Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

Punch Line Material

shutterstock_215658637Three cheers to Daniel M. Gerstein and Martina L. Melliand for their story (The forgotten cornerstone in the immigration reform debate) in The Hill yesterday regarding the forgotten child in the immigration reform debate: the immigration court.

We hear endless stories about increased funding for ICE to detain and CBP to restrain but never for EOIR to adjudicate the caseload.  Instead EOIR is expected to continue to do more with less as the Department of Justice and Congress send funds elsewhere.

Immigration courts across the United States perform a herculean task on a daily basis with minimal office staffing and not enough judges.  However, Congress continually refuses to open its wallet so that the immigration courts can be properly staffed.

Because of this situation, the judges and staff that remain at the courts nationwide perform the work of two or three and respondents can expect that their case will not be heard for a number of years.  Unfortunately this is not likely to change.

Politicians will argue for funding for ICE and CBP because these agencies are tied to border security and enforcement and this is what captures the headlines.  Adjudication of 436,370 and growing cases nationwide will have to wait because it’s not headline material even as it drifts into punch line material.

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Without Good Counsel

shutterstock_271782686On April 21, 2015 – a Harvard University graduate student, Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn,  published a column in the Los Angeles Daily News titled: “How U.S. immigration laws helped tear my family apart.”

Ms. Rodriguez-Lynn is a U.S. citizen and a resident of Southern California; she shares her story, beginning with her marriage to the love of her life, an undocumented Mexican citizen who had crossed over to the U.S. without authorization at age 17.  They had a baby boy and they later moved to Cambridge, MA so she could attend a Harvard graduate program.  She was living the American dream – except that her husband did not have the proper documents.

Wanting to legalize her husband’s immigration status, she eventually filed an Immigrant Petition – Form I-130 – for him that USCIS promptly approved a few months later.  Following a routine process USCIS sent the case to the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez (CDJ), Mexico for final adjudication of the immigrant visa. After receiving a notice for a visa interview, the family travelled cross-country from MA to CA and down to CDJ.  Her dream of living happily ever after with her family was suddenly shattered though when the visa officer informed her husband that he was subject to a lifetime bar due to his previous unauthorized entries to the U.S., a decision which they could not appeal.  That bar has separated her family for over 10 years.

It is no secret that our immigration laws are broken beyond repair.  On Twitter #RepealIIRAIRA should be trending!  However, that is not the point of this blog.

For over 2 years, without any cause, the State Bar of California has been targeting immigration attorneys with allegations of fraud.  State Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D-SD) has made it her mission to “protect” immigrants from attorneys who she claims, without a shred of evidence, are systematically defrauding immigrant communities.  She wants to regulate immigration attorneys more than any other lawyers in the State via AB 1159.  The goal of the law is “to prevent unscrupulous practitioners from taking advantage of immigrants’ hopes and taking money for services they could not perform.”

Noble goal, but unfortunately, immigration attorneys are lumped together with notarios.  Since notarios essentially practice law without a license, the State Bar does not have any sway over them.  Perhaps realizing this fact, the State Bar of California released a goal-oriented outreach campaign which warned the public that per AB 1159 it is illegal for immigration lawyers and consultants to take money for services related to federal immigration reform until Congress acts.

When information like this is disseminated, through the State Bar or the offices of our legislators, it confuses people. If a Harvard graduate student made the mistake of not consulting with an immigration lawyer regarding her husband’s case, perhaps because she did not trust an attorney, then anyone could make the same mistake.

It is unconscionable for our public officials – including some members of Congress – not to acknowledge that immigration laws are some of the most unforgiving in our legal system. They should actively encourage their constituents to consult with qualified immigration attorneys if they have any immigration issues. Perhaps if they admit to the reality that our immigration laws are so complicated that only an immigration lawyer may make sense of them they will find the courage to finally fix the problem so families like Rebekah Rodriguez-Lynn’s aren’t separated for life.  #RepealIIRAIRA.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

The Queer Community’s Road to Equality

shutterstock_153955259In June 2013, SCOTUS helped turn a page in the queer community’s struggle for civil rights. By striking a pertinent portion of the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Justices cleared the way for LGBTQ citizens of this country to strive for full equality under the law – in all 50 states.  Almost two years later, it’s time to take stock of the landscape.

Within the immigration world there is no question that the state of our move toward equality has strengthened. Sadly however, full equality is not yet at hand.  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and discriminatory laws and practices at both the federal and state levels are responsible for denying our basic Constitutional rights, those of liberty and justice.

Right now many same sex spouses of US citizens who fled their respective countries out of fear of persecution and subsequently entered the U.S. without authorization have to travel back to the same countries they were harmed in order to obtain a waiver for their inadmissibility even though they have an approved Petition for Alien Relative filed by their US citizen spouses.  These waivers (I-601A’s) even if approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are subject to further scrutiny by the Department of State (DOS) visa officers.  This review may take many weeks or even months which is often a nightmare for the visa applicant who had to leave his/her American family behind and are then faced with days, weeks, or months in a country with a homophobic culture.

In Mexico for instance – the U.S. Consulate in Cuidad Juarez is requiring the Acid Fast Bacilli (AFB) TB test for anyone with HIV, which takes between 6-8 weeks to complete and read. This requirement is outrageous on so many levels.  The applicant will potentially delay valuable medical care for his/her HIV status while being subjected to severe stress living in a country that is violent towards his identity as a gay individual.

Some DOS Visa Officers fail to comply with their own guidelines and regulations.  They expose same sex spouses’ identities or their finances by failing to discreetly adjudicate their applications.  There are many reports of bias, pointed questioning and unnecessary requests for evidence of bonafides of the relationship.  In a recent case out of Ecuador, a fiancé visa applicant was asked to provide joint documents such as U.S. bank accounts and property deeds and birth certificates of children with the visa applicant’s name on them, as well as a detailed explanation as to why he had never been to the U.S. Special thanks go to AILA attorneys Noemi Masliah, Chair of the LGBT Working Group and a member of the DOS Liaison Committee, and Daniel Parisi, another member of the DOS Liaison Committee for offering immediate help in resolving this particular case.

Other issues such as parentage in the LGBTQ community may now be matters of first impression.  Just recently a same sex couple in Tennessee had to fight a court battle to have their names on their biological child’s birth certificate just because the state failed to recognize their marriage held in New York.  Surrogacy pregnancy, both in the US and abroad, also raises very interesting legal questions as to parental and also derivative citizenship rights in various states.

Our movement for social justice is unstoppable and indeed history is on our side.  Before the end of the current SCOTUS term, we expect a decision on our constitutional right to marriage in all 50 states.  I’m both optimistic and anxious as we inch closer to that date – and am equally sober to the fact that our fight for equality, particularly within immigration law and policy, will continue regardless of the ruling by SCOTUS.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

148,000 Missed Opportunities

shutterstock_148806083I’m just now fully coming out of the chaotic, hectic darkness that has clouded every H-1B season for the past many years.  Once again, I find myself struggling with “Immigration PTSD”  – Post Traumatic Submission Disorder.  The cause of this syndrome is two-fold.  First, I live with the dreaded anticipation that the number of submissions will be such that not even a fair percentage of my submitted applications have a realistic hope of selection.  To make matters worse, I live in fear that, heaven forbid, I have made a minute non-material error, which will cause even a selected application to fail. Sadly, my fears are once again well founded.

This year the USCIS received 233,000 applications for 85,000 available slots.  Thus, 148,000, almost two thirds, of the petitions received in the first five days of April will be rejected out of hand without any review. A lottery has been held and the unpicked petitions so painstakingly pulled together by immigration lawyers, with help from innumerable paralegals and legal assistants, and dutifully delivered on time by FedEx, UPS, or the U.S. Postal Service, will be returned.

The data shows that the number of submissions is a direct reflection of the fact that American employers desperately need the workers for whom they petitioned. Simply, they need these foreign workers to help create products, technology, ideas, and innovations.  No employer in its right mind would go through this process or angst if they did not.  Further, as American Immigration Council Executive Director Ben Johnson recently testified in a  Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, those high-skilled immigrant workers have been shown to go on to create even more jobs, thus building our economy and contributing to the success of us all, not just the company for which they work.  Hopes will be dashed, business plans will crumble, and instead of surging forward with the right personnel, companies will be stalled again for another year while they try to make do.

Finally, and perhaps one of the greatest sources of stress for those trying to assist employers and better the economy, is that hopes will be dashed not just because the numbers alone do not and cannot possibly account for the number of workers needed, but because the process is one that does not allow for one, literally not one, error.

Our immigration system is broken, not just by its antiquated numerical limitations but also by its process.  A missed checkbox is grounds for denial, and although denial is not mandated for such errors, it is permitted.  Unfortunately, permission has become a license to kill an otherwise clearly approvable petition.

Transpose a number in a check so that it is off even by only one dollar and USCIS will reject the application. Tax filings, patent applications, and almost any other type of application can be amended.  While the law does not bar corrections to immigration applications, that opportunity is simply not afforded to filers. To err is human, except in the context of immigration, at least for applicants.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Congress could tie the H-1B visa cap to actual market demand. It’s not a crazy concept. When we had an economic downturn, demand fell, so the H-1B visa cap was reached in months instead of days. Why can’t we have the same sort of rising cap when our economy is doing well?  Similarly, our system does not mandate strict liability or compliance.  We do not need Congressional action to dictate that leniency, where permitted, be provided. The laws, common and good economic sense, do that already.  The H-1B visa system is long overdue for an overhaul – Congress should get started today.

Written by Leslie A. Holman, AILA President

How One Life Was Changed at NDA

AILA_Keychain_FrontNational Day of Action (what used to be called “Lobby Day”) is an AILA tradition that goes back a number of years. I’ve participated many times, and each time it is different. Each time I come out heartened by some Congressional visits, disheartened by others, but always feeling a part of something greater and ready to keep fighting for my clients.

One of my clients was directly impacted by my NDA participation a few years ago and I wanted to share that story.

It was back in 2010 when our group met with Rep. Velasquez. It’s unusual to get an appointment with your actual legislator, so most often we meet with one of the legislative aides. But this time it was with the Congressional Member herself.

It was just after the terrible Haiti earthquake.  I had a client, a United States Citizen dad, here in New York who was trying to get his newborn child to the US.  The child was born and she and mom were released from the hospital one day before the quake hit; the hospital collapsed in the quake the next day.

We had been trying for months to get the birth certificate or some other proof to the US Embassy in Haiti so that we could get the visa issued. Obviously, the embassy was swamped with requests and work related to the quake, which we understood, but there were some incredibly frustrating delays and run around with the Post that lasted for months.

While we were talking to Rep. Velasquez at our meeting, educating her about immigration reform and how important it is to fix the broken system, I happened to mention this case as an example.  Suddenly her eyes lit up. She jumped out of her chair and called her aide into our meeting and told him to get my name and number and that she would see what she could do. As soon as I got back to the office the next day I gave the aide the details and file number.

The child was in New York a month later.

This sort of result is the exception, not the rule. These meetings are not to ask for help for individual cases, but to educate and advocate on immigration issues. But I used a concrete example in this meeting to illustrate a point, and got this amazing and exceptional result. No one should come to NDA solely for this purpose, but what a story!

So despite the deadlock in Congress, I will be at NDA this year again, as usual. Because you never know when a comment you make in a meeting can inform a congressional hearing question, even months later. You never know how sharing your card with a legislative assistant can lead to being asked for information when a bill is being drafted. And you never know how an offhand comment can reunite a family.

Written by George Akst, NDA Attendee and AILA Member

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To register for NDA 2015, go to Agora and sign upit’s free!

Hope and Disappointment in Dilley

Dilley_300x240I spent last week at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, volunteering to help mothers and children detained there. Having previously experienced the harsh conditions at the facility in Artesia, I was immediately struck by the visible differences here in Dilley. Any former Artesia volunteer will do a double-take at the sight of a toddler-sized slide in the visitation trailer, or a guard bringing coffee to a mom waiting to meet with her attorney. At the beginning of the week I thought the air of hope I felt in the visitation trailer had to do with better conditions in the facility.

I was wrong. Although it’s a slightly “prettier” jail than Artesia was, it’s still a jail, and the women and children detained there feel this deeply. The air of hope I felt in the beginning had nothing to do with having toys for the kids in the play area. Rather, news of the RILR victory had spread like wildfire in the facility over the weekend, and the women thought they might have a chance at bonds their families could afford to pay. At some point on Thursday, these hopes were dashed as women were herded en masse in to the courtrooms, where ICE officers handed many of them paperwork for either a $7,500 or $10,000 bond, with no explanation of how they had decided on such a high number.

The atmosphere in the facility completely changed after this. The women we saw were despondent and confused, knowing their families couldn’t pay this amount, and wondering why such a high price should be put on their heads. One of the few “individualized determinations” we saw was in the case of a woman who fled with her toddler after receiving death threats from a gang. A week after arriving in Dilley, she found out that the gang had made good on their threats, killing the 6-year-old daughter she had been forced to leave behind. She was still in the facility when I left – her family couldn’t afford to pay the $4,000 bond ICE had set for her.

I know there’s a lot of work to be done building this project, and it seems daunting at the outset. But I also know that we need to be there, and we need to build a sense of trust and commitment between the volunteers and the detainees just like we did in Artesia.

It’s time to re-mobilize – these kids and moms need us to fight for them.

Written by Sarah Corstange, AILA Member and Dilley Volunteer

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to AILA’s Dilley Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

From Leave It to Beaver to Modern Family

shutterstock_152193854The days when one spouse remained at home and the other went to work aren’t the norm any longer in our society.  Although there may still be some households where only one spouse works outside the home, in many cases having two working spouses is one of the requirements of the economic and societal reality within which we now live.

While the Cleavers exemplified the idealized middle-class suburban family of the mid-20th century, times have changed, and now Modern Family brings us the experiences of diverse family units.

Decades of changes within our own culture and values have led to the recognition of both spouses’ talents outside the home.  The traditional roles of domestic spouses and working spouses are no longer rigid models in a family and with two incomes the overall financial stability and security of many family units has improved.

Our country’s H-1B visa program however, lagged behind these realities until last week when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) finally announced a visa rule revision that will allow spouses of some highly skilled immigrants to apply to work in the United States.  This rule recognizes the contributions spouses of foreign workers can also bring to our society and economy.

USCIS director Leon Rodriguez noted that “[spouses] are, in many cases, in their own right highly skilled workers,” and that “many families struggled financially when a spouse couldn’t work, and in some cases returned to their country.”

More importantly this rule revision will have a tremendous effect on immigrant women because a large number of the H-1B spouses are, in fact, women.  Women who may have completed advanced degrees in their home country and are well qualified to hold jobs in their own professions, but who until now have been barred from doing so. They have had to make a choice, either to pursue their own career or focus entirely on their spouse’s while he was employed on an H-1B visa.  The Administration’s willingness to recognize these inequities for immigrant women living in our society and the agency’s action in revising this arcane rule is another step forward in remedying the complex and outdated rules in our current immigration system.

The announcement and the impact the revision of the rule will have on many foreign workers and their families are welcomed, but this is only a limited remedy.  It is important to note that the new authorization doesn’t apply to the spouses of all H-1B visa holders. The regulations only cover those whose H-1B partners are seeking permanent legal residency and for whom the agency has already approved an employer petition to start the process.

Our immigration system remains a product of the past century and hinders our country’s ability to remain competitive in this global economy.  The efforts by this Administration to bring relief to companies seeking to keep or hire talent should be a catalyst for Congress to get to work on further reform of our immigration laws.

Competitiveness increases profits and strengthens our economy.  Research shows that immigrants complement American workers.   It is time to leave the Cleavers to our history and modernize our immigration laws to chart the economic future of our nation and the financial stability of our families.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Second Vice President

It’s Our Security, Stupid

shutterstock_126785846I find myself in the unusual position today of agreeing with Rep. Peter King (R-NY) in his NY Daily News Op-Ed Wednesday (Guest column: Brooklyn terror suspects show it’s insane to not approve money for Homeland Security ) where he argues that security of the United States is too important and that funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is essential to protect our country.  He is right.  As we sit back and watch the latest drama unfold on Capitol Hill, one cannot but wonder why funding our national security would ever become a political issue.  Clearly it is in our nation’s best interest to fund the agency which is responsible for protecting the homeland from terrorist attack.   Now more than ever Congress should recognize that terrorism can happen in the West and is being called upon by radical leaders abroad.  All they need to do is look at our friends in France, Holland and Canada to see recent examples of attacks on innocent civilians and local police.  Moreover, recently the terrorist group Al Shabaab called for an attack on American civilians in shopping malls such as the Mall of America.  Rep. King points out the need to fund DHS based on the three individuals who were arrested recently in New York City who planned to travel to Syria to fight with ISIL or attack American civilians in New York if they could not reach Syria.  Rep. King is properly putting the people of New York and America ahead of a political agenda.

Regardless of one’s position on the legality of President Obama’s Executive Action memos or immigration in general, we should all be able to agree as Americans that the safety and protection of the people of the United States is a priority regardless of political party.  As I write this, Congress is on a path to fund DHS for only three weeks.  It is unfortunate that members of Congress continue to gamble with national security and our lives to advance individual political gain.  We can only sit back and grit our teeth as the critical votes start to line up before a dysfunctional Congress that is putting party politics before American lives and wellbeing.

Rep. King correctly notes that “you don’t have to be a genius to carry out a terrorist attack.”  You also don’t have to be a genius to understand that national security and the safety of America is more important than petty partisan politics.  Rep. King gets it. Unfortunately, it seems there are not enough members of Congress who want to stand up and represent the American people rather than their individual parties and anti-immigration politics.  We can only hope their selfish gamble doesn’t cost American lives.

Written by Matthew Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

shutterstock_250501696Or (Thank You Sean Penn for Starting the Immigration Discussion at the Oscars)

I love film.  I love the Oscars.  To me, the Oscars, unlike the other award shows, represent the best of all aspects of the highly competitive, brilliant, and inspiring film industry.  As an immigration lawyer with an artistic client base, I am always interested to see nominees from around the world coming together in Los Angeles to celebrate the universal brilliance of film at the Academy Awards.  This year in the Dolby Theatre we again heard the talented winners accept their Oscar statues with many accents for their work on films written, produced, filmed, edited, and distributed in the U.S. and internationally.  We saw dual nationals, Julianne Moore (U.S./U.K.) win best actress for the New York based Still Alice, Mathilde Bonnefoy (France/U.S.), for best documentary, Citizenfour, Canadian Craig Mann and Brit Ben Wilkins accept the award for sound mixing for the New York based Whiplash and the international team of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with winners from Italy, France, and the U.K. garnering artistic awards in costume design, original score, and hair and makeup.

Unique this year, however, was the truly international compilation of the all American story of Birdman:  Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which was awarded best picture, cinematography, directing and original screenplay.  Birdman is all American in that its subject is the U.S. entertainment industry, recognized the world over as “Broadway” for the best of theatre and “Hollywood” for film, based on the short story by American treasure, Raymond Carver and shot entirely in New York City.  The Birdman team, including an Argentine writer, Mexican director, producer and cinematographer and British actors, along with their American colleagues, created the best film of the year as judged by their peers.  This achievement is in itself the American dream.  As Alejandro González Iñárritu, multiple Oscar winner for Birdman, so elegantly stated:

“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans…the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and the respect of the ones who came before and (built) this incredible immigrant nation.” (Associated Press)

Yes, immigrants did build this country; they also built our entertainment industry, seen as the best, or at least the most influential, in the world.  Indeed, many of our most legendary directors including Frances Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, Robert Zemeckis, and John Houston are sons or grandsons of the immigrants of the early 20th century – those huddled masses who in their own time fought discrimination, marginalization and language barriers, but who, unlike today’s immigrants were welcomed by laws which enabled their integration into the U.S.   The current state of our immigration laws, with the unreasonable barriers and limitations on work visas and green cards, the limitations for those who enter without inspection and the crippling three and ten year bars is holding back those who come to this country in search of the American dream and depriving their children of the same opportunities afforded to the children of the immigrants of the early 20th century.  I don’t know how Alejandro González Iñárritu came to the U.S. or if he has a green card, as possibly inappropriately (or even ignorantly) stated by Best Picture presenter, Sean Penn, but he is clearly extraordinary, and accordingly would most likely be eligible for a work visa or green card under our current immigration laws.

While welcoming the best and brightest can be beneficial to the U.S., let’s not forget all those who came before us who were not extraordinary in their fields – those hard working young men and women seeking a better life; those whose children and grandchildren grew up to be legends of the film industry.  A brilliant director/screenwriter/ film producer/composer/immigrant has challenged us to look at the American dream in both his Academy award winning film and his acceptance speech; he has challenged lawmakers to enact laws that treat immigrants with dignity and respect worthy of this incredible nation.

I urge Congress to take up this challenge, to educate themselves about these important issues instead of repeating rhetoric aimed at creating more confusion and condemnation rather than educated debate and effective change. Our country has prospered in large part because of the contribution of immigrants and their children – those who had the next big great idea – whether it be in the arts, business, economics, finance, law or any other field. That is inspiring to me, just like the Oscars.

 Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA National Treasurer

Traitor? Not So Much.

shutterstock_171828821I was called a traitor, twice, in less than an hour today.

It’s not the first time in my role as AILA’s Executive Director that I’ve been called that, but it still offends. The fallacies about immigrants, about the undocumented, about our borders and our government’s actions continue to linger.

This time it was on C-Span’s Washington Journal. The callers were cut off when they spit out the accusation, but I tried to honestly answer their questions while inside I was yelling “HOW DARE YOU?”

I’m not a traitor when I ask our Congress to pass good immigration reform, actual legislation that would fix the broken system and address the undocumented already here.

I’m not a traitor when I acknowledge that the millions of people already in the United States, already building lives here, paying taxes and working, need a way out of the shadows, away from fear, and into the light.

I’m not a traitor when I read studies modeling the economic impact of giving work authorization to those who apply for DACA and DAPA that show it will in fact help the economy.

I’m not a traitor when I think having people come forward for DACA and DAPA will actually help our country prioritize enforcement on those who actually pose a potential risk to public safety.

I’m not a traitor when I think that a U.S. citizen child is better off with a loving, caring mother and father than to have her family torn apart and her parents deported, like Diane Guererro described.

I’m not a traitor when I believe that our country at its best will welcome those striving for the American dream, no matter their race or color, instead of spitting on them.

I’m not a traitor when I explain that a federal judge’s decision was the wrong one, based on many of the same spurious anti-immigrant claims that those callers espoused.

I’m not a traitor when I still revere what the Statue of Liberty stands for, when I acknowledge that many of my own ancestors came to this country and benefitted from our Constitution’s rights for those who reside here.

I’m not a traitor when I can put myself into someone else’s shoes, a desperate mom or a terrorized child, who seeks asylum in this land of the free.

And I’m certainly not a traitor when I agree to answer questions, honestly and with as much legal expertise as possible, to anyone who calls in on a national news channel. I just get called one then.

Written by Crystal Williams, AILA Executive Director