Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

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 End Nears for this Politically Charged Game of Chess

shutterstock_375052336On Monday, April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the controversial case, United States v. Texas, to determine the fate of more than 3 million undocumented individuals. The lawsuit, filed by Texas and 25 other states shortly after the administration announced the expansion of DACA (DACA+) and DAPA in November 2014, blocked implementation of the programs which have been held hostage ever since.

The lawsuit alleges that DACA+ and DAPA violate the “Take Care Clause” of the Constitution which requires that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In addition, the states argue that DAPA and DACA+ violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) as arbitrary and capricious initiatives that are contrary to our immigration laws, and that the government did not comply with the procedural requirements of the APA before announcing these initiatives.

The so-called “standing” upon which Texas and the 25 other states brought the lawsuit was that these federal initiatives would unduly burden the states by requiring them to issue and subsidize driver’s licenses – $130 per license for Texas.

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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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Looking Back and Looking Forward

shutterstock_336606005In 2013, there was great momentum for immigration reform. The Senate had already passed its immigration bill, and pressure was being put to bear on the House to do the same. There was a sense of hope and great support for immigration reform nationwide. Pro-immigration reform blog posts and opinion pieces linked a viable immigration system to the U.S. remaining on top in innovation and pleas for immigration reform from major sectors of our economy, like the agriculture, travel and hospitality, and tech industries, were heard loud and clear. Economic giants like Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Coca-Cola, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and so many more, came out in vocal support of immigration reform. Even many conservative religious organizations stood behind immigration reform as the right thing to do. Poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans favored comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. And yet, the House failed to deliver.

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Preparing for Battle

PrintIn the days following the opening of the Artesia detention center, I remember reading in awe on Facebook about the lawyers that were driving out and banging on the gates, demanding to be let in, insisting these mothers and children be allowed access to counsel. I followed, in the news, through social media, and via updates from friends, the developments as attorneys took over these cases and won. I listened to the stories of those who flew out to help. In the back of my mind, I wished I could be part of it all –but I had a demanding job, a daughter who was not yet a year old at the time, and countless other reasons, or so I told myself, that made putting my life on pause and getting on a plane to fly to the middle of the New Mexico desert impossible.

Time passed. The Artesia detention center shut down. But then the detention center in Karnes City, TX, opened, and then one in Dilley, TX, opened soon after. Dilley had a planned total capacity of 2,400 beds. This was more than 12 times larger than the Berks facility in Pennsylvania, which had been the only one in existence before Artesia and holds fewer than 200 individuals. The idea of the federal government incarcerating thousands of mothers and children at a time was inconceivable, but it was happening.

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At Long Last, Volunteering at Dilley

PrintIt was a trip nearly eight months in the making, my sojourn to Dilley. As Chapter Chair in summer 2014, I heard the requests for volunteers and donations. I focused on getting the word out and supporting members who volunteered. As a business and family immigration lawyer with little asylum law experience and no Spanish language fluency, I thought “how could I help?” But at last year’s AILA Annual Conference, I heard from several colleagues that those two seemingly insurmountable issues shouldn’t stop me from doing just that — helping.  So I made the decision to go, and though I felt nervous, finding a few AILA buddies to join me helped to alleviate my worries.

Sure, my preparations required a bit more logistical wrangling than some. First, I had to identify a translator for the designated week. I remembered that Nick, my running buddy’s son, speaks Spanish.  He was a recent college graduate, so I thought that he may have some time between taking the LSAT and heading to Argentina on a Fulbright Scholarship. He reviewed the materials on CARA and agreed to join me. Thus, all the pieces were in place. The final step was finding the time, but now it was a reality. I was still anxious but committed. I had to bone up on asylum law and procedures and spend some time familiarizing myself with the CARA database. I had to buy plane tickets and make reservations. And I had to reorganize my life so that it could be put on hold while I spent a week helping families.

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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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Chasing Away the Innovators: Not in America’s Interest

shutterstock_167669732In last week’s Republican debate, a significant challenge to American businesses was raised – the annual limit  or “cap” on the number of H-1B visas issued – a limit imposed twenty-five years ago, before the Internet and mobile phones and “Big Data” were parts of everyday vocabulary. This issue isn’t a newly discovered problem, it is something that has stymied business growth and innovation for years. The next generation of technologists needed to run our technology infrastructure and continue our world-leading development environment often are international students on F-1 visas – a source of vitality in the U.S. tech sector, and a key part of maintaining America’s leadership in the technology fields. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, have long thought that our country needs to provide a path for these graduates, beyond the H-1B visa. In fact, a bipartisan rallying cry in recent years has been to “staple a green card to their diplomas.” And yet, Congress has not acted.

Because of the challenges in keeping these international students employed in the United States under the antiquated H-1B cap, President Bush caused a regulation to be promulgated to extend the time of these student’s F-1 visas, which President Obama recently caused to be extended further. Not only governmental efforts have been made, however, to keep these students employed in the United States instead of taking their new businesses to Canada, India, or elsewhere. The New York Times recently profiled efforts by the City of New York, the universities in New York, and entrepreneurial international students to develop architectures in which those students could create their businesses in partnership with universities, and thus in the United States. Another article recently profiled how enterprising students and their business partners have had to leverage the visa process to create businesses that qualify for H-1B visas, again making efforts to build those businesses in the United States, rather than abroad.

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Benefits of Volunteering Go Beyond the Client

shutterstock_272360927I spend most of my days steeped in PERM filings, H-1Bs and other thorny employment-based conundrums. I don’t speak Spanish. The number of asylum cases I have handled can be counted on one hand. I have rarely represented clients in Immigration Court. And yet, last year, I offered to help the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project remotely, if an opportunity arose. I didn’t expect the immediate reply of, “Here you go! The brief is due in a week!”

A week later, I was informed that a four-year-old girl was dancing around the CARA attorneys’ evening meeting singing the theme song from Frozen, grateful for the opportunity to remain safe in this country as a result of my one week of concerted effort. How was I able to do this? The incredible mentorship and support of two local immigration attorneys, Kim Hunter and Malee Ketelsen-Renner, made it possible for my efforts to change the lives of a mother and daughter in detention. I could urge everyone to volunteer because it is the humane and ethical obligation of any expert in immigration law. However, this volunteer experience was valuable for reasons well beyond the warm fuzzies that I continue to feel, nearly a year later

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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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