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Monthly Archives: November 2017

Drug Smuggling Rises on the Border as Human Trafficking Falls

By Peek & Toland on November 16, 2017

Drug smuggling appears to be rising at the border between the United States and Mexico as human trafficking falls due to tougher enforcement.

A Fox News report in May explored how the Mexican cartels may be responding to the decline in human smuggling by boosting drug smuggling.

Like any large corporation that responds to a sagging line of revenue, the Mexican cartels who control the border have replaced a decline in human smuggling with an increase in drug smuggling, the report stated.

Fox quoted border agents who said the cartels are seeking to replace their lost revenues from human smuggling with narcotics money.

Border sees drug smuggling rise

Drug smuggling increases at the border

Border Patrol Agent Marlene Castro in the Rio Grande in South Texas said:

“They need to make their profits somewhere. They were making so much money from human trafficking. Now that’s at a near all-time low, so they’re trying to make money on narcotics…marijuana, meth, and cocaine.”

The trend is most obvious in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas but is being seen elsewhere, according to the Fox report.

It noted the marked decline in the smuggling of families who come to the United States from Central America where gang crime and poverty is rife.

The smuggling of families from Central America plummeted from about 15,000 a month before the election of Donald Trump in November to less than 1,000 today.

The so-called “Trump effect” appears to have impacted illegal immigration, according to CNBC. In March fewer than 12,500 people were apprehended at the border, a 17-year low.  The Trump administration claimed credit due to the president’s strong stance on immigration.

Could Strong Anti-Immigration Stance Be Boosting Drug Smuggling?

Border Patrol figures point to an increase in drugs coming across the border. Since January 2017, seizures of cocaine rose 129 percent while methamphetamine was up 150 percent.

Officers say they have seen narcotics disguised as fruit such as limes, watermelons, and mangos. They have been apprehended in the gas tanks of cars and in milk containers.

In May, officers at the Hidalgo International Bridge intercepted a consignment of liquid methamphetamine with a street value of $3.8 million hidden in the gas tank of a Chevy Silverado.

Drug trafficking and the distribution of paraphernalia is a dealt with in the federal courts and taken very seriously. Recently a man from the Houston area was sentenced to 11 years for the crime in the federal courts. Read more about it here on our website.

If you or a family member has been charged with drug trafficking, please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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How Probation Can Be Revoked if You Fail to Comply With an Alcohol Test

By Peek & Toland on November 15, 2017

Our Texas criminal defense lawyers are sometimes asked if probation can be revoked if you fail to comply with an alcohol test.

The answer is yes. Failing a drug or an alcohol test is one of the most serious violations of probation and it’s important to hire an attorney if this happened to you.

Recently, the director of the Pasadena Convention Center ended up behind bars after a judge revoked his probation because he failed to submit to alcohol testing, a Houston Chronicle report stated.

The report stated Jordy Tollett was on probation after he was arrested twice for DWI in 2015. He was placed in Harris County Jail after court records indicated he failed to submit to alcohol testing and drug testing on four occasions in May and June 2016.

Failure to comply with an alcohol test results in probation revocation

Probation can be revoked if you fail to comply with an alcohol test

His two DWI arrests took place two months apart in 2015. They followed a car accident in Webster, followed by a second arrest in Nassau Bay. A witness called 911 after Tollett almost ran over a family walking on the sidewalk, according to reports.

The report said Tollett had DWI arrests dating back to at least 2001. A report in Pasadena Patch stated he was arrested in 2012 in Nassau Bay for DWI. An off-duty police officer saw him driving erratically on NASA Parkway. He struck a curb as he left a parking lot.

Although probation is often revoked in situations like this, you do have the right to attend a hearing to explain your side of the story and to highlight any mitigating circumstances.

Whether you are on a felony or a misdemeanor probation, you are entitled to a probation revocation hearing. Here are some of the common reasons why probation revocations are filed.

  1. A failed alcohol or drug test;
  2. Not attending appointments with a probation officer;
  3. Failing to complete or show up to community service;
  4. Failing to pay fines, fees or court costs;
  5. Arrest or conviction of a new criminal charge;
  6. Failing to abide with terms of probation such as contacting victims of the criminal case, associating with people involved in drugs or visiting prohibited bars;
  7. Failing to attend treatment and counseling as required by the order.

You should be aware of the potentially serious consequences of felony probation violation in Texas. If you are on probation for a third-degree felony that can carry a prison term of up to 10 years. You can face very serious consequences if a motion to revoke is filed.

If you have been charged with a DWI in Austin or elsewhere your life will likely to turned upside down. It’s important to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a DWI or you have been the subject of a motion to revoke your probation. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense, DWI

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U.S. Supreme Court Decision Makes Citizenship-Stripping Tougher

By Peek & Toland on November 14, 2017

It’s a well-known fact that if you make a false statement during the process to become a U.S. citizen you can be stripped of your citizenship. However, a recent Supreme Court decision puts limits on the government’s citizenship-stripping abilities for untrue statements.

The decision is likely to complicate the efforts of the Trump administration to strip naturalized Americans of citizenship if they made false statements during the naturalization process.

In June, a six-justice majority of the high court ruled a naturalized citizen who lies on his or her application can only be subject to citizenship-stripping if the lie would have led officials to deny citizenship if uncovered or hid facts likely to lead to a denial.

The appeal related to a Bosnian woman who came to the United States as a refugee reported NPR.

Divna Maslenjak, an Ohio resident, lived in Bosnia during the 1990s during the bloody civil war. She was an ethnic Serb who applied for refugee status in the United States in 1998.

court decision restricts citizenship-stripping

U.S. Supreme Court puts restrictions on citizenship-stripping

Maslenjak claimed she was in fear of persecution along with her husband and her two children, because of their ethnicity.

She claimed they were targets because her husband avoided serving in the Bosnian army by taking refuge in Serbia. The family escaped to the U.S. Maslenjak became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

Two years later new and disturbing details emerged about Maslenjak’s husband. U.S. officials discovered he served for five years in a Bosnian militia brigade that was implicated in the massacre of about 8,000 Muslims in the town of Srebrenica.

Maslenjak testified on behalf of her husband at the hearing. She said she’d given false information about him when seeking refugee status for the family.  She answered no on her citizenship application form when asked if she’d ever given false information to gain entry to the U.S.

Her admission that she’d lied led to charges being brought against her.

The Bosnian woman was convicted, stripped of her citizenship and deported from the United States. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming she was convicted because of an erroneous instruction.

Lawyers for Maslenjak said the judge, at the government’s request, instructed the jury it should convict her if it discovered any of her statements was false, even if the statement in question did not affect a decision to grant her citizenship.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction against Maslenjak that led to citizenship-stripping.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for her fellow justices.

“The Government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.”

In other words, a lie must be pertinent to the decision to grant citizenship.

This is an important decision for citizenship in the United States. While applicants should never lie when applying for naturalization, it may not always be grounds to be stripped of citizenship.

An experienced Texas citizenship attorney can help you with your application and ensure no mistakes are made in the process. See our citizenship resources here or call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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Texas Abortion Law Opens up Numerous Parties to Felonies

By Peek & Toland on November 13, 2017

A new Texas abortion law could lead to a wide range of unsuspecting parties being charged with a felony crime if they are involved in procuring a termination.

The legislation passed the Texas House in May. A recent report in Newsweek suggested this law could criminalize a wide range of people.

The law that came into effect in September bans the most common and safest second-trimester abortion procedure. Newsweek reported it could criminalize anyone who helps a woman obtain one, according to reproductive rights advocates.

The legislation – Senate Bill 8 – bans dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure in the second trimester of a pregnancy that has been made illegal in several other states.

Concerns over Texas abortion law

Texas abortion law may have unintended consequences

It also prohibits fetal tissue donation and requires all tissue from an abortion be to be buried or cremated.

Representative Joe Moody, a former prosecutor, warned a number of parties linked to the procedures could face criminal charges. He feared the drafters of the bill did not consider all of the consequences.

These parties who could face charges include a doctor who performed the abortion, a receptionist who booked the appointment, and anyone who drove the pregnant woman to the clinic for the procedure.

Moody warned even a bank teller who cashed a check that paid for the abortion could be charged.

In the House, Moody said he thought this was an unintended consequence of the legislation. Notwithstanding his warning, his amendment to restrict people who could be prosecuted under the Texas abortion law failed.

A doctor who carried out the dilation and evacuation procedure could face being charged with a state jail felony. The crime is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Although the woman who had the procedure is theoretically exempt from criminal sanctions under the bill, under the controversial law of parties in Texas, prosecutors could conceivably come after other parties involved in the process.

If you are charged under a new law in Texas, it’s important to receive legal advice as soon as possible. Our criminal defense lawyers help clients in Austin, Round Rock, San Antonio and other places in Texas. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Sex Trafficking Victims – Investigation Reveals They Are Still Losing Out

By Peek & Toland on November 10, 2017

Six months after an investigation revealed sex trafficking victims were losing out in Texas, the situation has improved little, according to a report.

Earlier this year, a Texas Tribune series of articles exposed how a campaign against sex trafficking over the last 10 years did little to help victims.  Children have proved to be particularly vulnerable.

The Tribune article noted how the 2017 legislative session, which ended in May, once again concentrated on sex traffickers rather than their victims.

The article claimed the legislators stripped money for the victims of sex traffickers behind closed doors.

sex trafficking victims lose out

The Texas legislature passed some get-tough measures targeted at sex traffickers. They included.

Increasing the Sanctions for Prostitution

The Texas legislature increased the penalties for people who are involved in the “promotion of prostitution.”

Rather than directly selling sex these acts could include driving a seller to meet a buyer or posting an ad for sex online.

Boosting Education and Public Outreach on Sex Trafficking

New bills were sent to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott requiring truck drivers to receive training on sex trafficking and posting signs in strip clubs, abortion clinics and hospital emergency rooms aimed at reaching potential trafficking victims.

Refinements to the nuisance laws would make it easier to close down massage parlors that are a front for prostitution.

The Tribune reported legislators were less successful in enacting changes that would benefit the victims of sex trafficking.

For instance, many sex trafficking victims wind up in the criminal justice system charged with crimes such as prostitution, theft, and drug possession.

A sex trafficker may have helped them commit these crimes. A bill that would have made it easier for them to expunge their criminal records was backed in the House but foundered in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

A bill that was aimed at reducing the penalties for selling sex in Texas never made it to a vote in either chamber.

All too frequently the victims of sex trafficking end up in jail because Texas lacks facilities to help them, the Tribune reported.

If you have been charged with an offense of this nature, our Austin criminal defense lawyers can help you. Please call us at (512) 474-4445 or contact us here.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Texas Governor Signs Emergency Bill to Overhaul Child Welfare

By Peek & Toland on November 9, 2017

The child welfare system in Texas has been under fire for decades. Shortcomings have put children at risk and undermined criminal justice in the state.

Recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed new legislation aimed at overhauling the state’s malfunctioning system.

In May, the Texas House passed a package of sweeping measures aimed at addressing what is described as a crisis in the state’s child welfare system.

The House passed Senate Bill 11. The measure envisages a shift toward a “community-based care” model for helping endangered children in Texas.

child welfare gets shake-up in Texas

Governor signs overhaul of child welfare in Texas

It would allow contracted organizations to monitor children in foster care and adoptive homes. In the past, that onerous responsibility has fallen on the cash-strapped state with disastrous consequences.

State Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, the sponsor of the bill, said it signaled an end to the status-quo of child welfare in Texas.

A report in the Texas Tribune noted that Under SB 11, the Department of Family and Protective Services must identify eight areas in Texas to implement a new community-based care system and publish a comprehensive plan for implementation by the end of 2019.

The changes followed alarm over abuse and neglect in the child welfare system in Texas.

The changes came too late for children like two-year-old Colton Turner from Cedar Park.

The child was murdered by his adoptive father even though four Child Protective Service investigations were underway at the time into allegations that Colton was being abused.

Supervisors and case workers were found to have made numerous mistakes and three CPS workers were fired.

The new legislation contains a number of key reforms to child protective services in Texas. It would.

  • Create a pilot program for nonprofits to handle issues involving behavioral care for children.
  • Require managed care organizations to be notified within 24 hours if a child’s placement is changed.
  • Children under conservatorship must be given medical exams within three days of entering into the system. Organizations that fail to meet the medical exam requirement would be fined.

Abbott dubbed the child welfare issue an emergency item for action this year.

In  2015, a judge ruled the foster care system, violated children’s rights, and runaway foster kids made headlines.

Earlier this year, we noted how CPS was discontinuing its use of U-Visas to protect children of undocumented immigrants who were in danger.

Problems in CPS in Texas have impacted the administration of justice and immigration in Texas over the last few years. If you need the help of an immigration or a criminal defense lawyer in Austin, call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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ACLU Issues a Texas Travel Advisory over New Immigration Law

By Peek & Toland on November 8, 2017

The anti-immigrant law recently passed in Texas is so controversial, it has prompted a Texas travel advisory from the ACLU.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union issued its “travel alert” following the signing of the anti-sanctuary cities bill in Texas.

It informed anyone planning to travel to Texas in the near future to look out for “the possible violation of their constitutional rights” if stopped by law enforcement officers.

The Texas travel advisory was prompted by the signing of Senate Bill 4, an anti-immigration measure that threatens to criminalize law enforcement officials who decline to comply with federal immigration requests.

Officials who fail to honor federal detainer requests to hold suspected illegal immigrants face being punished with a fine of $4,000 or up to a year in prison. Sheriffs, police departments, cities, and even college campuses can face civil penalties of up to $25,500 a day. Officials can be removed from office under the law.

Texas travel advisory issued by ACLU

ACLU issues Texas travel advisory

The ACLU was highly critical of the legislation and it faces legal challenges from a host of cities in Texas including Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.

ACLU officials said SB4 gives a green light to police officers in Texas to investigate the immigration status of a suspect during a routine traffic stop.

It claims this will lead to racial profiling and illegal arrests of citizens and non-citizens alike if they look or sound foreign.

The Texas travel advisory applies to all travelers to Texas, including American travelers from other states and U.S. citizens, stated the ACLU.

The alert applies to all encounters with state, federal and county law enforcement including local police and sheriffs.

The ACLU said the law was objectionable in a state that has strong links with Mexico.

Lorella Praeli, ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns, said:

“The ACLU’s goal is to protect all Texans and all people traveling through Texas — regardless of their immigration status — from illegal harassment by law enforcement … Texas is a state with deep Mexican roots and home to immigrants from all walks of life.”

In recent months, places like Austin have seen immigration raids as the Trump administration sought to round up and deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records. There are, nevertheless, obstacles which we detail here.

If you have been impacted by new legislation in Texas or are facing an immigration challenge, please call our Texas immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

U.S. Embassies Start More Intensive Vetting of Visa Applicants

By Peek & Toland on November 7, 2017

During last year’s election campaign Republican nominee Donald Trump called for “intensive vetting” of people like visa holders who enter the United States.

Now under his presidency, consular officers at U.S. embassies across the world have started more intensive vetting of some visa applicants, the Washington Post has reported.

The vetting process includes asking visa holders for their social media handles the Post reported.

The move is meant to block potential terrorists and other threats to national security from entering the country.

Intensive Vetting Includes a Supplemental Questionnaire

A supplemental questionnaire that came into use back on May 25 this year, includes new, more probing questions for arrivals.

The Post reports the supplemental questionnaire was an “emergency” measure responding to President Trump’s memo in March making enhanced visa screening mandatory. The policy was in line with Trump’s campaign pledge for “extreme vetting.”

more intensive vetting is taking place

Intensive vetting is stepped up

Although the new policy is only slated to be in place until November, it’s expected to be permanent.

Questions on the Supplemental Questionnaire

Some of the areas covered by the supplemental questionnaire include:

  • Travel history over the last 15 years.
  • The source of funding for trips.
  • Passport numbers.
  • The past 15 years of employment history
  • Residential addresses,
  • The names of all spouses or partners, living and dead.
  • User names on social media accounts.

Some of this information was requested previously but the new questionnaire goes further back. The travel information is intended to identify people who have visited ISIS-controlled areas.

The stipulation to provide user names on all social media accounts used over the five years is new and controversial.

The responses are voluntary but not responding could result in a delay in the processing of your visa.

Opposition to the new questionnaire came from the American Civil Liberties Union.

It claimed the questions were too broad brush and burdensome and the questions related to social media intruded both on the privacy of the visa applicants and potentially any U.S. citizen they were in contact with.

Vetting and the increased problems applications are experiencing getting visas, make it important to hire an attorney to avoid pitfalls. Find out more about visas and how to apply for them on our website.

If you require help negotiating the visa minefield, please call our immigration lawyers in Austin, Laredo, San Antonio or elsewhere in Texas at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Prosecutors May Be Defending Immigrants From Deportation over Minor Crimes

By Peek & Toland on November 6, 2017

Prosecutors have plenty of discretion when they negotiate plea deals. While we often believe they want to hit defendants with the highest sentence possible, this is not always the case. A recent study suggested some prosecutors are defending immigrants from possible deportation.

A recent report on NPR suggested prosecutors in several U.S. cities are using their discretion to protect defendants who are immigrants from possible deportation down the line.

NPR spoke to Brooklyn prosecutor Eric Gonzalez. He still recalls the case of a legal permanent resident from Haiti who was arrested on a trespassing charge. Police also discovered a small amount of cocaine on him.

Prosecutors are defending immigrants

Prosecutors are defending immigrants in some places

He did not plead to the trespass charge but he admitted the drugs charge. The Haitian was sentenced to community service. He stayed out ad trouble and was able to hold down two jobs.

However, the old plea deal proved his undoing when he returned to Haiti in 2010 to check on his family after the massive earthquake. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials noticed his drug conviction on his return. ICE put him in deportation proceedings a decade after his plea deal.

Gonzales told NPR the immigrant would not have been deported if he had pled guilty to the trespassing charge.

Gonzalez is the acting district attorney in Brooklyn. The state’s first Hispanic district attorney warns immigrants face a form of double jeopardy and can end up deported years after serving their sentences on criminal charges.

He’s one of group of prosecutors who are defending immigrants future interests. He instructed his staff of about 500 prosecutors to consider the immigration status of a defendant when negotiating plea deals for relatively minor nonviolent offenses.

The NPR report said prosecutors in Baltimore have also been instructed to consider the collateral consequences of prosecuting immigrants for minor misdemeanors.

Attorney General Jeff Session has attacked prosecutors for defending immigrants by avoiding plea deals which may later lead to deportations.

Sessions said:

“It troubles me that we’ve seen district attorneys openly brag about not charging cases appropriately under the laws of our country so that – provides an opportunity for individuals not to be convicted of a crime that might lead to deportation.”

At Peek & Toland , we have successfully fought many removal actions. See our cancellation of removal resources here.

If you or a loved one is concerned a past criminal conviction will lead to deportation, please contact our experienced Texas cancellation of removal lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Criminal Defense, Immigration

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Frequently Asked Questions About Marriage Adjustment of Status

By Peek & Toland on November 3, 2017

Immigration lawyers are often asked some key questions by non-citizens who plan to get married ranging from the fees involved to how long the marriage adjustment of status process will take. These questions relate to marriage adjustment of status.

Adjustment of status is the process by which a foreign-born person who marries a U.S. citizen qualifies for a green card and becomes a permanent resident.

Questions and answers on marriage adjustment of status

Here are some frequently asked questions asked by applicants

1 How Long Does It Take For Marriage Adjustment of Status?

From the moment the petition files until you are called in for an interview, the process is about four or five months. If you pass the interview, it will take about two weeks more before the green card is mailed to your residence. The full process is outlined on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

2 Can the Process Be Completed Inside the United States?

Yes. Assuming both the U.S. citizen spouse and foreign reside in the United States legally. If the foreign spouse is living overseas and is not authorized to live in the United States, he or she must apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate outside the United States and then immigrate to the U.S. This is a very different process called consular processing.

3 What is the Cost of Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of status currently costs more than $1,700. Form I-485 costs $1140 and the biometrics fee costs a further $85.  Form I-130 costs $535 making a total of about $1,760. Certain people may be eligible for a fee waiver. If you use an immigration attorney to make the process easier, you will also pay the attorney’s fees to prepare your application.

4 Does My Spouse Need to Make a Minimum Amount of Income to Support My Adjustment of Status?

Yes. USCIS has published HHS Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support. The minimum income needed for support outside Alaska and Hawaii are $16,240 for sponsors in active duty in the military and $20,300 for all other sponsors. As well as the poverty guidelines, household size is relevant.

5 I Have a Criminal Background. Can I apply for Adjustment of Status?

Although a clean criminal record is necessary for adjustment of status, the answer depends on the crime committed.

You are inadmissible for a green card if you have committed a crime of “moral turpitude, have a controlled substance violation conviction or have committed two or more crimes. There are some gray areas. We discuss here whether assault is a crime of “moral turpitude.” If you have a criminal record, you should discuss the situation with your immigration attorney before applying for adjustment of status.

Adjustment of status through marriage is one of the most common way immigrants become permanent residents in the U.S. and eventually citizens.

It’s also a complicated process. Please contact an experienced Texas immigration attorney to help you tackle the issues.

Posted in Immigration

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