Archive for the ‘Processing of Applications & Petitions’ Category.

Shining a Light on Domestic Violence to Assist Immigrant Victims

shutterstock_316304594October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is intended to shine a light on the human right to be free from violence, ensure that all victims of domestic violence know they are not alone, and foster supportive communities that help survivors seek justice.  In the United States, twenty people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner each minute. Most victims don’t come forward because it is not safe; in fact leaving an abusive relationship is often when victims are at the greatest risk of homicide by their abusive partners.

Immigrant victims are particularly vulnerable as they often live in the shadows of society and face additional challenges to reporting abuse and/or leaving an abusive relationship. These barriers include fear that police contact may lead to deportation, separation from children and other family members, language barriers, isolation, and fear of being ostracized by their families or communities for coming forward.  Many undocumented immigrant victims are not aware that they are protected by U.S. laws and have options for escaping the violence. They don’t know that they have access to police or court protections.

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Right Choice Banner AdOn June 15, 2012, President Obama changed many lives for the better with his historic announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. This critical and necessary action by the President went into effect on August 15, 2012 when young people were able to take the piles of paper they had compiled to prove they were eligible and apply for DACA.

Today marks the 4th anniversary of those first applications, and is cause to celebrate, but also to push for further expansion of this program. In the face of inaction by Congress, the executive branch has been able to help thousands of young immigrants and their families. Government figures show that to date, more than 728,000 individuals have applied for DACA out of an estimated 1.16 million who are eligible. It is a good start, but much more needs to be done.

Some were critical of President Obama for this initiative, but, he used his legal authority to help young people in a system where reform is long overdue. Children, brought to America, some as young as a few months old, were growing up only to find out that the only country they have ever known is a place where they have diminished rights and are at risk of deportation. Some of the clients I have worked with didn’t figure out they weren’t U.S. citizens until they were trying to get a driver’s license or applying to college. Most of these kids didn’t have a choice to come here and never chose to violate any immigration law. President Obama recognized that they should not be punished.

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In Search of Consistency

shutterstock_423046402Ralph Waldo Emerson famously opined that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” I have often opined (less famously) that, if Emerson is correct, there must be very few small-minded adjudicators at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Even in areas where USCIS has made an open effort to establish uniformity, it often seems that the only thing one can count on consistently is, well, inconsistency. For example, in 2010, USCIS began denying H-1B cap exempt petitions filed by nonprofits affiliated with institutions of higher education even though those same petitioners had repeatedly been approved as cap exempt for years. Particularly hard hit were nonprofit hospitals affiliated with medical schools that rely on cap exempt H-1B filings to sponsor international medical graduates who are completing their U.S. residency and fellowship training in accredited graduate medical education programs. These programs operate on an academic calendar that runs from July 1 – June 30, a time of year when there are no new H-1Bs available. Understandably, the hospitals and medical schools raised a stink with their Congressional representatives who in turn, and along with AILA, took the issue to USCIS.

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Why AILA Liaison Work is Crucial Even in Contentious Times

shutterstock_242847928Liaison work has long been at the heart of AILA member services. Liaison, when effective, is a critical bridge for members who are facing issues in their practices, helping to raise those issues with the various agencies to work toward a solution. However, in recent years, some have begun to question the efficacy of liaison efforts and whether AILA might be better served pursuing other options, such as litigation, to push back on critical issues.

I have long held the belief that AILA’s liaison relationship with government agencies can and should be both respectful and spirited, and that it is through a liaison system built on trust, mutual respect, and solid relationships that we can achieve AILA’s mission of providing robust member service. This kind of liaison relationship does not foreclose the option of litigation, political advocacy, public relations, or other avenues for change, but it does serve as the bedrock for effective engagement with the government. This approach works and will continue to work as we move forward. Take, for example, a recent AILA liaison development that we hope will make a palpable difference in members’ practices.

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What Happened Yesterday

DSC_0673 (Medium)It was early Monday morning in Los Angeles and all along the West Coast of the United States, people were just waking up. Cars were jamming the freeways, lines were forming at coffee shops and TVs were tuned to the morning news. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the five men and three women who currently sit on the U.S. Supreme Court were hearing oral arguments in what is likely to be a seminal case involving immigration policy and more broadly, the president’s executive authority. The case seeks to resolve the controversy around the immigration initiatives President Obama announced in November 2014. For many who anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision, a resolution as to whether the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives may proceed is a life-changing matter.

United States v. Texas traveled to the Supreme Court on a politically charged highway along which advocates and opponents threw many punches. The road was lengthy, and as the case made its way to the Supreme Court, many speculated as to its fate. Significantly, this past February, the Court lost Justice Antonin Scalia. As one of the most conservative justices on the court, his passing could have an impact on the result of the case.

I had the privilege of sitting in the courtroom and listened first-hand as Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the Obama Administration, and Scott A. Keller, Solicitor General of Texas, delivered their arguments. Certain intervenors were permitted to make statements, including Tom Saenz at MALDEF, who forcefully represented the voices of three undocumented mothers, but the crux of the case was presented and argued by the parties’ respective attorneys.

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The H-1B Visa Program: The Dial-up Connection to the High-speed Wireless World

shutterstock_94209850There are far too many moments when the dysfunction of our outdated immigration system becomes crystal clear. One of those moments occurred this week when U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received a record number of H-1B visa petitions during the five-day filing window for the coming fiscal year. Because our immigration laws are now more than a generation old, our system is simply not equipped for today’s reality – the H-1B program is like a dial-up connection in a high-speed wireless world.

A recent report shows that the presence of high-skilled immigrants improves a wide spectrum of the American economy and benefits U.S. workers. There is a direct correlation between the hiring of high-skilled immigrants and the creation of new jobs and new opportunities for economic growth in communities across the nation. The H-1B visa program is a way for U.S. businesses to hire those high-skilled immigrants.  But, with an artificial limit of 85,000 on the number who can come here, Congress has not made it easy for these essential workers to get here, even with a job offer in hand.

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ICE Fights to Detain and Deport Teenage Girl Despite Stay

FB_IMG_1454041598864Kimberly was just 17 when she went in front of an Atlanta immigration judge and was told she would be deported. There was no legal orientation. No one asked her why she left her native Honduras or whether she was afraid to be sent back there. Even the lawyer her family hired didn’t tell her she could fight her case—and worse, actually asked the judge to order her removed.

Now, after nearly two months in a for-profit immigration jail in Irwin County, Georgia—under conditions that would make you weep—Kimberly is literally fighting for her life. And by the time you read this, she may already be gone.

In 2014, Kimberly fled Honduras with her little sister—gang members had threatened to take her as their sexual property. At best, Kimberly could expect to be passed from man to man, but girls who don’t submit are often kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered, their mutilated bodies left as a warning to others. Honduras was the murder capital of the world in 2013—our own State Department recognizes a host of human rights violations, including killings, weak law enforcement and judiciary systems, and abuse and violence against women. There are few, if any protections from a government that is both corrupted and outgunned by gangs notorious for targeting women and girls. Physicians for Human Rights shared the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women report, which noted “violent deaths of women in Honduras had increased 263.4 percent between 2005 and 2013, and there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes.” Knowing there wasn’t anything anyone could do to protect her, Kimberly escaped to the United States.

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How the Years Add Up

shutterstock_384301372Imagine coming to the United States to seek asylum and having to wait four years just for an interview to decide whether you get to move forward with your claim. Four years. In most jurisdictions, asylum applicants are having to do just that: wait years for an interview, when before 2013, asylum applicants were able to obtain a decision on their petitions typically within four months. If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refers asylees’ cases to immigration court, their wait time is likely to extend for an additional two to three years. In the Los Angeles asylum office alone, there may be as many as 30,000 cases in the backlog. Nationally, close to 100,000 cases may be awaiting USCIS adjudications.

Once USCIS grants asylum status, if the immediate family of the asylee is overseas, he/she may file a petition so that the family may follow and join him/her in the United States. Currently this process may take up to six months. In theory then, it may take up to eight years for a separated family to be reunified. For gay applicants, the situation is even worse.

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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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DHS Rule For Highly Skilled Immigrants: Helpful, But Timid

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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