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Monthly Archives: October 2017

Tax Filing Requirements Prompt Americans Abroad to Ditch Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on October 30, 2017

Immigrants in the United States spend a lot of time and effort seeking to become American citizens. However, there’s considerable evidence that Americans living abroad are seeking to ditch theirs.

That’s because of the onerous tax filing requirements imposed by the United States on its residents who live abroad.

A recent article by CNBC looked at a survey of 2,100 U.S. expatriates. The survey was carried out by Greenback Expat Tax Services, which specializes in working with American taxpayers living overseas.

Just over 4 in 10 of the respondents to the survey said although they aren’t planning to renounce their U.S. citizenship, they wouldn’t rule it out. Almost 20 percent said they’re seriously considering it.

Americans abroad are ditching Citizenship

Tax filings lead Americans abroad to ditch Citizenship

Half of those who are either planning or considering giving up their citizenship say the primary reason is the massive burden of U.S. tax rules.

David McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services, bemoaned the onerous requirements of legislation like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. He said:

“There’s nobody lobbying on the behalf of these people and fighting for your average American living overseas.”

Bloomberg reported the rise in Americans renouncing their citizenship goes back to the Civil War and a tax that was intended to deter potential draft dodgers.

It noted a new record of 5,411 Americans gave up their citizenship in 2016, up 26 percent from 2015.

The rules became considerably more onerous in 2010. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) was enacted. It said foreign institutions holding assets for U.S. citizens had a duty to report the accounts or withhold a 30 percent tax on the individuals if the information wasn’t provided.

The move resulted in some foreign banks declining to open accounts for expats.

At Peek & Toland , we help immigrants to become citizens of the United States. Although the number of people renouncing their citizenship overseas is rising, so too is demand for citizenship in the United States.

That reflects an uncertainty over the current immigration crackdown by Americans abroad and a concern by permanent residents that they may face deportation, even for minor infractions. See our recourses on citizenship here.

If you need advice on a citizenship matter, please call our Texas family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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Hurricane Leaves Houston’s Undocumented Immigrants Destitute

By Peek & Toland on October 27, 2017

Undocumented immigrants are among the most vulnerable members of our society. When disaster strikes, they can suffer the most significant losses. When the floodwaters rose in Houston during Hurricane Harvey earlier this year, Houston’s undocumented suffered widespread destitution.

A report on NPR noted how Rosa Sosa and her family who fled their apartment unit waited two days for the waters to recede in August. When they did, all their possessions were destroyed and they were left with nothing.

The family is from El Salvador in Central America. They escaped gang violence at home and escaped to the United States three years ago, making their home in Texas.

Sosa said the family could no longer afford food after the hurricane destroyed their home because they had to pay rent.

Hurricane impacted Houston's undocumented immigrants

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston’s undocumented immigrants

The NPR report noted Houston is the home to as many as 600,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally. They cannot legally work and earn money due to their undocumented status.

As many as one in 10 people in Houston are undocumented. NPR reported how they faced destitution after Harvey caused widespread flooding to the city.

To make matters worse, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

However, Roxana Sosa was permitted to submit an application in the name of an American-born child. Advocates for the immigrants reported they were in a dire situation in the wake of the storm.

Although the federal authorities said they would not ask to see papers as people fled Hurricane Harvey, many immigrants declined to ask for FEMA help even if they qualified out of fear of deportation.  Sosa told NPR:

“We’re afraid. That’s why we don’t declare our losses. We haven’t even gone to the management office here at the apartment complex.”

Undocumented immigrants in Texas have been hit by a double whammy. Even before the storm, a combination of a federal crackdown and an anti-sanctuary cities law due to come into effect in Texas on September 1, left migrants afraid.

The Texas law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in August.

Officials went to considerable lengths to reassure undocumented immigrants in Houston. For example, Mayor Sylvester Turner told them there would be no immigration enforcement at Red Cross shelters. Those seeking FEMA assistance in the name of a U.S.-born child were also protected.

NPR found undocumented immigrants in Houston were still fearful. The Sosas chose to remain in their sodden apartment rather than go to the Red Cross for food or shelter.

The public broadcasters spoke to Carlos Ramos, an immigrant from Honduras. During the storm, he said he joined several undocumented residents who left their apartment complex in Southwest Houston to seek food and help. However, the migrants said they spotted some immigration agents carrying out rescues. They turned back at the sight of the officials.

Supporters of undocumented immigrants warn a deadly combination of factors including poverty, immigration enforcement, lack of insurance, suspicion of the government and other factors mean the undocumented population of Houston is the most vulnerable post-Hurricane Harvey. The situation has also highlighted the need to non-profits and other help groups to step in.

If you need to speak to an experienced Texas family immigration lawyer, please call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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Lawsuits Are Filed over Texas Sanctuary Cities Act

By Peek & Toland on October 27, 2017

The recent Sanctuary Cities Act being drawn up in Texas is among the harshest of its kind in the country.

The legislation was enthusiastically backed by Governor Greg Abbott but is facing an uncertain future amid opposition from cities and legal challenges.

Austin and San Antonio have joined the list of cities suing the state of Texas over the immigration law which has been branded the harshest in the country.

An article in Think Progress noted San Antonio’s lawsuit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Lawsuit over Sanctuary Cities Act

Sanctuary Cities Act faces lawsuit

MALDEF is no stranger to bringing immigration lawsuits. The litigation was filed on behalf of the City of San Antonio and three nonprofits.

MALDEF argues SB4, which targets “sanctuary cities,” is unconstitutional.

Most controversially, SB4 opens up law enforcement officials who fail to comply with federal detainer requests to Class A misdemeanors.

The law was drafted with jurisdictions like Travis County in mind. In Austin, the new sheriff Sally Hernandez has implemented a policy to only comply with federal detainer requests in the case of serious offenders. The detainers allow people held in local jails to remain there for up to 48 hours while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) checks their immigration status.

Officials who fail to comply with the Texas law can be punished with a fine of $4,000 or up to a year in prison. Cities, police departments, and even college campuses can face civil penalties of up to $25,500 a day. Officials can be removed from office under the law.

MALDEF said the new law contains numerous constitutional violations.

In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler announced the city would also be challenging SB4.

The mayor described the new law as a danger to residents and said victims seeking police help might no longer come forward.

Adler took an uncompromising stance on the new Texas legislation. He said:

“We want our day in court because for far too long the Texas Legislature has been playing political football with the safety of our city and now we get to move to a different forum. One of the main impetuses behind the city filing suit is the keen and earnest desire to keep this community safe.”

Texas’ new law against sanctuary cities is in line with national efforts but it goes even further. The federal government is also seeking to crack down on sanctuary cities but it is limited in its powers to defund them.

These are uncertain and frightening times to be an immigrant. If you need help on any immigration matter, call our Austin family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Government Appeals to U.S. Supreme Court over Travel Ban

By Peek & Toland on October 26, 2017

The Trump administration has sought to impose two travel bans against predominantly Muslim countries. Both have been challenged in the courts and held up. Now the revised travel ban will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June a second federal appeals court held up the revised travel ban, reported Bloomberg. The Supreme Court took up the case and allowed some parts of it to go ahead, reported The New York Times.

A report on NBC News stated the Trump administration saw the U.S. Supreme Court as offering the best hope of granting what the lower courts have so far denied — permission to implement the president’s executive order on travel.

U.S. Supreme Court to consider travel ban

The Travel Ban will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court

The government filed papers in early June appealing to the justices of the highest court in the land to take up its appeal.

It also wants to be allowed to enforce the contentious travel ban while the court decides whether to it will a full argument later on the legal merits of the case.

The NBC report said the Trump administration has some grounds for optimism. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court is back at full strength with the arrival of Neil Gorsuch, it is the most conservative body to consider the travel bans to date. The court has a reputation for deferring to presidents on national security issues.

However, the highest court in the land faces a tight timetable to consider the travel ban.

The initial travel ban that followed an executive order in February caused chaos at airports. Travel was blocked from seven mainly Muslim countries.

After President Donald Trump’s first order was blocked in the courts, the president signed the second one, imposing a ban on travel from Sudan, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. Iraq was removed from the original list.

During the travel ban period, the federal government was to assess the reliability of background information from the six countries that the State Department relies on to evaluate whether to issue a visa.

The second ban was also blocked by the courts. The order has never been enforced and the government faces an uphill task to persuade the justices it will be permanently harmed if it can’t start enforcement right away.

NBC spoke to Prof. Steve Vladeck, a federal courts expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

He said in June it could take months before the U.S. Supreme Court conducts a full hearing into the executive order’s legality. He said:

“It’s going to weigh heavily on the minds of the justices just what it would mean to put the order into effect now, especially when we’re looking at such a lag time on when the court might hear courtroom argument.”

The original travel ban was intended to prevent refugees from the affected countries for 120 days. In the chaos after the ban even some green card holders were affected.

The swift intervention of the courts meant normality resumed quickly, but long-term concerns linger for visa holders and other people from the impacted countries who live and work in the United States.

If you been impacted by federal reforms in the immigration system, please contact our experienced Texas immigration lawyers here.

Posted in Immigration Reform

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Protection of Asylum Seekers in the United States is Failing, Says Report

By Peek & Toland on October 25, 2017

People who have faced persecution in their home countries may claim asylum in the United States. However, reports in recent years have undermined the adequacy of protection of asylum seekers in the United States.

The Migration Policy Institute warned the system was failing in a report a few years ago both for asylum seekers and refugees who seek a new life in the United States from abroad.

It said the U.S. refugee protection system, although generous in many respects, became less robust over the last two decades.

The Migration Policy Institute warned it was failing to meet the diverse needs of refugee populations.

Report questions protection of asylum seekers

Protection of asylum seekers is questioned

The report highlighted heightened concern about security, inadequate coordination between government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and policy tensions that remained unresolved concerning the goals of protecting the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers ask for protection after arriving in the United States. Refugees are granted protected status outside of the host country.

The report found local communities were becoming increasingly concerned about the “integration capacities” of these arrivals. Often they appeared to be left to fend for themselves.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was criticized in the report. It was found not to be keeping long-term indicators of refugee self-reliance, well-being or integration into the local community.

Asylum filings and grants fell from 2001 to 2011 due to the one-year filing deadline, heightened burden of proof requirements, and other stricter criteria after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A more recent report in Truth Out highlighted the obstacles that face asylum seekers in making a successful application to stay in the United States.

The report quoted an immigration lawyer who said the U.S. government granted asylum in only two of her cases in four decades.

One of the cases was a woman who faced genital mutilation and the other involved a Guatemalan Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Barbara Hines is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

She said the woman experienced highlights the difficulties applicants for asylum face.

When applicants successfully receive asylum, they can remain in the United States because they have been victims of persecution as a result of religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or their political opinions.

Hines said asylum cases are highly litigated and strongly contested and it’s not just enough to show harm.

If you are seeking asylum, please call our Texas immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445. Find out more about asylum here on our website.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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More Immigrants Die in ICE Custody

By Peek & Toland on October 24, 2017

A rise in deaths of immigrants in ICE custody has alarmed watchdogs and other immigrant organizations. They are pointing the finger at conditions at for-profit facilities.

Earlier this year, a Honduran immigrant became the third immigrant to die at a controversial detention center in California, reported Think Progress.

Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga was arrested about a month before his death by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents during an immigration raid. He died when he collapsed while playing soccer at the Adelanto Detention Facility.

The facility is a controversial for-profit center. ICE listed the preliminary cause of death as acute coronary syndrome. Caceres-Maradiaga was previously diagnosed with hypertension as well as an umbilical hernia. He received treatment for both conditions in ICE custody.

ICE agents picked up Caceres-Maradiaga during a raid in the spring in North Hollywood, California.

Deaths in ICE custody raise alarms

ICE records stated he was never lawfully admitted to the U.S and had prior criminal convictions since 2011 – one for DUI and another for fraud, ICE stated.

However, the death has raised concerns about a spate of immigrant deaths at detention centers.  Caceres-Maradiaga was the ninth immigrant detainee to die in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year which started in October. He was the third to die at Adelanto.

In May, CNN reported on the apparent suicide of Jean Jimenez-Joseph, 27, at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.

Jimenez-Joseph was found him in his cell with a sheet around his neck, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. They said the preliminary cause of the death was self-inflicted strangulation.

Word of the immigrant’s death sparked harsh criticism from immigrant rights activists who have warned of inadequate conditions at the detention center for some time.

Project South Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani called Jimenez-Joseph’s death a “horrific tragedy that could have been prevented.”

Recently three organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union, Detention Watch Network, and the National Immigrant Justice Center published a report called Fatal Neglect which claimed ICE ignores deaths in immigrant detention centers.

The report looked at deaths from 2010 to 2012 and concluded ICE detention facility inspections conducted before and after the deaths failed to acknowledge, and sometimes even dismissed, the critical flaws identified in the reviews into the deaths.

If you are being held in a detention center or a family member is facing deportation, our cancellation of removal lawyers may be able to help you. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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Senators Seek Information on Medical Care of Detained Immigrants

By Peek & Toland on October 23, 2017

As more undocumented immigrants are detained, concerns have spiked over the standard and adequacy of medical care being given to detained immigrants.

Now more U.S. senators are becoming concerned about conditions at immigrant detention centers, reported VOA News.

In a letter to John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary, 12 senators — 11 Democrats, plus independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — complained they received complaints about poor medical services for detained immigrants.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals pass through immigrant detention facilities every year. Many of them are in Texas.

The lawmakers said they were concerned after they heard numerous reports of detainees being hospitalized due to delays in treatment, or because they failed to receive needed medication. The politicians said they were alarmed about the lack of treatment plans for people with serious mental illness after they were released from detention facilities.

Concern over medical care of detained immigrants

medical care of detained immigrants is under scrutiny

Fears Over Medical Care of Detained Immigrants

The Senators are worried by reports of deaths of undocumented immigrants while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In their letter, they requested Kelly to respond within 30 days, detailing how newly arrived detainees receive treatment at the centers and how those who are released are evaluated to ensure continuity of care.

The senators are also seeking more information about the handling of detainees’ health complaints including how medical needs such as dialysis and blood transfusions are dealt with and whether the centers are providing child wellness and preventative care.

Deaths of immigrants at detention centers have been an issue of concern for years. We recently detailed the case of Jose Jaramillo who collapsed at an infamous correctional center in New Mexico. He was incarcerated for illegally entering the country.

He never fully recovered and died a few years later of complications. A report in the Guardian described a systemic failure to give him medical care. An undiagnosed infection turned to sepsis and later to pneumococcal meningitis.

More recent deaths of immigrants in custody have alarmed the politicians. In the VOA News report Theo Oshiro of Make the Road New York referenced troubling accounts from community members of dangerous and unhealthy conditions in many immigrant detention facilities.

Oshiro said eight people have died in ICE custody since last October. Seven of them were being held in private, for-profit detention centers.

If you or a loved one is being held in a detention center, you have rights. An experienced Austin family immigration lawyer can help you. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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Three Steps to Apply for an EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa

By Peek & Toland on October 19, 2017

When entrepreneurs invest significant sums of money in the United States they can qualify for an EB-5 immigrant investor visa in some cases, allowing them to gain a green card.

The immigrant investor program is based on a qualifying investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States.

The category was first set up in 1990. Although it was once underutilized, it became a popular option in recent years, partially due to over-subscription in other employment-based categories.

Steps to apply for an immigrant investor visa

Three steps to apply for an EB-5 immigrant investor visa

To qualify for an EB-5 visa, a foreign investor must invest at least $1 million in a U.S. commercial enterprise. He or she can qualify by investing $500,000 if the enterprise is in a rural area or an area with high unemployment known as a targeted employment area.

Often the investment is made through regional centers which pool investors’ money and apply funds toward projects to boost the economy in the approved area.

If you are applying for an EB-5 visa, you will encounter a three-step process.

Three Steps to Apply for an EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa

1 The Foreign Entrepreneur Submits an Immigrant Petition

The applicant from overseas must submit the immigrant petition by an alien entrepreneur (form I-526). The investor generally should either invest the funds in the commercial enterprise or commit the money for investment by placing it in escrow. Under the latter option, the funds must be automatically transferred on approval of the I-526 petition and the immigrant visa being issued or the I-485 application being approved.

There are some additional requirements the investor should provide when form I-526 is submitted, including:

  • Evidence of the source of the investment funds. The money must be lawfully obtained.
  • The enterprise’s ability to create 10 full-time positions for U.S. workers.
  • The investor’s role in the management of the enterprise.

If the investment is made via a regional center, the EB5 investor is not required to be involved in the management of the enterprise.

2 Consular Processing or Adjustment of Status

When the I-526 is approved, the investor along with his or her spouse and children under 21 may apply for conditional green cards valid for two years.

3 Filling in Form I-829

A successful EB-5 applicant receives a conditional green card valid for two years. He or she must remove the condition about 90 days before the conditional green card is due to expire by filing form I-829.

Certain evidential requirements must be met. The I-829 has to be accompanied by evidence that the investment funds are still in the project and that the requisite 10 jobs were created. Once the form is approved, the immigrant investor will receive a permanent, unconditional green card.

Find out more about the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program here on our website.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Prosecutors Want to Overturn Attorney General Paxton’s Judge Removal

By Peek & Toland on October 18, 2017

The ongoing white collar prosecution against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been noteworthy for its twists and turns. In the latest development, prosecutors have asked the highest court in the state to overturn a ruling supporting his push for judge removal

Paxton is the subject of a securities fraud case. His lawyers recently scored a success when a state appeals court ruled the judge earmarked for the trial, George Gallagher, lost jurisdiction when he changed the venue to Harris County from Paxton’s home county Collin County.

The Texas Tribune reported prosecutors in the case against Paxton asked the state’s highest criminal court to overturn the ruling that backs his push for a new judge in the case.

AG Paxton's judge removal is challenged

They have requested the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse the ruling. The prosecutors suggest the 5th Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to make its decision in the first place.

Secondly, they took issue with the court’s interpretation of a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that Paxton’s team relied on its motion for a new judge.

The prosecutors requested oral arguments before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

We noted earlier this year, how Paxton’s fraud trial has been repeatedly delayed.

A trial was originally scheduled for Collin County in the spring of 2017. However, white collar charges of this nature are notoriously complicated. We have seen many cases like this in which public officials have faced expensive and lengthy court proceedings, only for the cases against them to collapse.

Paxton is accused of convincing investors in a company to purchase stock in the North Texas technology firm while omitting to disclose that he was being paid by the firm. He faces criminal charges based on the allegations that go back to a time before he was the state’s attorney general.

The Attorney General’s lawyers have sought to remove Gallagher from the case ever since he moved the case out of Collin County, where Paxton resides. They refused to give him written permission that they say is needed for Gallagher to follow the case to Harris County.

Paxton has been fighting the corruption charges for more than two years. If convicted, he could face up to 99 years in prison.

At Peek & Toland our experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers can help you if you are charged with a white collar crime. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Undocumented Immigrants Using Fraudulent Documents Will be Charged With Identity Theft.

By Peek & Toland on October 17, 2017

Undocumented immigrants who use fake documents in the United States face being charged with the enhanced offense of aggravated identity theft, according to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions announced the tough measure during a visit to Arizona in April. The measure is in line with the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration with its emphasis on more raids and deportations.

A memo issued to U.S. Attorneys’ offices said prosecutors should seek charges for aggravated identity theft for migrants involved in the fraud or misuse of visas, permits, and other documents.

using fraudulent documents will lead to immigrants being charged with identity theft

Immigrants using fraudulent documents face being charged with identity theft

The April 11 memo from Sessions contained a raft of policies aimed at tackling illegal immigration.

It urged federal prosecutors to prioritize charges for the unlawful transportation or the harboring of aliens.

It said where a resource-linked decision was necessary, the priority should be the prosecution of people bringing three or more undocumented immigrants into the United States.

Two or more misdemeanor convictions for improper entry or one with aggravating circumstances like gang membership should be considered a felony, Sessions wrote.

Sessions asked each district to designate a border security coordinator by April 18.

There is a lack of consensus about the extent undocumented immigrants use fake identification and how detrimental it is to the United States.

Ronald W. Mortensen of the Center for Immigration Studies wrote in an article on the right-wing website Breitbart that identity theft by undocumented immigrants is wrecking lives and costing victims millions of dollars.

He said this form of identity theft is not a victimless crime. It impacts millions of Americans of all ages, those with disabilities, law enforcement and others whose social security numbers are being used, Mortensen said.

However, an article in The Atlantic suggested the social security system is benefitting from the use of false documentation.

It said many immigrants who lack the authorization to work in the United States, purchase fake Social Security cards and give them to employers, who are not aware they are fake or don’t look at them too closely.

When the W-2 form and a tax payment on behalf of the workers is submitted to the Social Security Administration, the federal government retains payroll taxes, even when a Social Security number is not linked to anyone on file.

The article suggested a considerable chuck of that money ends up in the Social Security trust fund which benefits to aging Americans are derived from.

The Atlantic article claimed the Social Security system has grown increasingly reliant on this revenue stream as Baby Boomers start to retire.

Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, estimated as many as 1.8 million immigrants were working with fake or stolen Social Security cards in 2010. That number is expected to double by 2040.

 

If you are an undocumented immigrant who has been accused of using false documentation, you should hire an Austin criminal defense and immigration lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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