Author Archive

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

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

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

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

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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Ineffective and Discriminatory is not a Winning Combination

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

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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For Many, “Beautiful Honduras” Isn’t.

shutterstock_59018533A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece in the Huffington Post quoting Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson saying that it’s okay to deport kids to Honduras because it’s “a beautiful country.” Reading this ridiculous comment, I felt I had to share my knowledge of what is driving children to flee their homes.

The reality is Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Plagued by poverty, infested with deported violent criminals and gang members, its corrupt government fails to protect its citizens. I saw firsthand the plight of many in Honduras when I traveled to the Bay Islands on two separate occasions as an avid scuba diver a few years ago.

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Scapegoating Refugees is Not the Solution

shutterstock_239484691Somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I live in constant fear. Many of us do. It’s a natural reaction. Every day we step outside we are exposing ourselves to those things we fear. I fear a texting driver may hit my car. I fear a person with a gun could shoot up a business I’m patronizing or a nearby school. I fear my health could fail unexpectedly. Do I let this fear consume me? Not at all. But, I don’t completely discard this fear, and I am mindful of how fortunate I am to be alive each day. I am one of the lucky ones. In 1948, with the assistance of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the United States gave my own family an opportunity to survive, and we have thrived thanks to those protections provided by this country.

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Building Bridges Rather than Walls

shutterstock_104467115Congratulations to the people and elected representatives of San Diego.

As many of us know in the immigration field, it is so easy for politicians, press and the public to demonize and scapegoat immigrants of all colors, creeds, and convictions.  For years we have heard the loud cries to “build a bigger wall” or “build more walls” in order to protect American communities on the U.S.-Mexico border.  But walls aren’t always the answer, and San Diego has had enough of being told what is good for them by bureaucrats who live far from the border and carry a different agenda.

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Warning: Content Not Safe for Your Peace of Mind

shutterstock_121160620Ana was all of 11 days old when we met at the Berks Detention Center.  She was not always the most cooperative client. I don’t believe she even bothered to look at me in the two weeks she resided at the detention center. In fact her eyes didn’t open at all. She had extremely poor communication skills, well, no communication skills in fact. I bored her to sleep most days. I am also quite positive that I annoyed her with my constant ogling and raving about her cuteness. We got by, however, and I could see her story and her cause in her very tiny, pink hands.

She is now one of my best friends.  As we sat in court last week, she brilliantly turned her obstinance away from me and directed it toward her adversaries and the Immigration Court.  She has grown into the most beautiful, chubby, happy, ten-month-old baby. We, the grown-ups, sat patiently awaiting court, but Ana was having none of it.  She would peek out of her car seat every moment or two, make eye contact with me, screech and smile. She has mastered rocking in her car seat, and did so with impunity as the judge attempted to conduct what is a very serious removal proceeding that will determine her future and her safety.  Though Ana has already succeeded in defeating removal proceedings on one occasion, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has determined that it would like a second chance to order the removal of this spectacular girl, while her mother continues to fight for her right to live, free from persecution, in the United States.

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