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Obama seeks to build momentum for immigration overhaul

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Nov 5 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama turned to business leaders on Tuesday to try to build momentum for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system and pressured the U.S. Congress to approve legislation by the end of the year.

Obama brought a number of business executives to the White House to stress his belief that untangling the immigration system would add $1.4 trillion in growth to the U.S. economy over 20 years and reduce deficit spending in the federal budget by $850 billion.

Immigration legislation that would create a provisional status for workers as part of a 13-year path to U.S. citizenship cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate in June but is stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Obama told reporters as he met the business leaders that he would press the issue in coming weeks.

“There’s no reason why we can’t get this done before the end of the year,” he said.

The president’s domestic agenda has been caught up in controversies in recent weeks, including a budget battles with Republicans that led to a 16-day government shutdown. He is currently struggling to smooth out the troubled rollout of his signature healthcare law.

Intent on showing that other parts of his agenda can be worked on at the same time, Obama said he realizes there has been resistance to the immigration plan from House Republicans and that “the politics are challenging” for House Speaker John Boehner.

He said he believed the immigration overhaul would pass if Boehner allowed it to come to a vote in the House.

“We want to make it as easy for him as possible. This is not an issue where we’re looking for a political win. This is one where we’re looking for a substantive win for the U.S. economy,” Obama said.

Among the business leaders who met Obama were Roger Altman, chairman of Evercore Partners; Don Thompson, chief executive of McDonald’s; Arne Sorenson, the Marriott chief executive; and Marillyn Hewson, chief executive of Lockheed Martin.


New push for immigration reform will target 9 House Republicans

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

With a year to go until the midterm elections, immigration reform advocates hoping to jump-start debate on Capitol Hill are planning to target a handful of Republican lawmakers most likely to suffer political consequences next year if Congress fails to act on immigration reform.

Rep. Joe Heck ( R-Nev.), left, speaks with a constituent during a town hall meeting on immigration reform at Windmill Library in Las Vegas in July. Heck is one of nine House Republicans being targeted by a new campaign by immigration reform advocates. (LEILA NAVIDI/LAS VEGAS SUN)Rep. Joe Heck ( R-Nev.), left, speaks with a constituent during a town hall meeting on immigration reform at Windmill Library in Las Vegas in July. Heck is one of nine House Republicans being targeted by a new campaign by immigration reform advocates. (Leila Navidi/LAS VEGAS SUN)

A campaign set to be announced Thursday will marry the financial and political power of the AFL-CIO and SEIU labor unions with smaller grass-roots immigrant advocacy groups, including America’s Voice, PICO National Network, Mi Familia Vota and CASA in Action, to target nine House GOP lawmakers who support establishing a way for eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The campaign will target Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Joe Heck (R-Nev.). They represent districts with sizable Latino voting populations where President Obama won or performed well last year. They also have publicly voiced support for revamping the nation’s immigration laws.

Organizers said the goal of the campaign is to pressure the lawmakers to match their public statements by lobbying colleagues and House Republican leaders to permit votes on a series of immigration bills introduced in recent months. If the nine lawmakers fail to convince their colleagues by the end of the year, the groups plan to devote more resources to defeating them in next year’s elections and to expand their campaign.

“This is designed to tell Republicans that if you don’t take action on reform, there will be people who will take action in districts where Republicans are vulnerable to mobilize Latino and immigrant voters to reward or punish a member of Congress,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading national immigration advocacy group.

“A Republican majority in the House depends on people in vulnerable districts winning,” Sharry noted. “It just seems [House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)] and company are more worried about members being primaried by tea party challengers than their members in districts with growing Latino populations. This is designed to tell them, ‘Guess what — you’d better worry.’ “

The House is unlikely to consider any immigration legislation before Congress passes another short-term spending plan in mid-January, according to top Republican aides. Even if debate ever begins, Boehner and his lieutenants have said they will not support a comprehensive Senate plan that would allow illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship over a 13-year period, saying they will consider a series of smaller-scale bills.

House lawmakers are on recess this week, but a visit to Capitol Hill last week by hundreds of conservative business and religious leaders helped persuade some GOP lawmakers to take another look at the issue, said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who cosponsored the Senate plan passed this summer.

“There seems to be new life in the House on this,” he said Wednesday.

Flake served for 10 years in the House before ascending to the Senate in January and remains in close contact with House Republicans. He said there is growing interest in establishing ways for the children of undocumented immigrants and certain farm workers to more quickly gain U.S. citizenship, while establishing ways for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants to seek a permanent legal status.

“There’d be no special path created, but they would not be precluded from taking one of the paths that already exists,” Flake said.

Flake said there’s likely to be bipartisan support for the proposal, “because that’s the only way a deal can be had. I think there’s a good-faith effort underway on both sides of the aisle.”

Congressional Democrats also remain hopeful that House Republicans will quickly take up the issue, possibly in December before another round of negotiations over a short-term spending bill in January.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who worked with Flake on the Senate deal, has held several telephone conversations on the subject with senior GOP lawmakers, according to aides.

“Certainly politically it would benefit us if [House Republicans] don’t pass any bill, and they can’t pass any bill without some Democratic votes. But the overwhelming view of Democrats is that we’d sacrifice that political advantage to get a bill that moves America’s immigration policy forward,” Schumer said Wednesday.

The campaign launching Thursday will include outreach to nearly 90,000 voters in the nine districts through door-to-door outreach and phone calls. Additionally, the AFL-CIO announced plans Tuesday to spend more than $1 million on a bilingual television ad campaign in Bakersfield, Calif., Denver, Atlanta and Orlando and in the Washington, D.C. market. The SEIU plans to announce a similar ad campaign Thursday, according to people familiar with the plans.

Of the lawmakers targeted, Denham and Valadao have endorsed a comprehensive immigration bill authored by House Democrats that merges elements of the bipartisan Senate immigration plan passed over the summer with a bipartisan border security plan passed unanimously by a House committee in MayDenham said last week that he met with a good reception when he discussed the bill with colleagues during their weekly caucus-wide meeting.

Several of the other targeted Republicans reiterated their support for immigration reform this week but said they’re still reviewing the various proposals.

Aides to Heck said the congressman believes the House should act “in a timely manner.” Miller said in a statement that he plans to “closely examine the merits and consequences of any proposal.” Coffman said he is eager to work on the issue, “but that is appearing less likely given the limited time that is left on the calendar.”

Jackie Kucinich and David Nakamura contributed to this report.


Update from the NBC on Provisional Waivers – October 1, 2013

Posted on by Ruby Powers in I-601A Waivers Leave a comment

As the NBC staff soon realized, this broad application of the “reason to believe” standard has led to a high denial rate.  Given this development, Mr. Blackwood announced that, as of six weeks ago, NBC stopped issuing any “reason to believe” denials and is suspending adjudication of cases where this issue is present while USCIS and DOS reconsider the current policy and decide how to proceed in the future.  During this time, cases that involve a potential “reason to believe” issue are being held in abeyance, with no action taken on the case; currently about 1,300 pending applications are affected by this issue and will not be adjudicated until there is further guidance on the reason to believe policy.

Stay tuned for a formal decision from the USCIS on whether the NBC will modify the way it adjudicates I-601As with respect to the reason to believe standard.  Expect the NBC’s current approval rate (approximately 60%, including reason to believe denials) to increase.

 

Update from the NBC on Provisional Waivers – October 1, 2013
By Susan Schreiber and Charles Wheeler

On September 26-27, 2013, CLINIC conducted a two-day training in Kansas City on provisional adjudication of unlawful presence waivers.  The training included a presentation by Robert Blackwood, Assistant Section Director for Adjudications at the National Benefits Center (NBC), who gave an update on the waiver adjudication process at the NBC and answered questions from training participants.  A summary of the information he provided appears below.

NBC Background

The NBC serves mainly as a pre-processing center for applications adjudicated at USCIS field offices, including I-485 adjustment applications and N-400 naturalization applications. In addition, the NBC adjudicates certain applications and petitions to completion, including I-90s, immediate relative I-130 petitions, interview-waivable adjustment applications and, since March 4, 2013, I-601A applications for provisional waivers.  In addition to its facility at Lee Summit, MO, the NBC has expanded to include a new facility in Overland Park, KS.   Approximately 500 government employees and 800 contract workers staff the Lee Summit site. Currently, the NBC facility in Lee Summit employs approximately 550 government workers, and 800 contract workers.  A new NBC facility in Overland Park, KS is expected to employ 400-500 government workers and a similar number of contract workers.

I-601A Adjudication

The NBC is divided into eight divisions.  Division 1 is responsible for I-601A adjudications and   is staffed with between 45-50 adjudicators and 5 supervisors.  When fully staffed, the division will have 6 supervisors, who in turn report to 2 section chiefs.

All I-601As are filed at the Chicago Lockbox, which reviews submissions under its own business rules that address document sufficiency.  If rejected, an application should be accompanied by an explanation of deficiency.  If accepted, the Lockbox creates a case receipt file and forwards it to the NBC, where it goes through its own initial processing checklist.  NBC contract staff goes through their checklist to determine if the application is complete.  If staff determines there are missing documents, it issues a Request for Evidence (RFE); otherwise, it will schedule the applicant for a biometrics appointment. When the biometrics and the name check results come back, the application is transferred to the “JIT” (“Just in Time”) shelves and is considered ready to be adjudicated.

Supervisors assign cases to adjudicators when they are ready to be adjudicated. When they receive a file, the adjudicator first looks for basic eligibility – name check and biometrics response, national security issues – and if there is a “hit,” the file is forwarded to a security clearance team for resolution.  For cases that pass security clearance or do not have “hits,” the adjudicators follow a “processing checklist” sheet, which guides them through the process of determining statutory eligibility (e.g., USC qualifying relative) and whether the applicant has satisfied the extreme hardship standard.  The adjudicator makes notes on the processing checklist, which is helpful in making the decision and for later supervisor review. If the case is denied, the file is sent to the National Records Center, where it will be stored.  If it is approved, the file will be sent to the Texas Service Center.  The TSC holds on to the case files so they can be matched up later after the applicant immigrates.  The NBC sends the applicant and the representative the written approval or denial decision.

The NBC sends the National Visa Center (NVC) an electronic data report on I-601A receipts on a daily basis, so that the NVC can stop processing the immigrant visa application until there is a decision on the waiver application. A “decisions” report is then sent to the NVC every week, to inform the NVC of waiver application outcomes so that the NVC can then proceed with IV processing. The NBC does not send the actual I-601A decision to the NVC; it only sends notification of whether the I-601A was approved or denied. If the NBC denies the application because it has a “reason to believe” the applicant might be inadmissible under another ground, it only informs the NVC that the waiver application was denied.

For the first two months of provisional waiver adjudication, all applications were reviewed by division supervisors to ensure that the appropriate decisions were being made. Now, all denials are reviewed by the supervisor and approvals only spot-checked.  If a supervisor has questions or concerns about a particular decision, the supervisor is not supposed to tell the adjudicator how to rule in a particular case.  Instead, the supervisor should encourage a dialogue with the adjudicator to find out more about the decision recommendation.  If there is still disagreement as to whether the application should have been approved or denied, the supervisor may go to one of the section chiefs for further guidance.

Every week a report is generated indicating how many applications were adjudicated.  Based on those reports, the process is becoming more efficient.  The NBC is in communication and is sharing data with the State Department to determine whether I-601A applicants who were denied were later approved by the consulate through an I-601 waiver.  It is looking specifically to see if applicants denied based on the “reason to believe” standard were found by the consulate to be inadmissible only for unlawful presence and later approved through an I-601. It is also seeking the opposite type of statistics: whether applicants whose I-601As were approved were later denied by the consulate due to a finding of inadmissibility on a ground other than unlawful presence.  After only six months of provisional waiver adjudication, the statistical evidence is not yet meaningful to draw any conclusions on these issues.

If an I-601A applicant who is denied elects to re-file, the NBC will pull the original application and check it against the new application.

Both ICE and EOIR seem supportive of the provisional waiver process because it allows them to clear cases off their active docket where the respondent is likely to receive an immigrant visa.

Statistics

The NBC has provided the following numbers based on I-601A applications received or adjudicated from March 4 – September 14, 2013:

23, 949 applications sent to Lockbox

17,996 applications accepted by Lockbox

5,953 application rejected by the Lockbox

The reasons for rejection could include no applicant signature, no proof of I-130 approval, no proof of NIV fee paid, or applicant is under 17.  The number of applications received may include re-filings by applicants whose cases were initially rejected at the Lockbox.

The NBC has 12,098 applications in the pipeline, with approximately 2,300 ready for processing. It is averaging approximately 600 applications/week, so it has about four weeks of applications to adjudicate.  With 45 adjudicators currently working these cases, this averages out to each adjudicator handling about 13 applications per week, or about 2.6 per day.  Mr. Blackwood noted that adjudicators have other work responsibilities, including time spent in trainings and at meetings.

The NBC has issued the following decisions:

3,497 approvals (59%)

2,292 denials (39%)

103 admin closures (application returned for various reasons, e.g., filed I-601 instead of I-601A) (2%)

Although applications have been denied for various reasons, the highest number of denials – 1,093, or 48% of all denials – is for “reason to believe.”  The second highest number – 937, or 41% of all denials – is for failure to establish extreme hardship.  Other reasons for denial include abandonment, applicant in proceedings, pending adjustment of status application, lack of qualifying relative, pre-2013 consular interview scheduled, and applicant subject to existing or final order of removal.

At present, the average time between receipt of an application at the Lockbox and decision issuance is 103 days.  The goal is to reduce the adjudication time to 90 days. The NBC adjudicators were working at that pace initially until the “reason to believe” denials became a controversial issue.

Reason to Believe

Mr. Blackwood explained that the provisional waivers working group developing the I-601A regulations and procedures for processing wanted to keep inadmissibility determinations a function of the Department of State, so that USCIS officers would limit their consideration to waiver adjudication. This is because the USCIS has no authority to determine admissibility in a case to be decided by the consulate after the applicant has left the United States and appeared for the interview. In other words, the USCIS did not want its adjudicators analyzing whether the applicant was inadmissible on grounds other than unlawful presence. At the same time, the USCIS did not want to approve I-601As and have the applicant be denied at the consulate for another ground of inadmissibility.

That was the rationale for developing the “reason to believe” standard, where the adjudicators would make a very quick assessment based on the name check and biometrics results as to whether the applicant might be inadmissible on another ground. Under this standard, adjudicators are instructed to deny all applications involving a criminal conviction, regardless of what the conviction is for, when it occurred, or whether it falls within a recognized exception to inadmissibility, like a petty offense.  If  the fingerprint check resulted in a “hit” during an IDENT database search, and it revealed a conviction, then the application was denied under the “reason to believe” standard.  Similarly, if there was an inconsistency in the name or date of birth of the applicant and that provided during CBP processing for voluntary departure after an arrest at the border, the applicant was denied for “reason to believe.”

As the NBC staff soon realized, this broad application of the “reason to believe” standard has led to a high denial rate.  Given this development, Mr. Blackwood announced that, as of six weeks ago, NBC stopped issuing any “reason to believe” denials and is suspending adjudication of cases where this issue is present while USCIS and DOS reconsider the current policy and decide how to proceed in the future.  During this time, cases that involve a potential “reason to believe” issue are being held in abeyance, with no action taken on the case; currently about 1,300 pending applications are affected by this issue and will not be adjudicated until there is further guidance on the reason to believe policy.

Mr. Blackwood noted that if the reason to believe standard is changed so that not all of the denied cases would warrant denial under revised interpretation, the NBC will also consider whether to apply any new policy retroactively and reopen denied cases sua sponte.

While there is no mechanism to appeal a denial or seek reconsideration, the NBC can reopen a case on its own if it believes a denial was made incorrectly. Mr. Blackwood indicated during his presentation that denials under the reason to believe standard that seem clearly wrong could be brought to his attention and he would pull the file to see if the agency made a mistake.  The examples he gave where the standard might have been misapplied include cases where the applicant’s name and date of birth appear inconsistently in DHS data files, but the inconsistency appears to be a clerical error or insignificant.  It would not include cases containing criminal convictions, since the agency is waiting for further instruction before reviewing those.  To bring those cases to his attention, send an e-mail to the authors at sschreiber@cliniclegal.org or cwheeler@cliniclegal.org.  Include the name of the applicant, the waiver receipt number, and the “A” number, as well as a brief description of the issue (e.g., month and day of applicant’s date of birth were transposed; applicant’s name recorded incorrectly).

Adjudication of Extreme Hardship and RFEs

Current policy does not mandate that the agency issue an Request for Evidence (RFE) before issuing a denial.  NBC adjudicators will typically issue an RFE if they believe additional documentation will help them reach a decision in a case.  For example, if an applicant claims a health-related hardship, but only submits financial evidence, the adjudicator will issue an RFE.  Or if the applicant claims multiple hardships but submits only evidence supporting one claimed hardship, or weak evidence of hardship, the adjudicator will issue an RFE for the additional evidence.  But if the applicant claims hardship and the officer believes sufficient evidence was presented but that the extreme hardship standard was not met, then the adjudicator can simply issue a denial without issuing an RFE.  In other words, if additional documentation would not add any value to the hardship claim, the NBC will forego issuance of an RFE.  Mr. Blackwood noted that quality control measures are in place because all denials are reviewed by a supervisor.

Mr. Blackwood explained that RFE response times are set at 30 days so that consular processing is not delayed.  A request for an extension may be considered if there are compelling reasons warranting additional time to respond to the RFE

Comparison with NSC Adjudications of I-601

NBC staff made adjustments to their standards for evaluating extreme hardship that has resulted in more provisional waiver approvals. These adjustments came in the wake of exchanging information and statistical data with the NSC regarding its adjudication of I-601 waivers, as well as reviewing AAO waiver denial reversals.  Mr. Blackwood explained that adjudicators are now assessing extreme hardship to the qualifying relative as impacted by hardships to other family members. As a result, the denial rate has come down and the NBC is approving more applications.  Mr. Blackwood anticipates that the denial rate will continue to go down as adjudicators gain more experience.

Mr. Blackwood also noted that the provisional waiver is more challenging for the applicant, because the hardship to the qualifying relative is prospective, as opposed to the I-601 applicant who has left the United States and whose qualifying relative is already experiencing the hardship.  For this reason, the denial rates will not necessarily be comparable.

Waiver Submission Format 

Mr. Blackwood encourages applicants to submit a cover letter or brief that summarizes the hardships and helps the adjudicator understand the theory of the case. Submit all supporting evidence that is pertinent, such as a doctor’s letter summarizing medical conditions.  Since the Lockbox removes all tabs and bindings, use some kind of pagination system to help identify and segregate supporting documentation.  Even though the application is scanned at the Lockbox, the original submission is still sent to the NBC; any highlighting of important documentation or color dividers separating exhibits will be retained.  If submitting supplemental information after the application has already been submitted, make sure to include the receipt number and the A#.   Avoid sending multiple pages from the Internet on a specific medical condition (e.g., definition of diabetes) or DOS country conditions reports.

Conclusion

Stay tuned for a formal decision from the USCIS on whether the NBC will modify the way it adjudicates I-601As with respect to the reason to believe standard.  Expect the NBC’s current approval rate (approximately 60%, including reason to believe denials) to increase.


Notes from American Immigration Lawyers Association September 27, 2013 Conference in Austin, Texas

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Hot Topics from American Immigration Lawyers Association Fall  Conference in Austin, Texas, September 27, 2013

by Immigration Attorney, Ruby L. Powers, Houston, Texas

– We are all working and hoping for comprehensive immigration reform this Fall 2013 because if we get much beyond Spring 2014, our window for reform might be over. AILA and local chapters are organizing advocacy efforts.

– Reason to Believe denials for Provisional Waivers – AILA will discuss with NBC via a liaison committee meeting in late October 2013 and we are hoping for some more guidance and improvements in the situations.

– Many people are waiting for comprehensive immigration reform and have not flooded Ciudad Juarez like expected. Other attorneys have noted less cases due to suspected anticipation of reform.

– If no other ineligibilities, processing at Consulate in Ciudad Juarez for I-601A waivers will take 2-3 days (this doesn’t take into account biometrics and medical exam)

– Only 50 applications have been adjudicated in Ciudad Juarez for the I-601A provisional waiver as per Consulate General David J. Jendrisak with the Department of State Ciudad Juarez, Mexico post.

– CBP will unveil an online FOIA tracking system on Monday, September 30, 2013.

– New Fiscal year for US Government starts October 1, 2013 and if Congress doesn’t act, funding will be cut for many Government operations related to many aspects to visas and immigration functions.

– Online system for I-94s (paperless) do have issues and AILA and CBP have been working on improving the issues.

– Tactics to challenge mid-wife birth passport application challenges


Immigration advocates claim ” resounding win” in quiet August

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: The Hill, September 2, 2013

Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are claiming victory in the August recess. Their argument? They won because they didn’t lose.

With legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled House, the push to overhaul the immigration system has not dominated the national headlines or evening news during the four weeks that Congress has been taking its annual summer vacation.

Proponents of reform say they entered the recess worried that foes of the effort would flood town-hall meetings and stage large rallies, in a repeat of the Tea Party uprising that threw the push for healthcare reform off track in the summer of 2009. 

Despite efforts by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and others, that dynamic hasn’t materialized.

“What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen,” said Jeremy Robbins, director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is advocating for immigration reform. “August was a resounding win for us.”

The conservative activist Grover Norquist, who is pushing for immigration reform, also cited the lack of major opposition as the dog that didn’t bark in August. “There’s nothing like that,” he told The Hill on Tuesday. “The anti-immigrant stuff is an inch deep and a mile wide.”

At the same time, the modest rallies in favor of reform have fallen short of a groundswell of support.

Advocates say they did not plan their own large-scale rallies but targeted their efforts to individual congressional districts, and they cited endorsements of a path to citizenship by a number of House Republicans as evidence of their success.

“We never approached August with the idea were going to move 100 House Republicans into the yes column,” said Tom Snyder, who is managing the AFL-CIO’s campaign for legislation that includes a path to citizenship.

Snyder and Robbins said on a conference call with reporters Thursday that they always viewed the recess as a potential challenge, citing concerns that Republicans would return to Washington hardened against reform because of opposition from vocal constituents. “Recess is something that panders to the extreme,” Robbins said.

The advocates said they remained optimistic about the chances for final legislation despite the uncertain outlook in the House, where Republicans are likely to focus on fiscal fights until at least October and potentially the entire fall.

A bipartisan proposal from a group of seven negotiators is stalled because Republicans in the group say it lacks support from the majority required by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on immigration legislation.

While lawmakers in both parties have said they want to get a final bill signed by the end of the year in advance of the 2014 midterm elections, advocates said there would still be a window of opportunity early next year before the campaigns begin in earnest.

Boehner has said he wants to get reform done, and backers of the effort said their optimism stemmed in large part because of the electoral imperative that many Republican leaders see in winning over Hispanic voters in future national elections.

“The House Republicans either get it done, or they get blamed for blocking it. It’s as simple as that,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Sharry and others have made clear that while they want to help Republicans succeed, they are threatening serious political consequences in 2014 and 2016 if reform dies.

“We would love to be patting the Republicans on the back for finding a way forward,” Sharry said. “But if they don’t, we will be kicking their ass.”


Path Toward Citizenship or Legalization

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law, Legislative Reform Leave a comment

Originally Published: The Hill’s Congress Blog, August 30, 2013

Controversy over a path toward citizenship is the most important roadblock to immigration reform.

Many conservatives oppose a path to citizenship because it’s unfair to reward law breakers with citizenship.  Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) said, “People that came here illegally knowingly – I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship.”  On the political left, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez  (D-ll.) said he, “is opposed to proposals that bar citizenship or create a permanent non-citizen underclass.”

To Labrador’s point, the heavy fines, fees and bureaucratic abuses that would prod every legalized immigrant on a path toward citizenship are hardly an award for legal behavior.  And to Gutierrez, a legalization status less than citizenship is no more an underclass than the millions of green card or visa holders that currently happily live without becoming citizens.

There is a simple solution to this impasse that could satisfy both camps: Create two paths.

The first path should be toward a permanent work visa where the immigrant cannot apply for citizenship unless he or she serves in the armed forces or marries an American.  This visa should be very cheap – hundreds of dollars – and granted quickly after national security, criminal, and health checks.

The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship. This path should be more difficult and expensive, something similar to the Senate’s path to citizenship. Those legalized unauthorized immigrants who want to become citizens should be able to do so.

For unauthorized immigrants uninterested in citizenship, who just want to work and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation, a simple and low-cost path toward a permanent work permit would save them headaches, uncertainty, and cash.

This would definitely be consistent with conservatives like Labrador who say that unauthorized immigrants do not want citizenship.  “They’re not clamoring for it,” he said earlier this year. “It’s only the activists here in Washington D.C. who keep clamoring for it.”

If Labrador is right, most unauthorized immigrants would choose a more affordable and easier path toward legalization rather than a more expensive and difficult path toward citizenship – if they were given a choice.

A look at the polls, however, indicates that unauthorized immigrants do want citizenship. In fact, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that 87 percent want to become citizens. But if history is any guide, many of those respondents would choose a cheaper and easier form of legalization if it was offered.

The 1986 Reagan amnesty bill created an affordable and straightforward path to a green card and citizenship.  But almost a generation later, only 45 percent of former unauthorized immigrants have naturalized.  The 2013 bill would likely produce an even lower rate of naturalization, as the path to citizenship is much more arduous than the Reagan-era bill.

As a general rule, one-size fits all reforms rarely work well.  A path to citizenship is not likely to be an exception, although it’s better than the status quo.  Allowing a second, simpler path toward a permanent work permit that won’t lead to citizenship will allow otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants, those who will be affected most, to choose their own level of legal status.

Conservatives can say that millions of unauthorized immigrants will be legalized and most won’t choose citizenship, while leftists can say they created a path toward citizenship.  Most importantly, the deportations can stop and immigration can be liberalized.  All of these sides win.

Left-wing interest groups claim to know what’s best for unauthorized immigrants, which is why many of them are pushing for a path toward citizenship.  Conservatives claim that unauthorized immigrants don’t want citizenship, so it shouldn’t even be offered.  Instead, there should be at least two paths toward legal status, one with citizenship and one without, and the immigrants themselves should choose which one they want to individually follow.


Speaking Up for the Voiceless Among Us – Texas Civil Rights Project

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published by James C Harrington, TCRP Director

For Americans, Labor Day is that end-of-summer holiday which wraps up vacation time and ushers in the school year. We don’t remind ourselves that unions originated Labor Day in 1882 to pay tribute to workers, mostly immigrants, who were in the throes of organizing against an economic structure that grotesquely exploited men, women and children in factories, mines and sweat shops and on docks, railroads and ranches.

It is shameful we rarely recall and honor the brave struggle of these workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to better their families’ lives — and our lives. We have a collective amnesia about the nearly half-century of their suffering, jailings, beatings and sometimes death that brought about better wages, increased workplace safety, curtailed child labor, provided retirement and sick leave, and promoted the common good. It eventually gave us the 40-hour work week and eight-hour work day, and it passed minimum wage and overtime pay laws.

The battle goes on

We now take these hard-won rights as a given and rarely recall the immense sacrifice that made our lives better and these rights real. But the struggle is far from over.

The U.S. Economic Policy Institute reports that one percent of this nation holds 35 percent of its wealth. The top 10 percent receive 45 percent of the income, while the other 90 percent split up the remaining 55 percent.

About 46.2 million people live in poverty, a steadily rising number and the largest in the 52 years for which estimates have been published.

Texas has one of the country’s highest poverty rates with nearly four million people at or below the poverty line, pushing 20 percent, well above the national average of about 15 percent. Child poverty is significantly higher in Texas than across the country.

Join TCRP for our 23rd Annual
Bill of Rights Dinner

Featuring Keynote Speaker

Damien Echols
of the “West Memphis Three”

Saturday, November 9th, 2013
University of Texas Alumni Center (Austin)

Info and Tickets Online

Non-college-educated women, working full time, earn 77 percent of what similar male workers make, for which they suffer a detrimental cumulative effect over their lifetime. For African-American workers overall, the comparison with white workers is in the low 70s; and for Hispanic workers, in the low 60 percentile.

This all is partly tied to the demise of full-time jobs with benefits. Ever more common are lower-paying part-time jobs, which require a family to hold two or three to survive. And there are fewer benefits, meaning more out-of-pocket medical costs. Nor is the minimum wage any longer a living wage.

Workers’ rights are based on the inherent dignity of a person. Workers are not simply a means of production like raw materials and capital. They bring unique talents to their jobs. In return, they are entitled to work in conditions that enhance their dignity rather than detract from it.

Solidarity is the key

Martin Luther King Jr. always tied civil rights and economic rights together. In fact, the march we mark for its 50th anniversary was named the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

We belong to one human family — a family that crosses boundaries of race, class and country in an economy that is more globalized and interdependent every day. Our ultimate focus must be the common good, not short-term self-interest. We all must look beyond our boundaries and comfort levels to speak for the voiceless, promote human rights and dignity, and seek the good of all — and future generations. Solidarity is the key.

This is how we can best honor those who brought us Labor Day and made our lives better.


White House Official Says Immigration Reform Vote Not Likely Until October

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published: Fox News, August 28, 2013

The Obama administration’s domestic policy director urged supporters of comprehensive immigration reform on Wednesday to do as the civil rights leaders of the 1960s did – not let opponents defeat them.

Cecilia Muñoz, one of the most senior Latino officials in the White House, linked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with today’s fight for immigration reform in an interview with Fox News Latino.

“Today is about celebrating how far we’ve come and recommitting to the work that is ahead,” Muñoz said, adding that just as the civil rights movement of the 1960s addressed jobs, so does immigration reform.

“Immigration reform is just one piece of the agenda,” she said, “we can now quantify what it means for creating jobs, not just for immigrants, but for the rest of us.”

Muñoz, who has been a point person for Obama on immigration policy, said that significant movement on an immigration reform measure, or measures, was unlikely to happen before October. She said there are few legislative days in September, when members of Congress are to return from summer recess, and that their focus will be the debt ceiling and the budget.

That is later than the August deadline that President Obama had hoped for earlier this year, expressing concern that delays could hurt the chances of an immigration reform bill passing by December.

And in an interview with Fox News Latino a few weeks ago, Muñoz had said she hoped there would be a vote on a reform bill before October.  But on Monday Treasury Secretary Jack Lew set a mid-October debt-ceiling deadline, and some Republicans in the House are saying that it makes major action on immigration bills unlikely in that month, according to Politico.com

Muñoz said there’s no valid reason for more delays on House action on immigration.

The Senate, which passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, showed that “it’s possible to get this job done well and it’s possible to get it done in a bipartisan bill,” she said.

House Republican leaders have said they will not vote on the Senate’s sweeping immigration bill, and that they prefer to address the issue in a piecemeal fashion, through several separate measures.

“It looks like the House will bring [for a vote] some portion of five bills that have been ready since July,” she said.

“They’ve already been through the committee.”

Muñoz said the president is not trying to rush reform legislation.

“We would like a debate” on the House floor, she said. “We think there’s bipartisan support for a reform bill.”

Some Republican leaders who are key to what happens to immigration bills in the House have been particularly vocal in recent weeks about their opposition to the general concept of allowing some undocumented immigrants to legalize their status.

As recently as Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, assailed Obama for issuing a directive that calls on immigration officials to use discretion when considering detaining immigrants who have minor children.

Goodlatte said the directive undermines the efforts in Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the flawed immigration system. Many conservative members of Congress have criticized efforts by the Obama administration to loosen penalties for certain undocumented immigrants, including a 2012 directive suspending deportation for those who were brought to the United States as minors.

Muñoz balked at the criticism.

She said such directives are part of  “a series of building blocks” that were laid out a few years ago in a memo by John Morton, the then-director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling for prosecutorial discretion in the case of undocumented immigrants who were not criminals or tied to terrorism.

“We’re maximizing the law enforcement impact of what we do,” she said, by prioritizing enforcement actions according to categories of undocumented immigrants.

As for Goodlatte, she said, “You could argue with the congressman, or anyone else, who is dissatisfied with our broken immigration system, that is a great argument for fixing it. It’s now abundantly clear. . .the depth and breadth of the constituents who support immigration reform is [now] greater than anyone has ever seen.”

 

 

Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2013/08/28/white-house-domestic-policy-official-says-immigration-reform-vote-not-likely/#ixzz2dqMAqIJB


9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

Originally Published: Washington Post, August 29, 2013.

The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.

Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Read award-winning novelist Teju Cole’s funny and insightful parody of this article, “9 questions about Britain you were too embarrassed to ask

1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s about the same size as Washington state with a population a little over three times as large – 22 million.  Syria is very diverse, ethnically and religiously, but most Syrians are ethnic Arab and follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Civilization in Syria goes back thousands of years, but the country as it exists today is very young. Its borders were drawn by European colonial powers in the 1920s.

Syria is in the middle of an extremely violent civil war. Fighting between government forces and rebels has killed more 100,000 and created 2 million refugees, half of them children.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.

Fighting escalated from there until it was a civil war. Armed civilians organized into rebel groups. The army deployed across the country, shelling and bombing whole neighborhoods and towns, trying to terrorize people into submission. They’ve also allegedly used chemical weapons, which is a big deal for reasons I’ll address below. Volunteers from other countries joined the rebels, either because they wanted freedom and democracy for Syria or, more likely, because they are jihadists who hate Syria’s secular government. The rebels were gaining ground for a while and now it looks like Assad is coming back. There is no end in sight.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

That’s a complicated question, and there’s no single, definitive answer. This is the shortest possible version — stay with me, it’s worth it. You might say, broadly speaking, that there are two general theories. Both start with the idea that Syria has been a powder keg waiting to explode for decades and that it was set off, maybe inevitably, by the 2011 protests and especially by the government’s overly harsh crackdown.

Before we dive into the theories, you have to understand that the Syrian government really overreacted when peaceful protests started in mid-2011, slaughtering civilians unapologetically, which was a big part of how things escalated as quickly as they did. Assad learned this from his father. In 1982, Assad’s father and then-dictator Hafez al-Assad responded to a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising in the city of Hama by leveling entire neighborhoods. He killed thousands of civilians, many of whom had nothing to do with the uprising. But it worked, and it looks like the younger Assad tried to reproduce it. His failure made the descent into chaos much worse.

Okay, now the theories for why Syria spiraled so wildly. The first is what you might call “sectarian re-balancing” or “the Fareed Zakaria case” for why Syria is imploding (he didn’t invent this argument but is a major proponent). Syria has artificial borders that were created by European colonial powers, forcing together an amalgam of diverse religious and ethnic groups. Those powers also tended to promote a minority and rule through it, worsening preexisting sectarian tensions.

Zakaria’s argument is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines. He compares it to the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, after which a long-oppressed majority retook power from, and violently punished, the former minority rulers. Most Syrians are Sunni Arabs, but the country is run by members of a minority sect known as Alawites (they’re ethnic Arab but follow a smaller branch of Islam). The Alawite government rules through a repressive dictatorship and gives Alawites special privileges, which makes some Sunnis and other groups hate Alawites in general, which in turn makes Alawites fear that they’ll be slaughtered en masse if Assad loses the war. (There are other minorities as well, such as ethnic Kurds and Christian Arabs; too much to cover in one explainer.) Also, lots of Syrian communities are already organized into ethnic or religious enclaves, which means that community militias are also sectarian militias. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has developed along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in Zakaria’s view, this is a painful but unstoppable process of re-balancing power.

The second big theory is a bit simpler: that the Assad regime was not a sustainable enterprise and it’s clawing desperately on its way down. Most countries have some kind of self-sustaining political order, and it looked for a long time like Syria was held together by a cruel and repressive but basically stable dictatorship. But maybe it wasn’t stable; maybe it was built on quicksand. Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a coup in 1970 after two decades of extreme political instability. His government was a product of Cold War meddling and a kind of Arab political identity crisis that was sweeping the region. But he picked the losing sides of both: the Soviet Union was his patron, and he followed a hard-line anti-Western nationalist ideology that’s now mostly defunct. The Cold War is long over, and most of the region long ago made peace with Israel and the United States; the Assad regime’s once-solid ideological and geopolitical identity is hopelessly outdated. But Bashar al-Assad, who took power in 2000 when his father died, never bothered to update it. So when things started going belly-up two years ago, he didn’t have much to fall back on except for his ability to kill people.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Yeah, Russia is Syria’s most important ally. Moscow blocks the United Nations Security Council from passing anything that might hurt the Assad regime, which is why the United States has to go around the United Nations if it wants to do anything. Russia sends lots of weapons to Syria that make it easier for Assad to keep killing civilians and will make it much harder if the outside world ever wants to intervene.

The four big reasons that Russia wants to protect Assad, the importance of which vary depending on whom you ask, are: (1) Russia has a naval installation in Syria, which is strategically important and Russia’s last foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union; (2) Russia still has a bit of a Cold War mentality, as well as a touch of national insecurity, which makes it care very much about maintaining one of its last military alliances; (3) Russia also hates the idea of “international intervention” against countries like Syria because it sees this as Cold War-style Western imperialism and ultimately a threat to Russia; (4) Syria buys a lot of Russian military exports, and Russia needs the money.

Iran’s thinking in supporting Assad is more straightforward. It perceives Israel and the United States as existential threats and uses Syria to protect itself, shipping arms through Syria to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas. Iran is already feeling isolated and insecure; it worries that if Assad falls it will lose a major ally and be cut off from its militant proxies, leaving it very vulnerable. So far, it looks like Iran is actually coming out ahead: Assad is even more reliant on Tehran than he was before the war started.

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

Oh man, it gets so much worse. But, yeah, let’s listen to some music from Syria. It’s really good!

If you want to go old-school you should listen to the man, the legend, the great Omar Souleyman (playing Brooklyn this Saturday!). Or, if you really want to get your revolutionary on, listen to the infectious 2011 anti-Assad anthem “Come on Bashar leave.” The singer, a cement mixer who made Rage Against the Machine look like Enya, was killed for performing it in Hama. But let’s listen to something non-war and bit more contemporary, the soulful and foot-tappable George Wassouf: Hope you enjoyed that, because things are about to go from depressing to despondent.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Because it can’t. There are no viable options. Sorry.

The military options are all bad. Shipping arms to rebels, even if it helps them topple Assad, would ultimately empower jihadists and worsen rebel in-fighting, probably leading to lots of chaos and possibly a second civil war (the United States made this mistake during Afghanistan’s early 1990s civil war, which helped the Taliban take power in 1996). Taking out Assad somehow would probably do the same, opening up a dangerous power vacuum. Launching airstrikes or a “no-fly zone” could suck us in, possibly for years, and probably wouldn’t make much difference on the ground. An Iraq-style ground invasion would, in the very best outcome, accelerate the killing, cost a lot of U.S. lives, wildly exacerbate anti-Americanism in a boon to jihadists and nationalist dictators alike, and would require the United States to impose order for years across a country full of people trying to kill each other. Nope.

The one political option, which the Obama administration has been pushing for, would be for the Assad regime and the rebels to strike a peace deal. But there’s no indication that either side is interested in that, or that there’s even a viable unified rebel movement with which to negotiate.

It’s possible that there was a brief window for a Libya-style military intervention early on in the conflict. But we’ll never really know.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

Okay, you’re asking here about the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle signals that it wants to launch some cruise missiles at Syria, which would be punishment for what it says is Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

It’s true that basically no one believes that this will turn the tide of the Syrian war. But this is important: it’s not supposed to. The strikes wouldn’t be meant to shape the course of the war or to topple Assad, which Obama thinks would just make things worse anyway. They would be meant to punish Assad for (allegedly) using chemical weapons and to deter him, or any future military leader in any future war, from using them again.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

You’re definitely not the only one who thinks the distinction is arbitrary and artificial. But there’s a good case to be made that this is a rare opportunity, at least in theory, for the United States to make the war a little bit less terrible — and to make future wars less terrible.

The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century. The institutions that do this are weak and inconsistent; the rules are frail and not very well observed. But one of the world’s few quasi-successes is the “norm” (a fancy way of saying a rule we all agree to follow) against chemical weapons. This norm is frail enough that Syria could drastically weaken it if we ignore Assad’s use of them, but it’s also strong enough that it’s worth protecting. So it’s sort of a low-hanging fruit: firing a few cruise missiles doesn’t cost us much and can maybe help preserve this really hard-won and valuable norm against chemical weapons.

You didn’t answer my question. That just tells me that we can maybe preserve the norm against chemical weapons, not why we should.

Fair point. Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is. But the reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror. In a world without that norm against chemical weapons, a military might fire off some sarin gas because it wants that battlefield advantage, even if it ends up causing unintended and massive suffering among civilians, maybe including its own. And if a military believes its adversary is probably going to use chemical weapons, it has a strong incentive to use them itself. After all, they’re fighting to the death.

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

That’s why the Obama administration apparently wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria, even though it won’t end the suffering, end the war or even really hurt Assad that much.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Short-term maybe the United States and some allies will launch some limited, brief strikes against Syria and maybe they won’t. Either way, these things seem pretty certain in the long-term:

• The killing will continue, probably for years. There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen.

• Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It’s very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it’s hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

• Russia will continue to block international action, the window for which has maybe closed anyway. The United States might try to pressure, cajole or even horse-trade Moscow into changing its mind, but there’s not much we can offer them that they care about as much as Syria.

• At some point the conflict will cool, either from a partial victory or from exhaustion. The world could maybe send in some peacekeepers or even broker a fragile peace between the various ethnic, religious and political factions. Probably the best model is Lebanon, which fought a brutal civil war that lasted 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and has been slowly, slowly recovering ever since. It had some bombings just last week.


Visa Bulletin Released: F2A Visa Category is Now Current

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Law Leave a comment

The Department of State has released the September 2013 Visa Bulletin. According to it, the F2A category(spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent residents) remains current for all countries.

Generally, individuals who are petitioned for by a lawful permanent resident, rather than a United States citizen, must wait until a given date or period before visas will be made available for their category. In some cases, individuals may have to wait several years before visas for their particular category are made available, prompting many immigrants to wait to for years to even put in an application.

As a result of the recent update, rather than having to wait until a later date individuals’ applications that fall underneath the above category are currently being reviewed and visas have been made available. These individuals may now be eligible for adjustment of status, meaning regardless of the date when the petition was filed, if all other requirements are met, they are able to apply for work authorization, and eventually a drivers license and social security number. If you are the spouse or child under the age of 21 of a permanent resident and have already filed, or would like to file petitions in order to gain a visa underneath this category it is advised that you seek legal advice as to how to proceed.

For more information on qualifications and the latest updates to the visa bulletin visit the USCIS.gov website, or the Travel.State.Gov website.

If you are interested in obtaining a visa to enter the United States underneath these conditions or filing an initial application, contact the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers in order to obtain a consultation and further advice on whether or not you qualify.


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