Archive for the ‘Border Enforcement’ Category.

Let’s Dance

Leslie DanceThis blog post is adapted from the speech I gave when I was installed as AILA’s President for the 2014-15 term. I was thrilled to be able to reflect at the Annual Conference hosted by my home chapter, the New England Chapter of AILA.

New England is where I found immigration and, if I hadn’t found immigration I don’t think that I would be practicing law. I started my legal career in New York as a commercial litigator, but I found my calling after moving to Vermont. I found it in immigration law through dance in Vermont – African dance in Vermont.

While I have always loved to dance, I’m not the most adept at it, but that never stopped me from enjoying all forms of dance in all its facets. So it was that in 1998 I began attending African dance classes in Burlington. Several members of the National Ballet of Guinea as well as Senegal and the Ivory Coast lived and worked in Burlington and after class they would ask me questions about their immigration status (P-3s). However, I knew nothing about immigration whatsoever and referred them to a terrific immigration attorney instead.

I am a first generation American (my mother was born in and escaped from Hungary) and between my history and my involvement with foreign dancers I made a life altering decision by deciding to concentrate only on immigration.  I distinctly remember my first task. I needed to determine whether a client had been admitted to the U.S. Admitted? They were here weren’t they?  - Of course they were admitted.  It took 16 hours of research before I realized that I had entered a world where nothing was as it seemed: the world of immigration law.

Five years ago I started on my way to the AILA presidency, working my way up from Secretary through all the roles and responsibilities until this year. Looking back at those years, I reviewed the goals I had set out each year for myself and the organization. I took a look at what had been resolved and accomplished, what issues recurred over and over again, what issues still remain, and which of my goals have not yet been reached.

While many of my priorities changed from year to year one issue remained constant – ironically it was the lack of consistency and predictability in adjudications, determinations, rulings, and admissions – and the need to fix this through, among other things, interagency engagement. Our world requires that we typically deal with not just one agency, but at least two, and generally three.

When I meet with new clients, I along with other immigration attorneys, often find myself saying something akin to the following during our initial consultation:  “Before we proceed it is imperative that you understand that, even if your petition is approved by the USCIS, you are not home free. You also need approval from the Department of State and then, even if you pass that hurdle, you still must obtain permission from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to actually enter the U.S.”

This situation is unfortunately a constant in all areas of our practice whether it is business, family, or removal. Think of H-1B visas denied after petition approval for critical employees, approved fiancées who never get here, or as we call it in our office, “love’s labors lost,” or waiver applicants with provisional grants denied on other grounds not previously believed to make one inadmissible. The interagency disconnect is not limited to the petition, visa, and subsequent admission situation. It is also at the heart of so many of the procedural issues that we face.

Thus, it makes sense that my primary long-term goal relates to AILA’s liaison work. One of the many benefits of living in Vermont is that I learned to practice immigration in a place where I truly had access to government officials and was able to work with them to address some of the issues that came up as a result of interagency miscommunication.

Having learned to practice where openness and accessibility continue to be the standard has guided my vision. Those of you who have sat in meetings with me likely have heard two recurrent themes. The first is that my local CBP, USCIS, and ICE offices are the exemplar. I have never felt that I could not approach them and they have always been willing to talk and listen. The second is a request I make, at each and every meeting: whether the agency would be open to a multi-agency dialogue at a later date.

I believe that many of our adjudication and process problems stem from the fact that two or more agencies have conflicting interpretations of the law or regulations and that they do not actually know the effect that their actions have on the applicant when that applicant must next deal with another agency. They may not know what switching to an automated form might mean for another agency which still requires a hardcopy. I believe that we could solve so many issues if we were just permitted to sit down together and explain the problems that crop up.

Interagency engagement is not the only way to attain more consistency and predictability in what we do. Another aspect is the need to locate, isolate, and change the negative policy that seems to be driving so many adjudications, decisions, and admissions. In our area of practice, I think more than in any other, discretion abounds. But it seems that more often than not the trend is toward denial rather than acceptance.

Earlier I told you that I found immigration through African Dance. However, not only did African Dance lead me to immigration, it taught me immigration. In representing my dance community I encountered early on in my career almost every immigration situation there is. The good news is that I was able to help them, at least until fairly recently.

Almost three years ago, one of my clients returned home to Guinea to visit his family and bring back new and current dance and drum rhythms. He had an approved P-3 and had never been in trouble with the law or violated his status. However despite that, his visa was denied for immigrant intent. He had returned to Guinea because of his strong family ties, yet he was denied. That sort of denial would not have happened just a few years ago.

Through all the ups and downs of immigration law practice, one thing has been constant – AILA. AILA is a community where people who perform the same work can obtain from it the tools they need to practice their profession. I truly believe that with just the InfoNet and AILAlink immigration attorneys have all the tools they need to practice immigration and, practice it well. But by also offering accessibility to mentors, practice management help, ethics guidance, media training, advocacy, and liaison assistance, immigration attorneys get all that they need to become well rounded and truly excellent in their field.

More than that though, I believe AILA goes far beyond just a professional community. It is also a fellowship. I practiced law for 11 years before joining AILA. I never experienced elsewhere the support, camaraderie and professional generosity with my peers that I found here. I ask that all of you continue to engage, to care deeply about AILA and its governance, and to share your thoughts and insights.

I am looking forward to this year. To liaising with the government and you. To working together to make positive changes in immigration, to make things better for our clients, to making AILA the best it can be.

Almost every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday I wake up with a feeling that something is special. They are dance days. I hope that every day this coming year is a dance day. If that happens I know that we can accomplish our goals and make a difference, as, in the words of the Hopi who steadfastly believed that through dance they would influence the Gods and accomplish their goals,  – To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak. So, let’s dance!

Written by Leslie A. Holman, AILA President

To watch Leslie’s full speech, including a performance by her friends from the African dance and drumming community Jeh Kulu, watch here: Video: Leslie Holman Installation Speech

Getting a Little Serious about the Need for Immigration Reform

shutterstock_197321441This is a post adapted from my speech last week in accepting an award from AILA for outstanding contributions made as a young lawyer in the field of immigration and nationality law. While the occasion was a happy one and I was honored to receive that award, I took the opportunity, as I do here, to emphasize what is wrong with our current system and that we desperately need to fix it.  I hope you find it of interest:

As I think about the great migrations of people, I’m reminded of my own “gringa” migration from the heartland of Iowa to Washington, D.C. While my own journey was not nearly as harrowing an experience, it is that journey that led me to practice immigration law, to AILA, and to the work that I’m so passionate about.

I have been incredibly lucky to have several amazing people guiding me throughout my journey. My parents who taught me that everyone no matter their background deserves the chance to pursue their dreams. My wonderful husband Justin, whose constant love and support sustains me. Michelle Mendez, my friend and co-professor in the Catholic University immigration clinic who is the most selfless, passionate advocate that I know. The dedicated staff of Benach Ragland, and my partners who I deeply respect and admire; there is no one else I would rather work with in pursuit of our shared mission. Finally my mentor, the late great Michael Maggio: despite his busy immigration practice, he always found time to contribute to our field as a policy advocate, a pro bono champion and a mentor. I have strived to use Michael’s well-rounded approach to our work as a model in contributing through my own practice, especially as I’ve observed the developments in our field over the last few years.

We’re going to get a little serious now.

We are now faced with a humanitarian crisis at our borders.  CBP and ICE officers are using excessive force, inhumane detention conditions, and “no process” removals. We are faced with immigration courts fighting against insufficient resources, overcrowded dockets and cabined legal discretion. And we are faced with a renewed assault on our asylum system by Congress and the agencies themselves.

Yet, no actions are taken by those in power to fix our system. Instead we have a Congress that points fingers and strikes a pose in Capitol Hill hearings and an Administration which, on the back of an immigration reform-focused campaign, has taken to putting Band-Aids on gashes rather than treating the underlying wounds.

Until we have leaders who are going to work together to solve real problems that affect real people, American businesses, and separated families, it is up to us. It is for these reasons that this award is only the beginning of my journey.

Thank you so much for this honor and I hope you will join me in restoring due process and humanity in our immigration system.

Written by Dree Collopy, 2014 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award Winner

 

Responding to the Increase in Child Migrants: We’ve Managed These Crises Before

shutterstock_199198397In my first week as an immigration lawyer, 286 Chinese migrants waded ashore in Queens, and a significant number were detained at a county prison near me in York, Pennsylvania.  In 1993, there was no significant infrastructure for handling those hundreds of cases in the Northeast – no detention facilities to hold them, government lawyers to prosecute them, judges to decide their cases, or immigration lawyers in York to volunteer to represent them. Everyone involved with the process felt overwhelmed, and many expressed the fear that thousands more Chinese migrants would undertake the dangerous ocean journey if the Golden Venture passengers were granted the ability to stay in the United States.

In spite of feeling overwhelmed, the government provided the resources to detain these migrants and to process their applications for relief.  The community rallied to help reunite the children among the migrants with their families, or to find foster homes for them if they had none; to train lawyers in asylum law and other humanitarian forms of relief, and to find volunteers to visit the detainees and help them communicate with their families.  The answer to the influx, ultimately, was improved economic growth in China that provided employment opportunities in the country to prospective migrants, which lessened the demand for migration from China to the United States.

On our southern border today, everyone is feeling overwhelmed by a humanitarian crisis: the detention of 200-250 child migrants each day along the US border with Mexico.   These children are unaccompanied by parents or relatives – while some are coming to try and reunite with relatives in the United States, many more are simply fleeing intolerable conditions in their home countries.  The majority of these children come from three countries: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.  In these three countries, murder rates have skyrocketed in the past five years – Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world – and other forms of criminal violence have also risen.  Children interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have reported fleeing forced recruitment into gangs, much as “child soldiers” were recruited in African civil wars over the past decade.

While some elected leaders opposed to comprehensive immigration reform are claiming that children are coming to the United States because they believe they will be eligible for some form of legal status, that claim flies in the face of the fact that the U.S. is not the only country receiving displaced children and other individuals fleeing from these countries.  UNHCR reports that since 2009, the number of asylum applications from citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras received by the surrounding countries of Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico combined has increased by 712 percent.

What is to be done with these children?  As the United States has done in response to each of the large migration flows caused by political turmoil or natural disaster in the last twenty years – from the Cubans fleeing to Florida by boat in the mid-1990s to the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti – the children have been detained for removal proceedings in which it will be determined by a judge as to whether they have any claim to be able to stay in the United States.  They will be detained unless or until they can be reunited with a family member, either inside the United States or in their home country.  If they are reunited with a family member in the U.S., they will remain in removal proceedings until a judge decides their fate.  While the number of these children has risen in the past year, the administration has already been making plans to deal with it – witness their budget request for additional funding to detain and process these children, which demonstrates their planning for the eventuality that rates of arrival may continue to climb.

As many commentators have noted, however, the answer to the bigger question of how to prevent these children from coming to the United States does not lie at the US-Mexico border.  Rather, the United States must continue to engage with the governments in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to build capacity for dealing with the violent criminals who are causing the conditions these children are fleeing.  Just as disaster aid to Haiti and a migration agreement with Cuba reduced the number of illegal migrant from those countries, the best answer to this newest wave of migrants will be assistance to the countries from which they are fleeing.

Solving the migration problem from those countries cannot happen overnight – and in the meantime, the United States must continue to treat these children humanely, to reunite them with families wherever they may be, and to grant them asylum if they are eligible for it.  If they are found to have no relief from deportation, they should be returned to their home country in as humane and safe a way as possible.  These children have already been traumatized at the hands of criminals – the U.S. immigration system should not traumatize them further.

Written by Bill Stock, AILA First Vice President

The Revised Credible Fear Lesson Plan: Enough is Enough!

ENOUGH2This is not just a blog post, but a call to action.  Over the past six months, we have seen dog-and-pony hearings by Congress and a series of administrative changes to our asylum system that have deviated from the United States’ longstanding obligations under domestic and international law to the detriment of bona fide refugees.  The most recent of these deviations is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Division’s revisions to its Lesson Plan on Credible Fear of Persecution and Torture Determinations.

Implicit in the core humanitarian purpose of U.S. asylum law is the requirement that it be as effective as possible in offering reliable protection to bona fide refugees.  While effectively protecting refugees may seem like a simple concept, the human rights considerations involved in U.S. asylum law often collide with the challenges involved in maintaining the integrity of the application process.  It is this collision that led to the development and implementation of the expedited removal and credible fear provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA), which took effect on April 1, 1997.

Expedited removal was a direct result of the Congressional perception that individuals arriving at ports of entry with false or no documentation were abusing the asylum system.  Nonetheless, under U.S. asylum law – which was derived directly from international law – the government is prohibited from returning refugees to countries where they would face persecution.  In an attempt to address the potential for violations of this obligation of nonrefoulement through the implementation of the expedited removal process, the credible fear provisions were also enacted.  Under these provisions, rather than being subjected to immediate removal, an individual arriving at a port of entry who expresses a fear of persecution or torture will be referred to an asylum officer for a “credible fear” interview.  If the individual substantiates a “significant possibility” she could establish eligibility for asylum under INA § 208, the asylum officer will find her to have a credible fear of persecution.  Such a finding grants the individual her rightful day in court, allowing her to present a full asylum claim before an immigration judge in INA § 240 proceedings.

For those who have been following recent developments in U.S. asylum law and procedure, the rhetoric surrounding – largely unsubstantiated – claims that our asylum system is under attack by abuse and calling for sweeping changes that threaten the core humanitarian purpose of U.S. asylum law sounds all too familiar.  With a significant and steady influx of refugees fleeing the violence and turmoil stemming from the entrenchment of gangs and drug cartels in Central America, the human rights considerations involved in U.S. asylum law are once again colliding with the challenges involved in maintaining the integrity of our asylum system.  Unfortunately, this collision has resulted in a series of changes that have deviated from the United States’ longstanding obligations under domestic and international law to the detriment of bona fide refugees.

Over the past six months, we have seen border officers overzealously using expedited removal to deny individuals fleeing real persecution and torture the opportunity to seek asylum.  We have seen Congress focus its attention on a series of hearings entitled “Asylum Laws and Abuse,” designed to attack those seeking protection rather than the faulty implementation of the expedited removal and credible fear provisions by Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  We have seen the Board of Immigration Appeals, in Matter of M-E-V-G- and Matter of W-G-R-, dramatically increase the evidentiary burden on asylum-seekers while seeking to rationalize a legal test that is irreconcilable with U.S. obligations under domestic and international law.  And just last week, we saw the USCIS Asylum Division join in the backlash against the influx of refugees at our borders with a notable narrowing of the “significant possibility” standard for credible fear determinations made by its asylum officers.  Is anyone else out there thinking, “Enough is enough!?”

In this most recent development, USCIS revised its April 14, 2006 Lesson Plan on Credible Fear of Persecution and Torture Determinations, which it uses to train asylum officers.  In releasing the revised Lesson Plan, USCIS issued a memorandum describing the changes and the reasons for these changes (see AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 14041845).  In explaining the need for these revisions, USCIS notes the significant increase in credible fear referrals to the Asylum Division and its need to allocate more resources to credible fear adjudications than ever before.  Instead of recognizing that this increase in resources devoted to credible fear adjudications may be due to the overall increase in individuals seeking protection at our borders, however, USCIS seemingly attributes this increase to its concern that “the application of the ‘significant possibility’ standard has lately been interpreted to require only a minimal or mere possibility of success.”  Although USCIS claims that “these modifications…do not change the ‘significant possibility’ standard or alter the screening function of the credible fear process,” in practice these revisions will considerably narrow the longstanding “significant possibility” standard.

The main problems with the 2014 Lesson Plan stem from deviations that thwart the legislative intent behind the expedited removal and credible fear provisions.  The legislative history of IIRAIRA indicates that Congress intended the credible fear provisions to be a safety net and the “significant possibility” standard to be a low standard that would catch any potential refugees in that net.  The 2006 Lesson Plan previously included several explicit references to this intent, but in the 2014 Lesson Plan, all such references have been removed.

Moreover, Congress intended the credible fear process to serve as a threshold screening mechanism for protection claims to ensure that, in its implementation of the expedited removal provisions, the United States was still abiding by its longstanding obligation under domestic and international law not to return an individual fleeing persecution to his or her persecutor.  The credible fear process was not intended to be a full assessment or adjudication of an asylum claim, but rather, a gateway to the full assessment and adjudication process.

Contradicting this Congressional intent, the 2014 Lesson Plan: (1) directs officers to apply the significant possibility standard through the lens of a full adjudication, (2) emphasizes that a claim that has only a minimal or mere possibility does not meet the “significant possibility” standard, (3) creates a three-prong test that did not exist in the previous 2006 Lesson Plan standard, requiring the asylum-seeker’s testimony to be “credible, persuasive, and…specific”, and (4) includes extensive statements of the current regulations and case law, similar to those discussions included in the Lesson Plans on full asylum assessments and adjudications.  These changes seem to require an asylum officer to complete a full assessment of the asylum-seeker’s potential asylum or Convention Against Torture (CAT) claim, rather than a safety net preliminary screening for a potential refugee.

These changes are likely to yield confusion among asylum officers, as well as a blending of the credible fear standard with the full asylum and CAT standards.  Furthermore, they will likely lead to officers applying prohibitively high standards during credible fear interviews, creating yet another source for the increasing number of bona fide refugees who are denied the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.  Finally, since these changes are likely to generate assessments that are closer to full asylum and CAT adjudications than screenings for potentially successful claims, these changes are ironically likely to cost USCIS even more time, money, and resources.  Notably, USCIS did not consult key non-governmental organizations or non-governmental stakeholders during its revision process.

Although these Lesson Plan revisions may seem minor in the grand scheme of our broken, punitive, and increasingly unworkable immigration system, to me, they signify another drastic deviation from our system’s founding principles and legal obligations.  I don’t know about you all, but for me, “Enough is enough!”  As another AILA year concludes and a new AILA year begins in June in Boston, let us re-commit ourselves to working together on all fronts.  Only together can we fill the next six months with developments that restore protection for bona fide refugees and renew our obligations under domestic and international law, while still maintaining the integrity of our asylum system.  This is not just a blog post, but a call to action.

Written by Dree Collopy, AILA Refugee & Asylum Liaison Committee Chair

No, It’s Not Over

shutterstock_147492446Last week I came to Washington and met with House leaders about immigration reform.  I heard a lot of pessimism and I certainly understand where it’s coming from.  After the high of the Senate bill passage, during AILA’s Annual Conference of course, we’ve descended into the lows of inaction.

There was a glimmer when the House Republican leadership released their standards for immigration reform but then the appearance of backtracking immediately thereafter resulted in a fizzle, rather than an explosion of forward momentum.

But let’s be honest, it was never going to be easy.  But we’ve kept up the fight.

And what’s impressive to me, and keeps me optimistic about our chances, is the fact that immigration reform is turning into an issue that is uniting more and more Americans rather than pulling them apart.

What do I mean?  Well, we’ve got poll after poll that points to an acceptance of the need for reform that helps the undocumented get on the road to citizenship.  We’ve got poll after poll that emphasizes the acceptance of DREAMers as the incredibly deserving group of kids that they are.  We’ve seen a shift in public perception from an emphasis on security and enforcement at all costs towards welcoming and understanding and wanting to DO something about our broken immigration system.

So while Washington, DC may be at a standstill, while Capitol Hill may not be moving, the rest of the country is.

And what that means is that we need to keep up the advocacy, keep up the push, and keep up the hard work in our communities, in our states, and in DC.

Which is why I’m asking you for your time.  Make a visit in February or March to your senator or representative.  Talk to them or their staff about why immigration reform is important.  Offer yourself as a resource, a person they can turn to for solid information about what bills have been brought up in committee, what they would mean for your community, and why this issue is so important.

Tell them about what you’ve witnessed.  Bring along a client and their family if they’re willing.  Share the impact that reform would have on a family facing deportation, local businesses, agriculture, high-tech, what have you.

And then commit to doing the visits again, in DC, as part of AILA’s National Day of Action on April 10.

I’m not giving up.  I’m going to keep meeting, educating, and sharing.  I’m going to keep my voice loud but respectful.  I’m going to make sure that both sides of the aisle know where I stand, and I encourage all of you to do the same.

You can sign up for the National Day of Action online.  It’s free, it’s important, and I hope to see you there.

Written by Doug Stump, AILA President

GOP’s Principles on Immigration Reform: A Welcome Sign, So Let’s Steer Forward

shutterstock_153955259House GOP leaders on Thursday released their standards for immigration reform.  With these principles, they renewed their position that reform of our broken system can only be attained “through a step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.”  They made clear that they will not go to a conference with the Senate’s immigration bill.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) noted that “While these standards are certainly not everything we would agree with, they leave a real possibility that Democrats and Republicans, in both the House and Senate, can in some way come together and pass immigration reform that both sides can accept. It is a long, hard road but the door is open.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) tweeted that “Today’s House #GOP #immigration proposal falls short of the bipartisan #CIR we passed last year in the Senate…but I welcome any movement that leads to Congress finally fixing our broken immigration system.”

The first priority towards reform according to the GOP principles is the “fundamental duty of any government to secure its borders”, and so these principles prioritize securing and verifying the security of our Borders before tackling other aspects of our system.  Although this concept of “securing borders” is not new to the GOP rhetoric, one wonders if members of the House GOP have read the statistics that show deportations were at a record high in 2012 with 409,849 total deportations – the highest they’ve ever been.

Furthermore, at its peak, U.S. Border Patrol data show that apprehensions of undocumented immigrants nationwide and along the Southwest border routinely topped 1 million.  In 2004, the Border Patrol counted nearly 1.2 million apprehensions along the Southwestern border.  In 2012, the Border Patrol apprehended 364,768 individuals nationwide, 98 percent of whom were caught on the Southwestern border.  If these figures are not enough to signal a secure border, since FY 2001, the U.S. Border Patrol has steadily increased its number of agents from 9,821 agents nationwide to more than double today at 21,395 agents.

House Republicans make it clear that reform will include a “zero tolerance” for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future, irrespective of the driving forces to do so, yet hopefully with a more robust legal immigration system and reduction in backlogs, the need for many to cross without documentation or overstay a visa will be minimal at best.  The principles also call for a robust visa tracking system and further require the full implementation a workable electronic employment verification system.

For a party that has long cherished and respected family values, it seems the principles frown at immigration through family members and “pure luck” – presumably referring to our current Diversity Visa Program.  It is true that at the crux of any developed Country is its ability to remain competitive in this global economy and attracting the brightest talent is a key component of this competitiveness.

A robust legal immigration system that includes visas and green cards for individuals seeking to contribute to not only the economic but social fabric of our nation is important, yet let’s not forget that these talented individuals have also left family behind.  Extended family such as parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and grandparents are part of what fosters the entrepreneurial spirit, the researching drive, and the thrill at discovery that leads to excellence in many fields.  To say that family is not part of the success of a developed country is to fall short on the American dream.

It is promising to find the House principles recognize the committed spirit of the DREAMers, the young and talented aspiring Americans who are ingrained not only in our social fabric, but are a key part of our economic growth and development.

At the end of the line, we find those who have endured years of agony in taking steps to reunite with family and loved ones, who have lived in fear of deportation, abuse, and indifference; the 11 million individuals who have contributed to our economy and our neighborhoods.  Individuals, who despite living outside the “rule of law” have also risked it all in search of a better life, and along the way have contributed and improved our great Country.

To them, these principles offer a way to live legally and without fear in the U.S. if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families.   The principles recognize what these individuals are already doing and remove the yoke of fear and insecurity.  Without a defined roadmap to full integration however, we will have to wait for further details to see the prospects of these individual becoming full-fledged Americans.

What this all means is yet to be seen.  These principles will serve as the House’s foundation for the immigration bills to be introduced, and as we all know, “the devil is in the details”.  The announcement from House leadership is encouraging following President Obama’s call to make this a “year of action” and pass immigration reform.

The balancing act will come when the parties sit down and hammer out the details of a series of bills addressing each aspect in these principles.  Critical to this balance is the understanding that our system must be completely revamped if not in one full sweep then with concise bills that address all areas of our system.  The American people are ready for it, the DREAMers are ready for it, the 11 million are ready for it, so let’s steer these principles forward for the future of our Country.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA Treasurer

Representative Goodlatte and Immigration Reform

shutterstock_86506957 (1)In an interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart that will air this weekend, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) discussed prospects for immigration reform.  What he reportedly said made me cautiously hopeful. But it also showed me that we all have some work to do to get to smart reform.

According to a transcript of the interview, he talked about the progress that the committee had made last year by passing four bills out of committee.  Now, none of those four bills was anything that I’d want to see become law in their current forms, and at least one of the bills is quite troubling.  A couple of the others have some elements worth using, but need more work.

He didn’t share much about the principles that Speaker Boehner says are forthcoming from House, but he did say that they hoped those principles might galvanize support for immigration reform.  He emphasized the need for interior enforcement and the fact that a large proportion of immigrants who are here unlawfully are actually overstays.  That all seemed reasonable.

I am heartened that he was talking about achieving a legal status “for people who are not lawfully here.”  It is important for any immigration reform to recognize that legality, not mass deportations, is the answer for most of the people here without status.  And he is right that they should be “able to live here, work here, travel to and from their home country.  Be able to– own a business, pay their taxes.”

But stopping there would be a mistake.  The problems that some European and Middle Eastern countries have faced by having people present with no hope of ultimate integration—essentially  a permanent second-class status—have created undue pain for those countries.  Unless we fix the legal immigration system, and make sure that the people whose statuses are regularized now can participate fully in a robust legal immigration system, with an opportunity for naturalization for those who seek it, we will not have lasting reform.

I’m an immigration attorney and after decades in practice, I want change.  I would love to see the day when our system is more than just a cracked and broken set of policies.  I would embrace a new, straightforward immigration system that was clear with lines for people to get into without putting them into decades of limbo.  I want our businesses to get the best and the brightest as employees, and be able to keep them on.  I am eager for the entrepreneurs to feel welcome here in the U.S. and use their talents to drive our economy.  I dearly wish for a day when families are no longer torn apart but instead valued for what they are: the cornerstone of our nation.

I believe that this interview is a thawing of Mr. Goodlatte’s views on immigration and I feel cautiously hopeful that he is committed to really trying to pass meaningful legislation. I, for one, stand ready to help.

Inaction is not an Option!

Last week, two House Republicans who had been trying to draft a comprehensive immigration package dropped out of bipartisan negotiations.  In a joint statement, Texas Republican Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson said that they had “reached a tipping point” in the talks and “can no longer continue” working on a “broad approach” to a rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.

Their leaving basically dismantled the so-called Gang of Seven bipartisan group in the House that has long struggled to draft legislation. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) dropped out in June and the only Republican member that remains is Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. The group worked on and off for four years to write a comprehensive reform bill, yet in the end, it produced no results.

Currently sitting in the House however, is the comprehensive bipartisan bill S. 744 which the Senate passed with overwhelming support in June of this year. Even as the House bipartisan group working on immigration could not reach a compromise, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), chairman of the Judiciary committee pledged action on immigration reform legislation. Goodlatte said members of his committee were working on four separate bills in addition to four that the committee had already approved as well as a bill to give DREAMers “an earned path to citizenship”. The House Judiciary committee has already approved a bill on agricultural workers, another on high-skilled visas, a harsh interior enforcement bill, and a fourth to require employers to verify their workers’ legal status.

Although the House has yet to take concrete steps forward on immigration reform, a piecemeal approach could result in House approval of a series of bills that could lead to negotiations with the Senate on a compromise immigration reform bill.  At the same time, Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Filemon Vela (D-TX) introduced their own comprehensive reform bill last Friday. “The House discussion on immigration reform hasn’t been an honest debate about good policy, it’s been a one-sided refusal to take the issue seriously,” Grijalva said in a news release.  As the month of September comes to an end, GOP members are still struggling with a full agenda, from Obamacare, to the budget to debt .

Inaction however, is not an option.

Thousands of immigrants and their families marched this past weekend in Los Angeles demanding the House take action on immigration reform. The realities of the effect of inaction, the contributions of immigrants, the creativity of individuals and the heartfelt stories of families were on full display as they walked through the streets of Los Angeles uniting their faces, voices and hearts for immigration reform.

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Since the last major overhaul of our immigration system in 1986, the federal government has spent an estimated $186.8 billion on immigration enforcement. This astronomical figure however, did not keep unauthorized immigrants out of the United States, nor did it persuade any immigrant already here to leave. We now have 11 million aspiring Americans living in our communities and contributing to our economy. Increased enforcement spending is a waste of our dollars.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, from 1998 to 2012, 5,570 migrants died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The loss of lives will continue if Congress fails to act.  Furthermore, several studies confirm the economic benefits of immigration reform. As our country continues to grapple with a slow economy and high unemployment, the opportunities of bringing the smartest and the brightest, the entrepreneur sprit of immigrants and the tangible creation of more jobs are lost to a waiting game.  The time is right and the time is now.  It is time to put politics aside and pass a commonsense immigration process that keeps families together, reinforces the American entrepreneurial spirit and allows aspiring citizens to become fully integrated members of our communities.

As Rep Mario Diaz-Balart said: “This great nation doesn’t just need a solution to its broken immigration system. It deserves one.”

So let’s get moving.

Like Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Really? Seriously?  Wow.

Not the most erudite comment I’ve ever made but that’s what I’m reduced to facing this week’s Amendmentpalooza.  Wow.

I’m looking at the breakdown of proposed amendments to the Senate immigration reform bill (S. 744).  AILA National is conducting careful analysis of the hundreds of amendments, figuring out how they would impact our new favorite reading choice, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”

In digging through the 300 amendments proposed by Democrats and Republicans alike, they have found some doozies.  These potential poison pills should be required reading for any immigration attorney, and, for that matter, any business owner and especially for any resident of several states from whom the Senators hail who proposed these outlandish amendments.

This is a bipartisan bill.  That already requires compromise on both sides, but accepting the following amendments wouldn’t be compromising, it would be putting nails in the coffin of a decent immigration bill and burying America’s future with it.

Apparently gutting the legalization process sounds good to several Senators.  Taken together the provisions would essentially ensure that pretty much no one qualified for permanent status—oh, and if Sen. Cruz has his way, no one who was ever willfully unlawfully present would ever get citizenship.  Nope, they’re unworthy.  I’m just surprised that there wasn’t a Scarlet Letter amendment in there too, forcing legalized immigrants to wear an “A” for Amnesty for the rest of their lives.

Businesses would get a pretty harsh wake-up call too, per Sen. Grassley, who would play havoc with the business immigration policies to the extent that American businesses seeking to hire foreign talent—the kind that leads to American jobs and global competitiveness—would be shut out.  At some point, you make an immigration category so difficult that no one will apply.  On the upside, I guess we wouldn’t need to hold an H-1B lottery ever again.

There is amendment after amendment that would roll our immigration policy backward instead of moving it forward, to prevent families from being reunited, and to throw more money at ineffective border security measures, rather than investing in enforcement that will actually make our country safer.  Oh, let’s not forget the amendments that would gut due process and eliminate training for DHS agents in things like civil rights.

Don’t get me wrong—a few stalwart Senators from both sides are offering potentially good amendments, to reunite families, ensure a more inclusive legalization process, and make our immigration system better.  How many of those might be included in any final bill is anyone’s guess.  Again, this is a bipartisan, compromise process so no one will be completely happy but the flip side is that with a decent bill, no one will be entirely disappointed either.

Some things require compromise, but worthless amendments that only serve to destroy the workable framework that the Senate “Gang of Eight” and their staff have built have no place in this process. If you’re in one of the states with a Judiciary Committee member, or have a client from that state, get calls in to your Senators, email their offices, reach out to contacts you made through AILA’s National Day of Action or in-state meetings.  Reach out to local reporters to talk about what is wrong with some of these amendments and why even proposing them is an overt effort to derail immigration reform that our nation desperately needs.  Your voices—and the voices of your clients—need to be heard, but they won’t be, unless you speak out.

Six Things You Need to Know about Stateside Processing of I-601A Waivers

Starting March 4, 2013, certain relatives of American citizens who are in the country illegally and need a waiver of unlawful presence before being eligible for a green card can get a decision on their case before leaving the United States.

For those who can take advantage of the new rule, this means peace of mind, knowing that their loved one is likely to successfully complete the immigration process and not be stranded in a foreign country for an unknown length of time.  For some, however, the new rule will do nothing to resolve their immigration issues.

1.      What is the new rule and how can it help my family?

Under current law, many immigrants who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas cannot apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) in the U.S., and instead must finish the immigration process abroad.  Unfortunately, just leaving the country—even to pick up a visa sponsored by a family member—automatically makes the intending immigrant subject to a penalty for their “unlawful presence,” potentially separating them from their family for up to ten years.

For some, but not all, the penalty can be waived.  Before this new rule, immigrants could be stranded outside the country for weeks, months or even years while waiting for a decision on whether they could return to their life in the United States. And all that time, the immigrant was stuck abroad, usually with no legal way to return.  Many families endured the emotional strain, financial hardship and dangerous conditions. Others simply were unwilling to take the risk.

The new rule means that many immigrants will leave the United States, knowing in advance that their case will probably be approved, and they could be back with their families—as a legal resident—in a matter of days.

2.      Who can apply under the new rule?

Only applicants who are an immediate relative of a US citizen (spouses, parents and certain children) can apply at this time, though the rule may later be expanded to other relatives.

The applicant must be physically present in the United States, and not already have a scheduled interview at a U.S. consulate abroad.  Also, the provisional waiver is only available if the sole issue holding up a case is unlawful presence.  Applicants who have criminal issues or other immigration violations cannot use the provisional procedure.

Individuals who are in immigration court or who have an order of removal or voluntary departure may not qualify unless they get special permission from the government and a court order resolving their case.

To be successful, applicants must show that denying the case would be an extreme hardship to their qualifying relative(s); the impact on the immigrant doesn’t count.  Hardship factors can include family separation, economic hardship, medical issues, country conditions abroad, and any other difficulty or harm faced by the qualifying relative(s), if the waiver isn’t granted.

3.      What does it mean that the waiver is “provisional?”

Even if a waiver is granted, the approval is “provisional.”  As a practical matter, this means that the government has reviewed the case and believes that the waiver should be granted, but there is no guarantee that a case will be successful if facts change or new information comes to light.  For example, if an applicant had previous immigration violations or criminal history, the provisional waiver will be revoked.

If any new issues arise, and the applicant is still eligible for a waiver, he or she will be able to re-apply using the existing process, but will have to wait abroad for a decision on their case.

4.      When can I apply?

The new rule goes into effect on March 4, 2013, and no filings will be accepted before that date. You can only apply for a provisional waiver after an immigrant petition has been approved.  If you haven’t filed yet or you’re still waiting for a decision on a pending petition, you can’t apply for the provisional waiver—yet.

5.      What else do I need to know about provisional waivers?

A provisional waiver is not a legal status, and even an approved waiver doesn’t provide work authorization, a social security number or a driver’s license. Having a provisional waiver will not protect you from deportation or any other consequences of being in the country illegally.

If an application for a provisional waiver is denied, there is no appeal.  If you have more or better evidence to prove your case, you can re-file, with a new filing fee. Remember, not everyone can be sponsored or qualify for a waiver, and just as importantly, not everyone needs a waiver.

6.      Do I need to work with an attorney?

The immigration process can take months, even years, and government filing fees and other expenses are significant—it’s best to know your options before investing time and money.  A thorough legal consultation should look at all aspects of your immigration history to find the best solution for your family, not just evaluate eligibility for a provisional waiver.

Always work with a licensed immigration attorney.  Never trust legal advice from an unregulated consultant or notario. Consider consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer before starting the process to make sure that you qualify, and that stateside waiver processing is the best solution for your immigration case.

Additional Resources

Always turn to reputable sources for immigration advice and information about new developments. Finding an AILA lawyer is a good place to start. Members listed on www.ailalawyer.com meet legal education and malpractice insurance requirements, and have been AILA members for at least two years.

AILA Immigration Lawyer Referral Service

AILA Resources for Stateside Waivers

USCIS Resources on Provisional Waivers

Consumer Protection for Victims of Immigration or Notario Fraud

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA President