LA Mayor Reaffirms Immigrant Commitment

March 24th, 2017 by Romona Paden

LA Mayor Reaffirms Immigrant CommitmentLos Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued Executive Directive No. 20 as a reaffirmation and an expansion of the city’s commitments to residents, regardless of immigration status. The directive restricts that part of the workforce that draws a paycheck from the city’s operating budget from cooperative efforts with federal immigration officials.

The directive, which on March 21, reaffirms the Los Angeles Police Department’s longstanding directive prohibiting officers from determining immigration status. This policy had been in place since 1979. In 2014, city leaders went further in taking immigration status out of the equation by refusing to honor federal immigration officials’ requests to detain undocumented immigrants who are arrested for crimes considered nonviolent.

With his directive, Mayor Garcetti extends the policies around inquiry of immigration status and the prohibition around assisting federal immigration enforcement with either access or information.

At the crux of the mayor’s directive is the twofold goal of providing safety to residents accessing “the vast array of City facilities, programs and services available to them,” according to the decree, and to also ensure that residents will “avail themselves of City services, programs, and resources.”

In terms of specific city employees, the expansion of immigrant-centered policies now extends to the city’s fire chief as well as to the city’s air and port police. The city’s department, office and commission heads and general managers are likewise required to adhere to the guidelines followed by the police department.

Other language in the document addresses “person(s) acting in his or her capacity as a City employee” in prohibiting city money or resources to assist federal agents or agencies. Additionally, federal access to city facilities isn’t allowed in cases where access is unavailable to the general public unless legally required to do so.

In order to provide equal access to public venues, services, and resources, the declaration requires city leaders to provide both of these elements:

  • Ensure equal access without regard to the citizenship or immigration status of any person “to the maximum extent the law permits”
  • Foster a welcoming atmosphere to everyone, without regard to citizenship or immigration status

City employees are also required to limit personal information collection to only those items that are absolutely necessary. Employees are further directed to treat as confidential any information that allows for the personal identification of an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.

Along with the specific data points outlined in Executive Directive 20, Mayor Garcetti adds historical context and cites the city’s 236-year-old immigration roots, calling those early immigrants people who “saw opportunity where the mountains meet the sea.” More than two centuries later, more than 1.5 million of the city’s residents are foreign-born, and nearly two-thirds of residents are either immigrants or the child and an immigrant.

“My vision is to ensure all Angelenos, regardless of immigration status, are connected to community resources, have access to critical government services, are engaged in civic life, and are informed about critical immigration law and policy.”

The directive comes as Trump administration policies confront sanctuary city policies as designated by local jurisdictions.

California Lawmakers Push Back on Trump’s Wall

March 22nd, 2017 by Romona Paden

Lawmakers in California are pushing back on President Trump’s proposed border wall, threatening to divest state pension investments from any companies in the state participating in the project. The resistance to the Trump administration and the proposed wall comes from three Democratic lawmakers in the form of a bill that puts potential contractors for the project on warning.

According to The Mercury News, the proposed divestment in potential companies that might participate in the U.S.- Mexico border wall came three days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection put out a request for proposals on the design and construction of the project.

The proposed bill, put forth in Assembly Bill 946, includes plenty of heft in its weight. The bill calls for the California Public Employee Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System to act against any companies involved in the project by liquidating their investments within a year. If the bill is passed, pension fund managers would also be required to report to the California legislature a list of companies participating on the wall.

The public employee retirement system holds $312 billion in investments. The teacher retirement system holds $202 billion in investments. The funds make up the two largest pension funds in the nation.

“This is a wall of shame and we don’t want any part of it,” Assemblyman Phil Ting, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement. Ting, who represents constituents in San Francisco, added, “Immigrant stories are the history of America and this is a nightmare.”

Other representatives behind the bill are Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher from San Diego and Eduardo Garcia, who represents Coachella.

In another development, the Mexican government told companies operating in that country that participation in the construction of the wall would run counter to their best interests,  according to a Reuters report.

While officials in California aim to place a financial penalty on any companies participating in the construction of the wall, Mexican officials aren’t taking the same route.

“We’re not going to have laws to restrict (companies), but I believe considering your reputation it would undoubtedly be in your interest to not participate in the construction of the wall,” Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said.

Many Mexican citizens view President Trump’s repeated calls for the wall and putting its cost on Mexico as offensive, according to the Reuters report.

Hunger Pangs Around Trump Immigration Policies

March 20th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Trump scaring away beneficiaries od SNAP Reverberations ripple through multiple levels of the nation’s immigration communities as policy coming out of Washington D.C. radically tightens under President Trump. In reaction to increased enforcement measures, some immigrants cut ties to public resources while immigration advocates make efforts to minimize effects of the policies.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), a public program designed to act as a hunger safety net, has seen a decline in immigrant applicants and an increase in those immigrants seeking to withdraw from the program, according to The Washington Post, referring to anecdotal reports.

SNAP, which operates through the Department of Agriculture, strictly prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving benefits. However, some “mixed eligibility” households means “participation could draw the eye of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” according to the news story. The mixed eligibility aspect gets particularly sticky considering it’s not uncommon for undocumented parents to apply for benefits on behalf of their children born in the United States.

Additionally, legal permanent residents who qualify for the program, which is largely based on age and amount of time in the United States, are reportedly shying away from the program for fear participation will cast a negative light in terms of the citizenship vetting process.

Reported numbers from the Department of Agriculture puts the number of noncitizens who received food stamp benefits in the fiscal year 2015 at 1.5 million. In the same year, 3.9 million children who lived with noncitizen adults also received benefits.

“This is a response to the climate of fear and terror that immigrant families are living in because of the Trump administration,” said Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center. “These are unfounded fears. But they’re based in this environment, and they’re very widespread.”

Workers in the trenches giving first-hand accounts of how Trump policies affect needy families include Luisa Fortin, a SNAP outreach coordinator at the Chattanooga Food Bank in the Chattanooga Valley, which includes northwest Georgia. Fortin who works with working immigrants reinforces the sentiment of fear gripping many of the families with whom she’s worked. The current political climate, Fortin says, means she’s increasingly asked to explain the impact of food stamps on immigration status. The outreach coordinator is also getting more requests to cancel food benefits altogether.

While Fortin has signed up 200 immigrant families to receive SNAP benefits in the last six months, she fears the tide is now turning to an increase in the number of benefit cancellations.

“I get calls from concerned parents all the time: ‘should I take my kids out of the program?’” Fortin said. “They’re risking hunger out of fear … and my heart just breaks for them.”

The fear around tapping government program resources spreads to other areas as well. One executive director at a Maryland community center that works closely with undocumented immigrants, for example, asked for anonymity to avoid targeting by ICE. This director says she’s seeing families getting by on very little food and willing to settle for a staple diet of rice and beans.

“I have parents who won’t even apply for free or reduced-price lunch because it puts them on the radar,” she says.

Immigrants Play Major Role in Colorado Economy

March 15th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Immigrants Play Major Role in Colorado EconomyWith 10 percent of residents– almost 533,000 people– the foreign-born population of Colorado represents $10.8 billion in spending power and $3.3 billion in state tax dollars. The numbers, according to a recent report from the New American Economy, represent the importance of immigrants as “critical contributors to Colorado’s economic success overall.”

The New American Economy is a group of political and business leaders from across the United States who support secure borders and a reduction in undocumented immigration. The group also supports the creation of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who obey federal, state and local laws and who pay taxes and learn English. The coalition also advocates for a streamlined visa program that lets business hire foreign-born workers for hard-to-fill jobs.

“We have a thriving community and state because of their contributions,” Thamanna Vasan, an economic policy analyst with the Colorado Fiscal Institute, told the Denver Post. “There is a lot of misconception about the role that immigrants play in our economy.”

The role immigrants play in Colorado’s economy is also a top-of-mind issue for many lawmakers in the state. As President Trump moves forward with immigration reform, officials are weighing in with relevant facts and figures in an effort to steer immigration law away from doing economic harm.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, Sen. Michael Bennet addressed immigration from the standpoint of H-2B visas, which allow foreign-born workers to perform seasonal work and are widely used by ski resorts and landscaping companies. “These workers are vital to communities across Colorado, especially in our tourism and outdoor recreation industries,” the senator wrote. “Determining efficient ways to improve the visa program will benefit Colorado’s economy.”

  1. Chuey Medrano, the founder of Denver area company CoCal Landscape, echoes the sentiment. CoCal, which employs 127 workers year round, typically looks to hire another 160 employees during the spring and summer surge in business. While the company has boosted its minimum pay rate from $11 per hour to $14 per hour, Medrano says he still doesn’t have enough U.S.-born applicants to fill all the employee slots.

“The workers pay taxes, they pay rent, they buy food,” Medrano said. “They take physically intense jobs that local workers won’t even apply for. And when the peak landscaping season ends, they don’t claim unemployment benefits, but return home.”

States Seek Halt to Revised Travel Ban

March 13th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Just days after President Trump signed a revised version of an executive order suspending travel into the U.S. by certain nationals, states again seek to block the action. Echoing arguments against the original ban that resulted in a federal temporary restraining order, signed in January, attorneys general in several states say the second effort still leaves many of the same constitutional problems that existed before.

“President Trump’s latest executive order is a Muslim ban by another name, imposing policies and protocols that once again violate the Equal Protection Clause and Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

The president’s first effort in introducing the travel ban targeted citizens and refugees from seven Middle East and North African predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the United States. The ban was challenged immediately, and by February 3, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a ruling to uphold U.S. District Judge James Robart’s ruling that blocked the order from implementation.

In the state of Washington, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion asking Judge Robart to affirm that his previous order also applies to any new versions of the travel ban, which is scheduled to go into effect March 16.

“We’ve won in court, and the president has had to honor those defeats,” Ferguson told reporters at a press conference in Seattle. “It’s my expectation that we will continue to prevail, and certainly my expectation that the president will continue to respect the decision of the court.”

The revised order narrows the scope of the travel ban, which some legal experts reportedly say avoids some of the illegalities of the original.

Under the original order, the ban from entering the United States applied to nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. President Trump’s new order removed the ban from Iraqi nationals after the country revised procedures toward compliance with a stronger vetting system.

The new order also clarifies that legal resident who’ve already been issued can still come to the United States.

Still, Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin chimes in with those opposed to the ban. He filed suit in federal court that allege the travel ban would hurt Hawaii’s tourism industry and its businesses, along with Hawaii educational institutions.

In a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to a question about the Hawaii filing by saying the administration is hopeful the revised ban will withstand court scrutiny.

Ferguson, the New York attorney general, said his state plans to continue the argument that the travel ban is equivalent to a Muslim ban. In the lawsuit that brought the initial injunction on the original travel ban, Ferguson pointed to comments from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s. Giuliani, a longtime Trump supporter and surrogate, said the president recruited his help to legally ban Muslims from entry.

H-1B Premium Processing Temporarily Suspended

March 9th, 2017 by Romona Paden

H-1B Premium Processing Temporarily SuspendedCiting a need to reduce overall processing times, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins suspension of premium processing of H-1B petitions on April 3 in a temporary move that could last up to six months. The suspension means USCIS won’t accept filings for forms requesting the H-1B nonimmigrant classification through Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service for a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

The upcoming suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017, the date when FY18 cap-subject H-1B petitions can. This the suspension will apply to all petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”). The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt. Additionally, the suspension applies as well to those petitions that may be cap-exempt.

“While premium processing is suspended, we will reject any Form I-907 filed with an H-1B petition,” according to the USCIS release. “If the petitioner submits one combined check for both the Form I-907 and Form I-129 H-1B fees, we will have to reject both forms.”

USCIS will continue premium processing of Form I-129 H-1B petitions in cases where the petitioner properly filed an associated Form I-907 before April 3, 2017. USCIS will refund the premium processing fee under both these conditions:

  • Form I-907 filing for an H-1B petition before April 3, 2017, and
  • USCIS takes no adjudicative action on the case within the 15-calendar-day processing period

The suspension doesn’t apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129. Additionally, the agency still allows submission requests for the expedition of H-1B petitions for those meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria web page.

“It is the petitioner’s responsibility to demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and we encourage petitioners to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request,” according to USCIS.

USCIS reviews request for expeditions on a case-by-case basis. The agency grants the expeditions “at the discretion of office leadership.”

The agency projects the suspension, which could last until October, will reduce overall H-1B processing times through two benefits:

  • Address the backlog of long-pending petitions stemming from a significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years
  • Prioritize the adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases nearing the 240-day mark

USCIS notes officials will notify the public before resuming premium processing for H-1B petitions.

Trump Introduces Immigration Exec Order 2.0

March 6th, 2017 by Romona Paden

After the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a restraining order on a travel ban in February, the Trump administration has rolled out a second version of the order. The new order, which goes into effect on March 16, suspends immigration to the United States from six predominantly-Muslim countries.

The order affects nationals from six countries– Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya. For a 90-day period, from the effective start date, nationals from the affected countries are barred from entering the United States.

We must undertake a rigorous review of our visa and refugee vetting programs to increase our confidence in the entry decisions we make for visitors and immigrants to the United States,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly remarked on the order.

Previously, Iraq was also named as one of the countries affected by the travel ban. Because the Iraqi government has revised its information-sharing methods, the new travel ban doesn’t affect nationals in that country.

Existing visas that have been approved before March 16 aren’t affected by the new executive order. The order also doesn’t affect current green card holders. Additionally, visas previously revoked under the original executive order have been fully restored, according to an NBC news story.

“If you have a current valid visa to travel, we welcome you,” Secretary Kelly said.

While the new order loosens some aspects of the travel ban introduced in the original executive order, President Trump still aims to curb the number of refugees– no more than 50,000 this year– allowed into the country. However, refugees from each of the countries face a 120-day suspension of refugee resettlement as government officials review the refugee program. Additionally, Syrian refugees are no longer singled out in facing a blanket ban in moving to the United States.

“Although this rollout was more traditional and the order’s language was better tailored to pass legal muster after the original policy was ultimately stalled in the courts, the new travel order mostly adhered to the old order’s roots,” according to the NBC report. “While the executive order’s premise and goals remain the same, the administration’s approach was markedly different as it prepared for a second take.”

The new executive order addresses many of the criticisms that befell the original order, including garnering more comprehensive input from members of Congress. Still, administration officials call the court’s previous halt to implementing the travel ban misguided. Officials reportedly expect additional challenges with the new order.

USCIS Allows Online Account Creation for Immigrant Fee Payment

March 1st, 2017 by Romona Paden

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now offers new immigrants the option to voluntarily create an online account for paying the required USCIS Immigrant Fee. Immigrants who choose to create a USCIS online account have easy access in keeping track of their green card status, receiving electronic notifications and case updates and also changing and updating mailing addresses.

While the option to create a USCIS online account is intended to provide added convenience, the agency doesn’t require account creation, according to a USCIS release. For those who don’t create an online account, the agency’s Case Status Online offers an alternate method to track green card status and other cases. However, signing in to use the Case Status Online feature requires the Immigrant Fee payment receipt number, which begins with the letters “IOE.” Similarly, USCIS still offers the Change of Address tool for those who’ve moved and need to update their mailing address with the agency.

Those immigrants who create a voluntary USCIS account, according to agency guidance, will need to verify their identity with correct answers to questions about personal immigration history. In order to do so, USCIS recommends creating the account with relevant documents at hand for easy reference. These reference materials include:

  • Passport
  • Immigrant visa
  • Visa application copies
  • Immigrant petition

In cases where personal identity verification questions aren’t answered correctly, USCIS blocks the account profile as well as access to case information from the USCIS online account until a user’s identity is verified. For those who are unable to verify their identity with the verification questions, new immigrants can pay their required Immigrant Fee at a local USCIS office where identity can be verified in person. USCIS suggests visiting the schedule a free appointment page to arrange a day and time to visit a local USCIS office after arrival to the United States.

The element of identity verification is critical in protecting personal information and ensuring green cards and other secure documents are mailed to the correct address.USCIS uses the most recent U.S. mailing address on file for immigrants, which is information that could have been provided to either the Department of State and the time of the visa interview, or to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the time of admittance as a lawful permanent resident, or the address provided to any USCIS online account updates.

With an accurate address on file, new immigrants receive their green cards within 120 days of the latter of either entry into the United States the agency’s receipt of the Immigrant Fee. If the green card isn’t received in this time frame, immigrants should submit an inquiry at my.uscis.gov/account/needhelp or log in to your USCIS online account for specific case inquiries and contact the agency at my.uscis.gov/account/inbox.

DHS Issues New Detention, Deportation Guidelines

February 27th, 2017 by Romona Paden

DHS Issues New Detention, Deportation GuidelinesDepartment of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly is moving toward the implementation of new guidelines on the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants both within the United States and at the nation’s borders. The new guidelines focus on expanded enforcement with additional agents, expanded prioritization of immigrants for removal, expedited deportation hearings and enlisting local law enforcement officers to aid in arrests.

A Washington Post story that broke the news, which was then widely picked up by other news outlets, is based on draft memos obtained by the newspaper that is copied to officials at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS.) The memos, according to an anonymous source in the report, didn’t include Kelly’s signature and are currently under review by the White House Counsel’s Office.

The WP story comes several days after a February 13 DHS statement regarding recent ICE raids across the country that target “public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws.” Among those immigrants prominently in ICE’s crosshairs are those who’ve re-entered the country illegally after removal as well as “immigration fugitives ordered removed by a federal immigration judge.”

During the Obama Administration, deportations focused on hardened criminals and those with terrorist ties. Under the new guidelines, according to The Hill, officials will have the latitude to seek expedited deportation of immigrants who’ve lived in the United States for up to two years. Previously, authorities could seek expedited deportation only for those immigrants who had been within border for two weeks or less.

Other reported changes include sending Mexican immigrants apprehended by border agents back home, pending the outcome of their deportation hearings. The approach is designed to save detention space and other U.S. resources.

To deter unaccompanied minors who arrive from Mexico and Central America– 155,000 in the last three years– the new policy calls for the prosecution of parents in the United States in cases where they’re found to have paid smugglers to bring their children across the border.

President Trump swore in Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, as DHS secretary on January 20, just hours after the inauguration.

Immigration advocates say the memos mark a dramatic expansion in the scope of enforcement operations.

USCIS Assists Low-Income Naturalization Applicants

February 22nd, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Assists Low-Income Naturalization ApplicantsU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now assists low-income naturalization applicants with a reduced application fee of $320 plus an $85 biometric services fee. The discounted rate applies to qualified applicants with a demonstrated need for the cost reduction.

USCIS offers the fee reduction to immigrants with a documented annual household income that’s greater than 150 percent– but not more than 200 percent– of the Federal Policy Guidelines at the time of filing. To request the fee reduction, immigrants file Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee.

It’s also important to note that Form I-942 is entirely different from Form I-912, Fee Waiver Request. The request for a reduced fee lowers the cost of the application fee. The request for a fee waiver eliminates the cost altogether.

USCIS directs immigrants to determine their eligibility to file Form I-942 by looking at the agency’s page titled Form I-942P, Income Guidelines for Reduced Fees.

Savings for the naturalization application is especially welcome to those in need considering USCIS instituted an increase on most of its filing fees in December. For those who don’t qualify for the fee waiver, the current cost to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization is $640– up from the previous $595– plus $85 for the biometric service fee. The total adds up to $725.  

With the reduced cost, the combined cost of the application fee and the biometric services fee total $405. Total savings over the standard price is $320.

Besides low-income applicants, USCIS also gives savings to older naturalization applicants as well as to certain military applicants. Naturalization applicants who receive savings include:

Applicants who are 75 years old or older save the $85 biometric services fee and only need to pay the $640 filing fee.

Military applicants filing under section 328 or 329 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) aren’t required to pay any fee.

USCIS established the reduced fee process for the naturalization application in October 2016. The agency began accepting the reduced fee applications with the introduction of fee increases in December.

“We recognize that some applicants cannot afford to pay the full filing fee but can pay a reduced fee,” according to a release from the agency.

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