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Appeals Court Continues Amnesty Injunction

May 26th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Immigration ReformPresident Obama and the Department of Justice face another legal hurdle in moving forward with immigration reform as a federal appeals court upheld an injunction to prevent the implementation of executive orders announced late last year. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, New Orleans ruled on the injunction, which was imposed by Judge Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in Texas who issued the edict in February.

At the appeals level, two of the three judges on the court panel in New Orleans, agreed state attorneys for Texas had demonstrated it would incur significant costs to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who would gain legal status under the president’s executive action.  In their 70-page opinion, Judge Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod also dismissed the administration’s argument that policy decision on immigration law enforcement was out of the purview of the courts.

In his dissent, Judge Stephen Higginson stated the Obama Administration was “adhering to the law, not derogating from it.”

The New York Times frames the decision as one where, “The appeals court found that Texas and the other states had sufficient legal grounds to bring the lawsuit and that the administration had not shown that it would be harmed if the injunction remained in place and the programs were further delayed.”

While the appeals court’s refusal to lift the injunction is likely frustrating to immigration advocates who’ve battled so long and so hard for reform, the decision was not unexpected. Commentators noted the court in New Orleans would likely maintain the injunction, and would force administration attorneys to up their game with an ultimate appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Still, the situation might not be as bleak as it first appears, according to Washington University immigration law professor Stephen Legomsky. Legomsky is the former top lawyer at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In its story on the ruling, the New York Times quotes the professor’s reaction to the judges’ statements as, “a delay would cause no irreparable harm.” What’s more, Legomsky goes further to say the injunction could be thrown out as the panel of judges making the ultimate decision “could well agree with the government’s position and reverse Judge Hanen’s injunction.”

Immigration Advocates Challenge Family Detentions

May 21st, 2015 by Romona Paden

ICEThe persistent influx of immigrants streaming into the United States from Central America has overwhelmed the nation’s detention centers, making conditions in the facilities untenable, immigration advocates say.

At the heart of the matter are the processing protocols of immigrants making asylum claims. Before the onslaught of immigrants crossing the border began last summer, asylum seekers could likely expect just a couple of weeks in a federal detention facility. But the thousands of undocumented parents and children who began pouring into the country last summer means families are spending months on end in the facilities.

Andrea Cristina Mercado, associated with advocacy group We Belong Together, describes the situation as horrific. “It’s shocking and abhorrent that we have 2-year-old kids in prison,” Mercado tells the Los Angeles Times.

Before current conditions took hold, asylum seekers would typically spend just weeks in a detention center. After processing, these immigrants would then be released to family members.

Lawyers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) argue the agency’s detention policies are intended to deter others from crossing the border. The idea of immigrant detention gives pause to those in other countries who might consider leaving their homelands to come to the united States.

However, in his 40-page opinion, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg cited the government’s position as “likely unlawful.” In this light, the judge ordered a stop to the application of detention for the purpose of deterrence. While government lawyers claimed detention resulted from national security, Boasberg responded by saying the claim is simply “not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty.”

“What I think is so appalling about holding these women and children behind bars is that the data shows that asylum seekers, if they’re released into the community, will come to their hearings,” Mercado says.

Specifically naming detention centers in New Mexico, Texas and Pennsylvania as illegal, ICE officials have appointed an in-house official to review conditions at the detention centers. The move is something immigration advocates decry as insufficient.

“The only satisfactory step would be for the panel to recommend ending family detention immediately,” says Mercado. “I don’t see anything short of that really being sufficient.”

Immigration Courts Reach New Levels of Overwhelm

May 18th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Abogado IndocumentadoAs the deluge of immigrants making their way through the legal system only continues to grow, immigration courts in a number of cities across the country are finding resources stretched to the limit. Fueled not only by an influx of immigrants from Central America, the court backlog is likewise projected to only worsen as the net number of qualified professionals to work in immigration law continues to dwindle.

For the 233 immigration judges who currently sit in one of the 58 immigration courts across the country, this means a case load of up to 3,000. As a result, some cases have been postponed as far out as 2019.

Reportedly, an additional 17 judges are slated to start positions by the end of the month, bringing the number of judges to 75. Officials with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which handles immigration via the Executive Office for Immigration Review, are also prepared to hire nearly 70 more judges as well.

States topping the list for a backlog of immigration cases are California, Texas, New York, Florida and then New Jersey. And while courts in these regions are overwhelmed, judges are working to increase efficiency through technology as some judges in Miami are hearing immigration cases from Texas via videoconferencing.

“Part of the solution to the backlog is a vigorous, ongoing hiring process to bring on more immigration judges,” DOJ spokesperson Louis Ruffino said.

Still, while the DOJ is working hard to get more judges on immigration benches, the effort could be an uphill battle. San Francisco-based immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks, a 28-year on-the-bench veteran and the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said she expects 100 immigration judges to retire from the bench this year.

“We’re waiting for the tsunami to come,” Marks said. “If you look at how difficult the working conditions become when you are so overworked and not given the support that you need, it makes sense that what happens is people retire at their earliest opportunity.”

While the case load is stressful on judges, those waiting in line to get their day in court are likewise stressed out. For some families, the situation means no one has means to work to earn a living.

“We see people coming into our office every ay whose lives are being negatively impacted by this,” said Jonathan Ryan, executive director of San Antonio-based legal advocacy group Raices. Noting one Syrian family in particular, Ryan said, “Their whole family is in a state of paralysis or suspense because they can’t move forward in the backlog.”

Clinton Defends Path to Citizenship

May 13th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Democratic PartyHillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential race, is going bold in her stance on immigration as she defends a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In a Las Vegas speech delivered earlier in May, Clinton told supporters she’ll move even more boldly than President Obama.

Since President Obama issued executive actions last November to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to launch the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, Republicans have managed to stall the measure through a federal injunction. With talks surrounding immigration reform currently stalled in Washington, Clinton’s comments likely will, at the very least, force more conversation on the topic.

In one article on her speech, editors with The New York Times say Clinton’s remarks on immigration were a “large step forward, up front and to the left of President Obama.” This is evidenced, the editors say, by her promise to take broader executive action on behalf of undocumented immigrants who have strong community bonds through work and family ties. Clinton also promised “more human” conditions for immigrants who are detained by federal agents.

Clinton’s remarks are in sharp contrast to Republican contenders who’ve thrown in for the presidential race. While GOP leadership has come to realize over the last several election cycles that immigration reform is a topic voters want politicians to address, even the most progressive of Republican candidates on the issue come off as wishy-washy. Both Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush—both of whom have considerable track records on the reform issue—have backed down as more conservative factions of the party oppose the position.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are widely considered more interested in securing the border than with finding workable solutions to assist undocumented immigrants and the communities where they live.

While Clinton’s remarks are encouraging to immigration reform advocates, election day is still 18 months away – a near eternity in the world of politics. Nonetheless, Clinton’s commitment to reform will no doubt put immigration in a priority position.

“If Congress refuses to act, as president I will do everything possible under the law to go even further. There are more people—like many parent of Dreamers and others with deep ties and contributions to our communities—who deserve a chance to stay,” Clinton said. “I’ll fight for them, too.”

GOP Offers Hispanic Immigrants LIBRE

May 11th, 2015 by Romona Paden

200408625-001After years of leading the opposition to liberalize immigration laws, establishment Republicans are now changing course to work with immigrants—even undocumented ones—to move the population toward mainstream assimilation. Although the effort to counter the Democratic stronghold on immigration is not so surprising, that the Koch brothers are providing the funding for immigrant assistance is something of a shock.

The effort– Linking Immigrants to Benefits, Resources and Education (LIBRE)—is an organization designed to counter the near monopoly Democratic candidates have traditionally held over immigrant-interest voters. Currently operating in nine states, the organization offers such services as Spanish-language test prep for driver’s license testing, tax preparation, health care and education.

While GOP efforts to make headway with Latino immigrants has evolved over the last several years, the funding behind LIBRE puts the organization in a class by itself. Republican presidential heavyweight contender Jeb Bush actively promotes his Spanish-language skills and also his wife’s Mexican heritage. The parents of GOP rising star Marco Rubio immigrated to the United State from Cuba. Over the last four years, the nonprofit group Freedom Partners— funded by the Koch brothers and other conservative donors– has donated $10 million to the organization.

But conservatives’ overtures to embrace a range of immigration issues don’t mean the Koch brothers and their cohorts are turning left. For example, LIBRE is on the record as opposing a minimum wage hike. LIBRE executive director Daniel Garza says messaging on this point is that a higher minimum wage could hurt the population by imposing higher costs on businesses. Additionally, Garza says the group consistently develops and runs ads that promote free markets, smaller government and school choice. LIBRE representatives also routinely appear in Spanish-language news programming to speak on the topic of self reliance.

While many in the general electorate undoubtedly feel a sense of relief as Republicans move forward in their immigration stance, prominent Democratic-backed groups are showing signs of uneasiness as the lock on immigration-related issues begins to erode. For Cristóbal Alex, president of the Democratic-backed Latino Victory Fund, LIBRE is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In one report, Alex says LIBRE “talks about immigration in a positive way” but “is really doing work on behalf of the Koch brothers, who put huge money behind candidates against immigration reform.”

At The Brookings Institution, which is known to lean left, David Damore views LIBRE in less sinister terms. The GOP is doing what’s necessary in order to stay competitive, he says.

“Very few people listen to you if you say you want to deport you and your family.” He added that LIBRE’s strategy is not to win the Latino vote, “just not losing it 3 to 1.”

USCIS Celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

May 8th, 2015 by Romona Paden

undocumented health careWith the month of May designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) acknowledges the significance of the region on the nation in its officials blog, called The Beacon. The entry, published on May 5, 2015, USCIS notes the range of AAPI languages—from Chinese to Urdu—as well as efforts toward community discussions—known as engagements—as evidence of its commitment to the native people of the region.

The entry, authored by USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy worker Melissa Lin, cites USCIS information availability in Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Nepali, Pajauan, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu and Vietnamese. Additionally, Line points out the Chinese-language videos USCIS has created where experts answer questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and also about naturalization through the agency’s Public Engagement Videos page.

Lin describes herself as having first-generation Taiwanese immigrant parents who came to the United States in the 1970’s in pursuit of opportunity for themselves and their children. Beginning her career with USCIS in 2010, Lin writes, “I have remained with USCIS in part because I share a commitment with my colleagues to helping immigrants and U.S. citizens navigate our immigration system,” Lin, who began working with USCIS in 2010, writes in the blog entry. “Knowing that my everyday work can help people like my parents is the best part of my job.”

While websites and other media in multiple language is central to USCIS delivery of services to the widest audience possible, Lin says the agency’s practice of working in immigrant communities is another critical pieces of the puzzle. “Our folks have worked with leaders in Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean speaking communities across the country,” Lin writes. Called “engagements,” these discussions have focused on DACA and citizenship.

Offering information in immigrants’ native language is a critical component to help the foreign-born population avoid scams. Some of these, Line writes, have specifically targeted Asian Americans.

Read more about USCIS language efforts here.

Chinese Nationals Top Latest Immigrant Numbers

May 4th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Green Card StayChina is the top country of origin for immigrants living in the United States, followed by India, according to a Census Bureau study in 2013. For the first time in the twenty-first century, Mexico is not the top country of origin for the U.S immigrant population.

The study’s findings, presented at the Population Association of America conference in late April 2015, showed 147,000 recent U.S. immigrants as native Chinese. Eric Jensen, the research who led the study, told the conference audience that India was the country of origin to 129,000 recent immigrants. Mexico, Jensen said, was the native country to only 125,000 recent immigrants. However, it’s important to note that the difference in reported numbers for India and Mexico is too small to be considered statistically significant.

Jensen’s research is the result of a mandatory annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau. For the study, researchers ask a representative sample of respondents where they lived in the previous year. For purposes of this particular study, researchers counted foreign-born respondents as immigrants in cases where the previous year’s residence was outside U.S. borders. Researchers didn’t ask respondents to identify legal status.

The population research, reported in a Wall Street Journal story, shows a dramatic shift in the nation’s immigration trends. Numbers from the study’s 2012 survey showed China numbers as slightly less than those from Mexico when China was at 124,000 and Mexico at 125,000.

Immigration from China and India—the world’s most populous countries—has been on the rise for a decade. At the same time, immigration numbers from Mexico has been on the decline, largely due to an improved Mexican economy and lower Mexican birthrates. The U.S. recession has also played a role in reducing immigration from south of the border.

The Census Bureau study showed Asia as a top region for immigrants’ national origin. Specifically, this includes South Korea, the Philippines and Japan.

The shift in the immigrant flow is far ahead of any potential shift among the country’s immigrant population. Mexican immigrants in the United States in 2012 had a presence five times greater than that of Chinese immigrants.

Speculation says the trends suggest a watering down of racial and ethnic identities.  To this end, Census projections reportedly predict “no racial majority” in the United States by 2044.

USCIS Assists Immigrants with Doc Finder

April 29th, 2015 by Romona Paden

bigstock-Hispanic-medical-worker-isola-15690200Immigrants who have applied for permanent residency (green card) must jump through plenty of hoops. To make the requested effort a little easier, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has launched an enhanced tool for finding an authorized doctor to perform required medical exams.

The tool, called Find a Doctor, lets users enter their address or ZIP code to find a doctor. Results list doctor names and locations and are based on proximity to the information entered by the user. USCIS has added enhancements to the tool, including access to directions. Additionally, users can use a search function on the site to find local transportation. Users can access the information from any connected device.

The service is indeed valuable to green card applicants who are usually required to have a medical exam before being granted permanent resident status. Doctors included in the locator tool results must be USCIS approved.

The doctors who perform the exams test for communicable diseases like tuberculosis and syphilis. Tuberculosis testing is in two parts and requires a follow-up visit to the doctor’s office within two to three days. Syphilis testing is performed through a blood draw.

Immigrants visiting doctors for purposes of the green card application must bring:

  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
  • Valid passport, driver’s license or other form of government-issued photo ID. Applicants who are younger than 14 years of age must bring a birth certificate, an affidavit or other identification showing name, date and place of birth and parents’ full name.
  • Vaccination or immunization record—DT, DTP, DtaP, Td, Tdap, OPV, IPV, MMR, Hib, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, varicella, pneumococcal influenza, rotavirus and meningococcal disease
  • Medical insurance card—check with the doctor’s office to make verify the types of insurance accepted
  • Payment for the doctor—checking with several doctors about price can sometimes reveal a difference of several hundred dollars.

During the exam, the doctor will check records to determine if any vaccinations are needed. Once the exam in complete, the doctor complete the Form I-693 and then seal it in an envelope for submission to USCIS. The agency won’t accept the form if the envelope has been opened or altered.

The doctor will also check your records to see if you need any vaccinations.

After the exam, the doctor will complete Form I-693 and seal the form in an envelope for you to submit to USCIS. Make sure you get a copy of the completed Form I-693 for your personal records before the doctor seals the envelope. USCIS will not accept the form if the envelope has been opened or altered.

Premium H-1B Cap Processing Begins

April 27th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Highly Skilled immigrationAfter reaching the congressionally-budgeted quota in just the first five days of the opening of the petitioning window on April 1, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began premium processing of H-1B petitions subject to the cap, including petitions seeking exemptions for individuals educated to the master’s degree or higher level. Previously, USCIS announced it would begin the premium processing no later than May 11.

The H-1B petitions currently in process with USCIS are for the issuance of visas for fiscal year 2016. The cap, set by legislators in Washington D.C., is mandated at 65,000. Congress also allows for an additional 20,000 H-1B visa issues for foreign workers who’ve earned a master’s degree from a U.S.-based institution. Advanced degree fields in this mix include science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The current approach USCIS officials take in their premium processing of H-1B petitions is a result of “historic premium processing receipt levels.” By beginning premium processing on Apri 27, USCIS can prioritize data entry for the H-1B visas subject to the cap. These petitions include those that are subject to the cap, including advance-degree exemption petitions.

Other policies around the H-1B nonimmigrant visas also made news earlier this month. Beginning just after Memorial Day—May 26—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin granting employment authorization eligibility to H-4 dependent spouses—those married to H-1B visa holders.

Supporters of the work authorization policy change—including U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pitzker– say providing work authorization to foreign-born spouses eases the financial burden of supporting a family on just one income. Each spouse responds this stress with overwhelming frustration. All of this Pitzker wrote in a March 2015 Inc. Magazine story, often feeds wholesale abandonment of years-long abandonment of a years-long investment toward establishing permanent residency and building a life in the United States.

The general support of the tech and business communities for H-1B visas as well as the implementation of much-needed reforms means the H-1B visas will likely remain quite popular for the foreseeable future.

USCIS encourages H-1B applicants to subscribe to email updates.

South Dakota Dairy Farmers Join Ag Call for Immigration Reform

April 23rd, 2015 by Romona Paden

farm visaThe 34 employees of Turner Country Dairy, a 1,600-cow dairy farm in South Dakota, milk the cows three times a day, six days a week. It’s heavy, repetitive, arduous work of the kind on which many job seekers pass. Not surprisingly, a majority of Turner Country Dairy workers are immigrants.

Farmer reliance on immigrant labor is a familiar story. The backbone of agricultural labor in Arizona and California is made up of undocumented workers. Likewise, immigrants power the labor on farms in the state of New York. With each, farmers working with immigrants say an overwhelming need to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies and visa systems exists.

However, so far efforts to this end coming out of Washington D.C. are misguided. While employers like Turner County Dairy complies with employment law by collecting required information— an employee’s driver’s license, a Social Security card and an I-9 tax form—verification of these documents isn’t currently required.

Last month, a Congressional committee began moving forward an employer eVerify requirement. Essentially, this means the onus of checking an employee’s work authorization status falls on employers.

EVerify is a government resource to check employee information against Social Security and Homeland Security records.

Undocumented agricultural workers who aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. are estimated to range from 50 percent to 70 percent. Organizations such as the American Farm Bureau, the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and the Western Growers Association have all rallied around the idea of providing U.S. agriculture with access to a legal, stable workforce.

Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau is quoted as saying the matter is at a breaking point. “We’re at the point where we’re either importing our labor or we’re importing our food.”

Even when immigrants are working legally in the United States, the current system is still cumbersome. Steve Bossman, Turner Country Dairy manger, says visa expirations every five years means workers must make the expensive and time-consuming trip back to their home country. The ritual, which can take up to five months, is required every five years for paperwork renewal.

Besides dairy, other agricultural operations where immigrant labor is common are livestock feedlots, sheep operations and cow-calf producers. Hand-harvested items like apples, blueberries and asparagus are also highly reliant on immigrant labor.

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