How the Years Add Up

Author: on 03/17/2016


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.

Continue reading ‘How the Years Add Up’ »


Students and Professors Fight for Families at Karnes Detention Center

Author: on 03/14/2016


shutterstock_110919002Two weeks ago, six law students from the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Clinic visited Karnes Detention Center.  The students were Kate Chapman (3L), Ivonne Escobar (2L), Hellieth Pedroza Guzman (2L), Nekka Morah (2L), Medjine Desrosiers-Douyon (LLM), Mathilda El Hachem (LLM).  Supervising the students were the immigration clinic professors, myself, Geoffrey A. Hoffman, clinical associate professor and director of the clinic, and Janet Beck, visiting clinical assistant professor. In addition, Professor Ann Webb from the Graduate School of Social Work at UH assisted us, as well as her students. Over the course of three days, the students saw more than 35 families, helping them with a range of issues, including credible fear interview (CFI) preparation, immigration judge (IJ) reviews, and in some cases helping with declarations to support possible requests for reconsideration (RFRs) after negative CFIs and/or an IJ review. The visit was organized by Janet Beck and set up by RAICES, one of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project partners based in San Antonio, and the law firm of Akin Gump, who have done great work coordinating efforts to meet the legal needs of these women.

Below is a reflection from one of our students, Kate Chapman (3L), who shares her experiences helping women and children at the detention center:

Continue reading ‘Students and Professors Fight for Families at Karnes Detention Center’ »


Chasing Away the Innovators: Not in America’s Interest

Author: on 03/08/2016


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.

Continue reading ‘Chasing Away the Innovators: Not in America’s Interest’ »


#0087

Author: on 03/02/2016


shutterstock_279204821The Artesia Family Residential Center was thrown together in late June 2014 in the dark of night and in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Before the pro bono attorneys knew who or what was there, the first plane had already flown South, returning refugees who were streamlined through a farce of a legal process, and summarily denied relief.

Once the pro bono lawyers began to arrive at Artesia and fight back on behalf of the women and children, they registered and gave client numbers to the detained families in a shared database – key to an organized flow of legal representation. When I was in Artesia in August 2014, I met Anna*, Client #0087 for calendar year 2014.

Anna was raised in a small hamlet in Guatemala without electricity, roads, schools or running water. She was orphaned at age ten, and endured untold physical abuse at the hands of her maternal uncle. She never went to school, and spoke only a dialect known as Acateco, a language spoken by maybe 50,000 people in the world. At sixteen, as she was taking her uncle lunch as he worked the fields, she was raped by a stranger. Once her uncle became aware of her rape and subsequent pregnancy, he welcomed the rapist to live in their shared home to legitimize their relationship, as he felt the unwanted pregnancy brought shame to the household. Anna’s grandmother protected Anna as much as a grandmother could, and when she came across the rapist trying to strangle Anna, the grandmother kicked the rapist out.

Continue reading ‘#0087’ »


Benefits of Volunteering Go Beyond the Client

Author: on 02/26/2016


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

Continue reading ‘Benefits of Volunteering Go Beyond the Client’ »


What Asylum Law is About

Author: on 02/12/2016


shutterstock_272600546I’m an asylum lawyer.  Every day I fight for victims of persecution and torture from all over the world.  I listen to their stories and I give them a voice.  Perhaps some of the most compelling and most amazing stories of survival have been those of women – women from the Middle East fleeing the threat of honor killings and the complete abdication of their rights, women from Africa and the Middle East fleeing tribal practices that mutilate their bodies, women from Eastern Europe and East Asia fleeing forced prostitution and sex trafficking, and women from Central America fleeing domestic violence and their positions as the property of their male family members – all harm meant to relegate and maintain women as second class citizens in their societies…all harm that is permitted and even encouraged by their governments.

Continue reading ‘What Asylum Law is About’ »


Frustrations with H-1B Processing Delays Exacerbated by USCIS Stonewalling

Author: on 02/04/2016


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.

Continue reading ‘Frustrations with H-1B Processing Delays Exacerbated by USCIS Stonewalling’ »


New Opportunities to Move Forward in 2016

Author: on 01/19/2016


shutterstock_332894387The American people are frustrated by the inability of Congress to take action and tackle the challenging, yet not insurmountable, task of reforming our immigration system and bringing it into the new century. That shouldn’t be too much to ask now that we are already well over a decade into the 21st century.

The Administration attempted to alleviate this frustration in November of 2014 by announcing plans to keep families together, ensure our communities are secure, and enable employers to keep the talent they need to remain competitive.  Though many of these actions are still pending implementation by DHS, the litigation brought by Texas and other states has delayed implementation of President Obama’s signature initiative which would grant a reprieve from deportation to many undocumented individuals who have extensive, long-term ties to the United States.

Continue reading ‘New Opportunities to Move Forward in 2016’ »


U Visa: A Sliver of a Silver Lining for Victims of Violent Crimes

Author: on 01/13/2016


shutterstock_123147769Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. As the USCIS website explains, this legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking of undocumented immigrants, among other crimes. These special nonimmigrant visas are for individuals who have suffered substantial mental and/or physical abuse as a result of a crime committed against them and who are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.

As an immigration attorney, I have worked with immigrants, like Jose, for whom the U visa offers a way forward, free from fear. In 2006, Jose, a 30-year-old Hispanic laborer, made his way to work at 5:00 in the morning.  Within minutes of parking, an unknown man in a vehicle stopped next to his car and approached Jose. This man then took out a 12-gauge shotgun and without motive, shot Jose twice, striking him in the face and shoulder.

Bleeding profusely and literally holding half of his face in the palm of his hand, Jose stumbled toward his work site and made an urgent call for help. He was rushed to the hospital, where he would remain for the next two and half months. Jose suffered a shattered jaw, lost a large portion of his tongue, and suffered extreme emotional trauma, among other injuries.

Continue reading ‘U Visa: A Sliver of a Silver Lining for Victims of Violent Crimes’ »


What I Need to Hear

Author: on 01/12/2016


shutterstock_91837658In a January 7, 2016, article in Fusion, Tim Rogers tells readers that the Obama Administration, “is on pace to deport more people than the sum of all 19 presidents who governed the United States from 1892-2000.” Think about that for a second. This is the reality as we get ready for  President’ Obama’s final State of the Union Address which takes place tonight, in the recent wake of the newly launched enforcement actions against families, women, and children who have fled some of the most dangerous conditions on earth in gang-plagued Central America.

The State of the Union used to be an opportunity to hear a message of optimism and hope, when the president would outline the administration’s goals and objectives for the coming year.  But recently, it seems we have lost our way; that we have morphed into something that we are not.  Americans have always embraced the role of our nation as protector, wise guardian, and leader. We have sacrificed thousands of brave men and women who have gone to foreign shores to protect a populace they did not know from dictators, tyrants, and terrorists because it was the right thing to do. It was the American thing to do.

Continue reading ‘What I Need to Hear’ »