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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Department of Homeland Security Steps up Social Media Monitoring of Foreign Visitors

By Peek & Toland on June 30, 2017

The new administration’s so-called “extreme vetting” policies are inherent in the recent travel bans. They extend to stepping up the monitoring of social media platforms of foreign visitors to the United States.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed it is continuing to expand the scrutiny of the social media presence of travelers from abroad and foreign nationals who are applying for U.S. immigration benefits.

John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security said the Trump Administration’s “extreme vetting” policies could include requesting foreign visitors to provide details of their use of social media and other websites.

The move would represent a more intrusive approach to vetting. Currently, the DHS asks some foreign visitors to the United States to voluntary disclose this information. Last summer, the federal government announced foreign visitors would be asked to disclose their social media accounts, although the request was not compulsory.

Social media monitoring of immigrants is taking place

More social media monitoring is taking place of immigrants

Since December, visitors entering the United States from visa waiver program (VWP) countries have been asked about their social media use. The request includes asking them to name platforms and usernames via an optional question on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization form.

The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) use publicly available information from social media information in fraud investigations and other adjudications.

However, Kelly upped the stakes in February in the wake of a travel ban affecting refugees and visa applicants from seven (now six) Muslim-majority countries. Visitors would be asked to hand over their login details for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites as part of the standard security check

If you are traveling to the United States, you should be very careful about what you post on social media.  Anything posted online is open for potential scrutiny by immigration officials when requests for immigration benefits and admission to the United States are made.

Extreme Vetting of Foreign Visitors is Stepped Up

The Trump administration has raised the prospect of “extreme vetting.” It is yet to flesh out the details. Secretary Kelly, however, has made it clear in comments to Congress that it’s likely to including asking foreign visitors to supply passwords and user names for social media accounts. Failure to do so could result in a denial of access to the country.

Foreign visitors may already have their electronic devices such as smart phones, laptops or tablets searched by U.S. Customs and Border Control officials.

Trump has also been short on specifics about extreme vetting. In a speech during the election campaign in 2016, he referred to “extreme, extreme vetting,” intended to bar anyone who does not share “American values” from the United States,

He said until an appropriate test is ready, the U.S. should temporarily suspend immigration from countries with histories of spawning terrorists.

Two executive orders containing travel bans have been released to date, but we know little more about extreme vetting.

It’s clear that this is an uncertain time to travel. The rules are changing fast. Make sure to have the correct documents such as visas with you all the time when traveling Be cautious about what you post on social media.

If you encounter any problems, please contact an experienced Texas immigration attorneys. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Father from El Salvador with No Criminal Record is Deported from Houston

By Peek & Toland on June 29, 2017

The Trump administration promised to prioritize the deportation of unlawful immigrants with criminal records. However, a father from Houston with no criminal convictions was among those deported.

Just says after President Donald Trump pledged to remove gang members and drug dealers in his speech to Congress in February, immigration agents deported a 31-year-old father of two American children from Houston. Jose Escobar lived in the United States since he was 15. He previously gained a temporary reprieve from deportation, reported the Houston Chronicle.

Escobar who was born in El Salvador, was arrested on Feb. 22 when he attended the Houston immigration office for his annual check-in. Escobar benefitted from a provisional stay of deportation. He had a work permit since 2012, when he was released from immigration custody following a high-profile congressional and media campaign.

Jose Escobar was deported to El Salvador

Cesar Espinosa, whose advocacy organization FIEL Houston lobbied in Escobar’s case, said he was deported so quickly it did not have the chance to make its case.

President Trump pledged to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, especially those with violent offenses to their name.

Escobar did not commit any crimes. He ended up deportation proceedings due to a paperwork mistake.

When he was 15, his mother who was living in the United States sent for him. He qualified for temporary protected status under a clause applying to people escaping disasters in certain countries. Escobar’s mother thought his permit would automatically renew when she reapplied for hers. She was incorrect.

The family moved and they did not receive paperwork informing Escobar he had missed the deadline.

When he finally worked out a glitch occurred, he attempted to reapply for the permit but was too late. The U.S. government started deportation proceedings. Escobar’s wife said an attorney told him he should not attend the court hearing for fear of being deported. The judge ordered him removed from the United States in 2006.

The order was not enforced at the time. The family lived quietly in New Orleans and Texas. However, immigration agents arrested Escobar on June 6, 2011. His wife consulted immigration lawyers, a Change.org petition was started and the family enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Jose Escobar is Back in El Salvador After Being Deported

After spending seven months in detention, Escobar was released in January 2012 on an order of supervision. It was in effect a provisional stay of deportation. Escobar was required to check in with immigration agents annually and given a temporary work permit.

His time in the United States abruptly ended when he reported in this year. He is now in back in El Salvador.

Although the Trump administration has put the emphasis on the deportation of undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, Escobar was the victim of a paperwork mistake years ago. His arrest sends an alarming message to those immigrants who start families and make a valuable contribution to the United States.

If you or a family member is threatened with deportation, you should contact an experienced Texas cancellation of removal attorney as soon as possible. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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Racially Motivated Attacks – Suspect in Bar Shooting of Indians ‘Thought They Were Iranians’

By Peek & Toland on June 28, 2017

Racially motivated attacks across the country including a fatal shooting in a Kansas bar, have raised questions about anti-Islamic rhetoric.

In February, a man shot three people at the bar. Two of them were Indians, one of whom died of his injuries. A third person who intervened was also wounded.

Subsequent reports suggested the shooter falsely believed the two Indian men to be Iranians, reported the Washington Post.

A bartender later called 911 to say a man had come into a restaurant and said he shot two Iranians in Olathe in Kansas.

She found out a shooting had taken place in Olathe, about 20 miles southwest of Kansas City. Her 911 call led police to pick up Adam Purinton, 51. Other witness statements suggested the bar shooter thought the two Indian victims, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were of Middle Eastern descent.

Racially motivate attacks included shootings of two Indians

Racially-motivated attacks on Indians raise concerns

They were Indian nationals employed by the technology company Garmin. The Indians received master’s degrees in America. Kuchibhotla did not survive his injuries. Madasani was released from a hospital the day after the shooting. An American who was wounded when he tried to stop the shooting also recovered.

Purinton, a Navy veteran, was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. Federal authorities are treating the shootings as a hate crime.

The incident led to consternation in India. Many skilled workers in the Indian technology industry find employment in the United States while American colleges and universities take large numbers of students from the Indian subcontinent.

The father of Madasani appealed to parents in India not to send their children to the United States.

Many of the alleged hate crimes have been aimed at Muslims. In Florida, a 64-year-old man said he tried to set a convenience store on fire because he believed the owners were Muslim, according to St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.

A report on CNN said Richard Lloyd allegedly told deputies he wanted to run Arabs out the United States so he pushed a dumpster in front of the store and set its contents on fire.

In South Carolina, the fatal shooting of an Indian man in March is being investigated as potentially racially motivated.

In Victoria in Texas, a mosque was burned down. While police say the fire appears to have been an arson, they stopped short of labeling it a hate crime. Fires at four mosques were reported in seven weeks, including one in Austin.

Racially motivated attacks appear to have spiked in recent months. The American Civil Liberties Union warned of a “new dawn for hate” after a series of hate crimes was reported last November.

These are difficult times to be a foreign national in the United States. For help or advice call our Texas immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Visitor Crackdown Raises Concerns About Tourist Visas to the United States

By Peek & Toland on June 27, 2017

The recent travel bans issued by the United States government also impact visitors on tourist visas. These restrictions may be linked to a drop in tourism.

Ever since the first travel ban in January, the media has featured stories about visitors with simple tourist visas being denied access to the United States.

Writing in the Huffington Post, historian Henry Rousso detailed his ordeal at the George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston after arriving from Paris in February.

Rousso was invited to attend a symposium at Texas A&M University. He was interrogated for several hours after a random check by Customs and Borders Protection.

government tracks down on tourist vosas

Tourist visas are under scrutiny

He said officials told him he would not be able to give a lecture and receive an honor because he was in possession of a simple tourist visa. He wrote:

“I replied that it was the university that did all the formalities and that I have been doing this for 30 years without any trouble.”

The official examined his passport and noted he recently received a J1 visa which academics use. Rousso was a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York from September 2016 until January 2017. The Customs and Borders Protection official informed him he was returning to work illegally in the United States with an expired visa.

The academic said officials interrogated him extensively for 10-hours. Officers took his fingerprints and conducted a search. They told him he would be sent back to Paris on the next plane and would not be able to visit the United States again without the appropriate visa.

The historian said he was eventually allowed to attend the event at A&M university. Although officials blamed an inexperienced official, Rousso said calls from senior university officials cleared him to attend the event.

Rousso’s claims of clampdowns on tourists are not isolated. In the same month, after a year of preparation to attend the Dallas Cup, the Tibet Women’s Soccer team was reportedly denied tourist visas to the United States.

The team would have been the first sports team to represent Tibet on US soil.

Do You Need a Tourist Visa?

If you are visiting the United States, whether or not you need a B-2 visitor visa depends on what country you are from. You can find out more about tourist visas here.

Many countries such as Australia, Britain, France, Sweden, Japan, Portugal and Spain have a relationship with the United States that allows visitors to spend up to 90 days here with only their passports.

However, Reuters reported the travel ban that affects six countries increased scrutiny of visitors. The strong dollar is also negatively impacting tourism in the United States. If you are traveling to and from the United States, you should be sure you have the correct visa as you are more likely to be interrogated in the current climate.

An experienced Texas visa lawyer can advise you. Please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Visas

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Controversial Texas Alien Smuggling Law is Reinstated

By Peek & Toland on June 26, 2017

A controversial alien smuggling law that brings harsh penalties against people who harbor undocumented immigrants has been reinstated by the courts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction by a lower court. The decision reinstated Texas’ unlawful immigrant harboring law, reported Breitbart.

A three-judge panel rejected the claims of the plaintiffs. Landlords said renting out houses or providing social services to undocumented immigrants could put them at risk of action. By not suffering a detriment, they lose legal standing to bring a court action.

A court has reinstated Texas' alien smuggling law

Texas alien smuggling law is reinstated in court

U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith said there was no reasonable interpretation to claim the act of renting housing or providing social services to an unlawful immigrants constituted harboring them from detection.

The case was brought by two Texas landlords. The judge ruled they lacked standing because they were not able to show how the law put them at risk of prosecution, Courthouse News Service reported.

Texas House Bill 11 enacted in 2015 made it a third-degree felony to “harbor” an immigrant. The offense is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The landlords from San Antonio claimed the Texas law was unreasonable and unconstitutional. They rely on rental property income to pay the mortgages on the properties and support themselves.

They were joined in opposing the legislation by Jonathan Ryan who heads up the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

The center provides affordable and free services to refugees. It also provides short-term shelters for refugees on bond from immigration detention centers.

Concerns over the Alien Smuggling Provisions

The plaintiffs filed an action in San Antonio federal court last January stating they feared criminal prosecution under Texas’ harboring law. A year ago, a federal judge allowed their motion for a preliminary injunction.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also sued to challenge the harboring provision, took some solace in the judge’s comments.

Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president for litigation, said the court ruled the landlords were not harboring undocumented immigrants under the terms of the statute.

In the wake of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the ruling will allow the state to enforce the alien smuggling law and fight the smuggling of “illegal contraband.”

The Texas immigrant harboring legislation is controversial. Opponents claims it infringes on the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because enforcement of immigration is a federal area of responsibility. It also raises concerns that family members may who take in undocumented immigrants could be accused of alien smuggling and hit with heavy sentences.

If you are accused of violating immigration or criminal laws, please contact our Austin family immigration attorneys here.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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Texas Man Who Killed Woman in DWI Crash Will Have to Mark Her Death Anniversary for Nine Years

By Peek & Toland on June 23, 2017

The penalties for DWI are serious in Texas. Intoxicated drivers who cause a death often end up behind bars for a considerable time. One Texas driver who caused a fatal DWI crash was given an unusual condition to his sentence.

Travis Elwell, 23, of Mesquite was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail for the death of Emily Javadi in 2015. A judge also sentenced him to return to a jail cell on the anniversary of Javadi’s death for the next nine years.

A deadly DWI crash led to an unsual sentence

The New York Post reported the woman was killed as she loaded items into her car in Dallas. Elwell had a blood alcohol content of 0.175 when he hit Javadi – more than twice the legal limit. She was pushed into a metal pole and died an hour later.

Javadi’s parents and prosecutors reached a plea deal with Elwell. As well as the 120 days in jail and 10 years’ probation he will serve one week in jail on the anniversary of Javadi’s death on Feb. 10, 2015, for the next nine years.

Under the terms of his probation, Elwell is banned from drinking alcohol. He must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and give talks to drunken driving support groups.

Karen Javadi, the victim’s mother, said a longer sentence would have negatively impacted Elwell’s child. However, she said the terms of Elwell’s probation prevents his punishment being overly lenient.

She told the Dallas Morning News the justice system allows some defendants to get probation for offenses like Elwell’s. She hoped he would turn his life around.

Javadi’s memory will live on through the Emily Javadi Foundation. It provides scholarships for people seeking to fulfill their entrepreneurial or fitness potential, according to its website.

When a DWI Crash Can Lead to Intoxication Manslaughter

Texas has a category of homicide that applies solely to situations in which a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs operates a motor vehicle and causes the death of someone else. The crime is intoxication manslaughter.

Texas is the only state that codifies “intoxication manslaughter” as a separate offense. However, other states have similar homicide laws that apply when a drunk driver causes a death.

Intoxication manslaughter is a category of vehicular manslaughter. The offense is charged as a second-degree felony and carries a term of 2 to 20 years in jail. Read more about vehicular manslaughter crimes here.

If you have been charged with intoxication manslaughter or another DWI offense, please call our criminal defense lawyers at Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Criminal Defense, DWI

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Arab Investors Lead a Surge in EB-5 Visa Applications

By Peek & Toland on June 22, 2017

Wealthy Arab investors are rushing to sign up for the EB-5 visa program that offers them green cards in the United States in exchange for significant investment in the economy.

The rush to apply for these visas under the immigrant investor program appears to be a result of President Donald Trump’s travel bans. The executive orders are aimed at predominantly Islamic nations. Likely reforms to the EB-5 program may also be acting as a catalyst for more applications.

Arab investors are making EB-5 visa applications

A report on CNN Money quoted Preeya Malik. He’s the managing director of Step America. His company provides consultancy work related to U.S. investor visas. Malik noted a spike in inquiries and new clients since the inauguration of Donald Trump. He said:

“Investors can see how immigration laws are shifting rapidly and are looking to finalize their options before any new rules take place.”

The EB-5 program provides green cards to foreign investors who channel at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in the U.S. The program caps the available number of visas to 10,000 a year.

The program has existed in one form or another since the early 1990s when it was set up under George H.W. Bush. Entrepreneurs must invest at least $ 1 million in areas that are not deprived or rural.

Over the last five years, nearly 83 percent of all of the EB-5 visas issued went to Chinese investors. Invest in the USA says less than 2 percent went to Arab nations.

That has changed. More Arab entrepreneurs are seeking to apply for EB-5 visas. It follows travel bans targeted at six predominantly Muslim nations accused by the Trump administration of having links to terrorism.

Step America noted a 60 percent rise in inquiries and a 40 percent rise in EB-5 applications since the first travel ban was announced at the end of January.

Arton Capital reported a 200 percent increase in EB-5 applications in its Dubai office in January compared to January 2016. A spike was also experienced in February.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security issued a draft modernization rule that proposed changes to the EB-5 investor visa program. Investors would have to bring more money to the table under the proposed amendment.

The change raised required investment amounts from $1 million to $1.8 million and from $500,000 to $1.35 million in deprived areas. The amendments are intended to reflect current dollar values but could make investing in the United States more onerous for foreign entrepreneurs.

If you are seeking to invest in the United States, you should be aware the EB-5 program is a very complicated one. An Austin, Texas immigration attorney can help you with your application. Please contact Peek & Toland at(512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Customs and Border Protection Officials Quiz Nigerian Software Engineer

By Peek & Toland on June 21, 2017

Interrogations by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have dominated the news in recent months as the federal government imposed travel bans and clamped down on refugees.

The new reality means it’s more difficult to get into the United States, even if you have the correct documentation.

The story of Celestine Omin, a Nigerian engineer, is a case in point. Nigeria was not on the list of the seven predominantly Muslim nations named in President Trump’s first executive order. It was not in the list of six nations in the revised order announced in March.

Customs and border officials interviewed Nigerian software engineer

Customs and Border officials interrogated Nigerian software engineer

That didn’t prevent Omin being subjected to a long interrogation at the hands of U.S Customs and Border Protection.

The 28-year-old software engineer left Lagos, Nigeria in February to make his first trip to the United States.

He was working for a startup called Andela that connects leading talent in Africa with the United States. Less than one percent of applicants are accepted for the program backed by Facebook. The start-up wanted Omin to create a JavaScript application for emerging markets. He traveled on a short-term visa.

When he landed in the United States, Customs and Border Protection took Omin aside and started to interrogate him.

The border agent escorted him into a small room and told him to sit down. He waited another hour until a different customs officer came in, according to media reports.

He was asked the following question by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, according to CNN.

“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”

He was told that he didn’t look like an engineer. The official asked him to take a test to prove it, according to Andela. He was given a white sheet of paper and two very difficult computer science questions to answer.

Omin said he went for 24 hours without sleep. The questions seemed opaque and open to more than one answer. He said officials told him his answers were incorrect.

Customs and Border Protection Officials Carried out Three-Hour Interrogation

After three hours of interrogation and a call between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Andela cofounder Christina Sass, Omin allowed to go. In a subsequent statement to CNNTech, Customs and Border Protection said it does not administer written tests to discover a reason for travel.

In the wake of the controversial executive orders imposing travel bans, Customs and Border Protection officials stand accused of other inappropriate acts concerning foreign and U.S. nationals.

On 5 February 2017, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientist Sidd Bikkannavar, who is US born, claimed on Facebook he was detained by Customs and Border Protection officials. He was returning to the U.S. from Chile. He claimed the officials took his phone and demanded access to its stored data.

If you are traveling in or out of the United States on a visa, a green card, or any other immigrant certification, it’s more important than ever to have all of your documentation on you. Find out more about work-based visas here, or contact our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Immigration Reform, Visas

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What is the Proposed VOICE Office for Immigration Victims?

By Peek & Toland on June 20, 2017

VOICE is a new acronym but one that is likely to be heard more in immigration circles in the next few months.

President Donald Trump detailed proposals to create the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office in his address to Congress on Feb. 28.

VOICE is intended to protect victims of immigrants

Questions linger over VOICE

The new office would draw attention to crimes committed by unlawful immigrants and look at protecting the victims. It was created by the Department of Homeland Security under an executive order on Jan. 25. Trump said:

“I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said funds currently provided by the federal government to advocate for undocumented immigrants would be re-routed to fund the office.

VOICE is tasked to work with the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the United States. President Trump said the office would look at the effects of “victimization by criminal aliens” in the United States.

Trump said the office will issue reports once a quarter. It will research the effects of the victimization by undocumented immigrants involved in criminality in the United States.

Trump invited family members killed by criminal undocumented immigrants to his speech and drew attention to them.

His approach was condemned by political opponents and immigrant groups. Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, said Trump was exploiting the people he invited, reported CNN.

She expressed sadness that the President did not talk about the positive contribution made by immigrants or address Dreamers.

The Creation of VOICE – Do Immigrants Commit More Crimes?

A considerable body of research suggests Trump’s assumption that immigrants commit more crimes is misplaced. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggested offending rates among immigrants are lower than the native population.

The New York Times noted most of the studies concur in concluding that immigrants commit fewer crimes. The American Immigration Council found immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than people born in the United States.

We have also noted how an influx of immigrants into a deprived area can revitalize it and reduce crime.

In Texas, as in other parts of the United States, there have been high profile and horrifying crimes committed by unlawful immigrants. Terrible crimes have also been committed by American-born people. Claims that people from other countries commit more crimes than the U.S.-born population appear to be unfounded.

If you need help or advice on an immigration or a crime matter in Austin, Round Rock or elsewhere in Texas please contact our experienced attorneys here.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Immigration

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ICE Agents Detain Immigrant Moments After She Spoke of Deportation Fears

By Peek & Toland on June 19, 2017

The case of Daniela Vargas, a young immigrant detained by ICE agents moments after criticizing immigration raids, made headlines across the country.

Attorneys for the 22-year-old Dreamer filed a petition in federal court asking for her immediate release.

A CNN report stated Vargas was arrested in March, shortly after sharing her family’s immigration story at a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi. She detailed the arrests of her father and brother by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

ICE agents picked up Daniela Vargas

ICE agents detained Daniela Vargas

Vargas is an Argentinian citizen. She came to the United States with her family at the age of 7. She is an undocumented immigrant but was later granted DACA status. Beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals action are often called “Dreamers” but the DREAM Act never became law.

What Was The DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act,” was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Despite a big push in 2010, the federal DREAM Act never became law. The DREAM Act would have allowed certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and who are now in college or the military, to attain legal status and qualify for citizenship.

Obama’s DACA program protected about 800,000 young people from deportation and made them eligible to work. An extension was opposed and foundered last year when the U.S. Supreme Court split.

The CNN report said Vargas’ DACA status expired last November. She delayed reapplying until February because she could not afford the minimum $495 renewal application fee. The government recommends recipients of the DACA program apply for renewal approximately 120 to 150 days before their status expires.

Immigration Lawyers Said Vargas Was Arrested for Exercising First Amendment Rights

Lawyers acting for Vargas contested her arrest. They said the ICE agents arrested Vargas because she exercised her First Amendment rights, according to a habeas petition filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Her attorneys said her Fifth and First Amendment rights were violated by the actions of the ICE agents.

On March 10, attorneys for the Argentinian said she was to be released from the ICE detention center in Louisiana. They expressed concern the deportation order against her was not rescinded.

These are difficult times to be an undocumented immigrant. If you or a family member is facing deportation in Texas, please call our immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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