Archive for the ‘Legislative Reform’ Category.

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?

Continue reading ‘Can the Innocence of a Child Soften the Hearts of Anti-Immigrants?’ »

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.

Continue reading ‘Seeing the Forest for the Trees in the Immigration Debate’ »

One of Millions

shutterstock_244966882As an immigration attorney, I hear the life stories of immigrants from all over the world. I hear about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and children left behind; I hear about the choices people have made and the relationships that have flourished and failed. It’s a never-ending stream of sadness, hope, anger, and excitement. It’s the reason I became and remain an immigration lawyer.

One story, though, has become emblematic to me of the desperate need for reform.

My client is from Jamaica and was born deaf. She arrived in the U.S. in 1991 as a teenager and made her life here. She was married for many years to a United States citizen husband and had three children with him, but he never filed a petition for her to adjust her status. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic and my client eventually separated from him. Now, she is living on her own with her children as best she can, sometimes depending on the generosity of relatives to take her and her children in. But her relatives don’t know sign language and she does not read lips well, so she is often left alone in the world.

Continue reading ‘One of Millions’ »

More Than a Label

MoreThanALabel LogoThis blog post was written in response to the questions raised by the SocialWork@Simmons #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort to highlight how immigrants are currently combating labels and stigmas and what can be done to promote immigrant pride.

My name is Victor Nieblas Pradis, and in June I became the first Mexican-American President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in AILA’s 69 years of existence.

Decades ago, proudly claiming to be Mexican-American might have led to slurs or denigration in this country, but times have thankfully changed.

As I shared in my first speech as AILA President, I was two years old when we settled across the “linea,” or border, of Mexico in Calexico, California. For me and my four siblings, immigration issues were a part of our experience and reality. The international border was only eight blocks from my home and the local border patrol station was only two. My next-door neighbor was a border patrol agent and across the street lived a ranking member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Continue reading ‘More Than a Label’ »

Indian Independence Day

shutterstock_134525195“Progress is implied in independence. Without self-government neither industrial progress is possible, nor the educational scheme will be useful to the nation…” – Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

When you think of the phrase “Independence Day,” naturally you think of July 4th and wonderful images of BBQs, apple pie and fireworks come to mind. August 15th is Indian Independence Day, which is relatively recent, having begun in 1947. It certainly feels recent to me since my father was ten years old at the time. Of course he later moved to Britain, where I was born, making me a British Citizen, therefore setting me up for a lifetime of combined pride and self-loathing. In the U.S., Indian Independence Day on August 15th is celebrated in numerous cities, and with a number of parades and parties.

India has come a long way. Just shy of one quarter of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, it is amazing to see the progress over the last decade. Modern cities and developments have sprung up all over India. The economy is booming and India is creating many different items for export. Perhaps its largest and most valuable export though, is people, in particular, highly educated people.

Continue reading ‘Indian Independence Day’ »

Conrad 30 – A “Win-Win” Response to the US Healthcare Crisis

shutterstock_102868775Affordable and accessible healthcare has long been a national priority.  However, for decades the United States has experienced a critical shortage of physicians.  The addition of millions more insured Americans to the healthcare rolls under the Affordable Care Act has heightened the problem.  In fact, the Association of Medical Colleges predicts the US will face a shortage of 46,000 – 90,000 physicians by the year 2025.[1]  While the US is now graduating more medical students than ever before, the number of graduate medical education residency and fellowship training programs has remained static.[2]  With American physicians increasingly choosing hospital-based medical specialties over primary care positions,[3] millions of vulnerable Americans are left without primary healthcare.

Fortunately, US immigration law provides an incentive to attract US-trained international medical graduates (IMGs) to parts of the country not fully served by American physicians.  Since its inception in 1994, state Departments of Health across the country have used the Conrad State 30 J-1 waiver program (“Conrad 30”) to place over 12,000 IMGs in medically underserved communities where they have provided healthcare to millions of our country’s neediest citizens.

Continue reading ‘Conrad 30 – A “Win-Win” Response to the US Healthcare Crisis’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2

shutterstock_211305115…Continued (Read Part 1 of this blog post)

In general, AILA and other industry stakeholders are finding strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for the EB-5 program.  And yes, Congress has extended the Regional Center (RC) program numerous times since 1992.

But, and this is important, the current legislative atmosphere is uncertain and complex – especially involving immigration issues.  Many legislators, from both parties, want to address all immigration issues as part of a larger comprehensive reform package.  Extending just the EB-5 program and other sunset immigration programs could be viewed as piecemeal and diluting a comprehensive approach favored by many.

Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 2’ »

EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1

shutterstock_211305115The EB-5 “Regional Center” visa program again finds itself in an all too familiar place – unless Congress reauthorizes by September 30, the program will sunset. For better or worse, the EB-5 program remains connected with three other sun-setting immigration programs (E-Verify, Conrad and Religious Workers).  AILA continues to be actively involved in the extension process and here are some updates:

Let’s start with a quick refresher. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa classification has many street names, such as the “Entrepreneur” visa, the “Investor” visa and the “Jobs Creation” visa. By any name, the U.S. Congress created this program in 1990 with the goal of encouraging the infusion of foreign capital to benefit the U.S. economy. And to that end, it would offer the privilege of U.S. residency to an entrepreneur in exchange for creating 10 new jobs for American workers.
Continue reading ‘EB-5 Up for Reauthorization: Part 1’ »

Acting in Haste

shutterstock_91837658National tragedies have long propelled political change. Often a terrible event will ignite a fervent desire in political leaders to take action on an issue that has been neglected or overlooked. However, it is in these times of passion and emotion that some of the worst mistakes are made.

Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, our nation felt justified in stripping thousands of Japanese-Americans of their land and forcing them into internment camps. After the horrible terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, our government implemented laws such as the Patriot Act that infringed on Americans’ constitutional rights.

On July 1, 2015, 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 14 in San Francisco, while walking arm-in-arm with her father. The man who reportedly shot her, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times and been convicted of several drug-related offenses in the past. This random and senseless act is fueling the urge on the part of Congress to do something.

On July 23, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3009 to punish local jurisdictions – known as “sanctuary cities” that don’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) indefinite detainer requests for non-violent criminals.  If enacted these provisions will have devastating fiscal and humanitarian consequences for these municipalities.  In addition to other penalties, non-compliant cities would be ineligible to get reimbursed for the cost of detaining immigrants accused of or convicted of crimes.  In California, where we are just emerging from a severe recession and still have unemployment levels above the national average, such a federal mandate would prove devastating to our recovering economy. Continue reading ‘Acting in Haste’ »

H-1B Cap Slows U.S. Innovation

The Fiscashutterstock_192420653l Year 2016 H-1B random selection process for skilled workers is over.  As with many other immigration lawyers around the country, I am dealing with employer fallout over the loss of badly needed skilled professionals whose petitions weren’t selected.  Many of these would-be H-1B beneficiaries are already working for the employer in a status called Optional Practical Training.  Optional Practical Training is an employment authorized status permitted for 12 to 29 months after graduation from an accredited U.S. university.

This post addresses the plight of  U.S. based employers who produce products and services for the U.S. economy including legitimate management consulting firms who work with clients to install and improve management technology and go on to new projects.   These employers are to be distinguished from the perceived type of employer mentioned in recent New York Times pieces.  While the entirety of those situations aren’t yet known, what I do know is this: the H-1B visa was not intended to displace U.S. workers and there are regulatory safeguards in place.  In fact, the H-1B visa has contributed to the productivity of many employers in ways that have then led to many more jobs for U.S. workers.

It is hard to tell an employer that a star employee will no longer be authorized to work for them in the U.S.  They don’t understand how random and arcane the process is, particularly that this year there were only enough H-1B visas available to cover about 25% of the 233,000+ petitions filed for fiscal year 2016.

I’ve worked on a number of H-1B cases over the years and the employers I work with are doing their best in a confusing process. Here’s an example – one client requires a special skill set offered in a program at a top rated university. In recruiting at this institution, they discovered that only one US worker was enrolled in the program, so hiring a U.S. worker with the skills required is virtually impossible from the outset.

Other employers are scrambling looking for alternative work visas and when that fails, to figure out the legalities of contracting for remote services to be performed abroad for key employees.  These are but two of thousands of compelling examples of what U.S. employers are dealing with.  I’ve had multiple employers tell me that if they could find US workers to fill their open positions, they would gladly hire them and avoid this “visa morass.”

More than half of the H-1B petitions filed are for occupations in the STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics fields).  Many of those whose employers have applied for them graduated from U.S. universities with STEM degrees! According to the Institute of International Educational Exchange, two thirds of foreign students studying at US universities are pursuing degrees in STEM or business fields; 84.8% of them have attained U.S. Master’s or Doctorate Degrees. Now that we’ve educated them, shouldn’t we do our best to keep them in the U.S. to become job creators?

Today, the U.S. is in an international fight to maintain hegemony in innovation and technological advances.  These highly skilled foreign students that we have educated can pick from a number of welcoming countries nipping at our heels to pass us as the world’s leading innovators.  They are a significant – and vital – part of our continued growth in cutting edge industry; indeed, according to Todd Park, the former U.S. Chief Technology Officer, every foreign-born graduate with an advanced STEM degree is associated with, on average, 2.6 jobs for American workers.  And, by some estimates, according to Mr. Park, immigration was responsible for one-third of the growth in patenting in past decades; these innovations contributed to increasing U.S. GDP by 2.4 percent.

The problem with the H-1B shortage stems from the Immigration Act of 1990 (Immact 90).  For the first time, annual numeric caps were imposed on the H-1B visa initially permitting a limit of 65,000 visas per year. What appeared to be a generous figure in 1990 soon became a huge headache for employers. In 2000, the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act exempted certain non-profits, primarily institutions of higher education and governmental research groups from the cap.  It also temporarily increased the H-1B cap to 195,000 for FY 2001 through 2003.  This was an acknowledgement that the existing H-1B cap was woefully inadequate and one can only conjecture that it was anticipated that by the end of this cap increase, a solution to the problem would be forthcoming.  It was not. After the H-1B returned to the draconian limit of 65,000, a permanent increase of 20,000 for holders of U.S. Masters Degrees was enacted.  A total of eighty-five thousand H-1B petitions is still woefully inadequate for our nation’s increasing demand for highly educated workers, especially in the STEM fields.

Static numerical limits for visas and green cards are fraught with problems.  A fixed numerical cap established almost 25 years ago doesn’t anticipate the needs of a growing economy. Another example of short-sightedness in visa limitations can be seen in the green card context. The Immigration Act of 1990 also abolished the old employment-based 3rd and 6th immigrant visa system and set up a five tier employment-based system with increased immigration numbers.  Again, many of these categories have become badly backlogged over time, particularly for those chargeable to the India and China country quotas.

A reform of our current system is badly needed if we are going to continue to retain the talent that we educate and utilize their abilities to help our economy’s growth. Every day, week, month, and year that goes by and Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform is another day, week, month, and year where our nation stagnates instead of grows.

Written by Deb Notkin, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee Vice Chair and former AILA President