Archive for the ‘DREAM Act’ Category.

The Good, the Not-so-Bad and the Ugly: USCIS Announces DACA Renewal Procedures

shutterstock_174737858Today, USCIS published long-awaited guidance for renewals under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, including a new Form I-821D for both initial and renewal applications.  The guidelines should mean a streamlined process for most renewals, but the agency missed a real opportunity in how government processing times impact those who don’t—or can’t—apply months in advance.

The Good:  For most young immigrants who already have DACA, the renewal process should be fairly straightforward.  In order to be considered, a renewal applicant cannot have left the United States (without permission from the government) since August 15, 2012 and must have continuously resided in the country since they were granted DACA.  They must also not have any disqualifying criminal history.

Consistent with prior policy, USCIS took a real-world approach to the educational requirement.  An initial grant of DACA requires that the applicant be in school, have graduated High School, obtained a GED, or show proof of continuing educational efforts.  For renewals, the agency is not asking for further proof that the individual graduated or even continued in their studies.  For those who were forced to drop out or stop schooling due to financial or other difficulties, this practical solution will be a real boon to a lot of families and young people just starting out.

The Not-So-Bad:  USCIS wants DACA renewals in early.  So much so, apparently, that they are hinting that for early filers (more than 120 days before expiration) whose applications are not granted due to unexpected delays, USCIS “may provide deferred action and employment authorization for a short period of time.”  That being said, USCIS doesn’t want the renewal applications too early:  filings received more than 150 days before expiration may be rejected. So, trying to hit that sweet spot between 120-150 days before expiration might be your best bet.

Unfortunately, at $465, the filing fees associated with DACA renewals are still steep for many families with multiple applications or for young adults struggling to make it through school or in their first jobs. I’ve heard lots of talk about potential microloans or possible funding sources but so far I haven’t heard of an existing and simple option for the tens of thousands who may run into this issue.  Ideas welcome!

The Ugly:  Applicants who don’t file in that sweet spot of 150 to 120 days prior to expiration have some significant risks.  Timing on consideration of initial DACA filings has been creeping up, with a small, but nonetheless significant percentage of cases languishing for months past “normal” processing times.  A DACA renewal, after all, should just be a matter of a background check to make sure no red flags pop up from the last two years of a person’s life, scheduling biometrics and running a report.

To my mind, there’s absolutely no reason DACA renewals shouldn’t be held to the same 90-day standard as other work permit renewals that require the same background check.  If USCIS thinks they won’t be able to hit the 90 day benchmark, there’s plenty of precedent to allow for continued eligibility to work for those who file prior to expiration.  The same goes for how a lapsed or delayed renewal might impact “unlawful presence.” While eligibility to work (and in many states, qualify for a driver’s license or in-state or reduced tuition) may be the more immediate concern, DACA grantees should also pay attention to how accruing unlawful presence may trigger severe immigration consequences in the future.

All DACA renewal applications will have to go through a background check, and anyone who has had trouble with the law should be cautious. A conviction for a felony, a “significant misdemeanor” or three or more misdemeanors probably means that a renewal won’t be granted.  At best, someone with this kind of a history may just be throwing away their $465 in filing fees; at worst, that’s a lot to pay for a one way trip to a country that’s no longer home. In short, if there’s criminal history, better see an immigration lawyer to evaluate risk and any other options.

And of course, USCIS may use a renewal application as an opportunity to check for fraud.  If the information on an old application doesn’t match up with the information on the new form, that may be cause for concern.  A lot of initial DACA applications were filed without qualified legal help, without fully understanding exactly what was being asked for or knowing what was actually included.  In some cases, those inconsistencies may be innocent errors, in others, the DACA applicant may him- or herself be the victim of fraudulent preparers.  Best bet is to make sure you know what was filed and get appropriate help if there are any discrepancies.

Finally, while it sure looks like the renewal process should be relatively straightforward, the devil is in the details.  An increasing number of DACA applicants—and even more so, DACA renewers—may be eligible for something better than deferred action, like permanent residence or another path to legal status.  Use the free PocketDACA App to review eligibility or find help, or use www.ailalawyer.com to find an immigration lawyer to evaluate your best options.

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Immediate Past President

What the Tony Awards Can Teach Us About Immigration

This year’s Tony Awards will be presented on Sunday, June 8 in New York City.  I’ve always been a fan of the ceremony and, having seen a fair number of the nominees, I was struck by the strong intersection between Broadway theatre and immigration this year.

Take for example, A Raisin in the Sun, nominated for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actress and Best Director.  The play opens with Langston Hughes poem, Dream Deferred: 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The title of the poem including the words “dream deferred” immediately struck me as relevant to the current immigration debate with the DREAM Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the news.

Similarly, the struggle and eventual success to bring our great nation from segregation to equal rights, both incredibly difficult and long overdue, closely parallels the struggles of many immigrants today.  Political debate and the conversation around immigration reform are reflected in another one of one of this year’s Tony nominees, All the Way.  This Best Play nominee follows President Johnson’s herculean efforts to convince Congress to enact the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. The political landscape may have changed, but perhaps President Obama could take a lesson in manipulation, or at least negotiation, from Tony nominee, Bryan Cranston, the actor portraying LBJ in motivating Congress to act.

In addition to the political parallels, this year’s ceremony, hosted by Hugh Jackman, originally from Australia, includes the nominees who  mirror academia and the business world; the list of the best of the best on Broadway includes not only Americans but natives of Switzerland, Cuba, Ireland, former Yugoslavia, Canada and the U.K.  In the technical categories, a non-U.S. citizen is included in the short list of every category barring one.

Broadway theatre is widely acknowledged as the best in the world.  It is a mixture of cultures, perspectives and stories which reflect our country, the American people and their dreams.  Broadway itself is the child of immigrants.  The names most closely associated with the Broadway tradition are largely those belonging to some of New York’s earliest immigrants in the late nineteenth century.  If you’ve ever watched a Broadway musical, and marveled at the production, then you owe some thanks to Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr., the child of a German father and French mother, he grew up in Chicago and is considered an “American icon” and father of the modern musical show.

Fred Astaire’s father was from Austria—you may not recognize his given name of Fred Austerlitz. Julia Elizabeth Wells – also known as Broadway legend, Julie Andrews – hails from the U.K.  Audrey Hepburn, Ann-Margret, Alan Cumming, Rita Moreno, Sophie Okonedo and so many other immigrants have brought their talents to The Great White Way.  Countless producers, managers, choreographers, technicians, and playwrights also helped establish and continue the proud Broadway tradition of world-class entertainment.

Last year, part of Broadway itself was named “Juan Rodriguez Way” in honor of a freed slave from the former island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, who became the first non-native immigrant to ever settle in present day Manhattan in 1613. Broadway continues to inspire immigrants who make this country their own.

So on Sunday evening, when the Tony Awards are presented, I will not only be enjoying the spectacle of theatre, but also a proud tradition and industry which has welcomed and celebrated immigrants since its earliest days.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

What’s Happening to Florida?

shutterstock_33919990Last week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that are heading to Governor Rick Scott, who has stated that he will sign them. One grants in-state tuition to undocumented “Dreamers.” Another will allow Jose Godinez-Samperio, a DACA recipient and law school graduate, the ability to be a licensed attorney in the State. Jose was in Tallahassee in the gallery on the day the Florida House passed the bill. He was given a standing ovation.

I am still shaking my head. What happened to Florida? Gov. Scott ran on a platform in 2010 that called for Arizona-type laws to be enacted. Four years later, he is supporting significant pro-immigration legislation. I thought we could easily count on current Florida leadership to remain oppositional to any pro-immigration issue that was not forced upon them.

It would be easy to be cynical and chalk it up to politics. It is an election year, after all, and perhaps some politicians are finally realizing it is not a bad idea to try to garner favor in the  immigrant community.

Certainly I believe that is a big part of it. But, I also think that we may be witnessing a change in attitude across the board.

After the vote last Friday, I was contacted by a local newspaper columnist who had written earlier in the week in support of the Jose Godinez-Samperio bill. He had received responses from readers asking questions such as “Why didn’t he apply for citizenship?” “Why does he need a special law, couldn’t he have started the citizenship process during law school?” “Didn’t he want to become a citizen?”

He contacted me to make sure he was not missing anything – that there had been no change to federal immigration law recently of which he was not aware. I assured him that no, there had been no recent change.

The columnist, Tom Lyons, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, then wrote a follow-up column clarifying that Jose did not have the option of obtaining citizenship and said of the questioners:

the more I thought about those people who wanted to know why that would-be lawyer hadn’t applied for citizenship, the more I thought kindly of them. Though they apparently missed a key point in the nation’s immigration debate, I think their question was based on a nice assumption. They assumed that U.S. law couldn’t be as rigid and mean as it actually is.

This illustrates what I believe is also happening in Florida; people are becoming more educated about the issues. And as they get more educated, they may be becoming more compassionate…and passionate to do the right thing.

I only hope that the individuals in office at the national level take a look at what is happening in Florida since I hear Florida might just be a tad bit important when it comes to presidential elections.  I hope they realize that the House really needs to follow Florida’s lead and move forward on immigration reform.

By Victoria Jaensch Karins, Chair, AILA Central Florida Chapter

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

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.

 IMG_00000654 IMG_00000652 IMG_00000651

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.

The Time Is Now: Five Reasons Why Congress Will Pass Immigration Reform

Things are different this time around.

The passion is different, the energy is different and, most of all, America is different.  As Congress gets ready to take on what is arguably the most contentious issue in the country, there is no mistaking it: America is ready to create an immigration process that will protect our borders, keep our families safe and together, give our businesses the tools they need to compete in the global economy, and provide a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens currently living in the shadows.

And why are things different?  Here’s what’s changed since 2007, the last time an immigration bill was presented to Congress:

1.       The Latino Vote

The 2012 presidential election will be remembered not only for the re-election of the first African-American president, but for the power of the Latino vote.  To be sure, as Americans, Latinos are concerned about issues other than immigration—including health care, the economy, gun violence, and education.  But for them, the broken immigration system is personal.  It doesn’t go away with the flick of a television switch. Many Latino voters have a family member or close friend entangled in the web of arcane rules and confusing regulations known as U.S. immigration law.  Someone in their life–a parent, a brother, a cousin, a friend– is threatened with deportation.

Last year, President Obama, after presiding over record numbers of deportations during his first term, promised Latino voters that if re-elected he would put immigration reform at the top of his “to do” list.  Governor Romney, on the other hand, embraced restrictionists like Kris Kobach and Joe Arpaio, railed against “amnesty” and promised Latinos little more than “self-deportation”.

The lesson of the election: Latinos are a formidable force in American politics and can no longer be ignored.

2.       The DREAMERs Are Now Doers

A funny thing happened since the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001.  The DREAMERs grew up.  And they grew up as Americans, watching football, going to homecoming dances, eating hotdogs on the 4th of July and dreaming about giving back to the country they’ve struggled against all odds to enrich. They are no longer the helpless children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.  Today they are, in effect, undocumented Americans.

Through masterful use of 21st century tools like Facebook and Twitter, coupled with old fashioned organizing and courage, the DREAMERs have become a key voice in the struggle for immigration reform.  They, more than any other group, deserve the lion’s share of credit for pushing the Administration to grant an administrative deportation reprieve to qualified undocumented youth last year.

And for DREAMERs there is no giving up on their journey toward US citizenship.  They will no longer take no for an answer.

 3.      There Has Been Unprecedented Immigration Enforcement

Unlike in 2007, today the border is secure. A recent report published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the border security benchmarks of the past immigration reform bills have been met or exceeded. These include improvements in border infrastructure and technology, detention facilities, and increased border personnel. In fact illegal crossings are down to their lowest levels in 40 years.

4.       Business and Labor Agree on a Guest Worker Program

The fact that business and labor could come to an agreement on a guest worker program — perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the immigration reform debate — means the energy is there, the desire is there, and the need is there for immigration reform this year. And if the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce can find common ground, then Democrats and Republicans in Washington can too.

5.       The American Public Supports Immigration Reform

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll 76% of Americans support creating an immigration process that includes a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million new American immigrants if they pay a fine, back taxes and complete a background check.  Most Americans, 54% according to the poll, believe immigration strengthens America—that’s up from 47% a year ago.

So, that’s why we’re here, in this place, at this moment, ready to move forward on immigration reform. The time is now, now is the time.

Public Service Announcement: Scammers are lying about immigration reform. Please do your part and share facts and information with your community.

If you are reading this column, it is probably not written for you.  It is written for your friends, relatives or neighbors that may not fully understand what has happened, what has not happened and what may happen this year with immigration reform.  For those reasons, I write this with only one request of you: please spread the word to people that do not fully understand what is going on.  They could be easy victims for scammers who want to take advantage of this confusing and exciting time.

I have personally received calls the past few weeks about the “new law” or “nueva ley” that is in effect in immigration.  Some reports are that people are already charging for services based on a legalization program or “amnesty.” NO SUCH PROGRAM exists at this time.  So, below I separate out fact from fiction to help make sure people are not taken advantage of.  You should know what has occurred and what has not occurred during the past several months and make sure to share this with others.

What has really happened:

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): This allows some qualified individuals to apply for a work permit based on their physical presence in the United States, age and other factors.  IMPORTANT: There is no deadline for filing for DACA, as some have been hearing.  Also, there is no official processing time being provided by the Department of Homeland Security.  However, many applications are now taking close to six months to process.
  • Provisional (Stateside) Waivers: This is not a legalization program but is instead a process that allows some individuals who are immediate relatives (certain spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens) to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while they are waiting in the United States.  Currently the regulation only applies to a narrow group of people and does not go into effect until March 4, 2013.  Therefore, if you may think you or a relative qualifies you should do some research now, before going further with any applications.

What has not happened:

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform: This has not happened yet, and it is going to be months before we have any idea of whether it will happen.  We don’t know what this law, if passed, will look like and who it will help.  No one should pay a deposit for work regarding a law that does not yet and may never exist.  Don’t let someone scam your friends, family, or members of your community.

Whenever there is media interest and talk about some sort of immigration reform there tends to be a lot of confusion about it and the process.  There are also, unfortunately, individuals who are already trying to take advantage of this confusion like scammers, notarios, and others.  So it is very important that you learn more about what is really happening with immigration reform and update your friends, relatives and neighbors who may not fully understand what is going on or have access to a computer.

Make sure to stay updated with any breaking news through websites such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other organizations that provide up-to-date and accurate information.

Written by Maurice Goldman, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

AILA Takes Manhattan

The holiday season was in full swing in New York when AILA President-Elect Doug Stump and I “invaded” the city last week. No stealth maneuvers here, this was a planned, coordinated campaign – we were there to talk to the press.

Most of the reporters were people AILA Communications has been working with for a good long while. These journalists turn to AILA for expertise on immigration topics ranging from detainers to waivers, from DACA to H-1Bs. So, while juggling the schedule was a challenge, each reporter gave us a generous amount of time to share our views, to answer questions, and to see where we can be of most help in the future.

Did you ever wonder how we have been so successful at getting our members’ voices heard? Look no further than AILA’s crackerjack Communications Department! Kudos to Senior Director of Communications George Tzamaras and Manager of Communications Belle Woods not only for a successful tour, but for making it their mission that people turn to AILA as the reliable resource for immigration expertise.

The tour included meetings with The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, the New York Daily News, CNN, the Associated Press, and the New York Times. Discussions ranged widely but here are some of the topics we covered:

• At every meeting, Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) was the first topic that came up, and always led to a lively discussion about what did we think about the prospects for next year, and what did AILA think real reform might look like.

• We talked about what DACA means to our clients and their families and what we think we’ll see in terms of applications next year. We also highlighted how complicated a “simple” application can be, and how critical it is to have good legal advice in the process.

• We talked about the many ways our current immigration system is broken, and how the current mess is the inevitable result of multiple barriers to legal immigration that are literally written into the law or just part of the adjudications process, as well as illustrated how they affect businesses and families, alike.

• Producers and reporters wanted facts. And boy did we give them facts: facts about how difficult it is to navigate our current system; how unwieldy, unforgiving, and unfair the process can be; how much our nation needs its immigrant communities; and the high cost of letting politics instead of common sense dominate the discussion. And thanks, IPC, for making us look so smart!

• We talked about notario fraud and AILA’s efforts to educate the public about the danger these scammers pose to immigrant communities. We introduced them to resources on UPL, including AILA’s consumer protection website, http://stopnotariofraud.org (now in four languages).

• We also highlighted our Chapters’ and individual members’ extraordinary efforts to educate their communities about the risks and potential rewards of deferred action, the value of working with an immigration lawyer and how for many, getting good legal advice can mean the difference between a bright future and deportation.

While not a media meeting, another highlight of the trip was meeting with the Partnership for a New American Economy (out of Mayor Bloomberg’s Office), which was a great opportunity to talk potential partnerships/collaboration with AILA in the coming year. It was also a chance to learn from each other. For instance, PNAE has been involved in a micro loan program to help qualified DACA applicants borrow enough for government filing fees. The program has been in effect for a few months, and PNAE has promised to let us know how that progresses, as the $465 fee has been a roadblock for many young immigrants.

By the end of the second day of meetings, we felt like we’d definitely made an impact. While not everyone can get to NYC and blitz through meetings as we did, we want to emphasize that working with your local press outlets is something that AILA members around the country can and should do. Take a look at these notes, think about what the various outlets were most interested in, and pitch a story tailored to your local news outlet. Want some help crafting your message? Run a pitch by AILA Communications—George and Belle are more than happy to help.

So, let’s take a well-deserved break over the holidays and then come back in the New Year ready to take on the immense task of restructuring our nation’s broken immigration system.

Prosecutorial Discretion for the Families of Deferred Action Recipients

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I think I’m doing what most Americans do this time of year – I’m counting my blessings.  I have so much to be thankful for – both in my personal life as well as my professional life.  In my professional life, I find myself extremely thankful for several new policies implemented by the Obama Administration the past year and a half in terms of prosecutorial discretion and now with DACA.  I’m thankful for the change in our Administration’s attitude about certain foreign nationals in this country.  I’m so excited that they see things the way I do:  Use the limited resources to target those individuals who would cause harm in our communities.

So, I almost hate writing this blog.  I don’t want to come across as the ungrateful. Sometimes, however, more only makes sense.  So, as I write this blog, please keep in mind that I am indeed thankful for what I have, but at the same time, I think our clients deserve more.

We’ve seen the approval numbers for DACA rising.  The latest update from USCIS shows that over 308,000 requests have been received and over 53,000 have been approved.

USCIS is getting an average of 4,827 requests a day.  They are approving requests from valedictorians, from nursing students, and from potential entrepreneurs.  There are thousands of young people who are already benefiting from DACA and many of them received that work permit because of help AILA members offered: help given through clinics, workshops, outreach, and individual attention.

What we can’t forget is that each of these applicants may have one or more family members that remain afraid and unable to work legally, or worse, are in deportation proceedings.  Many of our DACA clients are minors.  What is DACA worth if their primary caregivers – their undocumented parents – find themselves in deportation proceedings? While DACA is a good step forward, it unfortunately still leaves many out in the cold without recourse.

So why can’t the Obama Administration offer Prosecutorial Discretion (PD) to parents and family members of those granted deferred action under the new policy so that families can remain together? If a more humane immigration system is the goal, and targeted enforcement is the method that DHS is using, then offering PD to family members is a no-brainer.  They’ve already stated that tearing families apart isn’t in our country’s interest.

Think about it.  Current law and regulations already protect family members in other instances like U visas, VAWA cases, and even asylum.  So offering PD to family members of DACA recipients isn’t too far out of line with current policy in keeping families together.

For example, I have a case where USCIS denied adjustment applications for the beneficiary and family of an approved I-140 filed in April 2001.  Unfortunately, they filed their I-485 applications thinking they were 245(i) eligible, but they were not because they were not in the United States in December 2000. USCIS issued NTAs with the denial for the principal applicant, his wife, and a minor child.  ICE filed the NTAs with the Immigration Court in August of this year.  While I know I can protect the minor child under DACA, what am I going to do for his parents?  It should be a no brainer Prosecutorial Discretion case, but ICE statistics show only about 9% of cases have been deemed eligible for administrative closure under PD memos.  I’m stressed for my client because we don’t know what ICE is going to do.

So as I sit here and count my blessings this Thanksgiving, I can’t help but start writing my Christmas list.  Trust me, there are tons of things as far as immigration policy and law I would love to see next year, but if Congress can’t put those things into play, I’m asking for at least some form of PD for those family members of DACA recipients to keep in line with the current policy in keeping family members together.

Happy Thanksgiving!