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Cuba Policy Change Might Threaten Immigration Benefits

January 30th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Executive OrdersAs the long-chilled relations between the United States and Cuba begin to thaw, potential changes in an immigration policy that offers automatic political refugee status to nationals who arrive on U.S. soil has translated to a stark acceleration in the Cuban migration rates to the United States. By sea, land and air, higher numbers of Cubans are making their way to the United States.

In December, for example, the Coast Guard saw a 117 percent increase in the number of boats and rafts it intercepted relative to the number of intercepts from a year earlier, in December 2013. But Cuban migration also travels over land and through the air with a 65 percent increase in the last three months of 2014 over the last three months of 2013. Cuban arrivals at the Miami airport and also the ports of entry along the Mexican border totaled 8,624 immigrants from October to December 2014.

That President Obama’s announcement regarding the thaw in official relations with Cuba came as a surprise to most everyone is at least part of the reason behind immigrants’ sense of urgency, according to a story on the topic in the Washington Post. As the “surprise nature of Obama’s Cuba move — after 18 months of secret talks with officials of the Castro government — has reinforced the sense that any of the long-standing pillars of U.S. policy toward the island could fall without warning.”

The crux of U.S. policy on Cuban immigration is the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), a federal law adopted in 1966. CAA allows Cubans to apply for U.S. residency one year and one day after arriving on U.S. soil. The rule is unique to Cuban and nothing similar exists for any other foreigners. CAA faces plenty of criticism from parties in both countries. In a January, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously voted in favor to ask Congress to revise CAA. While the vote carried no real political currency, the heavy Cuban population in the area carried a good deal of symbolic weight. A report in the Miami Herald puts it this way, “They have characterized their goal as weeding out so-called economic refugees who return to Cuba as soon as they’re legally able, sometimes taking with them the wealth they have accumulated in the U.S.”

Political leadership in Havana is likewise critical of CAA. According to reports, Cuban officials see CAA as a policy that encourages risky immigration efforts and also promotes brain drain of the country’s best and brightest professionals who “are enticed to take their training and talent to the United States after receiving a free education through the island’s socialist system,” according to the Washington Post.

Cuban-Americans reportedly made 400.000 trips back to their native island country in 2014.

Immigrants Prepare for New and Expanded Deferred Action

January 27th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Immigration ReformWhen President Obama announced a series of executive actions around immigration and border policies on November 20 last year, leadership at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) was tasked with the development of the rules that would walk the line between a crackdown on illegal immigration measured against compassion and support for families with often mixed documentation.

Overall purpose of executive action:

  • Crack down on illegal immigration at the border
  • Prioritize deportation of felons not families
  • Require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a background check to stay in the United Staes
  • Require undocumented immigrants to pay taxes to stay in the United States

Executive action on DACA:

  • Expands the eligible population for the DACA program to anyone who entered the United States before the age of 16 and lived in the United States since January 1, 2010
  • Applies to undocumented immigrants of any age
  • Extends DACA work authorization from two years to three years

Executive action on DAPA:

  • The allowance to request deferred action and three-year employment authorization has been extended to the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residrents
  • DAPA eligibility requires continuous U.S. residency since Jan. 1, 2010 and pass of a required background check

Other goals of executive action:

  • Expands provisional waiver of unlawful presence to include spouses and children of lawful permanent residents and the of U.S. citizens
  • Modernize, improve and clarify immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs for economic and job growth
  • Promote citizenship education and public awareness for lawful permanent residents and giving a credit card payment option for naturalization applicants’ fees

USCIS hasn’t yet announced specifics around implementation of the president’s directives, though common expectation is to see concrete guidelines after a 90-day window from the initial announcement. And while the USCIS isn’t yet accepting applications for the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program or the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the agency lays out some basic information about whom the new rules are intended to reach the goals the new rules are intended to achieve.

More Countries Added to Visa Program Eligibility List

January 22nd, 2015 by Romona Paden

Green Card HolderFive additional countries have been added to the list of those eligible counties whose nationals can participate in the H-2A and the H-2B Visa programs in 2015. Nationals from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Madagascar, Portugal and Sweden can now apply for the nonimmigrant visas.

Both the H-2A and the H-2B Visa program are employer-sponsored programs. Each allows employers in the United States to act as sponsors to foreign nationals, bringing them in to the United States. The H-2A and H-2B Visas let these nationals fill temporary agricultural and nonagricultural jobs.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work with the Department of State (DOS) to determine which countries to list on the Federal Register. Last month’s addition of the five counties bring the current listing on the register up to 68.  It’s worth noting, however, that USCIS can still approve H-2A and H-2B Visa applications for petitioners from counties not on the list—if officials determine an applicant’s work is in the best interest of the United States. The designation of each country listed on the Federal Register is valid for one year and then reviewed.

Foreign nationals currently in the United States aren’t affected by the news unless an application to change or extend current status is made.

These 68 countries are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B Visa programs:

Argentina

Fiji

Moldova

Slovenia

Australia

Grenada

Montenegro

Solomon Islands

Austria

Guatemala

Nauru

South Africa

Barbados

Haiti

The Netherlands

South Korea

Belize

Honduras

Nicaragua

Spain

Brazil

Hungary

New Zealand

Sweden

Bulgaria

Iceland

Norway

Switzerland

Canada

Ireland

Panama

Thailand

Chile

Israel

Papua New Guinea

Tonga

Costa Rica

Italy

Peru

Turkey

Croatia

Jamaica

The Philippines

Tuvalu

Czech Republic

Japan

Poland

Ukraine

Denmark

Kiribati

Portugal

United Kingdom

Dominican Republic

Latvia

Romania

Uruguay

Ecuador

Lithuania

Samoa

Vanuatu

El Salvador

Macedonia

Serbia

Estonia

Madagascar

Slovakia

Ethiopia

Mexico

Talk of Reform Brings Spike in Caribbean Crossings

January 20th, 2015 by Romona Paden

ICEAs domestic and international policies shift, U.S. Coast Guard officials say a noticeable spike in illegal immigration efforts is on the rise.

When President Obama announced his executive action on immigration reform in November, some Caribbean nationals took the news as a go signal to make the harrowing boat ride through choppy and shark-filled waters to U.S. soil. The number of Haitian nationals, Dominican Republic nationals and nationals from more than a dozen other Caribbean countries are increasingly being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the case of Cuba—a country where the U.S. has imposed sanctions for more than 50 years—nationals who make it to U.S. soil are typically granted refugee status.  After the president’s December announcement for the normalization of relations with the Communist country, however, some nationals of that country erroneously concluded that the blanket amnesty policy would be phased out.

According to a recent story in the Washington Times, rampant rumors in the country said U.S. special immigration policies toward Cubans would end in mid January.  “The changes are merely rumors and no immediate action is pending, but they proved a powerful lure for hundreds trying the dangerous crossing,” the story says.

In the fiscal year that ended on September 30 of last year, the Coast Guard reports it has captured, intercepted or otherwise chased away 5,585 Haitians, 3,940 Cubans and several hundred from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries. For the fiscal year that began October 1 of last year, around 1,920 mostly Cuban and Haitian migrants have been intercepted by the Coast Guard.

Reports say regional smuggling operations can range anywhere from individuals to sophisticated networks. Vessels with hopeful migrants are often overcrowded, unsanitary and highly dangerous

Capt. Mark Fedor, chief of response for the Coast Guard’s 7th District, told one news outlet, ”The Coast Guard strongly discourages attempts to illegally enter the country by taking to the sea. These trips are extremely dangerous.”

Visa Types Serve Different Purposes

January 16th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Stars and stripesWhen foreign-born nationals decide to come to the United States, paperwork is an inevitable part of the process. Because the paperwork can be time consuming, the process is expedited when the correct forms are used. At the front end of this is to understand the difference between immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas and knowing which type is appropriate for the purpose of the travel.

The immigrant visa category applies to those foreign-born persons who want to live in the United States permanently.

The nonimmigrant visa category applies to those foreign-born persons who have no intention of permanently living in the United States, but who would like to be in the United States on a temporary basis. For example, nonimmigrant visas can be issued for things like tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study. In all, more than 20 nonimmigrant visa classifications exist.

Visas are issued by the consular office at the Department of State abroad. It’s the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), however, that determines who’s allowed entry into the country and who’s admission into the country is denied at the port of entry.

For nonimmigrants who are allowed into the United States, Custom and Border Protection (CPB) officers issue an I-94 card. The date the CPB officer stamps on the card is the date by which a nonimmigrant must be out of the country.  This is the case even if the date in the visa is still valid. In the case of “multiple entry” visas, however, means visitors reenter the United States as soon as is desirable.

For those who wish to extend their stay in the United States beyond their I-94 departure date, USCIS offers Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. It’s important the extension request is submitted far enough in advance of the I-94 departure date that USCIS has time to review the application. USCIS is solely responsible for granting or denying applicant requests.

Economists Agree, Immigration Doesn’t Threaten Jobs

January 12th, 2015 by Romona Paden

immigrant workersAs the economy in the U.S. continues to make its way to solid ground in the wake of the financial meltdown of late 2007, economists from around the country are keeping a close eye on jobs and wage data. One particularly compelling aspect of the economic marker is immigrant influence on the numbers and the ways by which a thriving immigrant population makes the economy grow.

Economists agree that immigrants in the U.S.—both documented and undocumented—don’t threaten the jobs of those who are native-born. At the same time, providing legal status to those who are undocumented would create an additional 121,000 more jobs over the next 10 years, according to a study by the Washington College economics department reported by the Center for American Progress (CAP.)

The CAP study looked at jobs through the lens of immigration, using a number of scenarios. In each, immediate legal status was presumed for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. The granting of immediate legal status to those millions of undocumented immigrants would lead to the creation of 121,000 extra jobs annually over the next 10 years, researchers claim.

When the study looked at undocumented immigrants receiving legal status within five years, the per-year jobs increase goes to 159,000. When researchers looked at the possibility of immediate legal status along with citizenship, they calculated an additional 203,000 jobs annually.

One assumption in the study, according to reports, is that the mere condition of legalization and citizenship opens the spigot to let undocumented immigrants become more productive because they can operate with more freedom and without worry of triggering deportation threats. As earnings for the demographic increases, the researchers say, spending will likewise keep pace. “That spending, in turn, will stimulate demand in the economy for more products and services, which creates jobs and expands the economy,” the authors write.

Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, economists at the Brookings Institution, say in a report, “on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans.”

What’s more, though It’s well-understood that entrepreneurial immigrants who fall in the highly=skilled category create jobs, some say even low-skilled immigrants work to create job benefits for native-born workers. According to a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, low-skilled immigrants boost productivity and stimulate investment. Pointing to states where less-educated immigrants push native-born counterparts into more communication-intensive jobs, researchers at the San Francisco Fed argue low-skilled immigrants push native-born workers into higher-paying communication jobs—jobs that are out-of-reach for immigrants where language is a barrier.

Mayors Summit Focuses on Immigration

January 9th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Mayoral Support for Immigration Reform

Mayor of New York City, Bill deBlasio

Mayors leading both big and small cities around the country are joining together in support of President Obama’s November announcement of executive action on immigration. Cities United for Immigration Action is a group of 25 mayors who’ve come together to offer coordinated efforts in working with the new rules.

The mayors initially met in early December in New York. Hosted by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the meeting also included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Others mayors in attendance were those representing the cities of Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. In all, 18 mayors attended and 26 cities were represented at the summit.

New York’s Mayor de Blasio said in a statement that the group’s purpose was to come up with a plan “that truly prepares our localities for swift implementation of changes and also advocates for further reforms from the municipal level all the way up to Washington.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he is a “firm believer in the power of cities taking control of their future,” and that mayors who work together strengthen their cities.

“Immigrants in Pittsburgh today mirror the same drive that was true generations ago with the arrival of Irish, Italian, Polish, German, and many others who helped to build our city, and our country,” Peduto said in a statement. “Our city’s resiliency and can-do work ethic carries on in new immigrants who are opening small businesses such as grocery stores and retail shops, launching careers in our budding tech start-up industry, and setting roots across our city.”

“The president’s action on immigration will strengthen our cities. It will keep families together, grow our economies and foster additional community trust in law enforcement and government,” the coalition said in a statement released during the conference. “We are ready — and together we’re rolling up our sleeves to turn this policy into a better reality for millions of hardworking people in the communities we serve.”

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director, León Rodríguez, was also in attendance at the summit. He joined the mayors along with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama. In his USCIS blog post, Rodriguez says his remarks focused on the combined efforts of all interested parties. “I noted the importance of the existing partnerships and collaboration we have with many of the cities represented at Gracie Mansion, including working together in our outreach and public engagement efforts,” according to the director. “Cities can be strong allies as we reach out to those seeking help from USCIS – both through the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, the naturalization process, or the new efforts announced by President Obama.”

USCIS Director Rodriguez reports on the remarks of Homeland Security Secretary Johnson as an overview of the executive action. More notably, however, the secretary also noted that “administrative actions are no substitute for Congress enacting comprehensive immigration reform,” according to the USCIS blog.

Those interested in supporting the Cities for Action initiative can do so by providing basic contact information in declaring, “I support the President for his leadership in fixing a broken immigration system.”

Political Leaders Launch Outreach Efforts

January 8th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Political support for ImmigrationThe momentum toward bringing undocumented immigrants into the mainstream will build later this month as political leadership behind reform efforts launch an outreach campaign aimed at those who qualify under President Obama’s executive action announced in November. Starting in Rhodes Island, reform advocates will begin a tour to bring education forums to educate immigrants about work permit applications and other opportunities under the president’s order.

The overall aim of the tour is to help immigrants learn more about the executive action orders and what it means for them. Among those leaders taking part in the tour is U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. One of the most active leaders on immigration reform, Gutierrez emphasizes educating immigrants about the president’s executive order. By gaining a critical mass of applicants to apply for the program, reports say Gutierrez contends reform in “unlikely” to unravel under future presidents.

“We’ve put them on the books, they are paying taxes, they’ve gone through a background check, they don’t represent a threat, and they have American citizen children and now we are going to deport them and their kids?” Gutierrez says in one interview.

At the Rhode Island forum, Gutierrez is joining U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, Providence Mayor-elect Jorge O. Elorza and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. Other forums will occur in several other states as well.

Gutierrez, initially elected in 1993, became the first Latino from the Midwest elected to Congress. He’s a Chicago native with Puerto Rican roots and is known as one of the most active members of Congress on immigration reform. The congressman’s hometown is comprised on around 1.4 million immigrants—around 18 percent of Chicago’s total population. According to a report from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois is home to around 511,000 undocumented immigrants.

According to polling organization Gallup, three-quarters of the Hispanic immigrant community welcome the changes in the president’s November announcement. The number contrasts with only 51 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics who support the president’s plan, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. Additionally, foreign-born U.S. citizens were more likely to approve of the president’s plan than native-born citizens—69 percent to 37 percent.

Tags: Luis V. Gutierrez, families united, hispanic caucus, immigration executive action, immigration executive order, daca, dreamer, immigration reform, immigration task force

California Licenses Undocumented Drivers

January 5th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Undocumented Immigrant driver licensesAfter investing more than a year in preparation and adding $141 million to the budget, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officials in California are ushering in the New Year with new rules letting undocumented immigrant residents in the state obtain a driver’s license. Besides legalizing tens of thousands of undocumented drivers in the state, DMV officials say the move will serve to make all California roads safer for all drivers.

Reversing a law adopted more than two decades ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60 last year. Overturning the 1993 ban that forbid immigrants from getting a drivers license without proof of legal U.S. residency, the state has devoted more than a year to making sure the amended process goes as smoothly as possible. Efforts here include opening four additional offices, hiring 900 more employees and changing appointment scheduling to obtain a driver’s license from 90 days in advance down by half to 45 days. According to reports, the DMV estimates the new law will trigger more than 1.5 million new applications will come through the department over the next three years.

One of the primary arguments put forward by proponent of the new law centered on general public safety. Unlicensed drivers on the road are unsafe for everyone. And because undocumented immigrants working in the state are already behind the wheel, the blockage of license issues meant state rules were only adding to the problem. According to one study, unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to cause a fatal crash.

For undocumented immigrants who can now apply for the special licenses, the change in the law means the group can now breathe a little easier on their daily commutes to and from work.  One immigrant falling into this group is San Jose resident Antonio Torres, a quality control engineer at a Silicon Valley manufacturing firm. Torres, who has lived in the U.S. for decades, hasn’t held a drivers license since the passage of the 1993 ban. As Torres continued to drive in the intervening years, he experienced the ramifications of not having the license through higher insurance premiums and by paying the cost of three impoundments that resulted from routine traffic stops.

“It wasn’t good for the economy, but tow trucks and police made a lot of money from us,” Torres is quoted as saying in a published report. “Who knows how much money they made just because we couldn’t have driver’s licenses, not because we were bad drivers.”

Quizzing Employee Rights

January 5th, 2015 by Romona Paden

E-Verify Mandatory

(USCIS.gov)

With government rules requiring employers to verify work authorization for employees and potential employees, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is working to insure workers have a thorough understanding of their rights. In this light, USCIS has developed a quiz that covers three essential aspects of the work authorization rules– Form I-9, E-Verify and Self Check.

The quiz is currently made up of 15 questions—five each that cover Form I-9, E-Verify and Self Check.  More questions will be added to the quiz in the future. In a blog post on the topic, USCIS officials say the untimed quiz takes only a few minutes to complete. Access to the quiz is available through the I-9 Central and E-Verify websites. Job seekers likewise have access to many other resources in the Employee Rights Toolkit.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system that gives employers access to finding job applicants’ work authorization. The E-Verify system works by comparing the information from an employee’s Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, with information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration. Through a comparison of records, employers can quickly verify an applicants’ eligibility for work.

Among the questions on the quiz are items like, “Why must I complete Section 1 of Form I-9 every time I start a new job?” Answer options include:

  1.  Employers are required to have new employees complete a Form I-9 to know as much as possible about each employee hired
  1.  Employers are required to have their new employees complete the Form I-9 to document and verify identity and employment eligibility
  1. Employers are required to verify each new hire to ensure an employee is compatible with the employer’s personality.”

Regardless of the answer applicants choose, the quiz provides feedback. In the above example, for instance, the correct B option prompts a message stating, “Correct. Employers are required by law to use the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 to document that they have verified the identity and employment eligibility of each new employee (U.S. citizens and noncitizens).”

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