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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Millions Vie for ‘Last’ Diversity Visa Lottery

By Peek & Toland on September 29, 2017

The diversity visa lottery has been described as one of the quirks of the U.S. immigration system.

On May 2, more than 14 million people around the world checked their computers to learn whether they had been a winner in the diversity visa lottery. Every year up to 50,000 foreign residents find out if they have qualified for a green card.

However, the diversity lottery may be living on borrowed time. The Washington Post noted May’s lottery may be the last.

The Diversity Visa Lottery rewards fewer than one percent of the people who enter permanent residency in the United States.

millions apply for diversity visa lottery

It remains to be seen whether it will survive the tougher immigration policies of the Trump era.

While Trump has attempted to bring in travel bans related to predominately Muslim countries, proposed a wall on the Mexican border and cracked down on undocumented immigrants with criminal records, he has said nothing about the diversity visa lottery.

The Washington Post predicted it might, nevertheless, be scrapped. The random lottery appears to conflict with Trump’s call for a “merit-based” immigration system. Two bills in the Republican-controlled Congress would eliminate the program.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the co-sponsor of one of the bills intended to end the lottery says fraud is inherent in the program and it fails to deliver diversity, despite its name.

Its supporters say the diversity lottery is a public relations exercise that counters the idea that America no longer lives up to the inclusive dream.

We outline the diversity visa program here on our website. It was originally set up under Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The legislation creates a set of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants.” They come from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.

The visas are handed out among six geographic regions and no one country is allowed to pick up more than seven percent of the available visas in any one year.

Find out more about the diversity lottery program on the Department of State website. If you want to find out more about the program contact our experienced Texas immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

 

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Schools Back Drive for New Sanctuary Campuses

By Peek & Toland on September 28, 2017

More schools are pushing to become sanctuary campuses. However, some administrators fear the creation of sanctuary campuses could make immigrants targets.

A report on U.S. News highlighted a debate at Hood College in Maryland. It described how petitions demanding the school becomes a sanctuary campus are circulating.

It described how one student, José Galarza, asked college administrators to start a discussion about the issue of sanctuary campuses.

The merits of sanctuary camouses are discussed

Students discuss sanctuary campuses

Vice president of finance and treasurer Charles Mann, Provost Debbie Ricker and President Andrea Chapdelaine initiated the debate about what sanctuary status means to colleges and universities.

Hood hosted Janis Judson, chair of the Department of Law and Criminal Justice at Hood. The panel included Andrea Shuford, a Hood graduate and principal attorney at Shuford Immigration Law in Virginia. They took questions and talked what a sanctuary campus is, and what it isn’t.

Most sanctuary campuses are modeled after sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that limit the level of cooperation with government to enforce a wide range of immigration laws.

Judson, a constitutional lawyer, talked about immigration law and which bodies have the powers to set and enforce immigration laws. He pointed out it’s constantly evolving and was an issue which became a battleground for all three branches of federal government in recent years.

Judson said undocumented immigrants are frightened in the current era of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids with an uptick in deportations under the Trump administration.

Shuford advised students at Hood College who may be coming under pressure because of their immigration issues that sanctuary campus status has little meaning. She said the term sanctuary has little basis in law and zero legal status in federal law.

She pointed out limiting the college’s cooperation with law enforcement would not mean assisting or harboring a person who entered the country illegally. Shuford said it means the campus would not actively help law enforcement in detaining the immigrant.

We noted how sanctuary campuses are being set up to assist undocumented immigrants on our blog.

However, there are already moves to reduce funds to sanctuary campuses in the same way as to sanctuary cities.

If you need help with an immigration matter call our experienced Austin, Texas family immigration team at (512) 474-4445.

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H-1B Season is Approaching Are You Ready?

By Peek & Toland on September 27, 2017

 H-1B-Season-is-Approaching-Are-You-Ready

As the H-1B cap season nears, it’s time to start to prepare for your 2018 filing.

April 1st may feel like a long time away, but if you are planning to work or currently work for a U.S. employer and are considering an H-1B visa, now is the time to start working on your application. It typically takes 3-5 months to prepare an H-1B visa application, so it’s important to select an immigration attorney you trust to start the process now.

The H-1B process is a twostep process. The first step is a Labor Conditions Application (LCA), which includes your prevailing wage for your position. The LCA process has its own processing times and filing fees, so it’s important to start this process early to avoid delays in submitting your H-1B application.

The second part of the process is your H-1B application. Keep in mind that H-1B visas are capped, which means that there are only 65,000 visas available per fiscal year. Thus, starting early on this process benefits you greatly.

Don’t miss the deadline, start your H-1B filing now with one of our experienced immigration attorneys, who will walk you through the entire process and handle all the applications for you. Schedule a consultation today.

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Illegal Border Crossings from Mexico to the US Fall to a 17 Year Low

By Peek & Toland on September 27, 2017

The new Trump administration promised a tough approach to immigration. That approach may be linked to a fall in the number of undocumented immigrants seeking to cross the U.S. border from Mexico.

A report on BBC said the number of people arrested crossing the border into the US fell to a 17 year low by the spring.

The report noted fewer than 17,000 arrests of undocumented migrants were recorded in March. The figure was the lowest since 2000, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the decline reflected Trump’s tough stance on immigration in a briefing to Congress.

Illegal border crossings fall

Illegal border crossings decline

Kelly gave the figures in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee in April. He spoke about an “amazing drop” in the number of migrants taking the dangerous route north from Central America.

Kelly said March marked the fifth straight month of declining numbers. The number of migrants arrested at the border is about 71 percent lower than the December 2016 total – 58,478, Kelly said.

He said the trend on illegal immigration was good news but the southern border remained a priority to protect the country from terrorists and other criminals.

In April, a report from the Pew Research Center found the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has now dropped to its lowest level since 2009.

The research found the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the US in 2015 fell below the total at the end of the recession for the first time. The research found Mexicans represented a falling share of this population.

The Pew Research Center report appears to suggest the number of undocumented immigrants coming into the country from Mexico may have been falling before Trump was elected president.

The research found there were 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States in 2015. It was a small but statistically significant fall from the Center’s estimate of 11.3 million for 2009, the final year of the recession. The Center’s preliminary estimate of the unauthorized immigrant population in 2016 is 11.3 million.

 

While immigration from Mexico is falling, Undocumented immigration from Asia is rising. Undocumented Asians grew to 1.5 million in 2015 from 1.3 million in 2009.

At Peek & Toland our Austin immigration attorneys can help you with your family immigration matters. Please call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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Central Americans Are Turning to Mexico for Asylum

By Peek & Toland on September 26, 2017

In recent years, the United States saw a large influx of refugees from Central American counties like Honduras and El Salvador. However, new evidence suggests more Central Americans are turning to Mexico for asylum.

The trend of more people from Central American counties turning to Mexico for asylum has picked up since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, reported Time.

The magazine article noted a 150 percent rise in asylum applications received by Mexico since the 2016 presidential election. During the same time, detentions at the border between the United States and Mexico fell slightly.

immigrants are turning to Mexico for asylum

Refugees turn to Mexico for asylum

From November to Match, COMAR, Mexico’s refugee agency received 5,421 applications for asylum. That was more than double the number received during the same period in 2015-16.

However, the number of asylum applications was rising even before Trump with his anti-immigration stance was elected as president.

Reuters noted that detentions on the U.S. border were down by 4 percent during that period.

Refugees Turn to Mexico for Asylum – Why Are People Fleeing Central America?

In recent years an upsurge in violence led to an exodus from a number of Central American families. We noted how many of these are children fleeing violence.

Gang violence is prevalent in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Poverty levels have been increasing in some of these countries while the Mexican economy improved and levels of violence fell. El Salvador and Honduras consistently appear in lists of the most dangerous countries in the world.

A report in The Guardian suggested fewer of these young families and unaccompanied minors are making it all the way to the U.S. border.

Citing Homeland Security data, Reuters noted that just over 1,000 families from Central American countries were stopped at the Mexican border in March, a 93 percent decrease since December.

The number of new arrivals detained for attempting to enter the United States from Mexico fell to below 12,500 in March. That represented the lowest monthly total in at least 17 years, stated the Associated Press.

If you are seeking asylum you should contact our experienced Austin family immigration lawyers for a consultation. Call (512) 474-4445.

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Immigrant Sues Over Arrest, Saying He was Wrongly Placed in Gang Database

By Peek & Toland on September 25, 2017

Detainers by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are controversial enough at the best of times. However, one ICE detainee is suing over his arrest claiming he was wrongly placed in a gang database.

Attorneys for Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez are blaming the Chicago Police Department. They say the immigrant was violently arrested by ICE agents.

The lawyers say the police department’s practice of sharing its information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to an unlawful raid on Catalan-Ramirez’s home, according to a lawsuit, reported the Chicago Tribune.

Immigrant wh says he was wrongly placed in gang database sues

Immigrant said he was wrongly placed in gang database

Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez is an undocumented immigrant. His lawyers said he was wrongly placed in the police department’s “over-inclusive” gang database.

The move had a dramatic effect. He was stripped of privacy protections under the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, court documents stated. Police said Catalan-Ramirez was never a gang member. He was seriously injured when he was arrested in March after ICE agents entered his home. He was not informed of his presence on the database or allowed to challenge it.

Lawyers say police held the immigrant’s arm behind his back and slammed his head on the floor, exacerbating a previous brain injury.

ICE round-ups have taken place across the country in recent months as the Trump administration makes good its ‘get tough’ policy with undocumented immigrants who committed crimes.

A report on CNN said fear of round ups is resulting in undocumented immigrants going underground and not sending their children to schools.

While some unauthorized immigrants are keeping their children out of school, others suspended visits to places like libraries or other days out in the community.

The CNN article stated some undocumented immigrants won’t respond to knocks on their door, are putting bed sheets over their windows and staying off social media.

In Texas, big raids were held in areas like Austin. If you believe ICE agents have violated your rights, you should talk to an immigration attorney from Texas. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

 

 

 

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Trump’s Travel Ban – What the Supreme Court Must Consider

By Peek & Toland on September 23, 2017

President Donald Trump’s Travel Ban is heading to the Supreme Court in October after months of legal hearings. It is likely to be one of the most important cases the new look Supreme Court will decide.

In June, the highest court in the land allowed some parts of the travel ban to go ahead pending its hearing.

The court permitted the ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lack a “bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States.”

In an unsigned opinion the court, left Trump’s travel ban against citizens of six majority-Muslim countries on hold as it related to non-citizens who had relationships with people or entities in the United States. This included most of the plaintiffs’ cases brought against the travel ban.

Examples of formal relationships include employees who accepted a job with a company in the US, and students accepted to universities in the United States, the court said.

Trump's Travel Ban is before the Supreme Court

Trump’s Travel Ban Will be held by the U.S. Supreme Court

The original travel ban caused chaos at airports in January when Trump issued an executive order. That ban was later suspended by the courts. A revised ban removed Iraq from the list of majority Muslim counties it affected and softened some of the other aspects.

Most reports suggest the partial implementation of the travel ban in the summer caused considerably less disruption than the original ban.

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Adam Chilton and Genevieve Lakier, assistant professors of law at the University of Chicago Law School outlined the issues the justices will need to get to grips with when they consider the travel ban in October.

The justices will consider whether the president exceeded his constitutional authority.

Chilton and Lakier wrote the justices will have an opportunity to consider the long-standing legal principle known as the “plenary power doctrine.”

The doctrine gives the President of the United States and Congress power to take action over immigration law.

The academics argue the hearing would give the court to seize the opportunity to finally rid the legal system of this “outdated doctrine.”

Plenary power can be traced back to 1889 when the highest court in the land unanimously upheld a law barring Chinese laborers from returning to the United States once they left the country. The case has been used to give very broad discretion to politicians over who should be admitted to the United States.

The plenary power doctrine has led to some questionable decisions. It has been used to bar communists from the United States and to uphold laws that make it more difficult for men than women to pass citizenship on to their kids.

Chilton and Lakier argue the plenary power doctrine is outdated and has been used to justify racist decisions.

They said while the lower courts were concerned that Trump’s travel ban was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, they found “creative ways” to argue the ban did not deserve the deference the plenary power doctrine has been given. They concluded:

“It’s easy to understand why: Lower courts do not have the authority to overturn Supreme Court opinions. But the Supreme Court can overturn its own precedents, and it should take this opportunity to squarely reject the plenary power doctrine as both outdated and unnecessary.”

It remains to be seen if the nation’s highest court will overturn this fundamental piece of law.

However, the futures of thousands of people from six countries in the United States hang on the court’s ruling.

If you have been impacted by Trump’s travel ban, it makes sense to talk to an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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USCIS Adds Restrictions Concerning Computer Programmers Qualifying for H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on September 22, 2017

The H1-B immigration program has been in the news in recent months due to proposals to change it. We also see less sweeping amendments. For instance, in March, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a policy memorandum, addressing the issue of whether computer programmers can qualify for visas.

The paper looked at whether a computer programmer qualifies as a “specialty occupation” for the purposes of H1-B visas. The memo rescinded a previous one in 2000 that said the position should generally be accepted by USCIS as a specialty occupation. Now a USCIS officer should only approve an H-1B petition for a computer programmer if the employer making the application provides enough evidence to demonstrate the job duties meet the requirements of a specialty occupation.

Visa restrictions for computer programmers

Computer programmers face more H-1B visa restrictions

What Constitutes a Specialty Occupation?

A specialty occupation requires two major components:

  • Practical and theoretical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.
  • A bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific area (or its equivalent) as a minimum to enter the occupation in the United States.

In 2000, USCIS said the position of computer programmer generally qualifies as a specialty occupation making it eligible for an employer to submit a petition for an H1-B visa.

However, the new memo supersedes the older one. It notes computer programmer positions can be entry-level positions. They may only need an associate’s degree or a degree in a nonrelated field. In some cases, a computer programmer may be ineligible for a visa.

The petitioning employer must present evidence that the particular position being requested qualifies as a specialty occupation under the H-1B visa program.

The set of requirements for H-1B visas is complicated. A valid employer-employee relationship is determined by whether the employer in the United States is able to hire, fire, pay, supervise or control the work of the visa holding worker. The sole or majority owner of the petitioning company may establish a valid employer-employee relationship if he or she can show the petitioning entity has a right to control the visa beneficiary’s employment.

At Peek & Toland , our visa immigration attorneys can help you with the application process. See more about visas here or call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Does Trump’s ‘Hire American’ Executive Order Impact Immigration Law?

By Peek & Toland on September 21, 2017

In April, President Donald Trump issued his Hire American immigration order. The order issued on April 18 was called Buy American and Hire American.

Although the executive order does not directly impact immigration law, it could have a longer term impact.

The order mandates a number of executive agencies to propose new rules and issue new guidance “to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system.”

Trump's Hire American policy may impact immigration law

It also provides more details of the concepts of buying and hiring American.

The Definition of Hire American in Trump’s Executive Orders

The order is intended to create higher wages and boost employment rates for workers in the United States. It claims to protect their economic interests. It says the executive branch must rigorously enforce and administer the laws relating to entry into the United States of workers from foreign countries, including section 212(a)(5) of the Immigration and the Nationality Act.

Under the order agencies must issue guidance on hiring and buying American within 60 days of the date of the order. The officials and agencies asked to collaborate on guidance are.

  • The Secretary of Labor;
  • The United States Trade Representative;
  • The Secretary of Commerce;
  • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget;
  • The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council.

Within 150 days of the date of this order, the United States Trade Representative and the Secretary of Commerce will assess the impacts of all United States free trade agreements and the World Trade Organization Agreement on what the government should buy and the operation of Buy American Laws. This includes their impacts on the implementation of domestic procurement policies.

Trumps’ executive order is relevant from the immigration standpoint due to the review of H-1B visas.

The order calls for a review of these skilled worker visas which allow 85,000 people from abroad – mostly computer workers – to apply.

In a recent article, The New Yorker branded Trump’s Buy American and Hire American executive order as hollow and lacking in real provisions.

It said the rhetorical significance of the H-1B provisions were more important than the actual provisions.

The unemployment rate for computer and mathematical occupations is just over 2 percent, meaning there is little prospect of American workers being deprived of a job. The number of jobs in these fields is growing by about 12 percent every year.

The executive order may force firms to pay more for H-1B visas and result in a crackdown on outsourcing, we point out on our website.

However, for now the questions outweigh the certainties about the immigration order. If you require the services of an Austin immigration lawyer, please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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H1-B Petitions Fall But Still Exceed the Cap

By Peek & Toland on September 20, 2017

The cap for H1-B petitions was reached again quickly in April. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) saw petitions fall to the lowest figure in five years.

The cap for skilled worker visas was reached on April 7 for the fiscal year 2018. USCIS then completed the H1-B lottery selection process on April 11.

USCIS said about 199,000 petitions were filed this year. It was the lowest number filed in five years. However, immigration services did not provide a breakdown of how many of the petitions were eligible for the advanced-degree exemption, known as the “master’s cap.”

USCIS has started to send its receipt notices by regular mail. There is not an email option in these cases.

H-1B visa petitions fell

H-1b Visa petitions fell this year

Applicants who are not selected in the lottery will be returned by mail along with the uncashed filing fee checks to the employer who was making the application.

Why Did Petitions Fall in April 2017?

The uncertainty about the future of the H-1B visa may have led to the reduction in applications this year.

Betsy Lawrence, the director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association told CNN.

“In an atmosphere of uncertainty, I suppose it is not surprising that fewer petitions were filed this year. Some IT firms in India announced they were reducing the number of lower-experienced workers they were filing petitions for, meaning more of those jobs will stay in India rather than being relocated to the U.S.”

At the start of the year, the government issued reminders that it is paying close attention to the future of the visa. USCIS promised a “more targeted approach” in visiting workplaces of H-1B petitioners. The Justice Department warned it was cautioning employers who are petitioning for H-1B visas not to discriminate against American workers. CNN reported the moves were intended to cripple outsourcing firms.

Further doubt was cast on the visa when President Donald Trump issued an executive order in April. Read more about the order on our website.

Although the volume of H-1B petitions for the 2018 financial year fell, the number is still more than double the annual allotment of 85,000, when the master’s cap is included. USCIS has a long backlog so applicants may have to wait several months before USCIS issues requests for evidence (RFEs) or approval notices.

Applying for H-1B visas is a difficult and time-consuming process. It makes sense to hire an experienced Austin immigration law firm. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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