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DV Program to Begin October Registration

September 24th, 2014 by Romona Paden

LotteryBesides the changing colors of leaves on the trees and a nip in the air, autumn is a time of great change. For the hundreds of thousands  of people around the world who dream of living and working in the United States, however, the season is also a time of great hope. This hope will begin to manifest next week as the Department of State (DOS) is slated to open a 30-day window to register for the Diversity Visa (DV) 2016 Program.

The DV Program—more commonly called the green card lottery— allots 50,000 visas to nationals living in countries around the world that are typically underrepresented in the immigrant community. Potential immigrants can register their green card lottery entry at noon, Eastern Daylight Time, on Wednesday, October 1, 2014. Registration for the diversity visas ends noon Eastern Standard Time on Monday, November 3, 2014. Although the registration opportunity is open for about a month, DOS recommends users complete their entry sooner rather than later because “heavy demand may result in website delays.”

Among the DV program’s other rules are that all entries must be made in the electronic format—no paper entries allowed—and entries must be submitted before the end of the registration period. DOS also allows only one entry per person. Using technology that detects multiple entries by registrants, DOS disqualifies those with multiple entries as well as entries that are incomplete. DOS has made the registration forms available in multiple languages, including: EnglishArmenianPolishSpanishTurkish and Uzbek. Each is available in .pdf format  No fees are associated with registering for the DV Program. Your entry is free

After completing an entry, takes registrants to a confirmation screen that lists entrants’ name along with a unique confirmation number. DOS suggests printing the confirmation screen for recordkeeping purposes. Starting next spring—on May 5, 2015—those who register for the DV Program can check entry status at www.dvlottery.state.gov.

Immigrants Facing Higher Money-Wire Costs

September 22nd, 2014 by Romona Paden

bigstock-A-Global-Emphasis-On-Funding-R-12406415Sending more than $50 billion to loved ones still living in their native countries, immigrants in the United States are among the heaviest senders of remittances.  Because institutions in the business of sending international wire transfers are now faced with ensuring against money laundering or terrorist funding, however, at least a few banks are discontinuing the service. The combination of elements means massive repercussions on multiple fronts: immigrants, banks and global economics.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of United Nations and World Bank numbers, a “rising share of international migrants now lives in today’s high income countries such as the United States and Germany, while a growing share was born in today’s middle-income nations such as India and Mexico.” Middle-income countries are defined as those with per capita income of between $1,036 and $12,615.

While many immigrants struggle financially in the United States and in other nations considered “high income countries,” economies of scale many times makes even the poorest of these better off than most of the population of poorer countries. On a global scale, middle income countries like India and Mexico has seen an increase in their share of global remittances, growing from around 57 percent at the beginning of the century to an estimated 71 percent in 2013. In countries defined as poor – those with per capital incomes of less than $1,036 – remittances doubled in the same time frame, building from 3 percent to 6 percent.

In 2012, according to published reports, Mexican immigrant sent around $25 billion – almost half – of global remittances. Although Mexico is the country most heavily affected by regulation on international wires, the whole of Latin America is affected as well as many countries in Africa.

The regulatory scrutiny placed on the wire transfers however, means business operations are becoming more cumbersome and more expensive. JP Morgan Chase, Bank America and Citigroup are among the institutions that have either scrapped or modified international wire transfer services in response to compliance issues. And while money can still be sent from other banks and other services, the reduced numbers of players likely means the cost to send funds across borders will only go up.

Underwater Dreams Tells Underdog Tale

September 17th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Deferred ActionWhen four high school science and technology geeks go up against college kids from around the country in a robotics competition, no one really takes notice if the younger students lose. This means Oscar Vazquez and his three robotics-team peers from Phoenix-based Carl Hayden High School—all undocumented—were free to enter a contest to create an underwater robot in 2004 without the fear of complete public humiliation. The team called their robot Stinky. But instead of walking away unnoticed from the NASA- and U.S. Navy-sponsored competition, Vazquez and his cohorts emerged as engineering rock stars.

Tenacious high school students from working-class families who have enough smarts to triumph over some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country is a romantic and inspiring tale, indeed. Captured in the documentary Underwater Dreams, the film explores the irony of desert-dwelling kids who build a robot that can function underwater. What’s more, Stinky was made with materials purchased at Home Depot—not with the latest gizmos developed by tech companies. The kids leaned on sheer innovation to address problems. When leakage threatened Stinky’s circuitry, for example, a tampon provided protection.

The people behind Underwater Dreams are as interesting as the story of the Hayden High robotics team. The film’s director is Mary Mazzio, a former Olympian and a self-described “recovering lawyer,” according to her Twitter profile. Mazzio and Vazques appeared on The Colbert Report in late July.

Jeb Bush, Jr., the son of the former governor of Florida and the nephew and grandson of presidents of the United States, acted as one of the film’s executive producers. He told National Public Radio over the summer that his interest in immigration stems from his mother’s Mexican heritage. The subject combined with the story of the Hayden High team was simply too compelling to pass up.

“If you take a step back and realize that they’re literally in the middle of the desert in Phoenix, Arizona, that are entering an underwater robotics competition – not a lot of places to practice out there,” Bush said. “So they enter this competition and go out to California and compete against the best colleges in the country – schools like MIT and come out victorious. It’s really an incredible story.”

The story is important in current discussions around immigration, because, “At the end of the day, we’ve got to step back and realize these are kids that are trying to seek a better life,” he said.

Child immigrants Pose Big Issues

September 15th, 2014 by Romona Paden

ImmigrationIn an effort to escape violence and poverty, a growing number of children from across Latin America are showing up on the nation’s doorstep. Although kids have often trekked thousands of miles in making their way to the United States, thin resources means these special immigration cases don’t always get the care and attention needed. While organizations with the purpose of helping minor immigrants maneuver through the system do exist, a study by Syracuse University reports that more than half the 57,000 underage immigrants currently in the country will go through their immigration hearings without legal representation.

“If they don’t have an attorney, it’s up to them to understand this very complicated system,” a representative with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) told Latino USA.

Just as adult immigrants appearing in court are not guaranteed legal representation, children are likewise left to their own devices. Because these children don’t have the education or maturity to even have a true understanding of the immigration process, however, the problems within the immigration system are exponentially magnified.

Immigration officials are professionals trained to understand laws related to entering and exiting the country. During court appearances the attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the judge presiding over the immigration court are not expert on child welfare. Because these children were forced to escape their native home, however, immigration courts are forced to handle child welfare issues. USCRI works to provide lawyers at no cost to underage immigrants.

With a backlog of around 400,000 cases, minor immigrants awaiting appearance in immigration courts makes up only 11 percent of cases in the category, according to Syracuse University. This is the case even though underage immigrants in the court system reached a record high in April-June 2014, more than doubling over the six-month period of October 2013-March 2014.

Terrorism Threats and Fears Influence Immigration Laws

September 10th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Stars and stripesThirteen years after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the nation’s immigration policies reflect efforts to protect against foreign threats. Because of the magnitude of the 911 events, policy makers and enforcement agencies, some argue, responded in a knee-jerk fashion that continues to influence immigration laws today.

One year after the world witnessed the use of airplanes as missiles, the U.S. remembered that day’s victims through Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance in recognition of the thousands who died on that fateful day. While the nation and the world still mourn those who lost their lives in the attacks, patriotism is a notion that seemingly has become only more complicated in the years since the tragedy.

Six weeks after the events, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which intended to reduce threats by strengthening border security and reducing potential threats.

“With few legal constraints and considerable deference from the courts, immigration law and policy quickly emerged as ground zero in the so-called war on terror declared by the Bush administration not long after September 11,” according to a 2007 Minnesota Law Review article. Each year, the authors wrote, “hundreds of thousands of noncitizens—almost all of whom had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism” were forced to leave the country.

The article points out that the conversation around immigration in the late 1990’s was inclined toward a liberalization of laws. After September 11, however, popular reform proposals have geared toward “extreme enforcement” that includes border fences and going so far as to categorize undocumented status as a felony.

While stories reflecting the devastating effects of current immigration policy on families with foreign-born members are all-too-common today, the immigration community is poised to keep pressure Congress to address the issue with strength, grace and wisdom. The hope is elected officials will hold tight to the nation’s tradition of liberty while also maintaining the country’s security.

ACLU Forces New Approach on Voluntary Return

September 8th, 2014 by Romona Paden

ICEUndocumented immigrants and immigrants’ rights organizations got a bit of good news in August as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that a lawsuit it filed more than a year ago in Southern California resulted in reforming practices associated with the policy of voluntary return, a practice that bypasses immigration courts and sends undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin. Arguing that undocumented immigrants were often subjected to pressure and coercion to agree to voluntary return, an administrative procedure that can have far-reaching implications, the ACLU argued, immigration and border officials must now establish comprehensive practices to ensure immigrants’ legal protection.

According to a statement issued by the ACLU regarding the class-action lawsuit, “countless families” have been broken apart with “coercive and deceptive voluntary return practices.” As a matter of practice, the statement reads, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) regularly misinformed immigrants that agreeing to voluntary return can result in a 10-year ban against returning to the United States. “And in many cases, immigration officers used pressure and threats to force people to sign voluntary return orders.”

The settlement spells out the required reforms. Immigration and border officials must:

  • Give immigrants detailed information regarding the consequences of choosing voluntary return over the option of facing an immigration judge. The information must be provided orally, in writing and through a 1-800 phone number.
  • Officials can no longer pre-check the voluntary return option on agency forms.
  • Officials must allow immigrants to use a working phone, provide a list of legal service options and give immigrants two hours to find assistance before choosing voluntary return.
  • Allow lawyers “meaningful access” to their clients.
  • Cease pressure and coercion in getting immigrants to agree to voluntary return.
  • Allow the ACLU to monitor officials’ compliance to the reforms.

According to a 2012 report in The El Paso Times, officials planned to cut back on the practice of voluntary returns, making the policy more of an exception than the norm.

New York Maintains Strong Economic Ties with Immigrants

September 4th, 2014 by Romona Paden

U.S. Immigration History

The Statue of Liberty: A common symbol of American immigration though it was constructed late in the 19th century

With the Statue of Liberty located in its harbor on Liberty Island, New York’s iconic status in the nation’s immigration story manifests today with a foreign-born population of more than four million residents and more than one-quarter or the overall workforce in the state is classified as an immigrant. Through its Map the Impact project, The Partnership for a New American Economy reports those making up the category of Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAMers) account for 105,000 residents in the population. The significant numbers means federal immigration policy can work to either help or hinder the state’s economy and culture.

Based on an estimated $16 billion of induced economic impact and more than 53,000 new jobs in the next decade-and-a-half, the Map the Impact New York report argues passage of the bill incentivizes young immigrants to pursue higher education opportunities. And because education correlates to earning potential, the state benefits with the taxes and fees echoed in the purchase of items like cars, housing and electronics.

Of students attending New York universities in 2009, nearly 54 percent of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) were immigrants. Of the STEM students earning PhDs between 2006 and 2010, nearly 70 percent were immigrants. Because of current immigration policy, however, the state is largely unable to tap the well-schooled segment. Visas for these immigrants are too limited, according to the report, and many of these brilliant minds are forced to leave the country.

“Reforming our immigration system will generate millions of dollars and thousands of jobs across New York. According to Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI),

“Undocumented immigrants who enroll in a legal path to citizenship will generate more than 29,000 jobs and more than $2.8 billion for the state by 2020,” according to numbers cited in the Map the Impact report. “Expanding the number of both high-skilled (H-1B) visas will also have positive economic effects.” The result of this would be “more than 21,600 jobs and add more than $2.3 billion to Gross State Product by 2014.”

China, Mexico an Jamaica are the countries of origin with the highest representation of immigrants in the state. From 2000-2010, the immigration growth rate of the state’s foreign-born population measured in at 11.8 percent.

Labor Day Celebrates Workers’ Rights

September 3rd, 2014 by Romona Paden

naturalizationAs the holiday that marks the unofficial end of summer, the first Monday in September—Labor Day—celebrates American workers as the backbone of the nation. Although today the holiday is associated with cookouts and picnics, Labor Day in the US came about as the result of hard-fought labor struggles against powerful corporate interests that continually exploited the rank-and-file workers responsible for company profitability. Today, both native and immigrant workers enjoy common labor rights thanks to workers’ sacrifices and struggle from decades past.

As a global leader in the Industrial Age that began in the late 1800’s, America’s workers were a central component in shepherding the nation a modern industrial power. Mines, factories and shipyards acted as economic linchpins through to the first half of the twentieth century. With this, abusive industry practices that offered no workplace safety requirements and allowed for child labor became the norm. In response, workers formed unions in an effort toward gaining a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Dependent on workers to keep industry humming along without a hiccup, however, meant many industrialists were threatened by the unions. Fighting their own workers, industrial managers were aggressive in combating work disruptions as unions called strikes in an effort to force negotiation.

Historically, the move in creating Labor Day as a national holiday dates back to 1886. Early in May of that year, workers in Chicago protesting for an eight-hour workday clashed with police. The day of the incident, known as the Haymarket Affair, was soon adopted as International Worker’s Day. While many other countries of the world continue to celebrate their own versions of Labor Day in early May, politicians in the US wanted to avoid the Haymarket Affair association. When Labor Day was officially adopted as a national holiday in 1894, President Grover Cleveland proposed the celebration for the current first September Monday date to avoid the association.

While unions representing heavy industrial workers are no longer central to the cause of workplace rights, the service sector has taken up the cause. Notably, fast food workers who are demanding higher wages are battling for the cause today.

Sue Chinn, the National Campaign Manager for the Alliance for Citizenship, puts it this way, “Today’s fast food strikes are emblematic of the national fight for fairness and respect for all workers—both for native-born and for immigrant workers. We stand united with the fast food workers around the world and to those that came before them as we all fight to lift our families and communities out of poverty and for a better life.”

Immigrants in Illinois

August 28th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Immigration ProtestOn a noticeable downturn over the last decade and a half or so, federal immigration policy has interfered with Illinois’ economic growth at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of new jobs, according to the New American Economy’s Map the Impact report. The economic correlation between immigration and both service and professional labor shortages means the state is looking for Washington action to expedite Immigration reform and to provide a legal path to citizenship, the report says.

Although home to around 1.8 million foreign-born residents, Illinois is no longer among the top seven states in the nation to attract immigrants, a status it held from the 1960’s through the late 1990’s. Accounting for14 percent of the state’s population, the immigrant growth rate for the first decade of the century was reported down at 16.8 percent.

Among the most extreme aspects of the economic impact is that “from 2009 to 2011 some 1.6 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs were posted online in Illinois for every unemployed STEM worker in the state,” according to Map the Impact. Specifically, STEM directly affects the state’s ability to remain innovative and to stay competitive. The shortage, which is currently expected to persist through 2030, even extends to medical professionals. If federal regulations were to address the visa complexities in this area, the “foreign STEM workers could help fill some of these gaps, as they have in other states,” the report says.

The sentiment also held by many of the state’s business and civic leaders. Last year at a community forum attended by academic, political and industry leadership, director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-Great Lakes Region Harry Alton commented on the state’s growth dependency on immigrants and the federal policy that diminish immigrant numbers. ”It’s very difficult to keep a growing relationship with this group when the government tries to destroy their lives,” Alten said.

What is the Green Card Lottery?

August 26th, 2014 by Romona Paden

LotteryEven though she became a citizen of the United States in 2012, Russian-born Katherine Alexandra thought her dream to sing the national anthem in performance wasn’t a realistic possibility.  As the 2014 minor league baseball season was winding down, however, the classically-trained musician found herself hitting the notes before a Charlotte Stone Crabs game in Florida. This lucky opportunity to sing harmonized with Alexandra’s luck at winning the green card lottery.

The green card lottery, an immigration program that’s formally called the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program, extends visa opportunities in countries that are underrepresented in the immigrant population.  The U.S. Department of State (DOS) implements the green card lottery with 50,000 visas annually. The visa allotment is distributed among six geographic regions and each country receives no more than 7 percent of the available DVs in any single year.

Applicants must have a high school education or its equivalent or two years of qualifying work experience.  The education requirement is comparable to the 12-year basic education system in the United States. The work qualification requires experience in a field identified by the Department of Labor during two of the last five years.

Foreign nationals who win the green card lottery usually apply through a U.S. consulate office. It’s extremely rare that a green card lottery winner resides in the United States. The primary reason for this is that DOS doesn’t issue DVs to foreign nationals who have applied for immigrant status in some other form.

Primary applicants of the green card lottery are required to meet the education or work requirements, but the requirements don’t extend to immediate family members. By the same token, applicants must be sure to include all immediate family members in the initial application. Although new family members—a new spouse or a new child–  can be added to a green card lottery application, the omission of these family members during the initial application results in a visa denial.  While applicants can be disqualified, any fees paid during the application process are nonrefundable.

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