Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

Beirut and Paris, What Can We Do?

Syrian-refugee-crisis_crcleThe recent events in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris have brought feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. While these feelings in the coming weeks may subside and take a backseat to the holiday season, they will not entirely go away. And, they shouldn’t. The thought that there has to be something we can do, something we can fight for, will hopefully remain. Many of us are up every night thinking and talking at length about these events and their impact. This is, of course, much bigger than we are but it does not mean that we cannot or should not do anything. We need to do something.

Because this impacts all of us, especially the immigration bar, we need to start a larger discussion. We need to speak out against this xenophobic anti-refugee, anti-Muslim backlash.  We need to be open, be frank, be courageous and be hopeful. We need a deeper conversation among each other, within our communities and with those who do not share the same perspective. There is so much misinformation and misuse of facts. Fear and lack of understanding is dictating impulsive and hateful actions. Many in Congress are aiming to halt the refugee resettlement program for those from Iraq and Syria, while millions of refugees are desperately asking for help. Governors in 31 states are touting that they want to close their doors to Syrian refugees, with one governor already turning two families away. And, this is just the beginning. As immigration professionals, we are in a position to highlight the facts, speak the truth, and hold our elected officials accountable. We understand the immigration system better than anyone—we know the intricacies, the process, and what is required.

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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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Protecting the Survivors

shutterstock_242098315Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to draw attention to the need for AILA member expertise to help survivors, the challenges involved, and also highlight some ways that immigration attorneys can make a huge difference by getting involved and offering assistance.

Immigration benefits for the survivors of domestic violence come in many forms, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, I-751 domestic violence-based waivers, U and T visas, and asylum cases. Whatever the benefit, immigrant survivors face numerous systemic, linguistic, and cultural barriers in accessing the legal protections designed to assist them. The lack of legal immigration status is commonly used as a weapon by abusers to maintain power and control within their relationships. Some common examples of this include threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on victims, withdrawing immigration papers, or telling victims that if they were to call the police, they would be the ones arrested for their lack of status.

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I-140 Employment Card Rule Could Be a Winner for Both American and Immigrant Workers

shutterstock_320637917It’s no secret that the U.S. has shortages of workers in a variety of fields. Our immigration system seemingly provides a solution to the problem. If an employer is willing to undertake a complicated recruiting process where the position is advertised in a variety of places and the employer is willing to pay the going wage rate in the community, and if the employer can show that there are no available, qualified U.S. workers, the employer can file a visa petition to sponsor an immigrant to fill the position. That would work, except that there are quota rules that mean many, if not most of those immigrants end up waiting decades in line to receive their green cards. Indian nationals in the EB-3 category for workers with bachelor’s degrees, for example, face backlogs that at least one study estimates may be as long as 70 years.

Many of these immigrants are already in the U.S. on temporary work visas and can work while awaiting a green card. But this is a small comfort. If an immigrant worker tries to change employers, the first employer could withdraw the visa petition and the immigrant could have to start the whole process all over again. The same is true if the employer goes out of business. And because the immigrant visa petition is for a specific position at a specific salary in a specific geographic location, job mobility for these employees is extremely limited. Any sort of move, such as a promotion to a higher paid position or a transfer to another location, could jeopardize the green card process. So people wait. And wait. And wait.

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Dilley and Baseball

shutterstock_258101783My recent trip to Dilley, Texas, was a joy, a pleasure, a treat.  Not exactly what you would expect me to say in this piece, but in comparison to the hellhole that was Artesia, Dilley was refreshing.  Maybe because of the great staff, the routine, the fact that there was not a major crisis the week I was in Dilley – no one got deported, no attorney was banned, and the volunteers were allowed to work their tails off unhindered by the guards.  So, it was a pleasant and refreshing surprise.

But, since I have been back to the humdrum of daily law practice in Kansas City, I have constantly felt a drag on my heart.  As I read the hundreds of e-mails from the Dilley volunteers on the ground, I just want to pack my bag to head back down.  Hell – it’s not really unpacked yet.  I check on each of my “clients” from the week – to see who has been released, who is still waiting, who has a negative decision.  I dream about them, worry about them, and pray for them.

The week of September 14th, we took nine people from Missouri to Dilley from our chapter, and the following week, another eight people from the Kansas side of our chapter made the trek.  Our MO/KS chapter generously supported the volunteer efforts by paying for the hotel rooms – a contribution that helped enormously in volunteer recruitment.  Every single volunteer had a positive experience, and it was a great way to get to know colleagues better and build friendships.  It has been a thrill watching our members get active – speaking at events, writing pieces about their time there, and making plans to return.  Every gift of time and energy that was given in Dilley was rewarded ten-fold.

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Dilley as I Saw It, Part 2

shutterstock_305963021Stefan Babich recently traveled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. In this two-part blog post, he walks readers through his first day of volunteering and the mothers whose stories he heard. Click here to read Part 1.

What is it like hearing the life stories of the mothers and children? What impact does that have on you as a volunteer?

The stories I heard tended to follow one of several set patterns—women threatened by gangs, women with family members murdered by gangs, women asked to give up their savings or their children, women with drug-addicted, abusive spouses—but the details varied. It’s the details that the asylum officers use to determine the merits of each case, to decide whether each woman should be moved ahead to the next stage of the asylum process, so it’s important that these women be able to describe their experiences in—as I and the lawyer with whom I was working would tell them—“descriptive and clear language.”

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Only 5 Workdays Left for a Proposed STEM OPT Rule, but Don’t Panic

shutterstock_306833483Ever since an August 12 court decision, technology companies, universities and foreign students have been eagerly waiting for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to republish a rule creating the “STEM OPT Extension,” part of the Optional Practical Training program that provides foreign students the right to work temporarily during or after their studies in the United States. A proposed rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last Friday, so it could conceivably be released in time to meet the court’s February 12 deadline, if necessary.

In order to understand why the time is getting short for the rule to be published means one must delve into the timeframes and procedures for regulatory action set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Under the APA, an agency must publish a proposed rule with a request for comment, collect those comments, and then publish a final rule that takes those comments into account. (Note that the agency need not incorporate any of the suggestions into the final rule, but must provide a reasoned explanation for the choices made.)

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Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Image: Sophie Cruz/First Focus

Sophie Cruz became an instant celebrity when she approached Pope Francis’s motorcade to hand him a letter begging him to help her keep her parents in the United States.  Her message was simple, coming from a five-year-old, yet it carried more power and conviction than any of the hateful rhetoric that has been dominating the airwaves. Sophie Cruz wants to stop living with the fear that her undocumented parents may, at any time, be taken from her and deported.  You see, Sophie is a full-fledged U.S. citizen, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to all who are born in the United States.   Her parents, however, are undocumented immigrants living in the confines of the underground world that our current immigration system has created.  They are unable to legalize their status, yet work hard and contribute to their communities.  Sophie’s father, Raul, came to the United States ten years ago and works long hours at a factory to provide for Sophie and the rest of his family.  Like many aspiring Americans, they are struggling to make ends meet, stuck in the purgatory of our unworkable immigration laws. Sophie’s parents represent our country, they represent the opportunity for a better America, and the future that Sophie herself dreams of.

But what is Sophie asking for?

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate

shutterstock_229516540U.S. immigration law is a myriad of statutes, regulations, policies, memos, practices and procedures which span a wide variety of practice areas. The immigration debate playing out in the media is largely focused on the refugee, humanitarian, and family-based areas of immigration law. But this is only part of the picture. Immigration law also includes employment- and investment-based immigrants, seasonal/agricultural workers, the transfer and employment of high-skilled and professional workers, and short- and long-term visas for executives of global organizations, actors, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

This dichotomy of the perception of immigration law is not unique to the U.S. The Guardian recently examined this issue in the U.K., suggesting the main divide is whether someone is an expat or an immigrant; and concluded that the distinction is based on race. Looking at the issue in Hong Kong, a Wall Street Journal blog attributes the divide to differences in social class, country of origin, and economic status. In the U.S., the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report entitled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, a comprehensive look at US immigration, which, probably most accurately, points to status in understanding this divide. Legal status, or more acutely, the lack of legal status limits opportunities of integration, access to social services, housing, education, and employment. The key difference in the perception of immigration may therefore be an effect of the cause –the lack of viable, realistic legal immigration options for U.S. families and employers.

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When Our Government Operates in Its Own Flawed Reality, the Most Vulnerable Suffer

shutterstock_244072684On July 24, a federal court in California ruled that the Obama Administration’s policy of detaining mothers and children violated the 1997 Flores Agreement. In a 25-page ruling, Judge Dolly Gee noted she found it “astonishing” that immigration authorities had adopted a policy requiring such an expensive infrastructure without more evidence that it would be compliant with the agreement.

What is more astonishing is the government’s argument that detention was necessary as a deterrent for migrants – a policy reflecting complete disregard and understanding of the despair felt by those who flee for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.  Judge Gee disagreed and ordered the government to comply with the Flores Agreement.

The government now has filed an appeal to the July ruling, and while it is still unclear what legal arguments the government will set forth in their appeal, Secretary Johnson made it clear that the government disagrees “with portions of the legal reasoning in the decision.”  Let’s look at some of the government’s past arguments.

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