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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Mexican Government Warns of New Deportation Rules in the US

By Peek & Toland on May 17, 2017

Mexicans living in the United States have been urged to “take precautions” by the Mexican government after a controversial and high profile deportation in Arizona.

The Mexican government issued a warning after the deportation in February of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos.

The 36-year-old was deported after she reported to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. Her attorney said she showed up for a routine “check in” regarding an ongoing deportation case, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The detention and deportation of Garcia de Rayos sparked protests and made headlines in the United States and Mexico.

Mexico warns of new deportation rules

Mexican government warns of new deportation rules

Mexico said the deportation reflected the “new reality” for the immigrant community under the Trump administration. On Feb. 13, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement conducted a sweep in Austin that resulted in the arrests of 51 immigrants, 23 of them with criminal records, reported the Statesman.

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Mexican community in the United States faces a more severe application of migration controls.

A previous identity theft conviction led to the deportation of Garcia de Rayos.

The Los Angeles Times reported she grew in a small Mexican town 20 hours from the U.S. border. Her children are both U.S. citizens. They joined their father, who remains in Phoenix.

Garcia de Rayos lived in the United States since she was 14. Immigration agents arrested her during a workplace enforcement immigration raid nine years ago and convicted her of felony identity theft for having false papers that she used to secure work.

The felony conviction resulted in her deportation. The Trump administration said it is targeting so-called “criminal aliens” as it changes the deportation rules. The Mexican mother’s case underwent reviews at multiple levels, immigration officials stated.

Deportation Rules Change Leads to Advice in Austin

The Los Angeles Times article pointed out the Arizona deportation has sewed seeds of anxiety in the immigrant community.

In Austin, the teachers’ union Education Austin sent its union members a flier with advice entitled “What to do if ICE comes to your door.”

The flier recommends immigrants against speaking with ICE agents or even permitting them entry. It urged them to remain silent.

The deportation of Garcia de Rayos alarmed immigrants because she was complying with the rules and her felony conviction was almost a decade ago.

At Peek & Toland, we are committed to keeping immigrant families together. It’s a tough time to be undocumented in Texas. We have successfully fought many deportations. Read our immigration success stories here. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Department of Homeland Security Issues Amendments to EB-5 Investor Visas

By Peek & Toland on May 16, 2017

EB-5 investor visas allow foreign nationals and their families to gain green cards if they make a substantial investment in the U.S. economy.

However, a series of scandals in recent years led to calls for a tightening up of the program.

Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a criminal complaint against Regional Centers in Vermont. Two ski resorts were accused of being part of Ponzi schemes. The resorts went into receivership, leaving some innocent overseas investors facing possible deportation.

EB-5 investor visas face reform

Amendments to the EB-5 investment visas program were recently proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, in what was termed a Modernization Rule. A consultation period ended in April.

A foreign investor will need to bring more money into the United States than previously to benefit from EB-5 investor visas.

The EB-5 program gives green cards to foreign investors who create at least 10 jobs. The required investment amount was $1 million. Investors have also been able to make a $500,000 investment in a designated “Targeted Employment Area” (TEA).

A Targeted Employment Area is identified by a state as an area of high unemployment. It’s usually a rural area designated for economic development. The majority of EB-5 investors have set up businesses in TEAs.

However, an investigation last year pointed to potential gerrymandering that meant EB-5 investors were able to set up businesses in affluent areas for $500,000.

The new rule would:

  • Raise required investment amounts from $1 million to $1.8 million and from $500,000 to $1.35 million in deprived areas to reflect current dollar values; and
  • Allow foreign nationals to retain priority dates if an initial investment fails or stalls as they are waiting for a date to become current;
  • Give the Department of Homeland Security the power to designate regional centers. This would remove that responsibility from the states.

The changes were worked out in the final days of the Obama administration. They will be subject to review by the Trump administration.

If you are an overseas investor who wishes to bring job opportunities to Texas, it’s important to hire an immigration lawyer to help you with complicated EB-5 Investor visas. Please contact us for a consultation.

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Improved Border Security and Enforcement is Promised

By Peek & Toland on May 15, 2017

President Donald Trump wasted little time in issuing an executive order on border security and immigration law enforcement.

The issues were the subject of two executive orders issued on January 25, 2017.

The orders were titled Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. They directed the Department of Homeland Security to start building the wall between the United States and Mexico immediately.

Although the executive order called for an immediate start to the building of that wall, it’s not that simple. Initial funding for the wall could be derived from the existing Secure Fence Act. However, Congress would have to agree to foot the whole bill. By February the anticipated cost rose to $21.6 billion, reported USA Today.

Trump's executive orders promise greater border security

New orders promise greater border security

The figure is double that given earlier by Trump. The cost of acquiring private land, predominantly in Texas, pushed up the estimate.

Other aspects of Trump’s executive order on border security as follows.

  • The ending of the “catch and release” policy.
  • The hiring of more than 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.
  • The setting up of increased detention space at the border to allow the return of detainees to their home countries.
  • Promotion of further agreements with local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.
  • The identification of all sources of direct and indirect federal aid or assistance given to the Government of Mexico.

Border Security to be Bolstered by More Immigration Officers

The executive order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” focuses on enforcement. It includes provisions to:

  • Add another 10,000 immigration officers to perform law enforcement functions.
  • Compile a quarterly basis a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by undocumented immigrants;
  • Identify and defund ‘sanctuary cities.’
  • Establish an Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens which would provide support for family members.
  • Reinstate a Secure Communities Program focusing on the deportation of people who threaten to public safety.

The Secure Communities Program replaces the Obama Administration’s Priority Enforcement Program which more narrowly focused deportation on certain criminal offenders, gang members, and people judged to be a danger to national security.

Trump’s executive order provides a legal framework for increased deportations. At Peek & Toland , we help immigrants in Austin, Round Rock, San Antonio and further afield with their cancellation of removal actions. You can read more about the process here. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Five Impacts of Trump’s Immigration Policies on Businesses

By Peek & Toland on May 12, 2017

President Trump’s immigration executive orders may have a dramatic impact on businesses. However, we won’t know the full impact until his immigration policies are finalized or the courts reach adjudications.

In January, Trump issued an executive order about 15 minutes before the close of business on Friday. It caused chaos at the airports the next day and led to legal action.

The so-called “travel ban” suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Libya from traveling to the United States. After legal setbacks, a new order was issued in March that removed Iraq and softened some parts of the original ban.

The original orders were resisted and fought in the courts where they were blocked.

immigration policies impact business

These executive orders and other immigration policies may have an impact on businesses. The main impacts could be.

1 Restricting the Ability of Businesses to Hire Foreign Talent

Technology and financial institution leaders were quick to condemn the travel ban in January. They included Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive at Goldman Sachs and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The business community fears the ban, whatever form it takes, may impact its ability to attract and retain talent. If global leaders are denied the world’s best talent, the U.S. may suffer and companies could relocate to other countries.

Michael Useem, Wharton management professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, said many companies hire refugees and people who are on non-immigrant visas. He said.

“So many companies hire refugees, people who are on special visas. It’s just who we are, and this seems to knock the air out of us.”

2 Impacting America’s Reputation for Being “Business Friendly.”

While Donald Trump’s proposals to restrict free trade are not directly linked to immigration there is a clear correlation. At one point, the White House appeared to float a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico to finance the building of the border wall to keep out immigrants.

Notwithstanding the trade deficit the U.S. has with Mexico, American companies export approximately $270 billion to its southern neighbor, reported Salon. The article said the idea of steep tariffs is alarming both business leaders and some lawmakers who fear the United States could become a more difficult place to do business.

Texas benefits from a large chunk of the cross-border trade with Mexico.

3 The Need for Greater Vetting of Workers

The president wants businesses to step up their enforcement of immigration laws to ensure they are not hiring undocumented workers. The system of E-Verify may become compulsory.

E-Verify allows employers to obtain electronic verification from the government of an employee’s authorized work status.

It is voluntary but became compulsory in places such as Arizona. In Texas, a bill to require Texas businesses to use E-Verify as a precondition to receiving state contracts, was earmarked as a priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

However, E-Verify proved burdensome and bureaucratic when Arizona and Alabama brought it in more than four years ago, reported the Huffington Post.

The Chinese restaurant P.F. Changs used E-Verify. It was still sanctioned for hiring workers who successfully beat the system and was forced to close eight stores in Arizona.

Some experts claim mandatory use of the system could significantly slow down businesses’ efforts to hire employees.

Immigration Policies May Impact Texas Economy

4 Creating A Disincentive to Overseas Investors

The importance of overseas investors to the U.S. economy is illustrated in recent data from the National Foundation for American Policy as we noted last year.

More than half of U.S. businesses valued at $1 billion or more were started up by immigrants, stated the nonpartisan public policy research.

NFAP said immigrants make up over 70 percent of the key members of management or product development teams. By stemming the flow of investment, the United States could lose out on foreign funding.

5 Posing Obstacles for Future Hiring

The initial travel ban instructed federal agencies to consider more in-person interviews. These were to be held at U.S. consular posts and immigration offices in the United States.

Agents were to be instructed to evaluate whether employer-sponsored foreign workers would become a contributing member of society and make a positive contribution to the national interest.

This would have been a “nebulous” test that gives considerable power to officials, stated an article in FastCompany.com.

Restrictions in H1-B visas will also impact hiring. A recent CNN report said the Trump administration is considering restricting spouses and children of H-1B visa holders from coming to the United States. The administration cut the fast-tracking procedure out of the visa program.

It remains to be seen what final shape Trump’s immigration policies and travel bans will take. However, a hostile and suspicious climate for overseas workers coupled with new restrictions to the visas system could exacerbate uncertainties in future hiring for Texas companies.

 If your company is facing uncertainties in hiring foreign workers to fill a skills gap, we can help. Please call our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration Reform, Visas

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The Impact of Legislation on Texas Sanctuary Cities

By Peek & Toland on May 11, 2017

Texas sanctuary cities are on the front line of the new, more restrictive approach to immigration that’s sweeping the nation.

While President Donald Trump has threatened to defund sanctuary cities nationally, Texas has also initiated legislation.

A bill that withholds dollars from state coffers for sanctuary cities cleared the Texas Senate in February.

Texas ACLU Executive Director Terri Burke told CNN he would fight the bill all the way.

Funding threat to Texas sanctuary cities

Texas sanctuary cities like Austin could lose funds

Under the terms of Senate Bill 4, law enforcement in Texas municipalities and on college campuses would have to hold onto a suspect while US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) checks his or her immigration status. Failure to do so could result in funding being withheld.

If the legislation proceeds the first big fight could occur in Austin. Sally Hernandez, the new sheriff of Travis County has pledged to no longer cooperate with detainer requests from ICE and to keep immigrant families together.

When agents make these requests, they ask county jails to hold immigrants if the feds suspect they might be in the country illegally. These detainer requests are controversial because they are often made without a warrant.

The term “sanctuary city” is not a precise one. Some commentators have suggested Hernandez’s stance makes Austin the state’s first sanctuary city. However, there are other cities in the state that take on some of the characteristics of sanctuary cities.

These are cities that will not sanction the use of municipal funds to enforce federal immigration laws.

Often government employees in these cities are instructed not to inquire about the immigration status of people they come into contact with and instructed not to report undocumented workers.

Governor Warns Texas Sanctuary Cities

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced plans to withhold $1.5 million in state law enforcement grant funding from Travis County after Hernandez laid out her proposals in January.

The state has already paid $300,000 to Travis County but will be withholding the rest.

Hernandez has kept her line about detainer requests. She said by focusing local officers’ time and resources on illegal immigrants, they could be compromising the safety of those they are sworn to protect.

Although she will work with immigration officials on some policy areas, she said her department will not honor detainer requests.

The funds were revoked after Abbott declared a “sanctuary city” ban an urgent priority for Texas lawmakers.

Abbot wants to deny Texas sanctuary cities state funds and even to have the power to remove locally elected officials who fail to comply.

If you have an immigration issue, please call our experienced Travis County immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Under Threat NAFTA Has Benefitted Texas, Studies Find

By Peek & Toland on May 10, 2017

Free trade came under fire in the U.S. Presidential elections and the new occupant of the White House wants to renegotiate NAFTA.

But while the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement may be unpopular in Michigan and Ohio, it’s a different story in Texas.

The Lone Star State’s export economy is the highest in the nation and Mexico is its biggest trading partner.

NAFTA supports Texas jobs

NAFTA supports the Lone Star State

In 2015, Texas exported $92.5 billion in goods to Mexico, stated the International Trade Administration.

As many as 382,000 jobs in Texas are dependent on Mexican trade. Many commentators in Texas fear they will be jeopardized if NAFTA is repealed or amended.

NAFTA has been in place for a quarter of a century. While President Donald Trump may exercise the power to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement, he may need the backing of Congress to renegotiate it.

Both Mexico and Canada, the other two parties to the agreement, have expressed a willingness to renegotiate it, reported the Statesman.

The article said if Trump withdraws from the agreement it may take some time for a replacement to be reached. International trade deals are by their very nature complicated. Negotiations took more than four years to draw up NAFTA

NAFTA Helps Support More than a Million Texas Jobs

The Statesman article warned the withdrawal of the United States from NAFTA would disproportionately impact Texas. A staggering $118 billion – almost half of the state’s exports are to Mexico and Canada, and exports from the Lone Star State support over 1 million jobs.

Texas exports more than $45.3 billion alone in computer and electronic products. The petroleum and coal industries make up $42.7 billion and $39.8 billion respectively in exports.

We recently noted how Trump’s enthusiasm for fossil fuels may benefit oil drillers and the fracking industry in Texas.

Restrictions on NAFTA stand to jeopardize Texas’ role as a hub for international trade.

Barriers both real and economic may cause harm to trade in Texas. Every year, more than 3 million trucks cross into Texas from Mexico and about 2 million rigs head south.

To this extent the border between Mexico and Texas is the front line for international trade.

At Peek & Toland , we advise businesses and families on immigration matters. Please call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Doctor Banned from Returning to the US Sues the Government

By Peek & Toland on May 9, 2017

President Donald Trump’s travel ban of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries was intended to tackle terrorism. However, the case of a Chicago doctor who was unable to return home to the United States, highlighted the wider consequences of January’s action.

Dr. Amer al Homssi said he was “collateral damage” when Trump’s immigration order was issued in January. He ended up stranded in the United Arab Emirates and sued Trump.

After four days in the Middle East, he was allowed to come home, reported the New Yorker.

A Syrian doctor sued over the travel ban

Homssi encountered issues because he is the holder of a Syrian passport. He visited the UAE to get married but when he returned to the airport, the U.S. authorities wrote ‘cancelled’ on his visa and would not let him board the plane.

The doctor works at Christ Hospital in Chicago. He faced losing his medical residency and being returned to Syria if he was not re-admitted to the United States.

More than 30 doctors showed up to an initial court hearing wearing white coats before the doctor was able to return to the United States.

On his return to the United States, Al Homssi had another court date. His attorneys expected him to finalize a settlement that would permit the doctor to stay in the United Sates to complete his residency.

The Courts Block Trump’s Travel Ban

On Feb. 9, a federal appeals court blocked Trump’s contentious travel ban. The President initially vowed to fight it. However, he issued a revised executive order in March that softened the terms of the ban and removed Iraq from the list of affected countries.

The unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel means that citizens of seven mainly Islamic countries were still be able to travel despite Trump’s executive order in January.

The move was a significant setback for the Trump administration and provided a breathing space for nations of the seven countries such as Al Homssi who were at risk of not being allowed back into the country.

There are confusing times for national of other countries who are in the United States whether green card or visa holders.

If you need the help and assistance of an Austin family immigration attorney, do not hesitate to contact us at (512) 474-4445.

 

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Immigration Benefits – The Uncertainties Under Trump’s Executive Orders

By Peek & Toland on May 8, 2017

The states that opposed Donald Trump’s contentious travel ban claimed immigration benefits them and they would face deprivation if the ban was imposed.

In January, Trump issued an immigration executive order. It banned refugees from arriving in the United States for 120 days. The order would keep out arrivals from seven predominantly Muslim nations for three months. The countries in question were Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. The ban on Syrians was meant to be an indefinite one.

The executive order sparked protests and confusion. It also led to a flurry of legal hearings as the ban was suspended. In March, a revised ban removed Iraq from the list. It also removed the indefinite ban on Syrians.

immigration benefits were a factor in legal case against travel bans

Opponents of Trump’s travel bans cited immigration benefits

James Robart, a U.S. District Judge in Seattle, issued the broadest ruling against the ban. Trump later criticized Robart in tweets

Robart considered the lawsuit brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota.

Lawyers for the states said they were acting in their role of parens patriae of the residents within their borders. In other words, the states were giving themselves the power to act on behalf of people who could not act on their own behalf.

Robart’s decision temporary stayed key portions of the executive order related to terrorism. The judge agreed that the order would be detrimental to the states that would experience “immediate and irreparable injury” as a result of the orders.

Judge Said Immigration Benefits Washington State

Robart said the states would lose out from the orders in areas like education, employment, commerce, relations with families and the freedom to travel.

Last year, when Texas led the lawsuit against former President Obama’s executive order to reform immigration, the state’s lawyers tried to prove that allowing more undocumented immigrants to remain and work would hike up the costs of driving licenses.

Robart said Trump’s executive order would impact the missions and operations of educational establishments that would lose students and income. Washington and Minnesota were losing key immigration benefits, according to his rationale.

The judge temporarily blocked aspects of the executive order nationwide pending a decision on the merits of the lawsuit. Days later three judges on the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco upheld Robart’s ruling.

There is a lack of consensus about immigration benefits and immigration remains a polarizing issue. Studies referred to by the George W Bush Institute suggest immigrants fuel economic activity. They cause a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus.”

At Peek & Toland , we recognize the benefits of immigrants and can help you assess your immigration options in the United States. Please contact us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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The Distinction between Murder and Manslaughter in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 5, 2017

Homicides occur with an alarming regularity in Texas’ cities and locations such as Austin and San Antonio have seen a recent spike. However, not all homicides are treated the same. If you are convicted of a killing you may be sentenced to murder or the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The key difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas is the issue of intent.

A crime is charged as a murder when a life is taken with malice. However, a manslaughter charge can be brought if a victim is killed in the absence of malice or through recklessness.

The distinction between murder and manslaughter

Killings may be murders or manslaughters

Manslaughter Laws in Texas

The State of Texas defines manslaughter as “a person recklessly [causing] the death of an individual.” When a prosecutor brings a manslaughter charge he or she must have enough evidence to prove the offender committed manslaughter beyond all reasonable doubt.

There is no requirement to prove maliciousness or premeditation as in the case of murder. The only requirement is to prove recklessness or carelessness.

Many states have a distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. However, Texas lacks this distinction. It recognizes a series of different types of manslaughter, namely:

  1. Intoxication manslaughter: The killing of another person while drunk. These offenses usually involve driving.
  2. Vehicular manslaughter: The killing of another while the offender is driving a vehicle.
  3. Criminally negligent homicide: This charge is slightly different because it can be brought if the offender was negligent rather than reckless although there is often a gray area.

In a well-known Texas case, a defendant was convicted of criminally negligent homicide when he heard a commotion outside his house, shot at what he thought was a dog and killed a person.

Manslaughter charges in Texas are second-degree felonies. On conviction, you can face a two to 20 years in a prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Murder in Texas

Not all murders are equal. The crime is divided into first and second-degree murder in many states, In Texas, there is a distinction between “capital murder” and “murder.”

There are certain defined criteria for capital murder which carries the death penalty in Texas. You can read more here.

You can be charged with capital murder for.

1 The killing of a police officer or a firefighter

2 A killing for hire

3 Murdering someone while being in prison

4 Killing multiple people.

You can receive the death penalty for capital murder but you may also be charged with life in prison with no possibility of parole.

A murder charge without capital implications is a first-degree felony. If convicted, you can receive from 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Although intent is the factor that distinguishes between murder and manslaughter, you don’t necessarily need to have intended to kill a victim to be charged with murder.

If the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm or to commit a felony other than manslaughter that resulted in death, he or she can be charged with murder.  A common example is an armed robbery that goes wrong and the victim is shot dead. Even though the robber may not have intended to kill the victim when he robbed a store or another premises, the fact he was committing a felony will result in a murder charge.

Murder and manslaughter are extremely serious charges. If you have been charged with one of these offenses, it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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New Map Shows How Many Undocumented Immigrants Work in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 4, 2017

The issue of undocumented immigrants working is a controversial one in Texas and elsewhere. It was a major issue in the recent presidential election campaign.

Recent research by the Pew Center looked closer at this unauthorized immigrant workforce. It provided figures on how many undocumented workers are present in Texas and other states.

Obtaining figures about the size of the unauthorized immigrant workforce is problematic. Undocumented workers are not allowed to work. There is no official paper trail. The Pew Center relied on estimates using government census data.

The report said about 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. were working or looking for work in 2014. They make up about five percent of the civilian labor force.

mapping undocumented immigrants in Texas

The unauthorized immigrant workforce expanded rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s. The unlawful immigrant workforce fell slightly compared to the start of the recession in 2007.

Unsurprisingly, states with the largest populations of undocumented immigrants have the largest number of undocumented workers.

California had about 1.7 million unauthorized immigrant workers in 2014, Texas, had 1.1 million and New York had 600,000.

Undocumented workers make up about 8.5 percent of the overall workforce in Texas.

The size of the unauthorized immigrant workforce has not changed markedly in the Lone Star State since 2009.

The workforce grew in Washington, Utah, Virginia, Minnesota, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and fell in California, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, South Carolina and Rhode Island.

The nation’s 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants comprised just over a quarter of America’s 43.6 million foreign-born residents in 2014.

Undocumented Immigrants Are More Likely to be of Working Age

The Pew Center survey also showed that unauthorized immigrants make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (5 percent in 2014) than of the overall US population (3.5 percent).

They are disproportionately likely to be younger of a working age. The study found just over 90 percent of unauthorized immigrant men aged 18 to 64 were working or looking for work two years ago, compared with 79 percent of U.S.-born men of similar age and 84 percent of lawful immigrants in a similar age range.

Texas has one of the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants of any state. If you require help please contact our Austin immigration lawyers for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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