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Central American Refugee Immigration Efforts Expand

July 27th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Increase in help for central american migrantsAs those fleeing threats in some Central American countries continue to cross the U.S. southern border without documentation, the Obama administration is stepping up efforts to expand legal immigration to families and children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The expansion effort is intended to assist in the relocation efforts and to stem the tide of undocumented immigration.

In another expansion, the administration is also broadening efforts of a two-year-old program that allows some children from the Central American countries to reunite with parents who already live in the United States legally, according to an Associated Press report. With the expansion, the program now allows some unmarried siblings, in-country parents and other caregivers to come into the United States with a child who is approved for the program.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said more than 600 children have moved to the United States since 2014 and that approval for the program has been granted to 2,884 children. Mayorkas said more than 9,500 applications are pending.

White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said expansion of Central American refugee programs is because “current efforts to date haven’t been sufficient,” according to the AP story. With the new programs, she said, immigration to the U.S. will be safer and more orderly and will also increase border security.

While the programs are designed to counter the waves of undocumented crossings into the country, it remains unclear how quickly the expanded programs will impact the number of undocumented crossings. Although the number of undocumented crossings dropped significantly in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, a steady rise in these numbers is reported since the start of fiscal year 2016 in October. According to the AP report, more than 51,000 people traveling as families and more than 43,000 unaccompanied children have been caught crossing into the U.S. from Mexico without documentation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began pre-screening potential refugee families in January. Under the expanded programs, U.S. officials will now handle more of the in-country processing required for candidate families.

Dem Ticket Prioritizes Path to Citizenship

July 25th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine focus on path to citizenshipWhen Hillary Clinton and her vice-presidential pick kicked off their joint campaign at Miami International University over the weekend, the Democratic duo emphasized their commitment to the Latino community and pledged to prioritize a path to citizenship during the first 100 days of a Clinton / Kaine administration. The rally, which largely served as an introduction to the Virginia senator, positioned the Democratic platform in sharp contrast to GOP positions.

Clinton’s selection of Kaine as her No. 2 marks an overt play for Hispanic voters as the Senator is well known for his fluency in Spanish. During his remarks, Kaine alternated between English and Spanish in well-received comments to the student body audience, a large portion of which is made up of Hispanics.

“Fe, familia y trabajo,” he told the 5,000-plus crowd at the university as he explained that faith, family and work are the defining features of his life.

Kaine honed his Spanish-language skills while working with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras, a role he took on while taking a year off from Harvard Law School. As the son of a welder, he told the packed auditorium, he spent the year teaching local teens carpentry skills while they helped him with the language.

In remarks made during her introduction of Kaine, Clinton told the audience that her administration will prioritize immigration reform. She said she plans to introduce an immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship in her first 100 days in office.

“Tim Kaine is everything Donald Trump and Mike Pence are not,” Clinton told the crowd in her introduction of her running mate to the crowd.

Press reports on the rally say introducing Kaine at the largely Latino university was no accident as Florida is a key battleground state in the November election and “Clinton is moving swiftly to press her advantage with the state’s large Hispanic electorate, many of whom have been turned off by Mr. Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.”

For his part, Kaine is a career politician with experience at the local, state and national levels. In 1994, he was elected to the City Council in Richmond, Va. In 1998, he became the city’s mayor, then he was elected as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2002 and governor in 2006. He moved to the national stage in 2008.

Kaine told the audience that he and Clinton will be “compañeros de alma in this great lucha ahead,” — “soul mates in the fight ahead.”

Limits Reached on Special Indian Immigrant EB-4 Visas

July 20th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Limit Reached India Visa EB-4India has reached its congressionally-mandated EB-4 visa limit for fiscal year 2016, which ends on September 30. This means that beginning Aug. 1, 2016 applicants from India who filed Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant on January 1, 2010 or after, will not be able to obtain an immigrant visa or adjust immigration status until new visas become available.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will continue to accept all Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status applications under EB-4 classification that have been filed properly through July 31, 2016, according to the agency’s July 11 release on the topic. The release also notes that the agency will continue processing the applications while visas remain available.

Although USCIS has reached EB-4 visa limits for the fiscal year, the agency can still approve Form I-360 petitions as no annual limit exists on the number of Form I-360 petitions the agency may approve, according to the release.

EB-4 visas, a status for special immigrants, are designed for individuals who might be eligible to obtain lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. The status is based on specific classifications, which includes Special Immigrant Juvenile.

Among the implications of the development:

  • For those who file Form I-485 on or after August 1, USCIS notes it will only process and make a decision on the petition in cases where the Form I-360 petition was filed before Jan. 1, 2010 and the Form I-360 is ultimately approved.
  • The agency will reject and return other Form I-485 applications, but USCIS will continue to process Form I-360. This is so even if the Form I-360 petition is submitted with a rejected Form I-485.

Where EB-4 applicants from other countries are concerned, USCIS also notes that as of Aug. 1, 2016, a final action date of Jan. 1, 2010 applies to special immigrant applicants for adjustment of status from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Those applicants who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemal and Honduras are directed to refer to Employment-Based Fourth Preference (EB-4) Visa Limits Reached for Special Immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for September 2016 reflects a final action date of Jan. 1, 2010, for EB-4 visas for special immigrants from Mexico. Information on the availability of EB-4 visas for fiscal year 2017 will be published in the Department of State’s October Visa Bulletin, due out in September.

Undocumented Man Released After Three-Year Hold

July 18th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Release for undocumented man after 3 yearsWhen Martin Chairez-Castrejon was released from Utah County Jail at the end of June, it marked the end of a three-year ordeal that started with a 44-day sentence. Convicted of a felony firearms charge in 2013, Castrejon, a legal permanent resident (LPR) who found himself fighting deportation after the conviction, served in jail 27 times longer than the original sentence called for.

Triggered by the criminal conviction for the discharge of a firearm during a fight in 2013, according to the Deseret News, Castrejon’s case ultimately resulted in litigation in immigration court, the Board of Immigration Appeals and the U.S. District Court. As the 51-year-old’s case wound its way through the system, he was held on a mandatory immigration hold imposed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.)

Ultimately, Castrejon was granted release on a $50,000 bond after a three-hour hearing presided by David C. Anderson, an immigration judge.

Castrejon has lived in the United States since the age of 19, coming from Mexico. While his 3-year ordeal is one where many immigrants in a similar situation would have simply given up, Castrejon’s wife and two children– all U.S. citizens– were driving forces in his tenacity. The importance of remaining close to his children ramped up further when his mother in Mexico died, leaving him with no family in his native country.

In their tearful reunion, Castrejon’s family greeted him with his beloved cowboy hat, something he hadn’t been able to wear for the entirety of his incarceration. Along with the tears and hugs of his family, Castrejon fell to his knees to offer a prayer and to ask God for the strength to move forward.

Strength is something Castrejon developed during his incarceration. Rather than spiraling into a descent of destruction, Castrejon used his time in jail to earn his high school equivalent degree– GED–and he also regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as well as taking part in church services.

“It’s a little sad. It’s a long time to stay in jail. I’m happy I get to be with my family now,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for three years. It’s time for us to go home.”

USCIS Remembers Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel

July 14th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Naturalization Ceremony Held at Holocaust Memorial MuseumWhen U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held its first naturalization ceremony at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 20 in recognition of World Refugee Day, the agency was also paying homage to Elie Wiesel. Wiesel, the founding chairman of the museum,  was a Holocaust survivor who dedicated his life to fighting indifference, intolerance and injustice.

On July 2 of this year, at age 87, Wiesel died. His humanitarian legacy is one remembered by USCIS.

“Going back to when I saw him speak at my college, I have long been inspired by the manner in which Mr. Wiesel’s gentle spirit was the vehicle for towering moral clarity and strength,” USCIS Director León Rodríguez said.  “Like many of the refugees who we meet at USCIS, Mr. Wiesel took from his suffering a call to repair the world.  May we all be deserving heirs of the invaluable ethical legacy he leaves.”

In 2008, USCIS recognized Wiesel and an Outstanding American by Choice. Wiesel, who was only 15 years old when he and his family were sent to the Auschwitz prison camp by the German Nazis, naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1963.

His harrowing story, which includes losing both his parents and his younger sister at the camp, is an inspiration in its triumph. Rather than dwelling in bitter aftermath from his family’s persecution, Wiesel and his wife channeled their energy into fighting indifference, intolerance and injustice through the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Through his work, which included teaching, authoring more than 40 fiction and nonfiction books, and general outreach on Holocaust education, Wiesel consistently demonstrated his commitment to building a more tolerant world. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“As a writer, a speaker, an activist, and a thinker, he was one of those people who changed the world more as a citizen of the world than those who hold office or traditional positions of power,” President Obama said of Wiesel. “His life, and the power of his example, urges us to be better.  In the face of evil, we must summon our capacity for good.  In the face of hate, we must love.  In the face of cruelty, we must live with empathy and compassion.  We must never be bystanders to injustice or indifferent to suffering.”

TPS Extension for El Salvador

July 11th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

El Salvador receives TPS ExtensionThe Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by 18 months for eligible nationals of El Salvador, effective from Sept. 10, 2016 through March 9, 2018. El Salvadoran nationals– and those without nationality who last habitually resided in El Salvador– can re-register to extend their TPS between July 8, 2016 and Sept. 6, 2016.

The extension, announced in a July 8 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) release, also allows current TPS El Salvador beneficiaries who want to extend their TPS status to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). TPS recipients who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of March 9, 2018. Because some re-registrants might not receive their new EADs until after current work permits expire, however, USCIS has also automatically extended current TPS El Salvador EADs with a Sept. 9, 2016 expiration date for six months. These existing EADs are now valid through March 9, 2017.

USCIS encourages re-registration as soon as possible. In order to re-register, current beneficiaries need to:

Submit Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status (no application is required).

Submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization– even if no EAD is wanted. The Form I-765 application– or fee waiver request– is only required for those who want an EAD.

Submit the biometric services fee (or a fee waiver request) for those who are 14 years old or older.

USCIS provides additional TPS information at uscis.gov. Information includes guidance around eligibility, the application process and filing locations. Further details have also been published through the Federal Register notice and contains further details about this TPS extension for El Salvador.

Beneficiaries who submit applications without the required filing fees or properly documented fee-waiver request will be rejected. Beneficiaries who are unable to pay application fees must file Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver or submit a written request. Fee-waiver requests of either variety must be accompanied by supporting documentation.

USCIS previously extended TPS to El Salvador nationals in February 2015.

TPS, a designation bestowed on immigrants coming from countries where conditions make it unsafe to return to the native country, is granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Civics Test Prep Expands on YouTube

July 6th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Civics Prep on YoutubeImmigrants looking for more study resources in preparation for the civics testing component of  the naturalization process now have more options– or more specifically, 100 more options. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has uploaded 100 short  civics testing preparation videos– 1 for each question on the naturalization test.

The videos, which USCIS announced at the end of June, each run for no more than a couple of minutes. Each video covers a specific civics question topic and discusses the correct answer for each of those questions.

Currently the videos are available in both English and Spanish and also include subtitles. In its announcement, USCIS reports the agency is working to also include other languages in the resource.

The 100 short videos series is an expansion of the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center, which works to “help millions of immigrants move through the process of becoming naturalized citizens,” according to the release. According to government figures, an estimated 9 million lawful permanent residents– green card holders– meet the eligibility requirements needed for citizenship applications. Whereas the law requires lawful permanent residents to reside in the United States for only five years before applying for citizenship the median time immigrants wait before applying for citizenship is closer to seven years.

Last year, USCIS launched a Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiative, a promotional effort centering on providing information on the naturalization process and USCIS resources. The campaign focused on the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship and also provided information on the naturalization process as well as USCIS educational resources. Ultimately, the campaign guided users to the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center for official, accurate and reliable information on citizenship and naturalization topics.

“USCIS is proud to expand its efforts to assist those eligible for citizenship – the highest privilege of our nation’s immigration system – to take the necessary steps to complete their journey,” USCIS Director León Rodríguez said at the time. “Through this initiative, USCIS continues to emphasize the importance of citizenship to both individuals and the nation while providing free preparation tools for aspiring citizens.”

With the new 100 short video series, USCIS has added one more tool to its arsenal of resources.

Independence Day Naturalization

July 5th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Independance Day Naturalizations Across CountryWith the nation’s celebration of its 240th year of independence, more than 7,000 new Americans joined the ranks of the country’s citizenry through nearly 100 naturalization ceremonies that took place from June 30 through July 4. At venues all around the country, the holiday weekend saw new citizens underscore their celebration of the Declaration of Independence by simultaneously taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

Ceremony venues where citizenship candidates took the Oath of Allegiance include public parks and historic landmarks nationwide. Among these is the William Paca House and Garden in Annapolis, Maryland. During this ceremony, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director León Rodríguez administered the Oath of Allegiance and delivered congratulatory remarks to 24 new Americans.

“These new Americans will strengthen the fabric of our nation with their contributions to American society and prosperity, and be able to enjoy all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship,” Rodríguez said in a USCIS press release.

Last year, USCIS launched a citizenship awareness campaign involving promotional materials to supplement the agency’s Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiative. Central to the campaign was in providing information on the naturalization process and USCIS education resources.

Part of the reason behind the push is the estimated 9 million lawful permanent residents– green card holders– who meet the eligibility requirements necessary in applying for U.S. citizenship. According to government statistics, legal permanent residents wait an average of seven years as green card holders before applying for citizenship. By law, these lawful permanent residents are allowed to apply for citizenship after only five years. Green card holders who are married to a U.S. citizen can apply for naturalization after only three years of holding lawful permanent resident status.

Of the lawful permanent residents who crossed the threshold into naturalized citizenship over the Independence Day weekend, venues included:

  • New York Public Library in New York, New York
  • James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Seattle Center in Seattle, Washington
  • Crater Lake National Park in Crater Lake, Oregon

A full list of the Independence Day naturalization venues is available on the USCIS site.

USCIS Continues Service Improvements

June 29th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Improvements for InfopassContinuing a heavy emphasis on the development of self-help tools, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has relaunched InfoPass. The revamped version of the online scheduling system for USCIS office appointments joins other agency customer service enhancements with an improved site design and increased functionality.

Calling the improved InfoPass a “refresh,” a release on the upgrade notes the addition of a mapping function to give customers easier navigation to agency offices. Additionally, “an improved visual style that matches the rest of uscis.gov” gives the page a more cohesive quality than the older version.

The new InfoPass web address is my.uscis.gov/appointment. The page site lets users make appointments at agency offices both inside and outside of the U.S. It also lets users revise appointment schedules.

USCIS appears to be on quite a roll with site improvements. Last September, the agency introduced Twitter Office Hours, a pilot program that gives USCIS customers the opportunity to communicate directly with agency representatives to solicit general immigration information and processes.

The office hours are scheduled for the second Tuesday of each month as a means of helping as many customers as possible with direction to web-based information.  

In December, USCIS launched “Emma,” a virtual assistant users can launch from the USCIS home page. Emma, named for Statue of Liberty poet Emma Lazarus, streamlines information channels away from USCIS call centers that “currently receive many questions concerning general information requests that can be provided through the Web,” according to the USCIS release on the topic.

The development of Emma was especially noteworthy for the program’s learning capabilities. As customer use of Emma grows, the program’s knowledge base will only expand to get smarter and to better assist future customers.

Following closely behind the initial launch of Emma, USCIS launched a Spanish-language version of the program. The Spanish-language site, available at http://www.uscis.gov/es, mirrors the English-language version in that users can as questions in their own natural language and doesn’t require the use of government terminology. Emma can even provide answers to questions asked with a mixture of English and Spanish words.

Emma in both languages is available on all connected devices– desktops, laptops and mobile.

Spotlight on Immigrant Verification Systems

June 27th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

E-Verify Under Fire for IneffectivenessThe underlying system used to authenticate immigrant status– the Verification Information System (VIS)– came into the spotlight in June with both celebration and criticism. Implemented to determine eligibility in both social programs and well as in work verification, VIS is used in both the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program as well as in the E-Verify Program.

Noting the SAVE Program’s tradition of “providing top-notch customer service”, U.S.Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) celebrated 30 years in service to benefit-granting agencies as well as prospective agencies and benefit-seeking applicants. More than 1,100 agencies are currently registered with SAVE and count for more than 75,000 uses each year. In just the six months since the beginning of the year, SAVE has verified more than 13.5 million cases in fiscal year 2016.

According to the release on the milestone, USCIS is celebrating with a redesigned, more user-friendly site for those agencies working to provide benefits and services for immigrants. USCIS has also added a new History and Milestone page that outlines enhancements to SAVE over the years. Additionally, USCIS Director León Rodríguez is also celebrating the SAVE Program anniversary in a new video on YouTube.

But while VIS is celebrated in its use in the SAVE program, lawmakers in Indiana heard criticism of the technology as applied to the E-Verify Program. E-Verify is the employment authorization program used in the hire of new employees. It’s used by participating employers in the electronic verification of Form I-9 information.

E-Verify goals include:

  • Reduction of unauthorized employment
  • Minimization of verification-related discrimination
  • Provide quick work authorization to employers

But while the goals of E-Verify are noble, the system itself is ineffective, according to published statements of some business leaders in Indiana. The statements, made before Indiana’s state senate, discussed the system and its lack of credibility.

Chris Schafer, the director for the Society for Human Resources Management Director, said the government-run website is cannot authenticate the identity of a potential employee. He pointed to the limitations of using paper documents that can be easily falsified, forged or stolen.

While some business leaders in the state are frustrated with E-Verify, senate lawmakers say they see no immigration reform measures that don’t involve the use of E-Verify.

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