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USCIS to Welcome International Entrepreneurs

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Immigration Trends, Investment Immigration Leave a comment

USCIS Proposes Rule To Welcome International Entrepreneurs

Powers Law Group, P.C.

November 5, 2016

By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers

USCIS proposed a rule on August 26, 2016, which would allow certain international entrepreneurs temporary permission to be in the United States, known as parole, so that they may start or scale their businesses in the United States. The rule was open for comment for 45 days until October 10. See notice here.

Under this rule, the DHS may parole, on a case-by-case basis, eligible entrepreneurs of startup enterprises. The entrepreneur must demonstrate that his or her parole into the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation.

It appears this proposed rule would be ideal for investors with start-ups, those from non-E-2 countries, and/or for those who don’t have the capital for the EB-5 program.  It has great promise and is very welcomed in the immigrant and investor community.

An applicant must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • The applicant’s startup was recently formed in the U.S. within the past 3 years;
  • The applicant possesses a substantial ownership interest (15 percent or more) in the startup and has an active and central role in its operations; and
  • The startup has either:
    • (1) received substantial investment from U.S. investors with established records of successful investments; or
    • (2) received substantial awards or grants from certain Federal, State, or local government entities.
      • In the alternative, an applicant who partially meets one or both of the above criteria, may be considered for parole if he or she provides additional reliable and compelling evidence of the startup’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

If granted, parole would provide a temporary initial stay of up to 2 years, which may be extended up to an additional 3 years only when the entrepreneur’s startup continues to provide a significant public benefit, as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue, or job creation.

Other things to consider:

  • The entrepreneur will have work authorization, but limited to the specific start-up listed on the application.
  • Parole may also be granted for the entrepreneur’s spouse and children, and spouses may apply for work authorization.

This proposed rule will not take effect until the final rule is published in the Federal Register.


2016: Cosas por considerar para aplicantes de Asilo

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Asylum, Immigration Trends Leave a comment

Powers Law Group, P.C.

Octubre 3, 2016

Por la Abogada certificada en Inmigración Ruby, L. Powers

Asilo es la protección legal otorgada por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, hacia una persona que pueda demostrar que tiene un “motivo bien fundamentado para temer por su vida” basado en su raza, religión, nacionalidad, opinión política, o por pertenecer a un grupo social en particular. Mucha gente no sabe que el asilo es una opción para entrar y permanecer en los Estados Unidos cuando ciertos requerimientos son cumplidos. Si el asilo es una opción viable para usted, es importante recordar que el tiempo es crucial, ya que las aplicaciones para asilo deber de ser archivadas dentro del primer año de su última entrada al país. Aunque, hay algunas excepciones a la fecha límite de este año, la cual incluye que se demuestre que las circunstancias han cambiado o existen circunstancias fuera de lo común, tome en cuenta que puede tomar tiempo el poner en orden recolectar y poner en orden todos los documentos apropiados para presentar un caso bien fundamentado, así que planee con tiempo.

Come aplicante de asilo, usted califica para aplicar para un permiso de trabajo 150 días después de mandar su aplicación para asilo. Después de aplicar para un permiso de trabajo, puede tomar de 1 a 3 meses para el fallo (aprobado o negado) de el permiso. Una vez que se reciba la autorización de trabajo usted puede aplicar para obtener un número de seguro social y  una licencia de conducir, o si ya cuenta con una, renovarla.

Actualmente, le está tomando dos años a la oficina de Asilo en Houston para agendar entrevistas,  ya que procesa aplicaciones de Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nuevo México, Utah y Wyoming. En primavera del 2016, una oficina auxiliar abrió sus puertas en Nuevo Orleans procesando aplicaciones de Louisina, Arkansas, Mississippi y Tennessee. El bufete de Powers Law Group tiene experiencias con ambas oficinas.

Usted debe de tomar en cuenta que no solamente la aplicación y la preparación son importantes, sino también su preparación para la entrevista. Algunos abogados no incluyen ese servicio en sus cuotas legales, así que es importante que su caso sea asesorado por un abogado con experiencia en cuestiones de asilo y una vez que lo haya contratado saber qué servicios están incluidos.

Powers Law Group tiene un amplio historial representando clientes de varios Estados para casos de Asilo en Estados Unidos (con la oficia de asilo), los cuáles han sido satisfactoriamente aprobados, así como también cuenta con experiencia en caso defensivos  (corte de inmigración) incluyendo: Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Syria. Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda, Pakistan, Nepal, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, China y más. Si usted está interesado en aprender más acerca del proceso de asilo, por favor agende una consulta con nosotros.


Tiempo de espera para el proceso de  el perdón provisional de estadía ilegal: tendencias actuales

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Consular Processing, I-601A Waivers, I-601A waivers, Immigration Trends, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

Powers Law Group, P.C.

Octubre 3, 2016

Por la Abogada certificada en Inmigración, Ruby L. Powers

En el bufete de abogados de Powers Law Group, tenemos una extensa experiencia en perdones, hemos preparado y presentado un gran número de perdones provisionales desde el comienzo del programa en Marzo del 2013 y esperamos poder archivar más con la reciente expansión que se dio en Agosto del 2016.

Actualmente, el proceso para el perdón provisional de esposo (a) peticionario (a) para el miembro de la familia que califica, está tomando de 18 a 24 meses para ser finalizado. A continuación se provee un desglose detallado del tiempo de espera para el tiempo de espera para el perdón provisional.

  • Paso uno: I-130 Petición para el miembro extranjero:
    • 5-7 meses, puede tomar más tiempo si la demanda aumenta.
  • Paso 2: Centro Nacional de Visa ( National Visa Center) Parte I:
    • 1 mes después de que la tarifa ha sido recibida
  • Paso 3: El perdón provisional es archivada:
    • 7 meses para el fallo (adjudicación)
  • Paso 4: Centro Nacional de Visa( National Visa Center) Parte II:
    • 2-3 meses para el fallo ( adjudicación)
  • Paso 5: Cita para la visa/ Conectar la aprobación del perdón con el Consulado de los EE.UU. y obtener la visa.
    • 1-3 meses para la notificación de la entrevista, dependiendo del correo del consulado.

 

Por favor tome en cuenta que estos tiempos de espera son estimados basados en las recientes tendencias de espera de el gobierno y no se toma en consideración el tiempo que le tome al cliente y al abogado preparar el caso. Aunque, esto puede percibirse como un proceso tardado, es una inversión a futuro. Nuestros clientes nos han agradecido el que los hallamos alentado a completar el proceso, ya que un al obtener éxito en el proceso y poder regresar a EE. UU con un permiso de residencia, le permitirá obtener un permiso de trabajo, un número de seguro social y una licencia de conducir. Una exención provisional le da el alivio y seguridad de que usted se encuentra legalmente en el país y con un camino hacia la ciudadanía.

Por favor llame para una consulta si usted desea que su caso sea revisado para ver si usted o su algún miembro de su familia califican.

 


Things to Consider for Asylum Applications

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Asylum, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, pathway to citizenship, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

Powers Law Group, P.C.

October 3, 2016

By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers

Things to Consider for Asylum Applications

Asylum is the legal protection afforded by the United States government to a person who can demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Many people do not know that asylum is an option to enter or remain in the United States when certain criteria are met. If asylum is a viable option for you, it is important to remember that timing is critical, as asylum applications must be filed within one year of your last entry. Although there are exceptions to this one year filing deadline, which include demonstrating changed circumstances or extraordinary circumstances, keep in mind that it can take time to gather the appropriate documents and prepare a strong case for submission, so plan accordingly.

As an asylum applicant, you are eligible to apply for work authorization 150 days after submission of your aslyum application. After applying for work authorization, it could then take 1-3 months for adjudication for the work authorization. Upon receiving work authorization you will be able to apply for a social security number and a driver’s license or renew it.

The Houston Asylum Office is currently taking about two years to schedule interviews, and processes applications from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.   In Spring 2016, a sub-office of the Houston Asylum Office opened in New Orleans processing applications from Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Powers Law Group has experience in both offices.

You should remember that not only is the application preparation process important, but your interview preparation is equally as important. Some attorneys do not include this service as part of their legal fees, so it is important to have your case assessed by an experienced asylum immigration attorney and upon hiring the attorney, know which services are included.

Powers Law Group has a long history of experience representing clients from various countries for US asylum affirmatively (with asylum office) and defensively (immigration court) including: Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda, Pakistan, Nepal, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, China and more. If you are interested in learning more about the asylum process, please schedule a consultation with us.


Current Trends in Provisional Waiver Processing Times

Posted on by Ruby Powers in Consular Processing, I-601 Waivers, I-601A Waivers, I-601A waivers, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

Powers Law Group, P.C.

October 3, 2016

By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers

Provisional Waiver Processing Times: Current Trends

At Powers Law Group, we have extensive experience in waivers in general  and have filed many successful provisional waivers since the program’s inception in March 2013 and look to have more filed with the recent program’s expansion from August 2016.

Currently, the provisional waiver process is taking about 18-24 months to complete from start to finish for a spouse-petitioner/qualifying relative case.  Below is a more detailed breakdown of the provisional waiver processing times:

  • Step 1: I-130 Petition for Alien Relative
    • 5-7 months, could take longer when demand increases from the expansion
  • Step 2: National Visa Center Part I
    • 1 month after approval to receive fee bills
  • Step 3: Provisional Waiver Filing
    • 7 months for adjudication
  • Step 4: National Visa Center Part II
    • 2-3 months for adjudication
  • Step 5: Visa appointment/Connect Waiver Approval with U.S. Consulate & Obtaining Visa
    • 1-3 months for notice of interview depending on the consular post

Please note that these times are estimates based off recent trends in government processing times and do not take into consideration attorney & client preparation. Although this may seem like a lengthy process, it is an investment in your future. Our clients have been grateful for our encouragement to complete the process because successful completion and return to the U.S. with a green card allows you to obtain work authorization, a Social Security number, and a driver’s license.  With a provisional waiver you can have the security and peace of mind that you are in legal status with a path towards citizenship.

Please call for a consultation if you would like a review of your case to see if you or a family member might qualify.


Are you a foreign national in the US and worried you might get laid off?

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

Are you a foreign national in the US and worried you might get laid off?

August 23, 2016

By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers, Powers Law Group, P.C.

If you are a foreign national living in the US with a valid immigration status allowing work authorization, there has been fear in the Houston economy of layoffs related to the low oil prices for the last two years.  From the consultations that our firm has seen, here are a few observations and suggestions:

OBSERVATIONS:

  1. Companies are sending their expats back home or to other countries soon, if they haven’t already. In some cases they notify you of this in advance.
  2. Many times there are warning signs but an individual might only have one month’s notice of a lay off.
  3. Individuals with children in school and home owners usually need more than a month to pack up, leave the US, and make accommodations.
  4. It is generally easier to find work while in the US for a US-based job but due to the economy, the market is flooded with eligible US workers also searching for work.

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. If you think you might be laid off and you are in the US based on your work visa, get a consultation with an immigration attorney experienced in employment-immigration ASAP to consider your options, which might take time to put into place.
  2. Consider opening a business under your spouse or yourself if you or spouse are eligible for an E-2 visa. The list of countries eligible is long. Spouses are allowed to work in valid E-2 status.
  3. Have money saved up in case you need to pack and move your belongings and your severance package doesn’t cover moving costs. As you already know, international moving costs vary greatly and selling houses and cars take time and could come at a loss.
  4. Have your resume/CV and credentials evaluated as a possible National Interest Waiver

It is better to be prepared than having a consultation a week before you are supposed to be leaving the US.  We have experience with this and have been helping foreign nationals bounce back as quickly as possible but it takes planning and the right expertise.


President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration – Update – May 2016

Posted on by Ruby Powers in DREAM Act, immigration bill, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, Legislative Reform, Processing of Applications and Petitions Leave a comment

President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration – Update

By Board Certified Houston Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers

Powers Law Group, P.C.

May 23, 2016

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions to limit illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

The two initiatives, most important to many immigrants, include expanded DACA and DAPA:

  • Expanding the population eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to people of any current age who entered the United States before the age of 16 and lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010, and extending the period of DACA and work authorization from two years to three years.
  • Allowing parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to request deferred action and employment authorization for three years, in a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA), provided they have lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010, and pass required background checks.

Due to a federal court order initiated from the state of Texas from February 16, 2015, USCIS was not able to accept requests for the expansion of DACA on February 18, 2015 as originally planned and suspended implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The court’s temporary injunction, issued February 16, did not affect the existing DACA. Individuals could continue with requesting an initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA under the original guidelines.

The federal court order litigation escalated to the Supreme Court. On April 18, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Texas. There are only eight justices, normally nine, currently on the bench after Justice Alito Scalia’s February 2016 passing. If there is a tie of 4-4 at the Supreme Court, then the case will be sent back to the 5th Circuit, which will maintain the unfavorable ruling for immigrants.  It is believed Justice Scalia’s death will not affect the decision as he would have ruled against it anyway.

It is thought that since the case has a mixture of issues not only immigration law but also on legal points of standing and executive power, that the case might be favorable to the Administration and immigrants with a 5-3 holding and possibly a narrow decision on use of executive power. Listening to the justices during the oral argument, it didn’t seem like they believed that Texas would be so inconvenienced by issuing driver’s licenses to all people who are approved DAPA and expanded DACA as an undue burden. This was the main reason Texas said it contested the President’s actions.  One concern is that one state can’t just challenge the President’s executive power when they want to and put the process on hold. Another concern is that the President’s executive powers not to be broadened more than allowed in the Constitution.

The results of the Supreme Court case should be released by mid to late June 2016. According to recent history, USCIS normally takes about 60 days or so to implement new programs. For example, the initial DACA was announced June 15, 2012 and started August 15, 2012. At an April 2016 American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in Washington, D.C., USCIS officials stated they couldn’t plan for DAPA and expanded DACA but they could think about it. They also stated it normally takes USCIS about 6 months to locate, hire, and train personnel. These announcements were not what immigration attorneys wanted to hear due to the limited time available before the next President takes office.

Considering we might learn the Supreme Court ruling in mid-June and wait until mid-August for implementation, we are very close to an unpredictable November election putting in place a new President by January 2017. The rest of 2016 will be very interesting as timing is crucial and we have already waited a year and a half since the President’s November 2014 announcement.

For many interested in applying if DAPA or expanded DACA were to be approved, they should collect evidence of residence since 2010, proof of their children’s birth certificates and/or statuses (for DAPA), and their criminal and immigration history if they have any.  As potentially 3.7 million are awaiting the results, it would be best not to wait until the last minute to collect items that can sometimes take weeks or months to obtain.

For more information:

American Council on Immigration

USCIS on Executive Action


The Expected Expansion of the Provisional Waiver (I-601A)

Posted on by Ruby Powers in citizenship, Consular Processing, Deportation, I-601 Waivers, I-601A Waivers, Immigration Law, Immigration Trends, pathway to citizenship Leave a comment

The Expected Expansion of the Provisional Waiver (I-601A)

By Board Certified Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers

November 4, 2015

The Provisional Waiver (I-601A) process currently allows certain people who are present in the United States to request from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a provisional waiver for certain unlawful presence grounds of inadmissibility prior to departing from the United States for consular processing of their immigrant visas—rather than applying for a waiver abroad after the immigrant visa interview using the Form I-601, Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to expand eligibility for provisional waivers to include aliens in all statutorily eligible immigrant visa categories, including family-sponsored immigrants, employment-based immigrants, certain special immigrants, and Diversity Visa program selectees, together with their derivative spouses and children.  It also proposes expanding who may be considered a qualifying relative for purpose of the extreme hardship determination to include legal permanent resident spouses and parents.  This has a far reaching scope and is a refreshing positive change in light of deadlocked reform and executive actions being held in litigation all year.

Before the existing and more limited provisional waiver rule was implemented in March 4, 2013, many families had to be separated for 4 to 18 months to complete a legal permanent residency process via consular processing due to an illegal entry or other grounds of inadmissibility. Before the provisional waiver, clients might have been able to stay in Mexico only 4 months due to the generous pilot program in Cd. Juarez, Mexico or in some cases wait 18 months in Honduras or longer, if an appeal was sought and in other countries there were inconsistent waiting times. Obviously, there were hesitations for families to proceed with this process for legalization.

Then the idea of the Provisional Waiver was formulated as a way to allow certain family members to apply for the waiver in the U.S., and prevent waiting and separation times abroad. The concept was proposed in January 2012 and initially opened for Federal Register comment period on January 9, 2012 and again April 2, 2012. The rule was announced January 3, 2013 and began 60 days later, on March 4, 2013.

After the Provisional Waiver program began, the Law Office of Ruby L. Powers has been able to help countless families gain legal permanent residency for family members who only need to remain out of the country for 2 to 4 weeks, sometimes for less time, to complete their consular processing. From fiscal years 2013 to 2015, 74,439 waivers were filed and of those 44,198 waivers were approved and 18,773 waivers were denied.  It was such a success that the DHS would like to expand it to people in all statutorily eligible immigrant visa categories and expand the qualifying member for the waiver to spouses and citizens of legal permanent residents as well.

On November 20, 2014, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a memorandum, “Expansion of the Provisional Waiver Program,” directing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to amend its regulations to expand access to the provisional waiver program, to provide additional guidance on the definition of “extreme hardship,” and to “consider criteria by which a presumption of extreme hardship may be determined to exist.”

Currently DHS is proposing to expand eligibility for provisional waivers to include as qualifying relatives, who can establish extreme hardship, an LPR spouse or parent, not just to U.S. citizen spouses or parents, as it currently stands.  This would be in the interests of encouraging eligible aliens to complete the visa process abroad, promoting family unity, and improving administrative efficiency. The expansion of the provisional waiver program would be a welcome change. The hardships suffered by preference category families, who face the same lengthy separation from loved ones when they seek legal permanent resident status, are as equally compelling as those suffered by immediate relatives. Opening up the provisional waiver process to these individuals will offer more measurable benefits to USCIS and DOS, will further facilitate legal immigration by encouraging a more sizable group to come out of the shadows, and comports with USCIS’s goal of alleviating unnecessary familial hardships.                 On July 22, 2015, the Federal Register opened a 60-day public comment period on the expansion of the provisional waiver which ended September 21, 2015. As we see, the previous provisional waiver had two comment periods and took a year of discussion that was noted to the public. In this case, the expansion was noted nearly a year ago on November 20, 2014 and we greatly hope the rule will be in place in early 2016.

Additionally, the new rule may have a more concise definition of extreme hardship, the standard one must meet for a successful provisional waiver.  This will allow legal practitioners to save their clients time and money by telling them what specific type of evidence is required to prove extreme hardship and accordingly streamline the process and shorten the processing times for cases filed meeting the new guidelines. Currently there are only a few cases that hold guidance and a large room for discretion which can cause varying results in the applications and outcomes.

If you may know someone who could benefit from this expanded provisional waiver, although it is not a rule yet, it is helpful to have a consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.  Ideally, learn if the attorney and their firm have extensive experience with waivers. It is important to plan in advance in case freedom of information act requests, FBI background checks, and collection of other documents are necessary. Additionally, in many cases certain processes would need to be started with requisite wait times before the waiver process may begin. In some cases, preparation, research and strategy take time. Once this rule is in effect, many people will be searching for help to see how it could benefit them.

Furthermore, we would like to warn you and others about the use of people who practice law without a license. In Texas, people often called ‘notarios’ frequently persuade people needing immigration legal services that the process is simple and an attorney is not needed. In the process, they are acting illegally by providing legal advice without a license and many times put people in difficult situations that are hard to correct.

The Law Office of Ruby L. Powers has had continued success with waiver and provisional waivers reuniting families from many countries.   I regularly speak locally and nationwide on the topic of waivers and am regularly consulted by other attorneys on problem cases. We have a team with many years of immigration, consular processing, and waiver experience specific to this article’s topic. We pride ourselves in quality service and helping guide clients through the arduous process to a reunification, peace of mind, greater financial and emotional stability and an improved life in the United States.


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.”


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