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Monthly Archives: July 2017

Attorney General Seeks Stricter Sentences in Criminal Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 31, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has published a new directive calling for stricter sentences in criminal cases across the country.

The directive was sent to federal prosecutors. In a clear departure from the criminal justice policies of the Obama administration, it urged a ‘get tough’ approach to sentencing.

Sessions stressed charging and sentencing recommendations are “bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor.”

He said prosecutors should not be micromanaged from Washington D.C.

Sessions supports stricter sentences in criminal cases

Sessions backs stricter sentences in criminal cases

Sessions outlined his new instructions for charging decisions in federal cases. He said his first principle is that prosecutors “should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

He defined these offenses as those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.

The federal sentencing guidelines are advisory. They take into account a range of factors including a defendant’s criminal history to his or her cooperation with authorities. A report on CNN stated some judges have felt handcuffed by mandatory minimums which provide statutory sentencing minimums of months which a judge cannot depart from.

The call for stricter sentences in criminal cases was criticized by Eric Holder, a longtime attorney general in the Obama administration. He said Sessions’ directive was ill-informed, unwise and backward-looking.

Sessions withdrew a key part of Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, which targeted the most serious crimes but aimed to reduce the number of defendants charged with non-violent drug offenses that would otherwise trigger the mandatory minimum sentences.

Holder said in 2013 the minimum sentences led to unduly harsh sentences in some cases.

During the Obama administration, federal prosecutors were instructed not to charge someone with a drug crime that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence when some factors were met, namely:

  • The relevant conduct did not involve violence, death, the threat of violence or weapon possession.
  • The defendant did not lead, manage or organize a criminal organization.
  • There were no ties to major drug trafficking operations.
  • The defendant lacked a “significant” criminal history, on other words previous convictions.

Sessions’ new guidelines are likely to be felt the most by drug offenders, with even first time offenders facing a long time behind bars.

Even drug possession can be charged in the federal courts and carries a stiff sentence. Read more about this offense on our website.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, it’s vital to get experienced representation. Please call our experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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Leisure and Hospitality Industry Faces Acute Temporary Workers Shortage

By Peek & Toland on July 31, 2017

Many of the visas used to bring foreign workers to the United States are under scrutiny including those for temporary workers.

However, in industries such as hospitality, the problem is often the short supply of workers rather than overseas workers taking jobs away from locals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the leisure and hospitality industry will need an additional 1.3 million workers from 2010 to 2020.

The BLS said the number of maids and housekeepers’ jobs will rise a staggering 111,600 by 2020, a jump of 7.8 percent. The number of people working as front-desk clerks in hotels will rise 11.1 percent.

Temporary workers are in short supply in the leisure industry

The leisure industry faces a shortage of foreign temporary workers

It would require a relaxation of temporary visas to meet that demand. However, the Trump administration is looking at possible visa restrictions.

Recently, we highlighted the visas that are needed to work in the hotel industry.

Restaurants, hotels, theme parks, and other leisure attractions are most likely to use J-1, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, E-2, TN and L-1 visas.

Overseas workers in the hospitality industry are may apply for J-1 visas under the Exchange Visitor Program. Companies like Marriott promise on the job training on its J-1 visa program.

It’s a wide-ranging program. There are 14 different study and work-based programs. The time you are allowed to stay in the United States can range from six months to as long as five years for university professors.

Many university students and other workers who use J-1 visas fear the Trump administration will bar them from the United States. It’s more than mere speculation.

An article in USA Today references a policy paper from 2015 in which Trump proposed the elimination of the program altogether. Although the pledge was later dropped from the Republican’s campaign website, many students remain alarmed.

Texas’s hospitality industry and other tourism-linked business make extensive use of H-2B seasonal visas for non-agricultural temporary workers from other countries. These visas are often associated with construction projects or large catering events that need servers and wait staff.

These visas have a cap, meaning many people who apply for them are unsuccessful.

Earlier this year, there were warnings signs of a looming crisis in the hotel and hospitality industry.

In February, The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, noted a shortage of workers was jeopardizing an important industry in the historic city.

Restaurant and hotel managers were reported to be desperately making the industry more popular to young, new recruits.

The Post and Courier noted evidence of a “crisis” when about 60 hotels and restaurants set up tables at a local college. It was the first time the businesses had gone to the college to attract recruits.

Typically, jobs in the hospitality industry are not as well paid as in many other industries. Jobs like porters and maids are often taken by immigrants. It can be a challenge to attract local people to fill these positions.

If you are seeking a visa for temporary work in the United States, you can seek the help of an experienced Austin immigration attorney. Call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Visas

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Texas Counties Seek to Cash In Through Immigrant Jails

By Peek & Toland on July 28, 2017

There has been much publicity about sanctuary cities in recent months. These are locations that won’t cooperate with federal agents who want them to detail people thought to be illegal immigrants. However, some Texas counties want to cash in on immigrant jails to help their coffers.

A report on CBS stated several counties in Texas are struggling with debt because their jails have few or no prisoners. They hope to fill up those empty cells with immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The CBS report referred to historic debts that stretch back to the 1990s and early in the 2000s, a time when many rural counties in Texas were suffering from depopulation.  They built correctional centers to attract money and jobs. Some of these facilities were intended to house hundreds or even thousands of immigrants. Politicians in these cash-strapped counties hoped to bring in inmates from neighboring counties as well as prisoners for the state and federal governments.

Counties in Texas see immigrant jails as a money maker

Some Texas counties are making money from immigrant jails

The CBS story noted the strategy worked in the short-term in many of these counties. However, a fall in crime and a shift away from incarceration in Texas left thousands of empty jail cells.

These spiraling debts are leaving many facilities looking to cash in on an anticipated spike in arrests of undocumented immigrants by the Trump administration.

Trump signaled his crackdown on undocumented immigrants with criminal records in January. Since then Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mounted a series of raids in Austin and elsewhere in Texas.

By entering federal contracts to house some of these immigrants, the rural counties can make money. Alternatively, they can sell vacant detention centers to private companies that will enter contracts with the federal government.

In January, the Department of Justice announced it’s seeking more jail space to house undocumented immigrants.

The CBS story confirmed three Texas detention centers that lay vacant were recently sold to private prison companies.

The station contacted officials in Jones and Marverick counties who confirmed their empty correctional centers were in the process of being bought by a private prison company known as the GEO Group Inc., This group controls the most immigrant jails of any private company operating in the State of Texas.

This is an uncertain and difficult time to be an undocumented immigrant in Texas. In some cases, immigrants who have minor criminal offenses on their record have been deported. If you are seeking cancellation of removal, read our resources here. Please call our Austin family immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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How to Expedite an Asylum Interview

By Peek & Toland on July 27, 2017

If you filed for asylum in April or May 2014 in Houston, you should have received an asylum interview by February 2017.

The excruciatingly long wait times are made clear by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in its affirmative asylum scheduling bulletin.

These wait times apply to the third category of asylum seekers. Children are allocated a higher priority. Nevertheless, the asylum system is dogged with delays and immigration courts are over-burdened.

The system is also mired in uncertainty. If your family is waiting outside the United States, a three-year wait can be devastating. Some asylum seekers simply give up and risk returning to persecution or threats to their lives in their home countries.

how to expedite your asylum interview

Immigrants are waiting years for an asylum interview

Increasingly, people are abandoning their cases or trying their luck in Canada where waits can be shorter.

Although asylum is an unpredictable and stressful process, there are some ways you can seek to expedite your asylum interview.

If your case is finished, you may be able to expedite it. In other words, you should have all the evidence gathered and translated if it’s in another language and the affidavit must be finished.

You don’t want a situation in which an asylum seeker fast tracks a case when it’s not complete. An experienced Texas asylum attorney can make sure you are properly prepared for your case.

Of course, asylum seekers need a good reason to expedite their case.

Here are some possible reasons to expedite a case.

1 Illness

If the applicant has a physical or mental health issue, it may be a good reason to expedite a case. It’s necessary to get relevant letters from a doctor and explain how an early interview might help your condition. If the stress of a long wait will make your condition worse that information could be relevant.

2 Severe financial loss

If a long wait will cause a serious financial crisis, this can be another reason to expedite your case.

3 Separation from family members

If you are facing separation from family members it may help your case to expedite an interview. You may have children who rely on you as a breadwinner. If you have suffered persecution in your home country, your family may be facing a threat.

If an asylum applicant is successful, he or she can file petitions to bring a spouse and minor unmarried children to the United States. Many people make the dangerous trip to the United States to seek asylum for their families rather than themselves.

Applicants can help make their case by getting medical evidence together or collecting police reports if family members are threatened or reports of injuries from hospitals.

If you are seeking asylum, our Austin immigration lawyers can help. Find out more about us here or call (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration

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How immigration Impacts Economic Growth

By Peek & Toland on July 26, 2017

There has been considerable debate in recent months about whether immigration has a positive or a negative impact on the economy and the lifestyle of the United States. A recent study suggests immigration has a more dramatic impact on economic growth than many people think.

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal immigrants are responsible for almost half of the growth of the population of the United States. They are also responsible for a considerable rise in the U.S. labor force.

The report on CNBC was based on assumptions relating to the projected increase in the population and GDP of the United States.

The relationship between immigration and economic growth

Immigration impacts economic growth

Joel Prakken, senior managing director and co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, said projections that the economy will grow by 2 percent link labor size growth to an increase in productivity.

Prakken said immigrants appear to make up a larger portion of the growth in the labor force. The population of the United States is aging but immigrants tend to be younger. They may come to the United States specifically to seek jobs. He said:

“Most people are totally shocked when they actually process the fact that immigrants are already almost half of the population growth, assumed in our 2 percent GDP projection and by the time you get to 2045, 80 percent of it is.”

The increase in the proportion of the population born in the United States is expected to fall due to the aging of the population and declining fertility rates.

Could Moves to Cut Immigration Impact Economic Growth?

Prakken said he’s concerned a proposed bill in the Senate would limit immigration. This legislation would half the 1.1 million immigrants who arrived in 2015 if enacted. Prakken said over a period of time that could dent the growth rate of 2 percent by approximately a quarter point. Over time the impact on the economy could become more progressively more serious.

The census assumes immigration will continue to increase. However, the bill would not allow for any growth.

A raft of studies has pointed to the positive impact immigration has on economic growth. Last year we noted research from the National Academy of Sciences that noted immigration may have a beneficial impact on the wages of local workers.

If you or a family member needs the services of an experienced Austin immigration lawyer please contact us here.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Jeff Sessions Announces Expedited Removal of Illegal Immigrants Who Committed Crimes

By Peek & Toland on July 25, 2017

Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new process to speed up the deportation of incarcerated undocumented immigrants who committed crimes. While the federal government is trumpeting the changes as a way of saving money for the taxpayer, expedited removal has alarmed some commentators.

Sessions sold the change as an “expansion and modernization” of the Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

The revised IHP identifies undocumented immigrants who are inmates in federal correctional facilities. It will allow immigration removal proceedings to be carried out via video teleconference and removes the undocumented immigrant on completion of sentence, rather than releasing them to an ICE detention facility or into the community for an adjudication of status.

Expedited removal of immigrants may be controversial

Attorney General details expedited removal

Sessions proposes bringing an Immigration Judge to the inmate to determine removability, rather than bringing the inmate before a judge. He said the change will save resources and speed up hearings.

Sessions said:

“We owe it to the American people to ensure that illegal aliens who have been convicted of crimes and are serving time in our federal prisons are expeditiously removed from our country as the law requires. This expansion and modernization of the Institutional Hearing Program gives us the tools to continue making Americans safe again in their communities.”

A uniform intake policy was scheduled to be put in place by April 6. The number of facilities taking part in the expedited removal program will be expanded.

What Increased Expedited Removal Will Mean for Immigrants

A report in The Hill said new processes are likely to be used by the Trump administration to speed up its deportation program.

Trump has pledged to deport as many as 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, the fact each person earmarked for deportation has a statutory right to a hearing, would make that aim almost impossible.

The Hill article said the backlog for hearings keeps on growing. At the end of January, it was 542,411 cases and the average waiting time to appear before an immigration judge was almost 700 days. If no new cases were presented, it would take more than two-and-a-half years to catch up with the backlog. Texas has the largest backlog in the country, we noted in a recent blog.

Even if the immigration judges did not receive any additional cases, it would take them more than two-and-a-half years to catch up.

However, Trump authorized an expedited removal provision in his executive order on immigration signed in January.

Expedited removal proceedings can be conducted by immigration officers. An immigrant without the proper documentation or one who has committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to get into the country may be removed without a hearing before an immigration judge under the order.

Undocumented immigrants subject to the expedited process must be detained until they are removed. Typically, they may only be released due to a medical emergency.

According to Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, the policy will face a legal challenge. He claimed the Trump administration is willing to “trample on due process” and even circumvent protections for vulnerable children.

Expedited removal is very significant. It is not clear how widely it will be used. The fact that the federal government is speeding up the deportation process means it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin immigration lawyer if you are facing deportation. Please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal

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Sweeping Criminal Justice Bill Would Strengthen Racial-Profiling Law After Sandra Bland Death

By Peek & Toland on July 24, 2017

The death of Sandra Bland in a jail cell in 2015 has proved a catalyst for sweeping legislation that targets racial-profiling in Texas.

Rep. Garnet Coleman submitted House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act, in March. The Statesman reported how the bill would strengthen racial-profiling laws in Texas. It would also prevent people being jailed for fine-only offenses and curtail police powers during traffic stops.

Some legislators believe the bill would have saved Bland’s life. In late March, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety heard public testimony on two bills that would make traffic infractions like speeding and the failure to use a turn signal punishable only via a fine.

Sandra Bland, a black woman, was pulled over by a state trooper in July 2015. She changed lanes without signaling in Texas. The situation quickly deteriorated. After taking her information and returning to her car window to give her the traffic ticket, the trooper told Bland she appeared to be irritated. When she refused to put out a cigarette, he ordered her out of her car.

The trooper arrested her. She was charged with resisting arrest and put in a cell.

Bland was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell three days after the traffic stop. An investigation found she took her life. Coleman said she would not have died had the reforms in HB 2702 been in place two years ago. He said.

“It took us a long time to draft this piece of legislation. We wanted to get it right.”

Coleman submitted a 55-page bill. Its provisions include:

  • Requiring police and troopers to monitor traffic stops and officers to find out if a disproportionate number of minority members were pulled over. Officers in violation would receive extra training and counseling. If this failed and the problems persist, they could be subject to a six-month suspension.
  • Police officers would no longer be allowed to stop vehicles for a traffic violation as a “pretext” to investigate other crimes. The only exception would be when there was a strong suspicion another offense was committed.
  • County sheriffs would be required to prepare a monthly report on suicides at their jails, attempted suicides, and other incidents like injuries, sexual assaults, and use of force. An outside law enforcement agency would investigate such incidents.
  • Police officers and troopers would be required to take courses in de-escalation tactics, limiting the use of force.

Racial-Profiling in Texas – How an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You

There is considerable evidence of racial-profiling in Texas and elsewhere. In the past, we have noted how policies such as stop and frisk can lead to racial-profiling.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Duane Buck, a man from Houston who ended up on Death Row, the justices blocked Buck’s execution because of racial-profiling by a defense expert at his trial.

Many people suffer deprivations in jails and police cells in Texas. Our jail release attorneys can establish if your rights are being violated. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Republicans Seek to End Diversity Immigrant Visas

By Peek & Toland on July 21, 2017

The system that hands out diversity immigrant visas is known as the “green card lottery.” Every year, as many as 14 million people seek to win one of 50,000 diversity immigrant visas.

We highlight how diversity immigrant visas work on our blog. It’s targeted at countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The chances of winning the “green card lottery” is about 0.3 percent, states Voice of America.

diversity immigrant visas are under threat

visas awarded under the ‘green card lottery’ are under threat

Foreign residents who attain diversity immigrant visas get to live in the United States and may later attain citizenship. But the green card lottery is under threat.

Recent legislation submitted by two Republican lawmakers would discontinue the lottery. Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia penned legislation that would end it after 22 years.

Their proposal also calls for a reduction in the number of immigrants and refugees allowed to enter the United States every year.

The SAFE for America Act would spell an end to diversity immigrant visas if it’s enacted. While both Republican and Democrats attempted to end the diversity program in 2016, the proposal was buried in other legislation that failed to pass.

Voice of America stated the legislation is more likely to succeed this time. Unlike last year, Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House. It’s also in line with President Donald Trump’s restrictions on immigration.

Announcing their bill, the two senators claimed it would help the effort to raise the wages of Americans. Perdue said it was part of the effort to fix so-called shortcomings in the existing immigration system.

Is There a Link Between Diversity Immigrant Visas and Jobs and Wages?

However, some researchers say it’s almost impossible to prove there is a link between diversity immigrant visas and jobs and wages.

Opponents of the green card lottery say people requesting the visa are sometimes lying about key details. In a report a decade ago, the U.S. Government referenced fraud in relation to the program. However, the State Department subsequently improved the application process to reduce the likelihood of abuse.

The countries that are eligible to apply for the green card lottery in 2018 include Spain, Italy, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Japan, Russia, and Nepal.

Diversity immigrant visas are one of the few ways foreigners can legally move to the United States if they are not refugees or are not sponsored. Successful applicants must have a high school education or a work history to qualify.

In 2015, just 48,097 diversity visas were handed out by the United States, less than 10 percent of all immigrant visas given that year, reported Voice of America.

At Peek & Toland , we help applicants for a wide variety of immigrant and non-immigrant visas in Texas. Call us at (512) 474-4445 for more details.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform, Visas

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Forensic Science Commission Says Allegations of Improper DWI Blood Testing in Austin Are Unfounded

By Peek & Toland on July 20, 2017

DNA testing at the Austin police crime lab that closed down last year has been under scrutiny as evidence of outdated practices emerged. However, Texas Forensic Science Commission officials determined allegations of improper DWI blood testing at the lab are unfounded.

The investigation was important because samples from DWI blood testing provide evidence in thousands of cases.

Austin lab cleared of improper DWI blood testing

Austin lab cleared of improper DWI blood testing

A shortage of trained staff and other concerns at the police lab in Austin led to its closure last year. Despite speculation the lab would open in early 2017, it remained shuttered.

As well as concerns about DNA analysis, the commission investigated claims by Debra Stephens, a former lab employee in December. Stephens claimed Austin lab techs were using a method to calculate results from DWI blood testing that failed to leave a wide enough margin of error. In other words, they were overstating the confidence in their results, The Statesman reported.

Last year, she told The Statesman she discovered the deficiency after she was hired to retest a blood sample in a case that challenged the Austin lab’s results. She said she reached a very different conclusion.

However, Commission officials said the complaint was not accepted for investigation. Commission member Dr. Sarah Kerrigan reviewed it. She concluded Stephens mixed up measurements in her complaint.

Despite the rejection of the complaint, concerns linger about DNA testing at the lab. It remains closed and officials are deciding how to proceed.

Earlier this year officials in Travis County district attorney’s office started the process of informing more than 2,000 defendants who were convicted of crimes that their convictions could be eligible for review.

These cases involved forensic evidence from DNA analysis.

Another report in The Statesman suggests the lab may have bucked DNA standards for years. It still received a pass.

The report cited interviews staff who worked there who said many of the lab’s problems simmered for years before its closure.

Donna Stanley, the former DPS analyst hired to start the lab up more than 10 years ago said:

 “They never supported the things I needed to set up the DNA lab.”

Analysts were reported to have raised issues concerning the lab’s inadequate methods with their supervisors. The reports said they were ignored. Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not trust the lab’s results. They requested reviews of its DNA analyses.

A DNA match is seen as one of the strongest indicators of guilt. But the concerns about the Austin lab have raised question marks about many convictions linked to forensic evidence. If you are concerned about a conviction contact our Austin criminal defense team.

Posted in Criminal Defense, DWI

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Smart Crime Fighting App Is Launched in San Antonio

By Peek & Toland on July 19, 2017

Police forces are constantly seeking to use new technology to solve crimes. The rapid development of apps has changed the way offenses are reported. In Texas, for example a new crime fighting app has been unveiled.

Federal investigators launching a new crime-fighting tool called Report earlier this year in San Antonio. They are hopeful it will lead to more tips from the public.

The free smartphone app can be used by people to report anything suspicious.

Police in San Antonio launch crime fighting app

A new crime fighting app is launched in San Antonio

According to Fox 29, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is hopeful the app will lead to leads in high-profile cases such as the January 28 mosque fire in Victoria in Texas. While investigators do not believe the mosque burning was a hate crime, they have said it appears to have been arson. The crime remained unsolved months afterwards.

The ATF explained how to use the Report app in the report. Users can download the app and type ATF into the search box.

The app guides the user through specific details that the feds believe are important to report.

ATF resident agent in charge David Robison said:

“The app guides you through specific details that would be important for us to follow up on. The details include who, what, where and when.”

Robison said the reporting technology is anonymous. He said people who have witnessed serious crimes like bombings and arsons are often nervous to come forward because they think they will be revealed as the source of the information.

The Crime Fighting App and Other New Technologies to Combat Crime

A crime fighting app is not the only piece of new technology to revolutionize detective work in recent years.

A GovTech article last year revealed how police have embraced a wide range of technologies, many of them linked to mobile devices.

Technologies being rapidly adopted include in-car computers, body cameras, license plate readers, technology for facial recognition, and even mobile consoles for fingerprint reading.

The rapid advance of these technologies concern some civil liberties groups.

They fear the privacy rights of citizens and defendants could be endangered by the rapid advance of technology.

Jennifer Lynch of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation said:

“One of my biggest concerns is that mobile technologies can be used to gather info about people in ways that violate their Fourth Amendment rights.”

As Austin criminal defense lawyers, we are always concerned about Fourth Amendment rights. You can find out more about the Fourth Amendment here.

To contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers in Austin, Bastrop, San Antonio, Round Rock and elsewhere, call (512) 474-4445.

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