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Integration, Support Mechanisms Key to Immigration Success

February 25th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Immigrant influence in politicsInnovation and growth fostered by a vibrant immigration system fueled the president’s formation of a task force that’s focused on integration and support mechanisms.

One of the immigration initiatives President Obama discussed in his November 2014 announcement—the White House Task Force on New Americans—is rooted in the longstanding recognition of immigration as a crucial underpinning of thriving cultures and economies. By identifying key factors in maintaining vibrant immigration patterns, the task force is intended to drive immigrant success.

Focusing on “civic, economic and linguistic integration of new Americans” and through the creation of “welcoming communities for all residents,” the president hopes to maintain immigrant innovation. According to the presidential memorandum on the task force, “Civic integration provides security in rights and liberties. Economic integration empowers self-sufficiency and allows new Americans to give back to their communities and contribute to economic growth.” The memo also discusses the importance of English language adoption, identifying proficiency as important for “employment and career advancement along with active civic participation.”

In essence, the task force calls for federal agencies to develop methods of outreach to immigrants. Departments of Education, Labor, Agriculture and others have all been tasked with finding ways to “expand and replicate successful models.” The idea here is to maintain the United States as a highly desirable destination for people all around the world.

Operationally, the task force calls for federal agencies to develop relationships with local public and private leaders in community, business and religious communities. As federal agencies and local entities develop constructive conversations around immigration, the president hopes to determine “additional steps the Federal Government can take to ensure its programs and policies are serving diverse communities that include new Americans.”

Ensuring opportunity to immigrants is fundamental to ensuring a healthy nation. While foreign-born residents make up 13 percent of the nation’s population, the demographic also represents more than 16 percent of the country’s workforce. What’s more the group accounts for 28 percent of all new businesses. As President Obama notes, “It is important that we develop a Federal immigrant integration strategy that is innovative and competitive with those of other industrialized nations and supports mechanisms to ensure that our Nation’s diverse people are contributing to society to their fullest potential.”

Expanded Reform Measures Face Federal Court Battle

February 23rd, 2015 by Romona Paden

Supreme court

President Obama and his administration are challenging the injunction on the implementation of expanded immigration reform measures, due to go into effect in mid-February.

While long-awaited programs intended to expand immigration reform, efforts had been expected to get underway in mid-February, a federal judge in Texas has blocked implementation of President Obama’s expanded DACA program. As a means of countering the injunction, officials within the administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) are seeking an emergency court order to let the expanded reform move forward.

Responding to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s block of President Obama’s expanded reform order, the DOJ is reportedly readying its counterpunch by planning to seek a stay of the judge’s injunction. Under Judge Hanen’s order, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) had to shut down plans to begin accepting applications to gain status under an expanded reform program—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA.)

Although the legal battle is heating up, for now, the overall picture of immigration seems little changed in a practical sense. One editorial on the topic puts it this way, “The erroneous interpretation is that illegal immigrants who would have been protected from deportation had Obama’s prosecutorial discretion action proceeded are now at risk. But Judge Hanen wrote specifically that his ruling does not affect federal deportation policy.” In other words, the piece goes on to say, undocumented immigrants have no more or less chance of deportation since Judge Hanen’s decision than before Judge Hanen’s decision.

Still, reform advocates say the delay is harmful to millions of undocumented immigrants who will remain in the shadows. Not only does this mean some five million immigrants are forced to continue living in constant fear of deportation, but that the social and economic benefits associated with bestowing legal status likewise remains elusive for the country as a whole.

Federal Order Stalls Reform Process

February 18th, 2015 by Romona Paden

DACA delayedJust one day before USCIS was to begin accepting applications for the president’s expanded DACA proposal put forth last fall, a federal judge ordered a halt to the programs.

A federal judge’s last-minute order to halt President Obama’s immigration reform programs has delayed the application process that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits and deportation protection beginning on February 18. The judge’s ruling, issued on February 16, comes in response to a 26-state challenge to the president’s November executive order on immigration reform.

In the ruling, issued by Andrew S. Hanen of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the judge cited the president’s programs as an overwhelming burden on state resources. Judge Hanen ruled the program would not only strain state budgets, but that the president’s broad assertion of executive power didn’t follow the required procedures for changing federal rules.

The initial step under the president’s executive action was to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program because the executive branch is obligated to abide by the federal judge’s ruling, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has delayed the application process rollout for the expanded DACA permissions and protections.

In his response to Judge Hanen’s ruling, the president vowed to appeal. Expressing confidence that higher courts will find in his favor, the president said, “The law is on our side, and history is on our side.” In the meantime, according to the New York Times, the White House continues preparations needed to put the president’s executive actions into effect. Even so, USCIS won’t begin accepting applications from undocumented immigrants until the legal case is settled—a process that could take months.

For now, President Obama has turned back to Republican lawmakers, urging a return to negotiations on the overhaul of immigration laws. Additionally, officials with the Justice Department are reviewing options—whether to file a petition requesting an appeals court block Judge Haren’s ruling and allow the executive actions to move forward.

“We should not be tearing some mom away from her child when the child has been born here and that mom has been living here the last 10 years minding her own business and being an important part of the community,” the president said.

On the other side of the argument, Greg Abbott, the Texas governor who filed the lawsuit when he was the state’s attorney general, called Judge Haren’s injunction a victory for the rule of law. “Judge Hanen’s decision rightly stops the president’s overreach in its tracks,” Gov. Abbott said.


Redesgination, Extension of TPS for Syria

February 16th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Eligible Syrian nationals and those without nationality who lived within Syrian borders can request new or extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that runs through Sept. 30, 2016. Based on ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary temporary conditions in Syria, officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted the country with redesignation of Temporary Protected Status and an extension of an existing TPS desgination.

Syria TPS immigrants who register for the extended status can also request a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD.) Newly-issued EADs carry an expiration date of Sept. 30, 2016. Those who hold an EAD with a current expiration date of March 31, 2015 will be granted an automatic six-month extension. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) extended these expirations to Sept. 30, 2016.

Current TPS beneficiaries from Syria can extend the status through re-registration during the 60-day period that runs from Jan. 5, 2015 through March 6, 2015.

Syrian nationals and others who lived within Syrian borders and who aren’t currently under the Temporary Protected Status umbrella can apply from the status during a 180-day period from Jan. 5, 2015 through July 6, 2015. With this, applicants must have continuously resided in the United States since Jan. 5, 2015 and must be continuously physically present in the United States from April 1, 2015.

Regardless of whether a TPS request is new or for an extension, guidelines include:

  • Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status—the form application fee doesn’t apply to individuals who are re-registering
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization—required even for those who don’t want an EAD.
  • Form I-765 application fee– only for those who want an EAD
  • Biometric services fee for those ages 14 or older

Applicants who can’t afford the application fees can request a fee waiver by filing Form I-912: Request for Fee Waiver or by submitting another written request and supporting documentation.

DHS estimates approximately 5,000 individuals are eligible for TPS re-registration under the existing designation of Syria. The agency estimates an additional 5,000 individuals could be eligible under the redesignation.

Immigration Agencies Work to Curb Modern-Day Slavery

February 11th, 2015 by Romona Paden

ICEForeign nationals who come to the United States in search of a better life are among the most vulnerable targets of criminal activity. Gilded promises of a new life tarnish as high-paying jobs never materialize and the difficulties associated with the lack of documentation becomes a reality. For this group of immigrants, the recipe often results in modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Estimated with numbers running into the millions, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is actively working to bring awareness to the issue of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. USCIS works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies to combat the activity. At this federal level, January has been designated as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“These victims face a cruelty that has no place in a civilized world: children are made to be soldiers, teenage girls are beaten and forced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited and compelled to work for little or no pay,” President Obama said in his proclamation of the designated month.

One of the main issues surrounding the issue in the United States, according to USCIS, is that traffickers will use their victims’ lack of legal status to threaten undocumented immigrants into submission. Although the situation leaves victims feeling as if they have nowhere to turn, USCIS encourages victims to seek the shelter of law enforcement.

“When victims of trafficking and other serious crimes cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of these crimes, they can apply to USCIS for lawful immigration status so they don’t have to worry about their ability to remain in the U.S.,” according to the agency.

USCIS primarily issues T visas and U visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of traffickers. Five thousand T visas are available to trafficking victims and certain family members each year. Ten thousand U visas are issued each year to trafficking victims as well as victims of domestic violence and some other serious crimes. Immigrants on the wait list for U visas can stay in the United States and apply for work authorization. Additionally, trafficking victims are sometimes granted Continued Presence (CP) status in order to act as an investigation witness into trafficking crimes.

TPS Extended to El Salvador Nationals

February 9th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Temporary Protected Status for El SalvadoreansThe Department of Homeland Security has granted an 18-month extension to eligible nationals of El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The TPS extension also allows eligible nationals to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

TPS re-registration for El Salvador beneficiaries began Jan. 7, 2015 and runs for a 60-day period– through March 9, 2016. Those who re-register for the extended TSP and who request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of Sept. 9, 2016, though some who re-register won’t receive the document until the expiration of their current EAD. Because of this, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is providing an automatic six-month extension to Sept. 9, 2015 for TPS El Salvador beneficiaries who currently hold an EAD with an expiration of March 9, 2015.

Several forms are needed to re-register as a TPS beneficiary. These include:

  • Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status (Re-registrants don’t pay the Form I-821 application fee).
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (This form is required even for those who aren’t seeking employment authorization. Re-registrants who request an EAD must also pay the Form I-765 application fee or submit a fee-waiver request. Re-registrants who aren’t interested in obtaining an EAD aren’t required to pay the application fee).

The biometrics service fee applies to registrants who are 14-year-old or older.

TPS is a designation bestowed on immigrants coming from countries where conditions make it unsafe to return to the native country. The Secretary of Homeland Security can bestow a TPS designation for certain temporary conditions in the country. These include:

  • Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war)
  • An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic
  • Other extraordinary and temporary conditions

TPS beneficiaries generally aren’t removable from the United States, can obtain an EAD and can also be granted travel authorization. DHS officers cannot detain TPS beneficiaries based on immigration status. Importantly, however, it should be noted that TPS is a temporary benefit and is not a pathway to lawful permanent resident status or any other immigration status.

Immigrant Protection Law Goes Into Effect in NY

February 6th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Statue of Liberty in New YorkWith 4.3 million foreign-born residents living in the state, New York lawmakers have taken steps to help the state’s immigrant population with a law passed by the legislature last year. Beginning in February, businesses in the state selling fraudulent immigration assistance will be subject to more fines and steeper penalties, and establishes the Office for New Americans.

Immigrants are often targets of fraud as unscrupulous businesses routinely take advantage of cultural differences as a means of scamming immigrants out of large sums of money—often their life savings. While a “notario publico” equates to a licensed attorney in Latin America, notarios practicing in the United States aren’t allowed to give legal advance and don’t have the authority to represent clients in the immigration courts or to the Department of Labor.

“This new law helps prevent immigrants from becoming victims of fraud, increases penalties on those that try to scam immigrants out of their life’s savings, gives immigrants an opportunity to recover their stolen fees and for damages, meets federal criteria that allows recourse when the fraud has interfered with immigration matters, and permanently establishes the Office for New Americans with a clear mandate on the work it is to perform for years to come,” said Crespo, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

New York is ranked second in the country in terms of the nation’s immigrant population. More than 3 million immigrants reside inside New York City. More than 1.2 million reside outside the city’s metropolitan area.

The legislation, called the Immigrant Assistance Service Enforcement Act, takes the maximum penalty for immigration assistance violators from $7,500 to $10,000. The legislation also creates felony level charge of immigration assistance fraud as well as a misdemeanor level of the charge.

The state’s Office for New Americans is a designated state office created specifically to provide stricter enforcement and to strengthen the level of transparency within the network of immigration service providers.  Services also include helping immigrants to learn English, assistance with status matters, preparation for the U.S. citizenship exam, and businesses assistance designed to help integrate immigrants into communities across the state

Marcos Crespo, a state assemblyman from the Bronx, chairs the state’s Assembly Task Force on New Americans. He describes the new law as “the most comprehensive anti-fraud, immigrant protection law enacted in New York State in more than 50 years.”

Show Me Missouri Immigration

February 2nd, 2015 by Romona Paden

Missouri_state_flagMissouri’s immigration numbers are full of irony. Although the rate of foreign-born residents in the state has surpassed the national growth rate over the past decade, one of the state’s largest cities represents one of the lowest immigrant growth rates in major metropolitan centers.

While the immigrant population in Missouri is relatively small compared to other states in the nation, the number of foreign-born residents in the Show Me state has grown by a healthy 63 percent in the last decade. Although growth rate is more than double that of the national average, the number of foreign-born residents in the state is only 249,155—about 4 percent of Missouri’s total population. The state’s immigrants predominantly hail from Mexico, China and India.

In the Greater St. Louis area, Missouri’s second largest city, the metropolitan area has the lowest share of immigrants of any top 20 city, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Map the Impact study. This is despite St. Louis’ position as the fifteenth largest city in the country. Along the same lines, St. Louis is reported to have the second lowest immigrant growth rate in the country. The impact of the numbers, study authors say, is the city has taken a measurable economic hit. “A study from the St. Louis Economic Council showed that if the city had experienced inflows of immigrants similar to other large metropolitan areas, income growth would have been 4-7 percent greater, and the region’s income would be 7-11 percent larger over the past decade,” according reported numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center in the report.

Although St. Louis appears to be missing out on economic opportunity, immigrants in Missouri are making a substantial contribution to the state’s economy. Making up around 5 percent of the workforce in the state, immigrants’ purchasing power is substantial. Where Latino’s are concerned, for example, 2010 numbers put the demographics’ purchasing power at a total of $4.9 billion. Reporting numbers from the Selig Center for Economic Growth, the group saw a growth of a whopping 577 percent in purchasing power since 1990.

Immigration to Missouri began in the 1830’s and included a particularly high influx of Bosnia, Latino and Asian nationals.

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.

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