his way to work at 5:00 in the morning.  Within minutes of parking, an unknown man in a vehicle stopped next to his car and approached Jose. This man then took out a 12-gauge shotgun and without motive, shot Jose twice, striking him in the face and shoulder.

Bleeding profusely and literally holding half of his face in the palm of his hand, Jose stumbled toward his work site and made an urgent call for help. He was rushed to the hospital, where he would remain for the next two and half months. Jose suffered a shattered jaw, lost a large portion of his tongue, and suffered extreme emotional trauma, among other injuries.

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What I Need to Hear

Author: on 01/12/2016


shutterstock_91837658In a January 7, 2016, article in Fusion, Tim Rogers tells readers that the Obama Administration, “is on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000.” Think about that for a second. This is the reality as we get ready for  President’ Obama’s final State of the Union Address which takes place tonight, in the recent wake of the newly launched enforcement actions against families, women, and children who have fled some of the most dangerous conditions on earth in gang-plagued Central America.

The State of the Union used to be an opportunity to hear a message of optimism and hope, when the president would outline the administration’s goals and objectives for the coming year.  But recently, it seems we have lost our way; that we have morphed into something that we are not.  Americans have always embraced the role of our nation as protector, wise guardian, and leader. We have sacrificed thousands of brave men and women who have gone to foreign shores to protect a populace they did not know from dictators, tyrants, and terrorists because it was the right thing to do. It was the American thing to do.

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The Impact of Inaction on American Children

Author: on 01/12/2016


shutterstock_157595678America is a nation of immigrants, and Congress has the critical job of making sure U.S. immigration laws are up to par. Yet, decade after decade, we are left with legislative scraps and executive orders on how to deal with the immigration system. That lack of concrete, comprehensive action directly and negatively affects our competitiveness in a global economy. But it also hinders our ability to maintain a clear moral authority on a whole host of issues, including how we treat our children.

Lost in all the bravado about building walls, having a religious litmus test, creating a two tier citizenship structure, and having permanent and semi-permanent bars, is the most important issue of all – the welfare of American kids.

In 2007, an estimated 9% of all U.S. babies were born to undocumented parents. In 2012, there were 4.5 million U.S.-born children younger than 18 living with undocumented immigrant parents. According to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, these children experience multiple developmental side effects because of their parents’ status. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor of education at New York University and an author of the study says the effects are in “cognitive development, engagement in school and their ability to be emerging citizens.”

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Defend, Don’t Target, the Vulnerable

Author: on 01/05/2016


shutterstock_232202254On Christmas Eve, news leaked that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was going to begin raids to round up and deport Central American families. Over the holiday week, stakeholders, legislators, community leaders, and advocates pushed back hard on these planned raids and begged the Obama Administration not to move forward.

In spite of that, and without any communication from DHS in response to our efforts, on the first Saturday of the New Year the raids began. Reports surfaced quickly of mothers and children being torn from their homes, terrified of what was happening. Of ICE agents gaining access to homes under questionable circumstances. Of the latest inhumane and deplorable practices to which the federal government has subjected asylum seekers.

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DHS Rule For Highly Skilled Immigrants: Helpful, But Timid

Author: on 12/31/2015


shutterstock_204239854Yesterday morning began with a panicked message from a software engineer employed by one of my corporate clients.  The engineer had “ported” his green card application, joining my client after having been sponsored by a prior employer for permanent residence.  The company was happy he had joined, since he brought needed skills to help upgrade the company’s infrastructure.  The engineer’s message related to his green card application: nine years after his immigrant visa petition had been approved, while he was waiting in the interminable backlog for high-skilled workers from India, USCIS decided to question its approval of the immigrant visa petition filed by the prior employer.  The engineer was now second-guessing his decision to have taken the position with my client, wondering if his immigration future might be more secure if he went back to the work he had been doing previously.

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STEM OPT Rule: Coming, But Likely Delayed (Still Not Time To Panic, Though)

Author: on 12/28/2015


shutterstock_235526545Back in October, I predicted that technology companies, universities, and foreign students would have to wait past a court-imposed February 12, 2016 deadline for a new rule that would continue the “STEM OPT Extension” part of the Optional Practical Training Program.  In order to meet the court’s deadline, I pointed out that DHS would need to publish its final rule 60 days before the anticipated effective date, December 14, 2015.  That deadline has come and gone.

The plaintiffs in the case that resulted in the February 12 deadline have appealed because they did not like Judge Huvelle’s earlier rulings that the OPT program is well within the Department of Homeland Security’s statutory authority. Judge Huvelle held that OPT is a well-established part of immigration law that Congress authorized through several major revisions of the statute over the past 25+ years.  At present, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing that issue, as well as the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the lawsuit challenging a duly-promulgated regulation based on a bare assertion that they have been harmed by the OPT program.

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Ineffective and Discriminatory is not a Winning Combination

Author: on 12/18/2015


shutterstock_310538138At the time of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, I was a teenager, completely unfazed by the events unfolding. My brother and I were both going to school in the U.K. and my older sister had already immigrated to the U.S. When the revolution peaked in late 1978, my parents were visiting my sister in Los Angeles. Tragically, within two months, our 2500-year monarchy was replaced with a repressive and regressive Islamic system of governance in February 1979. I was the last one of my family who was able to arrive in the U.S., later in 1979 to complete high school.

As with many Iranians, our extended family was scattered by the new regime. My mom’s cousin was executed for being a senator in the Shah’s government. To retrieve his body, we had to pay for the bullets used by the firing squad. My uncle was accused of crimes against humanity for being the Chief of Police in Tehran at the time of the revolution. He went into hiding and stayed there until his death many years later. My younger sister, her husband, and their baby were jailed for attempting to escape from the country on foot.

Stateside, we were dealing with the fallout from the horrendous hostage crisis where American diplomats were detained for 444 days in Iran. Agents from the FBI visited our home and interviewed all of us. Life was volatile, but at least we felt relatively safe in America.

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The Ultimate Act of Motherly Love

Author: on 12/11/2015


shutterstock_220381390I recently visited the Karnes County Residential Center and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration and as a CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project volunteer. I have been going to jails and prisons for more than 25 years, my entire career, but I have never been in a prison complete with locked metal doors, security cameras, and a prison wall with fencing thirty feet high, but also with kids in strollers, infants, stacks of diapers, a room of clothes that includes 0-3 month onesies, and a “yard” outfitted to include a playground. Despite what the government calls them, these are prisons, just like any prison I’ve been to throughout my career, except there are children in these. It feels so wrong.

The women who agreed to talk with us had been incarcerated from a couple days to two weeks. They didn’t seem to really grasp the process, their rights, or know what was going to happen next.  They also didn’t seem to understand the importance of the credible or reasonable fear interviews, the first step in the path to protection in the U.S. What was apparent was how difficult it is for these women to share what caused them to flee, to lay out the horrifying facts to a complete stranger.

Among the stories shared are those of terror and fear, women trying to escape violence and persecution with children in tow:  A teenage daughter  threatened with rape and death on her way home from school. Children told that they must sell drugs or their families would be murdered. Friends and cousins tortured and killed. Toddlers and school-age children threatened with guns to their heads while their mothers were forced to watch. The police couldn’t or wouldn’t help them. This is what they fled from.

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