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Have you been using E-Verify more than 10 years? If yes, please download the new “Historic Records Report” before December 1, 2014.

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

On January 1, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin disposing of E-Verify records that are over 10 years old in accordance with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records retention and disposal schedule (N 1-566-08-7).   USCIS is required to dispose of E-Verify records 10 years old and older to minimize security and privacy risks associated with U.S. Government retention of Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Accordingly, as of January 1, 2015, USCIS will begin disposing of E-Verify case records whose last transaction occurred on or before December 31, 2004.1 In order to retain case information, E-Verify employers may download and save the new  “Historic Records Report.” This Report will ONLY BE AVAILABLE from October 1 through December 31, 2014.  Program Administrators may download the Historic Records Report from E-Verify. The report contains information about transactions in each E-Verify case created on or before December 31, 2004. If the employer was not using E-Verify before that date, the report will not have any case information. Under its ongoing NARA obligation, USCIS will dispose of E-Verify records annually. On January 1, 2016, USCIS will dispose of records created on or prior to December 31, 2005 and this process will continue in subsequent years.  E-Verify recommends that employers annotate Forms I-9 with the E-Verify transaction number.   Employers may want to retain the Historic Records Report with the corresponding Forms I-9.

For guidance on downloading the Historic Records Report, see the “Questions and Answers” and

“Instructions for Downloading” on the E-Verify public website (www.dhs.gov/E-Verify). http://ow.ly/CfXAh


Post-Arrival screening measures put in place by CDC for Travelers from 3 countries affected by Ebola

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

On October 22, 2014, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that public health authorities will begin active post-arrival monitoring of travelers whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea.  These travelers are now arriving to the United States at one of five airports where entry screening is being conducted by Customs and Border Protection and CDC.  Active post-arrival monitoring means that travelers without febrile illness or symptoms consistent with Ebola will be followed up daily by state and local health departments for 21 days from the date of their departure from West Africa.  Six states (New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Georgia), where approximately 70% of incoming travelers are headed, have already taken steps to plan and implement active post-arrival monitoring which will begin on Monday, October 27.  Active post-arrival monitoring will begin in the remaining states in the days following.   CDC is providing assistance with active post-arrival monitoring to state and local health departments, including information on travelers arriving in their states, and upon request, technical support, consultation and funding.

See more at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p1022-post-arrival-monitoring.html


My experience with the women and children at Karnes County “Residential” Center

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

September 26, 2014

My experience with the women and children at Karnes County “Residential” Center

On Friday, September 19, 2014, one of my small firm’s associate attorneys, the office manager, and I visited the Karnes County “Residential” Center in Karnes City, Texas for the first time. The Center was converted for the purpose of holding women and children on August 1, 2014. We were there for six hours and visited around 15-16 women. I am writing this note to express the great need for attorney volunteers and to inform attorneys of what they can expect upon arriving at Karnes.

I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by other attorneys who have been volunteering in Artesia, New Mexico. I am dismayed at the lack of access to information for the clients from the courts about their own cases and the large amount of deserving people in desperate need of representation being forced through the rigor of the US immigration system on their own, with their young children in tow, at a rapid and surprisingly expedited pace. Many of these immigrants speak predominantly Mamean or Quichean and yet have been conducting their credible fear interviews in Spanish. If the error is caught and challenged, this often turns into another round of credible fear interviews with the requisite wait time. Others prepare themselves as much as possible only to find out that their bond is too high to be paid, way above the national average of $5,200.

Before visiting Karnes I had already tried to convince myself that my firm wasn’t going to take any cases, we had already taken a UAC pro bono case in Houston, but only help as much as possible for the short period of time that we would be there. My law office is 3.5 hours away from the Center and I have a growing firm and two small children under 4 years old at home. However, once I realized how much these women needed adequate representation, I changed my mind and ended up taking a case of a woman and her two children fleeing from El Salvador where she was a victim of severe domestic violence and gang violence. I volunteered for the case even before I arrived at the Center. Things move quickly in Karnes. I learned of the client’s situation on Thursday from a fellow volunteer attorney. On Friday, I met the client, took her information and submitted motions with the court and by Monday, had a telephonic bond hearing via San Antonio. In taking the case I believed that it would be granted some leeway as I was a pro bono attorney who had just taken the case. However, I realized in conducting the hearing that the immigration judge had high expectations and required a thorough I-589 and statement with supporting documentation before granting a favorable decision. I now have one more week to prepare an I-589 and translate the client’s statement in hopes that it will meet the requirements meanwhile also learned about the 52-page motion from the trial attorney on how the family is a national security risk. Oh, and I am still 3.5 hours away from my pro bono client. It appears that in some cases the judges conduct mini-merits hearings for bond hearings, requiring pro bono attorneys to prepare in several days what they would usually have months to prepare for an asylum hearing.

The team of volunteer pro bono attorneys, the Karnes City Immigrant Family Pro Bono Project, supporting Karnes is amazing. They were all communicating and trying to help triage the cases as quickly as possible. I got a list of names from various members of the project the day before our visit with some instructions on what to do and handout materials to use as a guide. While there, I talked with other volunteers who helped answer questions.

Before going to Karnes it is important to get any paralegals or translators cleared in advance by the facility regardless if the person had been cleared somewhere else before. The attorney must fax a signed letter (I believe on letterhead would be ideal), a copy of the person’s driver’s license and social security card to Officer Acosta at 830-254-2975. I was told that it is helpful if someone calls them at 830-254-2500 about fifteen minutes after the fax is sent to confirm that the fax was received. It is said that pre-clearance should be faxed 48 hours in advance of going to the Center. We brought a copy of the clearance with us so there would not be any questions when we arrived. Though the clearance letter states it is valid for a year, I am told that the clearance letter must be brought every time that a paralegal or translator goes to Karnes.

We stayed in a hotel about 30 minutes away the night before so that we could get started as soon as possible the following day but traveling and visiting the Center could be done in one day if necessary from San Antonio, Austin, and Houston, for example. The Center is open from 8:00am to 8:00pm.

Upon arriving at Karnes we had to wait for thirty minutes to an hour for the detainees to be called into the waiting area. On the day which we visited the supervising officers had initiated a new policy we learned about mid-day which limits an attorney to only see five people per day and it is limited to the persons on the sheet of paper that has been filled out upon arrival. If a detainee passes you a note that a fellow detainee needs to see an attorney that detainee’s information has to be faxed in to the center before being able to see them. I figure you could use e-fax from your computer. In the end, I challenged this new policy and they let us see all the women on our list without any problems after that. We were grateful because that confusion was stressful as we were trying to work as fast and diligently as we could. I would just caution a volunteer to be prepared for policy changes without notice.

It is a requirement that cell phones and wallets be left in lockers for which we were provided a key at the entrance of the Center. There are a few vending machines attached to the waiting area and they require quarters or dollars. You cannot give food to the detainees.  In six hours, I drank one bottle of ice tea for my caloric intake. My staff and I were running on empty. We didn’t want to waste time to eat. You could run to your car or locker for snacks. I don’t think there are a lot of restaurants in town.

There is a large waiting area with approximately six adjoining private consultation rooms. Each consultation room has a table and chairs. Laptops and wifi hotspots are allowed. There is a unisex bathroom in the waiting area.  We were lucky enough to be able to use a printer brought by another pro bono attorney there at the time. Even the most basic of printers and copier can go a long way when you have no other options. A mobile scanner would be a great addition since a detainee’s documents are so critical for them to possess and yet share with potential volunteer help. Detainees are able to access email accounts if they already had created them previously though I am not sure that many of them would know how to check their email account if one was set up for them by a volunteer. It would also be helpful to bring plenty of I-589’s and forms in Spanish for the pro se client.

We had been told going in that attorneys were allowed a phone to call an interpreter. When I was entering the private consultation rooms, all of the landline phones were taken out. When I asked the guard which phone we were supposed to use to contact the interpreter, I was first told we can’t use phones.  Then I pressed the issue with the help of another volunteer attorney who had been working at the facility on know your rights presentations. In the end, after talking with the supervisor, he told me that we could use our own cell phones only for that purpose. I was escorted to the locker to get my private phone and call the interpreter for whom I had been given for Mamean. While I was walking back, the supervisor said, you might not be able to get reception because a lot of staff say that their phones don’t work in the building.  Luckily, my cell phone worked and I was able to reach the volunteer interpreter. But this could make contacting an interpreter difficult. For Quichean, I used a 12-year old girl who was also detained but happened to speak both Quichean and Spanish. She had to be called to my consultation room from her classroom.

The detainees wear plain clothes. The children attend school and there are toys in the waiting area for kids when they accompany their parents to the waiting room. There appears to be a playground in the backyard.

I would like to encourage my immigration attorney colleagues to take on one pro bono case or part of a case to help these victims. At this time there is a critical need for attorney representation for Immigration Judge reviews of Credible Fear Interview (CFI) denials, bond hearings and original filings of I-589’s.

All the detainees that we met with were victims of either domestic violence or gang-based violence. Many have entered prior to the September 2014 Matter of A-R-C-G, in which the Board of Immigration Appeals determined that married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship constitute a particular social group for asylum purposes.

The detainees seem to have a peaceful disposition, perhaps because they and their children are in a safe place with food and a roof over their heads. It really plays with your mind to see little babies and kids in the consultation rooms with the women in a detention facility, no matter what you name it.  You wonder if you should be allowed to talk about such horrible experiences in front of young impressionable minds. I know I wouldn’t want talk about these stories in front of my two young kids. Imagine that the moms have to have the young children with them when they do the CFIs.

Although there might be a hint of peace, there is also a sense of fear of the unknown because they know that if they are unable to convince someone of their story and the relatives of their plight, that they will have to return to their country in which their violent husband or the violent gangs will be there waiting for them or their children. The despair on one woman’s face in particular who has two children with her and her husband is detained in Miami whom she has had no contact with was unbearable. I spent more time thinking how can I really help this lady and debating about taking yet another case. Her husband was a police officer in El Salvador and had actively fought the gangs. In retaliation, her family was threatened and even her uncle was killed. She now faces a $15,000 bond. Her father in law can only afford to bond out her husband and not both sets of detained members. She said the judge didn’t ask about her story but asked if she used a coyote and how much she paid. Gratefully, I learned today she found pro bono representation.

Another woman has lacerations in her uterus from sexual violence from her husband. Her children regularly saw him beat her. One woman’s father threw boiling water on her causing an obvious scar on her arm, when she tried to run away from her abusive husband and go home. She is 18, married at 14, and has a 2 and a half year old. After six hours and 8 women’s stories, I started to mix up all the stories. They all seem to have abusive husbands, no support, and running away from gangs and somehow brought one to four kids with them traveling about 1,500 miles. Of course there is more to that but the violence and impunity they experience is heart-wrenching. At one point, without a tissue box in my consultation room, I thought to go get toilet paper from the bathroom to hold back some of the tears for the women and myself.

I have a love-hate relationship with this experience. I love that I am helping people, through advocating for them and empowering them to be able to advocate for themselves as best as they can. I am doing what I went to law school for. At the same time knowing that this situation exists and that it is happening cannot easily be ignored. There are feelings of guilt that I should be there taking on more cases or that I should volunteer there more often. One thing that I can do whether in Houston or in Karnes City is spread the word to other immigration attorneys that there are many deserving women and children who need legal representation or simply be given advice on how to best argue their own case and I guarantee that you will not regret the time you spend helping these families.

If you have any questions about volunteering at Karnes Residential Center contact Lin Lichtenberg with the Karnes City Immigrant Family Pro Bono Project at llichtenberg@akingump.com.

Sincerely,

Ruby L. Powers

AILA member and Karnes volunteer

Ruby@RubyPowersLaw.com

713-589-2085


EB-5 preference category has become “unavailable” for Chinese applicants as of August 23, 2014

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

For the first time since the EB-5 program was created almost 25 years ago, the maximum number of EB-5 immigrant visas which are available for Chinese applicants for fiscal Year 2014 has been reached, while sufficient numbers for all other countries remain to ensure compliance within the annual Fiscal Year 2014 allocation.  A new allocation of about 10,000 visas will be available on October 1, 2014, which is the first day of Fiscal Year 2015. As a result, there will be virtually no impact on most China EB-5 visa applicants who complete processing within the next 6 to 8 months.

 

For more information refer to: http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=49890


USCIS New H-3 Visa Policy Guidance

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

On September 9, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to provide comprehensive guidance on the H-3 trainees nonimmigrant visa category. The new policy guidance consolidates previous guidance on the H-3 nonimmigrant visa category, to include guidance on the background, purpose, and legal authorities of the H-3 program. It also provides guidance on the H-3 program requirements, descriptions, and restrictions, and includes a list of forms and documents for the H-3 visa petition.

 http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume2-PartJ.html


Alternatives to H-1B Temporary Work Visa

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Alternatives to H-1B Temporary Work Visa

The H-1B visa classification allows U.S. employers (petitioners) to petition to hire foreign nationals beneficiaries) to work temporarily in specialty occupations. The term “specialty occupation” means an occupation that requires: (1) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge; and, (2) attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum requirement for entry into the occupation in the United States.[1]

H-1B visas are capped per fiscal year at 65,000 for persons who hold a Bachelor’s Degree plus 20,000 for persons who hold a U.S. earned advanced degree (a Master’s degree, Professional Degree, or a PHD). There are a total of 85,000 visas available each year for persons who are being sponsored for a new employment in H-1B status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) begins to accept H-1B CAP applications on April 1 of each year. The start date of approved H-1B CAP applications is October 1. According to the USCIS, there were 172,500 applications filed between April 1, 2014 and when the cap closed on April 7, 2014. The rest of the applications are usually placed in the lottery system. The USCIS begins to reject the applications not selected in the beginning of June.

This limited number of available visas often causes companies to lose the opportunity to employ skilled foreign nationals in the occupations for which there are no available and skilled U.S. workers.

The good news is that there are alternatives to H-1B work visa or status. Let us explore other available temporary work visas:

 H-1Bs that are not counted against the CAP

The CAP only applies to new H-1B petitions. A person is not counted against the CAP if they have already been counted against the CAP within the past six (6) years. This means that the same person can apply for H-1B with a new employer and will not be counted against the CAP.

There is also a category of H-1B petitioners who are Cap-exempt. This category includes J-1 physicians who have obtained a waiver pursuant to the State 30 program or federal program. It also includes beneficiaries of employment offers at institutions of higher education, and petitioners who are a non-profit affiliated or related to an institution of higher education.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa

This type of visa allows companies with offices both in U.S. and foreign countries to transfer foreign employee to temporary work in the U.S. in executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge positions. There are no annual limits for this type of visas.

TN Visas

This visa category allows Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily enter in the U.S. work in a professional position or a Business Consultant position.

E 1/E-2- Trade or Investor Visa

This category allows citizens of foreign countries that have a treaty commerce and navigation, or a bilateral investment treaty providing for non-immigrant entries with the U.S.

E-3 Visa

The E-3 visa classification is limited to Australian Professionals. The E-3 visa is a “specialty occupation” visa similar to the H-1B visa. Therefore to be eligible for the visa, the Australian citizen must possess a bachelor’s degree or higher (or its equivalent) in the specialty and the specialty occupation must require the degree. There is a 10,500 annual limit on the E-3 visa.

O-1 Visa

The O-1 classification is suited for individuals of extraordinary ability or achievement. O-1 beneficiaries in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics must have extraordinary ability “demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.” There is no annual limit for this classification.

OPT-STEM Extension

Students who hold F-1 status and are completing their Optional Practical Training (OPT) can extend their training period for up to 17 months, if their field of study in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The students must work for an employer who is registered for E-verify and must be enrolled in a major included in the STEM program list.

B-1 in lieu of H-1B

This classification allows employee of a foreign company to enter in the U.S. to work temporarily for a short time for the affiliate U.S. Company. The foreign employee must occupy a professional occupation (which requires at least the attainment of a Bachelor’s degree). Also, the foreign employee can only be paid by the foreign company and must comply with other B-1/B-2 requirements.

 J-1 Trainee Visa

This classification allows exchange visitor who has a foreign degree or a professional certificate and at least one year of prior related experience to obtain training for up to 18 months with a U.S. company.

H-3 Visa

This classification allows a temporary worker invited by an organization to receive instruction and training in any field of endeavor that is not designated primarily to provide productive employment.

Some of the classifications explained above only offer temporary work/trainee status for a short period of time and may entail some restrictions with regards to change of status to another classification. One should consult with an immigration attorney to better lay out a strategy suitable for one’s specific situation.

Finally, there is always an opportunity to apply for H-1B status when the next fiscal year opens and new H-1B CAP slots become available.

Author: Claudine Umuhire Gasana, Associate Attorney at the Office of Ruby L. Powers

Disclaimer: The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only and it is not intended to provide or be taken as a legal advice.

Contact us for specific analysis of your case at:

Law Office of Ruby L. Powers, P.C., 5225 Katy Freeway, Suite 202, Houston, TX 77007

Email: Contact@RubyPowersLaw.com

Web: www.RubyPowersLaw.com

Tel: (713) 589-2085

 

[1] Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 214(i)(1) and 8 C.F.R 214.2(h)(4)(ii)


Obama Faces Potential Rifts With Democrats In Mounting Immigration Fight

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is facing potential rifts with members of his own party in tough re-election contests as he barrels toward a fall fight with Republicans over his ability to change immigration policies.

If Obama takes the broadest action under consideration — removing the threat of deportation for millions of people in this country illegally — the short-term risks appear greatest for Senate Democrats in conservative-leaning states. Weeks before the November vote, they could find themselves on the hot seat for their views not only on immigration but also on Obama’s use of his presidential powers.

Wary of what could be coming, some of those lawmakers have said Obama should act with caution.

“This is an issue that I believe should be addressed legislatively and not through executive order,” said Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., one of the top targets for Republicans trying to retake control of the Senate.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., another vulnerable incumbent, said in a statement that he also is “frustrated with the partisanship in Washington. But that doesn’t give the president carte blanche authority to sidestep Congress when he doesn’t get his way.”

Such statements have immigration advocates on edge.

A coalition of advocacy groups, in a letter to congressional Democrats on Friday, said immigrant families should not have to wait until after the November elections for relief. The organizations said any attempts by Democrats to delay or dilute administrative changes “will be viewed as a betrayal of Latino and immigrant communities with serious and lasting consequences.”

The letter was released because of advocates’ concerns that leading Senate Democrats may be shifting their positions because of political considerations after previously urging Obama to act.

A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., declined to say Friday whether Schumer still believes Obama should act by October, as Schumer had said before. A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, said the timing of executive action on immigration was up to Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman had no comment on timing.

Still, Obama looks determined to move forward on his own despite the political risks for Democrats.

He is irritated by House Republicans’ inaction on immigration legislation passed last year by the Senate. The crisis over unaccompanied minors arriving in South Texas does not appear to have deterred him, and the slowdown of arrivals at the border may be shifting the issue away from the spotlight anyway.

The exact contours of Obama’s plans remain unclear.

Advocates and lawmakers who have talked with administration officials anticipate that he could expand a program that granted work permits and deferred deportation to more than 700,000 immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as kids. It could be extended to include parents of those children, as well as parents of U.S. citizens, or potentially others — groups that could add up to perhaps 5 million people.

During a news conference this month, Obama was not specific on his immigration plans. He did say that in the absence of congressional action and in order to address the crisis involving unaccompanied youths, he had to shift resources on his own and exercise prosecutorial discretion.

“I promise you the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done,” Obama said.

Some GOP leaders worry that opposition to a comprehensive overhaul will harm their party in the 2016 presidential race, where Latino turnout is higher than in midterm elections. Hispanics are a fast-growing sector of the presidential electorate and backed Obama overwhelmingly in 2012.

But Republicans also see a nearer-term chance to translate Obama’s potential executive actions into electoral success in November. Republicans need to win a net of six seats in order to take control of the Senate for the remainder of Obama’s term. The GOP already is all but assured of maintaining control of the House.

As Republicans meet with voters in their districts during the summer break, lawmakers have raised alarms about the scope of Obama’s potential plans. In some cases, they are hearing clamors for impeachment in return.

“It is up to Congress to actually go back and restrain this guy,” one voter told GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland at a town hall meeting on the Eastern Shore. Harris had warned that Obama could expand an existing deportation relief program to 4 million or 5 million more people, “competing with Americans for work.”

Republicans have tagged Obama as an “imperial president” who goes around Congress rather than working with lawmakers, and House Republicans have moved to sue him over it. The prospect of the president making a unilateral move on a contentious issue such as immigration has Republican consultants salivating.

“President Obama’s executive amnesty would inject adrenaline into an electorate already eager to send him a message of disapproval,” said Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Also problematic for Obama: His apparent plans to act on his own authority come after years of saying that he did not have the legal justification to proceed without Congress.

“If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing them through Congress, I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws,” he said in November. A heckler had interrupted a speech he was giving in San Francisco, prodding him to halt deportations, which have reached record highs on Obama’s watch.

Since then the White House has apparently concluded otherwise.

Democratic pollsters argue that any executive action by Obama could give a political boost to Democrats, not just from newly energized Latino voters but from an electorate at large that would welcome any action from gridlocked Washington.

“Voters are so sick of the do-nothing Congress they don’t mind if there’s an imperial president,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “They would just like someone to get something done about something.”

___

Pace reported from Edgartown, Massachusetts. Follow Pace athttp://twitter.com/jpaceDC and Werner at http://twitter.com/ericawerner


DACA Renewal

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Deportation, education, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

If your previous period of deferred action expires before you receive a renewal of deferred action under DACA, you will accrue unlawful presence and will not be authorized to work for any time between the periods of deferred action.  For this reason, USCIS encourages you to submit your request for renewal 120 days before your current period of deferred action under DACA expires.


In a crowded immigration court, seven minutes to decide a family’s future

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, State and Local Immigration Rules Leave a comment
His courtroom rarely came to order, and by now the judge had decided it was a waste of time to try. Interpreters explained legalese in three languages. Adults squeezed into crowded seats while children crouched in the center aisle. A court official stood near the doorway and worried about the building’s fire code. “Por favor,” he said in halting Spanish, as another family tried to enter. “No mas.”

Judge Lawrence Burman sat quietly in front of the chaos, adjusting his reading glasses and sifting through a stack of files on his bench. He had 26 cases listed on his morning docket in Arlington Immigration Court — 26 decisions to make before lunchtime about the complicated future of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The state of U.S. immigration

See how immigration trends have shifted over the years.

“The rocket docket” is what lawyers had begun calling this schedule, warning clients that their future could be decided in the time it took to walk to the restroom and back.

“Next,” Burman announced. “Let’s go. Busy day.”

At a time when Congress and President Obama have signaled an increased willingness to reform the immigration system, they insist on urgency by repeating a series of skyrocketing numbers: 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, at least 50,000 more trying to enter every month, 21,000 agents patrolling the borders, $18 billion spent each year on enforcement and about 1,000 people deported each day.

In Burman’s courtroom, the urgent number on this January morning was smaller but just as daunting. He had an average of seven minutes per case.

While Congress and the White House make promises about the future of undocumented immigrants, this is the place where decisions must be made — day after day, case after case, in one of the 57 overwhelmed immigration courts across the country. Here, on the second floor of a high rise in Crystal City, tissue boxes are stacked near the courtroom entrance and attorneys push rolling file cabinets, because a briefcase is no longer sufficient to hold caseloads that have tripled in the past decade.

Undocumented immigrants try to prove they deserve to remain in America by bringing their versions of America with them to court: wives carrying family photo albums; babies wrapped in American flag blankets; pastors, bosses, neighbors and community soccer teams, all of whom fill the courthouse and sometimes kneel in the hallways to chant or to pray.

“Somos Americanos,” one group said. We are Americans.

Now Burman looked at his docket and called up a case: Mario Iraheta, 36, father of three, citizen of El Salvador, longtime resident of the United States. For Iraheta, the future of immigration reform was not about Congress, or Obama, or two political parties positioning for a presidential election in 2016. It was about the next seven minutes.

“Court is in session,” Burman said.

An empty seat

Iraheta’s seat in the courtroom remained empty. A clerk turned on a television near the prosecutor’s table, and up came a video feed to a detention facility in Farmville, Va. Suddenly Iraheta appeared on screen, his hair still wet from the shower, in a room 165 miles away.

This was the latest symptom of a deportation system backlogged with 350,000 cases. Since the government often lacks the time and the resources to transport detained immigrants, they often attend their hearings remotely.

“Farmville, Room 294, can you hear us?” a court interpreter asked. The screen seemed to freeze. The court took a short recess while a technician fixed the video feed. As the recess continued, Iraheta’s wife, Maria, and two sons stood up in the second row of the courtroom and walked toward the video screen. “There he is!” said Dylan, 9, an American citizen, tugging at his mother’s shirt. They stood within view of the camera so Iraheta could see them. “Oh, God,” Iraheta said, wiping his eyes as they smiled and waved. “You came. Thank you.”

He had not seen all of them together for seven months, since he got into his car to drive to his sister’s house for a Sunday barbecue and was pulled over by police for drinking and driving, a mistake that threatened to undo the life he had built in the Manassas suburbs. He had crossed into the United States illegally in 2000, and Maria had followed a year later. He worked in construction; she walked two miles each evening to wash dishes at IHOP for $8 an hour. They paid taxes, joined a church and raised three kids, now 19, 15 and 9. Two months after Iraheta was apprehended and placed into deportation proceedings, his family celebrated the birth of his first granddaughter — “an honest-to-God second-generation American,” one cousin said.

For 14 years, Iraheta and Maria had shared the same bed in a small apartment, but now they could think of little to say. He motioned for his boys to come closer to the camera so he could study their haircuts. “You look nice,” he said. “Grown up.”

Maria wondered if she should tell him about the debts they were accumulating to the thriving deportation industry: the $300 she had paid a driver to take her to visit him in Farmville; the $25 they spent on 18-minute phone calls; the $5,000 and counting in legal fees to a succession of notaries and lawyers; the work shift she was missing now, to support him in court. He wondered if he should tell her about the nightmares he’d been havinglately, in which he returned to El Salvador, got lost at the airport and was stabbed by a gang of men trying to steal his jeans.

“Today will be a new beginning for us,” he said instead. “You look beautiful. We are smiling. They will see we are a good family.”

“I hope so,” she said, now wiping her eyes, too.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she said, but now the recess had ended, and Iraheta’s lawyer approached the bench.

Crimes or mistakes?

“Your Honor, we would request that you set a bond in this case,” said Ricky Malik, Iraheta’s lawyer. “My client is a longtime resident. He is not a flight risk. He would like the opportunity to be reunited with his family.”

“We would contend that he is a flight risk,” the prosecutor said. He reached into his case file and pulled out two court documents, criminal convictions for hit-and-runs.

Malik looked over the charges. Both were misdemeanors for property damage of less than $1,000, one from 2003 and the other from 2004. The first time, Iraheta had hit a car in a parking lot and driven away, scared that he would be deported because he didn’t have a driver’s license. The next time he had hit a car in the rain, fled, felt guilty and went to a police station a day later to fill out a report.

If Burman decided that the crimes indicated poor character — what the law refers to as “moral turpitude” — Iraheta would not only be ineligible for bond but also much more likely to be deported to El Salvador.

“These are small property incidents,” Malik said. “We would argue that these are not crimes of moral turpitude but unfortunate decisions.”

Malik knew that his argument was a long shot, but so was everything else about his job. He represented 300 undocumented immigrants from Manassas to Richmond, mostly working-class Mexicans and Central Americans who came to him after they had been apprehended and placed in deportation proceedings. His clients were not the perfect face of undocumented immigration but the complicated heart of it — not college graduates, or victims of violent crime, or active military members, or breast-feeding mothers, or“dreamers,” or members of any one of the small groups for which Obama has created patchwork immigration solutions. His clients were people like Iraheta, whose mistakes had been compounded by fear and bad luck, and whose paths to stay in the United States were as complex as they were uncertain.

“To be honest, these odds are not good,” Malik had told Iraheta’s family during an early meeting about his case. To stay in the United States, Iraheta needed to file for his case to be reopened, win bond, file for deportation relief and then win again at trial — and even that unlikely outcome would only return him back to where he started, free but undocumented. Nonetheless, Maria had borrowed money and cashed out her savings to pay Malik for a few months of work, and here he was five months later, providing representation for free, taking on what immigration lawyers called another “case of conscience.” Unlike criminal defendants, undocumented immigrants are not guaranteed a lawyer, and the 40 percent who appear in court without representation are several times more likely to be deported. Malik didn’t want a family broken apart because it couldn’t afford his billable hours.

“Your Honor, my client is not a perfect person, but he is a good person,” Malik said now, lifting his hands.

“What if it was your car that he hit?” Burman said.

“For all we know this could have been a dent, $150 in damages,” Malik said.

“Or it could have been $850,” Burman said.

He turned away from Malik and looked at Iraheta on the monitor, studying him, searching for some impression of the man on the screen.

“I have gone back and forth on this issue,” he said. “Are these crimes of moral turpitude? This is tough.”

‘Impossibly stressful’

Tough: That was his job. Tough was hearing 1,500 cases per year while federal judges decided 440. It was sharing one law clerk with other immigration judges while each federal judge had four clerks of his own. It was being scheduled to sit on the bench for 36 hours a week and listen to asylum cases that detailed people’s escapes from gangs, rapes, beheadings, human trafficking and torture; and then having to objectively ask those people for the documents, for the scars, for the proof; and then making a judgment about the character of those people, first through a video feed and then through an interpreter; and then judging the merits of their cases in the shifting landscape of immigration law; and finally taking a deep breath, synthesizing so much information, and rendering a lawful, smart, artful, confident decision on the spot, because the schedule allowed little time for reflection or written decisions before the next case began.

“Like doing death-penalty cases in a traffic-court setting,” one immigration judge said in testimony before Congress about the job.

Burman was known as one of the country’s best: an immigration judge since 1998, working in Los Angeles, Memphis and now Virginia, mastering the changing nuances of the law even as his caseload continued to grow. Like all immigration judges, it was his responsibility to act in some ways as a de facto lawyer for unrepresented immigrants, notifying them of possible forms of deportation relief. He was funny, kind and sometimes sarcastic. He called the rotating cast of interpreters and court security guards by their first names. Lawyers on both sides considered him fair and empathetic — a small miracle given the pressure he was under.

A group of psychiatrists surveyed immigration judges about their work in 2008 and concluded that the job was “impossibly stressful,” with burnout rates exceeding those of prison guards or physicians in busy hospitals, and since then the courtroom conditions had only worsened. The law becomes more complex each time widespread reform defaults to more piecemeal solutions. A hiring freeze has reduced 272 judges to 249, and a congressional proposal to hire 225 more stalled last year in the House. Nearly half of the judges who are left will be eligible for retirement in the next year, which means caseloads are again expected to rise.

“The volume is constant and unrelenting,” one immigration judge wrote in a survey about job satisfaction.

“Similar to a factory assembly line,” wrote another.

“The drip-drip-drip of Chinese water torture.”

“Not enough time to think.”

“I can’t take this place anymore.”

“This job is supposed to be about doing justice. The conditions under which we work make it more and more challenging to ensure that justice is done.”

Now Burman looked beyond Malik into the courtroom benches, where Iraheta’s wife was praying, clasping her hands on her lap. What would constitute justice in this case? To grant bond and return a family to its life in the United States? Or to detain and eventually deport a man who had snuck into the country and then broken its laws?

Nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, and here came the same murky decision every seven minutes: Who would be allowed to stay, and who would be forced to go?

“I feel badly for the family,” Burman said, but he had made up his mind. On this day, in this court, the two car accidents counted as crimes of moral turpitude. He turned back to Malik. “Do you want to set aside a right to appeal?”

“So no bond?” Malik said.

“Yes. That is my ruling.”

‘We are out of time’

Malik looked down at his desk. The prosecutor reached for the next case file. The judge began to fill out his paperwork.

“Your Honor, I would like to simply ask for your kindness,” Iraheta said, speaking on the video screen. He had been silent until this moment, a forgotten member of his own proceeding, but now he leaned toward the camera and begged. “I need to be there to take care of my family,” he said. “Please. I know I made terrible errors and horrible mistakes. I would like to ask for your kindness.”

“I promise if given the opportunity I will do everything I can and try to change in every manner possible.”

“I think it is too late for that. I’m sorry. We are out of time.”

Iraheta tried to speak faster, and then louder, but the courtroom had already returned to motion. Lawyers huddled with their clients. More families streamed in through the crowded entrance. Malik consoled Iraheta’s family in the hallway outside, explaining that he would stay detained until another hearing unless he chose to be quickly deported. Burman stretched his back and looked back down at his docket. So many cases still to decide. Seven minutes each.

“Okay,” he said. “Next.”


Immigration Reform and the State of the Union

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

January 28, 2014


Washington D.C. - Tonight, President Barack Obama pressed the reset button and laid out his priorities for 2014—and, ultimately, the final leg of his presidency. During the State of the Union address, the President discussed the need to create jobs and greater opportunity for all. He also made it clear that immigration reform and economic recovery go hand-in-hand, and he expects the House of Representatives to make the next move on immigration reform. The President said:
“Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted.  I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.  Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
The President’s inclusion of immigration as a matter of economic necessity reinforces efforts over the last few years to redefine how we think about immigration reform. Immigrants create jobs as consumers and entrepreneurs andspend their wages in U.S. businesses—buying food, clothes, appliances, cars, etc. This builds our economy as businesses respond to the presence of these new workers and consumers by investing in new restaurants, stores, and production facilities. Also immigrants are 30 percent more likely than the native-born to start their own business. The end result is more jobs for more workers.
The President’s message on immigration extended beyond his speech. Immigrants and immigration activists attended as guests of Congress and the First Lady. Mrs. Obama invited two immigrants to attend as her guests: Cristian Avila, a DREAMer and DACA recipient who recently completed a 22-day fast on the National Mall in support of immigration reform and Carlos Arredondo, a Costa-Rican-American peace activist made famous by his heroic acts after the Boston Marathon bombing.

These guests remind us of the humanitarian nature of immigration reform that cannot, and should not be overlooked.  As we grapple with efforts to create a more just and equal system in which everyone has a fair shot at economic prosperity, we cannot forget the need for a fair and just immigration system.  Deportations that separate families, disrupt businesses, and destroy hopes and dreams help no one and ultimately do not reflect our tradition as a nation of immigrants.
Tonight, the President reiterated that he is prepared to use the authority of his office to push a range of initiatives forward. Thus, if 2014 is to truly be a year of action and opportunity, we encourage the president not only to support efforts to complete immigration reform, but to do all in his power to end needless costs—to families, to workers, and to the economy—of an immigration system that does not fulfill the promise of America.

 


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