Houston Immigration Settles; Drives City’s Diversity

May 24th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Houston Immigration Settles; Drives City’s Diversity

Contemporary Houston is comprised of established residents. Although the metro’s immigrant population grew at almost twice the national rate from 2000 through 2013, most of the city’s Latino growth “springs from children born to immigrants who arrived two or three decades ago,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The publication reports 51 percent of residents under age 20 in Harris County, where Houston is the county seat, are Latino. Only 19 percent of African-Americans in the city fall into the same age group.

“What’s happening is that the younger generations are more supportive of immigrants, and they are replacing the older residents, who are declining in numbers,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “For example, 37 percent of the baby boom generation and 35 percent of Gen Xers felt immigration into the country mostly threatens American culture, but only 13 percent of millennials agreed.”

Whites in Houston accounted for around 62 percent of the city’s population in 1970. Forty years later, in 2010, the group accounted for just over 25 percent of the population. During the same time frame, the Latino population grew from less than 11 percent of the population to around 44 percent of the population.

Houston’s normalcy of diversity presents “a whole new dynamic, in which minorities are no longer seen as outsiders.” The scenario means, according to Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg, that the city is well-positioned “for success in building the connections to the global marketplace.”

While Klineberg and others applaud the diversity of Houston, others say the municipal melting pot is fraught with issues. Among the most pressing is the education in the area’s public schools, which now includes 70,000 students with limited English proficiency.

“The whole idea of having bilingual teachers and specific programs just to address those folks, I think, is overwhelmingly tilted in the wrong direction, says Sam Herrera. Herrera is outreach director of the political action committee Stop the Magnet, which supports deportation of undocumented immigrants.

While Houston promotes the diversity of its local culture, Texas state Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill designed to punish sanctuary cities and carries a low-tolerance stance on undocumented immigration. In the new law, for instance, local law enforcement officers are “allowed to ask about the immigration status during a lawful detention, such as a routine traffic stop,” according to The Times story. “Local entities that prohibit enforcement of immigration laws could be fined up to $25,000 a day.”

For Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the situation means he’s walking a political tightrope. Reports say Turner “has balked at ordering his police officers to take on the role of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)” in terms of carrying out immigration laws. However, the mayor is clear in saying “we will obey federal and state laws as long as those federal and state laws are consistent with the United States Supreme Court and consistent with the United States Constitution.”

The balance appears to be one embraced by the area as a whole. Rice University’s Klineberg says, “Houston has made up its mind. The city is increasingly prepared to accept and even to celebrate its burgeoning diversity.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Takes Issue with USCIS Official Appointment

May 22nd, 2017 by Romona Paden

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls Julie Kirchner’s appointment as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) ombudsman an “offensive, insensitive and malicious” act. Kirchner’s ombudsman role–a federal office purposed to help immigrants and businesses solve problems with visa, green card, and U.S. citizenship applications–  comes after her leadership role with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group favoring deportations, the construction of a wall on the southern border and a steep reduction in legal immigration from 1 million people annually down to 300,000.

“Every year, the Ombudsman’s office receives thousands of requests for help and assigns each case to a dedicated immigration law analyst who works with USCIS to help the requestors resolve problems with their cases, as appropriate,” according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) release.  “As the cases are investigated, the Ombudsman’s office also looks for trends and underlying problems in the administration of our immigration laws and offers recommendations and solutions in its annual report to Congress.”

Kirchner, described as an “immigration hard-liner” in The Washington Post, immediately elicited demands for her ouster from the group of Hispanic elected officials. Immediately preceding her role at USCIS, Kirchner worked for several months as an adviser at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP.) At CBP, Kirchner worked on issues like tactical infrastructure at the Southern Border, border security metrics development and outreach efforts to stakeholders.

“We do not believe that a person who has spent over a decade attacking immigrant communities will now work effectively and thoughtfully to advance the rights of immigrants and fulfill the important duties that are required of this role,” a Hispanic Caucus letter to DHS Secretary. Signers of the letter include Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico), who chairs the Hispanic Caucus as well as 18 other Democrats.

“It is clear that the USCIS Ombudsman role is now more important than ever given our severely backlogged and broken immigration system,” the Hispanic Caucus letter continues. “Ensuring that USCIS is working effectively and fairly to review cases in a timely manner is important for the growth of the economy and helps immigrant families navigate the application process.”

While critics around Kirchner’s appointment have been vocal, DHS spokesperson David Lapan calls the level of alarm “unfounded.” He tells The Washington Post, “Julie Kirchner is an experienced and accomplished attorney with expertise in immigration issues. She is unquestionably an expert in immigration policy and law, and as such, is well qualified to fulfill the duties of the office.”

Travel Ban Continues Judicial Journey

May 17th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Travel Ban Continues Judicial JourneyPresident Trump’s executive order calling for a reprieve on certain foreign visitors and refugees– the travel ban– awaits rulings from two circuit courts before arguments likely head to the U.S. Supreme Court. The cases continue the contentious positions of the two sides and forces each to hone Constitutional arguments.

Early in his term, the president issued two executive orders– each aimed at the same effort– to place a 90-day reprieve on visitors from some Middle East and North Africa countries with mostly Muslim populations. Each order also included a 120-day ban on refugees.

President Trump’s original order applied to seven MENA countries with substandard visitor and refugee vetting processes. After a federal judge halted the order, the president issued a subsequent executive travel ban that named six MENA countries as targets of the orders. Again, a federal judge halted the order.

Currently, arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals center on whether the travel ban “violated the Constitution by disfavoring Muslims,” according to a CNN report.  Arguments to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a separate appeal by a different federal judge took place last week and awaits a ruling.

“In the event the two appellate courts reach different results, the travel ban will not go back into effect as long as one court’s nationwide injunction remains in effect,” according to the cable news report.

While the travel ban undoubtedly appears on a future Supreme Court docket, the background if the journey currently remains unclear. If justices on both courts of appeals rule uniformly for or against the executive orders, attorneys will take the case to the Supreme Court. In another potential scenario, the courts could disagree completely in their respective interpretations of the law and the Constitution, which could play out as another element of political intrigue in the case.

The 9th Circuit previously ruled the travel ban negates due process rules. Now judges are considering whether a discriminatory purpose pervades the orders.

“No matter how the two courts rule, I predict this case will go to the Supreme Court,” Cornell Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr says. “The issue is too important for the Supreme Court to pass up.”

Immigration Authorities Make Community Outreach Efforts

May 15th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Immigration Authorities Make Community Outreach EffortsAs immigrant communities face a growing number of rumors and scams since President Trump took office, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents work to dispel myths around the inflated fears. In May, two agents accepted an invitation from churches and a school district in the state of Washington to answer questions about the possibility of families being split apart and area businesses left without workers.

USCIS agent Karen Quinn Andrus and ICE agent Melissa Nitsch say immigrant communities have been the target of swindlers ever since the president ordered agents to crack down on immigrants living in the country without documentation.

“When there’s fear, not facts, that’s when they’re vulnerable,” Quinn Andrus said. “There’s been an uptick in fraud.”

Scammers, she says, are finding numerous ways to defraud victims, including selling phony deportation insurance, demanding money while impersonating government officials and sending fake notices designed to gather information for use in scams.

“It’s really cruel,” Quinn Andrus told The Daily Astorian. “Imagine if you don’t have any authority you can ask.”

ICE Agent Nisch told the group the agency’s deportation targets are undocumented immigrants who commit crimes and those who threaten national security.

“We’re not out there rounding up groups of people who don’t look like they’re supposed to be here,” she says. “We know who we’re looking for.”

While Nisch acknowledges an onslaught of enforcement, she says the agency typically works to avoid arrests in “sensitive” locations like schools, churches, hospitals or other public gathering spots. Although arrests in these locations aren’t always avoided, she says, the preference is to look for suspects in their homes.

The enforcement process hasn’t changed since President Trump came into office, Nisch says. The decision as to whether or not to deport certain immigrants is made by immigration judges. Those who are arrested by authorities, she continues, aren’t likely to be held until their case is heard in court due to the current five-year backlog. What’s more, “those who are arrested and released are given a work permit so they can earn a living while they wait,” according to the report.

While the agents intended to put minds at ease with their statements, they also urge parents to make arrangement for the care of their children in cases where families are separated during a raid. When parents of U.S. citizen children face deportation, the agents say, the decision as to whether or not to take the child is left up to the parents. The other option is to leave the child in the care of another adult in the United States.

While some immigrants have shied away from signing up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program due to the need to identify family members and the program’s uncertain future, Quinn Andrus says it’s best to hold DACA status.

“Some status is better than no status,” she says.

Other tips the agents offer include encouraging visitors to avoid letting their visas expire to immigrants to maintain updated status as a means of avoiding rule breaking.

“It’s not an easy path and there aren’t many ways to do it,” Quinn Andrus says. “It’s not about being a good person. It’s about permission to come into the country.”

Pastor John Thomas of the New Life Church where the meeting occurred says information is critical in helping immigrants move forward.

“We’re trying to be God’s hands and feet,” he says. “The best way to do that is with resources.”

Border Wall Musical Protest

May 10th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Musicians from the U.S. and Mexico– and from around the world– are planning a concert in protest of President Trump’s proposed border wall. The “Tear Down This Wall” concert, slated for June 3, will take place at Friendship Park, which sits on the border between Tijuana, Mexico and the California city of San Diego.

The concert, organized by Markus Rindt of The Dresden Symphony Orchestra, harkens back to Cold War days of three decades ago when a wall separating Germany still existed. A young man at the time, Rindt’s idea for the upcoming concert goes back to the days of the Ronald Reagan presidency. During a 1987 meeting, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, the president famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Years later, the president’s phrase serves as the inspiration in the political statement uttered by Rindt and the Dresden orchestra.

“It’s not the only wall in the world,” Rindt says. “The list of walls around the world is really long.” In terms of the wall proposed by Trump, Rindt says, “Nationalism is on the rise. And the (U.S. – Mexico) wall is on people’s minds.”

The wall currently in focus now is the one proposed by President Trump during his days of campaigning for the office. Trump repeatedly emphasized the need to protect U.S. borders not only from immigrants crossing in the country without documentation, but also to keep out criminals and drug traffickers flooding over the border.

While the southern border wall hasn’t yet made practical progress in terms of design or funding, the proliferation of conversation around a potential barrier between the United States and Mexico continues to make waves across both national and cultural lines. The Mexican government steadfastly refuses to comply with Trump’s insistence that the country fund the project. And some officials in the U.S. say the wall will never materialize at all.

With the June concert, Rindt will make his statement against the proliferation of wall around the world with talent that includes a group consisting of four Germans, a Swede, and two Latin Americans. Performers from Tijuana are also on the bill as well as Coral MacFarland, a San Diego-based singer.

USCIS Advises on DHS Phone Scam

May 8th, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Advises on DHS Phone ScamU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is advising users on how to deal with a new scam where perpetrators claiming to be ”U.S. Immigration” employees use an altered caller ID to target individuals. The scammers, who have rigged the caller ID to display the U.S. Department of Homeland Services (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline telephone number (1-800-323-8603,) demand individuals either provide or verify personally identifiable information– frequently by telling individuals that they are victims of identity theft.

According to a DHS release, the scam targets individuals all around the country. The scammers, many of whom have been reported to have  “pronounced accents,” use various tactics to obtain identifying information from victims. However, DHS offers the reminder that the hotline telephone number is never used for outgoing calls. No government officials use the Hotline phone number to make outgoing calls. “It continues to be perfectly safe to use the DHS OIG Hotline to report waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement within DHS components or programs,” according to the agency, which is the umbrella institution for USCIS.

On the part of USCIS, an agency release encourages any recipients of calls from the DHS OIG Hotline number to immediately hang up on the caller. Additionally, call recipients can verify whether contact with immigration officials is necessary, in one of these ways:

  • Call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 to inquire about case or immigration status
  • Make an InfoPass appointment by logging in to http://infopass.uscis.gov
  • Use the myUSCIS site to find up-to-date information about an application

“Remember, USCIS officials will never threaten you or ask for payment over the phone or in an email,” according to the agency’s release on the scam. “If we need payment, we will mail a letter on official stationery requesting payment. Do not give payment over the phone to anyone who claims to be a USCIS official.” Additionally, the agency advises, “In general, we encourage you to protect your personal information and not to provide details about your immigration application in any public area.”

Scam calls and emails can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS. Suspicious emails can be forwarded to the USCIS webmaster at uscis.webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov where the agency will review the emails received and, when appropriate, share with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.

ACICS Loss of Accreditation Affects Some Immigrant Students

May 3rd, 2017 by Romona Paden

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) no longer recognizes Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS.) This affects two immigrant-related programs— English language study and F1 students who are applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension.

On December 12, 2016, ED announced English language study programs require accreditation under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. STEM OPT extension students require the use of a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school as the basis of the extension. The date of the Designated School Official’s (DSO) recommendation as it appears on Form I-20 is applied to student applications.

According to the USCIS release, students attending schools where certification is withdrawn will receive guidance from SEVP through notification letters. “However, students enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their designated school officials (DSOs) immediately to better understand if and how the loss of recognized accreditation will impact the F/M student’s status and/or immigration benefits application(s).

In cases where an ACICS-accredited school withdraws its SEVP certification voluntarily, or the school can’t provide evidence in lieu of accreditation for Form I-17-listed program, international students at these schools will have 18 months to take one of these actions:

  • Transfer to a new SEVP-certified program.
  • Continue on the study program through to the current session end date that’s listed on their Form I-20 for a period not to exceed 18 months.
  • Leave the United States.

SEVP will terminate the SEVIS records of active F/M students at any ACICS-accredited school who hasn’t transferred to an SEVP-certified school or who hasn’t departed the United States after the 18-month grace period. “Please note, this guidance applies equally to all F/M students—regardless of program of study and the 18-month period is valid for English as a Second Language (ESL) students as well,” the release reads.

With the policy, ACICS-accredited schools cannot issue program extensions. Only in cases where ACICS-accredited schools select to voluntarily withdraw certification or the certification is withdrawn by SEVP, will the student be allowed to finish the current session. Only in cases where ACICS-accredited schools that provide evidence of an ED-recognized accrediting agency– or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted timeframe– students are allowed to remain at the school to complete their program of study.


English Language Study Programs

Individuals who’ve filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status on or since Dec. 12, 2016, to request a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program will receive a request for evidence (RFE) from the USCIS. Individuals who receive an RFE then have the opportunity to provide documentation or other evidence showing the desired English language study program meets the accreditation requirements.

Students who don’t submit a new Form I-20 from an accredited school, won’t be granted a change of status or reinstatement request from USCIS because the program of study is no longer accredited by an ED-recognized entity.  

More information about the loss of ACICS accreditation on English language study programs is available at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s page on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition.


The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Program

F-1 students must have a degree from an ED-recognized accredited U.S. educational institution at the time they file their STEM OPT application in order to participate in the STEM OPT extension. The filing date corresponds to be the date of the DSO’s recommendation on the Form I-20.

F-1 students filing a Form I-765 STEM OPT extension will be denied by USCIS in cases where both of these conditions exist:

  • The STEM degree on which the STEM OPT extension was obtained was from an ACICS-accredited college or university; and
  • The student’s DSO recommendation for a STEM OPT extension– and as indicated on Form I-20– has a date of December 12, 2016, or after.

The ACICS loss of accreditation prevents these students from qualifying for a STEM OPT extension because of the requirement that students use a STEM degree from an accredited, SEVP-certified school at the time of application,. Students who receive a denial to their requests will have 60 days to prepare for departure from the United States, transfer to a different school, or begin a new course of study at a school that is accredited and SEVP-certified.
Students who filed Form I-20 with a DSO recommendation date prior to December 12, 2016, aren’t affected by the new policy. More information about the impact of the loss of ACICS recognition on the STEM OPT extension program, is available at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s page on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition.

USCIS Adds Security Features to Green Cards and EADs

May 1st, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Adds Security Features to Green Cards and EADs

While some green card and EAD recipients will receive the next generation cards on May 1, others could receive current forms of the IDs. New identifications “may still display the existing design format as USCIS will continue using existing card stock until current supplies are depleted.”

Regardless of the old or the new form, each identification remains valid until the expiration date printed on the card.

In terms of EADs, USCIS specifically points out that some expiration dates on Employment Authorization Documents have already been extended. Extended EADs will remain valid until the new expiration date.

The cards, which USCIS describes as a part of its ongoing effort with two other agencies– U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. In sum, the agencies’ efforts are designed to “enhance document security and deter counterfeiting and fraud.”

Among the new features included on the new green cards and EADs:

  • Photo on both sides
  • Graphic image and color palette
    • A predominately green palette and an image of the Statue of Liberty on green cards
    • A predominately red palette with a bald eagle on Employment Authorization Documents
  • Holographic images that are embedded

Both the new green cards are the new EADs will no longer display the individual’s signature. Additionally, the back side of green cards will also not include an optical stripe.

“These redesigns use enhanced graphics and fraud-resistant security features to create cards that are highly secure and more tamper-resistant than the ones currently in use,” according to USCIS.

Additionally, USCIS reminds green card and EAD holders that both the old version and the new version of the documents “are acceptable for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, E-Verify, and Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).”

Still, some much older forms of green cards don’t include an expiration date. “These older Green Cards without an expiration date remain valid,” according to USCIS. However, the agency encourages those individuals who hold green cards without an expiration date to consider applying for a replacement card that will include an expiration date.

“Obtaining the replacement card will reduce the likelihood of fraud or tampering if the card is ever lost or stolen.”

AG Sessions Proposes $80 Million Immigration System Revamp

April 26th, 2017 by Romona Paden

A clogged immigration judiciary, which includes a backlog of more than 540,000 cases, prompted Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ $80 million plan to add more system judges. The proposed addition of 75 more teams of judges to the immigration courts, which Sessions called for during an early April visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, accompanies his proposal for increased border and immigration enforcement funding.

The addition of system resources in the immigration courts “would boost the speed of case processing and subsequent deportations,” according to The Christian Science Monitor. “Today, the average detainee might wait 677 days for a hearing.” The result, according to the publication means expedited deportations of immigrants without a court hearing becomes ever-more appealing to officials.

Expedition of immigrant proceedings addresses is a long-standing problem decried by immigration advocates. A particularly brutal effect of the languishing cases leaves “hundreds of thousands of nonviolent immigrant violators, including asylum seekers, locked in detention centers or floating in uncertain legal status.”

And with President Trump’s hardline position on immigration policy, vulnerable populations face an increased threat level, some observers say.

“I’m not optimistic that it’s going to solve the problems in the system,” says National Immigrant Justice Center Asylum Project Director Lisa Koop.

Part of Koop’s hesitation is that the increase in immigration court capacity corresponds with an ever-increasing rise in immigration enforcement officers. The growth in immigration officers necessitates a corresponding growth in detainees. Up until now, the court system hasn’t kept pace with other enforcement arms of the immigration system.

“We want more qualified judges who are able to hear our clients’ cases and provide them with their fair day in court,” Koop says. With the caveat that the new judges possess expert knowledge of immigration law, “we’d be very happy to see the backlogs reduced because that does do real harm to individuals and families who are needing protections.”

Additional funding under Sessions’ proposal allocates $1.5 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations as well as $300 million to pay the salaries of 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new ICE agents.

“This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions commented. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over.”

Observers say improving immigration court efficiencies could benefit asylum-seekers. With faster due process, the opportunity to air claims for refuge before a judge could expedite extending protections.

University of Dayton Professor of Sociology Miranda Hallett says the effort to improve immigration courts falls short, in her view. The effects of the Trump administration’s actions around immigration, the Ohio-based scholar says, is mixed.

“At the same time he is calling for increased funding, Sessions is also calling for criminal prosecution of increasing numbers of immigrants and using inaccurate language that paints border-crossers as a national security threat– when all evidence suggests they are not.”

TPS to End for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in May

April 24th, 2017 by Romona Paden

TPS to End for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in MayThe U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reminds nationals of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone who hold Termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations that their TPS status ends effectively May 21, 2017. In addition, Employment Authorization Documents related to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone TPS designation ends May 20, 2017.

Current TPS documents related to the Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will not be renewed or extended.

Nationals of the three African countries who don’t hold any other lawful immigration status “will no longer be protected from removal or eligible for employment authorization based on TPS,” according to an April 19 USCIS release. Although TPS status will no longer apply, “TPS beneficiaries will continue to hold any other immigration status maintained or acquired while registered for TPS.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began issuing an advance notice of the TPS expiration eight months in advance of the May date. On Sept. 22, 2016, DHS issued a notice of publication in the Federal Register for each of the affected countries– three notices in total. The notices were intended to clarify to beneficiaries that the expiration of TPS status end legal status for affected nationals in cases where status in another immigrant category doesn’t apply. With the eight months of notification, DHS aimed to provide those nationals choosing to forgo other immigrant categories enough time to determine a plan of action after leaving the United States. For those TPS beneficiaries wishing continued residency in the United States, DHS aimed to provide enough time to apply for another immigration status.

These notices urged individuals who did not have another immigration status to use the time before the terminations became effective in May to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

The decision to drop TPS status for the African nationals came during the Obama administration and was based on conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

“After reviewing country conditions and consulting with the appropriate U.S. government agencies, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson determined that conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone no longer support their designations for TPS.” What’s more, the release continues, “The widespread transmission of Ebola virus in the three countries that led to the designations has ended.”

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