Monthly Archives: January 2018

Businesses Hired American Summer Workers to Avoid Visa Squeeze

By Peek & Toland on January 31, 2018

Sustained criticism of immigration programs by President Donald Trump and the refusal of Congress to release a cap on work visas led many summer businesses to ditch the hiring of immigrants in 2017 and rely on local workers.

While this may have been good news for Trump’s “America First” agenda it hit the bottom lines of many businesses because they had to shell out more in wages, reported Politico.

The article noted some business leaders fear it’s a development that will ultimately sap jobs and cost companies profits. It remains to be seen if it will be easier for businesses in the summer of 2018.

The seasonal businesses affected included oyster shuckers, hotels, restaurants and landscapers. Some companies reported hiring difficulties led them to lose contracts. Wineries also reported difficulties in recruiting workers when the supply from abroad dried up.

In 2017, some enterprises turned to American summer workers

Many businesses turned to American summer workers

Vacation areas that lost out included the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Cape Cod.

The refusal of Congress to release a cap on foreign temporary workers impacted H-2B visas.

Laurie Flanagan, co-chair of the H-2B Workforce Coalition, a lobbying group, said many businesses lost a “lot of revenue.”

Although Trump has criticized overseas visa programs, he has not moved against the H-2B visa program. Politico reported Trump’s own Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida requested H-2B visas for about 70 cooks, servers and housekeepers.

However, the President promised to tighten up restrictions on guest-worker visas, leading some businesses to shy away from applying.

The action, or inaction of Congress, had a more dramatic impact.

Politico reported the United States had 66,000 slots this year for foreign workers in seasonal businesses not involving agriculture. The slots were filled by March 2017.

In previous years, Congress extended the guest workers’ H-2B visas to deal with the looming shortages. It did not happen in 2017.

Eventually, in the summer, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly added 15,000 visas in a one-time increase. It came too late for many seasonal businesses.

At our Texas visa immigration law firm we can help you apply for a visa and improve your chances of success.  Call us for a free consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

New Restrictions on J-1 Visas May Affect Au Pairs

By Peek & Toland on January 30, 2018

J-1 visas under the Exchange Visa Program have allowed students to visit the United States for decades. Now potential restrictions, have concerned some families about the future availability of au pairs.

A report by CBS in San Francisco noted some families are worried about how a possible crackdown could impact the availability of au pairs in the Bay area.

In August, The Wall Street Journal reported Trump is now eyeing reductions in cultural exchange programs including those that allow students and young workers to travel from foreign countries to the U.S.

The White House is reported to be taking aim at five employment-based programs that are part of the J-1 visa exchange program which we detail on our website.

The White House has announced a review of H-1B visas for skilled workers in an executive order.

Restrictions on J-1 visas hit au pairs

Restrictions on J-1 visas impact au pairs

The Journal reported the Trump administration is also set to review summer work-travel programs that bring in more than 100,000 students to the U.S. ever summer, as well as au pair programs which allow for smaller numbers of foreign guests to live in American households to provide child care needs.

The Exchange Visitor Program was set up as long ago as 1961 under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act.

In the Bay area, residents like Melissa Hernandez, say they cannot imagine life without their au pairs. The alternative would be paying sky-high rates for local childminders.

Supporters of J-1 Visas say the program is not just about getting young people from other countries to work in the United States, but to give them a cultural experience and take that knowledge of the U.S. back home.

Opponents of the program say it is often abused for cheap labor. Marguerite Telford with the Center for Immigration Studies told CBS:

“We really do have people being taken advantage of because people want cheap labor.”

When Are J-1 Visas Used

J-1 visas are not just used for students and au pairs. Physicians taking training courses, teachers, professors or research scholars, and business trainees may apply for the visas.

The State Department says the J-1 program currently provides opportunities for about 300,000 foreign visitors from over 200 countries a year “to experience U.S. society and culture and engage with Americans.”

Call our experienced Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445 to find out about this and other visa programs.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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House Bill Could Speed Up Deportations

By Peek & Toland on January 28, 2018

The Trump administration has repeatedly stated its willingness to deport undocumented immigrants. However, the system of deportation hearings is cumbersome and there is a massive backlog for hearing. Legislation passed in the summer may speed up deportations.

Two hardline immigration bills were passed in June. This legislation will penalize illegal immigrants who offend and local jurisdictions that refuse to work with federal authorities to deport them.

The bills, Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, passed on party lines. President Trump tweeted that the legislation would make America safe again.

The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act is intended to prevent “sanctuary cities” that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement from receiving many federal grants. The Washington Post noted the law leaves sanctuary cities vulnerable to liability lawsuits from victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

Legislation may speed up deportations

Bills would speed up deportations

The bill is intended to prevent local jurisdictions from holding up detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and speed up the deportation process for unlawful immigrants who commit crimes.

An article in The American Prospect said the legislation “would facilitate the administration’s drive to conscript local police officers into its “mass deportation machine.”

The Trump administration is reported to be assigning extra immigration judges to 12 cities with high immigrant populations to speed up the deportation process. They include El Paso and Harlingen, in Texas.

Kate’s Lawn was named after a 32-year-old woman shot dead in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.

It increases prison sentences for criminal immigrants who re-enter the country illegally after being convicted and deported.

In June, John Kelly, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, said ICE deported nearly 66,000 people known to be or suspected of being in the United States illegally — representing a spike under the Trump administration. He said almost half of the immigrants who were deported had been charged with crimes or had gang affiliations.

Earlier last year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a series of measures intended to speed up the immigration deportation process, we noted on our blog.

Sessions said these changes represented an “expansion and modernization” of the Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

The revised IHP identifies undocumented immigrants incarcerated in federal prisons. It will allow immigration removal proceedings to proceed via video teleconference and removes the undocumented immigrant at the end of his or her sentence, rather than releasing them to an ICE detention facility or into the community pending an adjudication of status.

If you or a family member is facing possible deportation, call our Texas family immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Outlining V-1 and V-2 Visas for Spouses and Children of Green Card Holders

By Peek & Toland on January 26, 2018

V-1 and V-2 visas are regulated under the terms of the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act).

A V visa is a nonimmigrant visa created to allow families to stay together while waiting for the processing of immigrant visas.

A V visa allows a spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 of a Lawful Permanent Resident to access, live and work in the United States as non-immigrants until they become lawful permanent residents.

The spouse receives a V-1 visa and the children are given a V-2 or V-3 visa.

Obtaining V-1 and V-2 Visas

How to obtain V-1 and V-2 Visas

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states you can apply for a V visa if you filed Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for a family member on or before December 21, 2000. This includes unmarried children under 21 listed on the petition.

Alternatively, a family member may have been waiting three years since filing the Form I-130 or the immigrant visa is not available on an approved Form I-130 petition, the application to adjust status is pending or the petition for an immigrant visa is pending.

To be eligible for a V-1 visa, an immigrant must demonstrate either:

  • Proof of legal marriage to a permanent resident/green card holder.
  • The permanent resident/green card holder must have filed an I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on the behalf as his or her spouse as the principal beneficiary before December 21, 2000, and
  • Either an immigrant visa is not currently available, the spouse of the green card holder has a pending application for adjustment of his or her status, or a spouse has a pending application for an immigrant visa.

To demonstrate eligibility for a V-2 visa, an immigrant must show:

  • The child applicant is unmarried,
  • The child is under the age of 21 at the time of the application.
  • The child is an offspring of a permanent resident/green card holder,
  • The green card holder parent filed form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of the child, identifying the child as the principal beneficiary before December 21, 2000, and
  • Either an immigrant visa is not currently available, the minor has a pending application for adjustment of his or her status, or the child has an application being processed or pending for an immigrant visa.

V-1 and V-2 visas have been one of the most significant vehicles to immigration in the United States in recent years, allowing families to remain together pending applications for green cards. However, family-based immigration is currently being questioned by the White House.

Every year, there are about 480,000 family-based visas available every year, states the American Immigration Council.

The Trump administration is seeking a move toward a more “merit-based” immigration system. Read more about V visas on our website.

For help on any family immigration matter please call our Austin immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Why DNA Evidence is Less Reliable than People Believe

By Peek & Toland on January 25, 2018

DNA evidence has been central to criminal trials for almost 40 years. Many people are led to believe it’s almost foolproof. This is a dangerous presumption. In fact, DNA evidence is riddled with potential flaws.

An article in Popular Science cited a Gallup poll that found 58 percent of people believe DNA evidence is extremely reliable.

This perception has been challenged by recent revelations. Two years ago, Frontline noted how DNA evidence can lead juries astray and lead to wrongful convictions.

That’s not to say DNA is inherently unreliable. Compared to many other forensic techniques that have been debunked, DNA has a high accuracy rate.

DNA evidence may not be reliable

DNA evidence may be unreliable

DNA is certainly unequivocal under optimal conditions. The Popular Science article says when investigators have large quantities of a suspect’s well-preserved genes if it’s obvious how DNA arrived at the crime scene, and labs sequencing the sample don’t make any mistakes, the evidence should be foolproof.

Unfortunately, these optimal conditions are met in very few cases. Often when DNA evidence is presented to a court, there is some ambiguity. Juries may not realize that gray areas exist.

The article points out DNA samples from crime scenes are imperfect and the DNA breaks down. This makes it extremely challenging to get a 100 percent match.

But when a match exists, it’s not possible to know how the crime scene DNA sample got there in the first place. Scientists are not sure how DNA travels.

Many of the body’s cells contain DNA. We shed it wherever we go. The article points out that under certain circumstances, these cells can end up in places we have never been.

Also, it’s not possible to know from DNA how much earlier it was deposited. So DNA at a murder scene left there six months earlier may become implicated in the investigation.

Over the last three years, officials became increasingly concerned about how DNA evidence was treated in labs.

Two years ago, The FBI informed crime labs across the nation that it discovered mistakes in data used by forensic scientists. The errors related to the chances that genetic evidence found at a crime scene matched a particular individual in thousands of cases the Washington Post reported.

Initially, the FBI discounted fears that the flawed methodology could undermine cases. Jurors were informed the chances that DNA belonged to anyone other than the defendant if there was a match was one in more than a billion. It later emerged that the odds were more like one in 100 in many cases, a marked difference.

Austin Police Department’s crime lab faced recalculating statistics on about half of almost 1,300 Travis County cases. Problems at the lab that resulted in its closure last year exacerbated the issues.

If you have been charged with a crime you should be aware any forensic evidence against you may be unreliable. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can expose flaws in this evidence. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Another Pedestrian is Killed in an Austin Hit and Run Crash

By Peek & Toland on January 24, 2018

The number of drivers who leave the scene of a fatal accident in Texas is higher than many people believe. In September, a driver sped off from a wreck scene after leaving a pedestrian dead in Austin.

A report in the American-Statesman noted Richard Stacy Stader, a 37-year-old pedestrian, was killed in a hit and run crash last September near Wells Branch.

A preliminary police investigation noted the pedestrian was crossing north in the 1500 block of Wells Branch Parkway against a traffic signal at about 9:40 p.m.

Austin hit and run crash

Austin hit-and-run accidents are reported

Police said he was struck by a blue 2010 blue Honda Accord traveling west on Wells Branch close to the Interstate 35 southbound service road. According to police reports, the Honda drove off. Stader was pronounced dead at the scene.

Initial reports said police recovered the vehicle but were still seeking the driver. Stader’s death was the 35th traffic fatality of the year in Austin by the end of September.

Leaving the scene of an accident can be treated very seriously in Texas, in particular when a death or a serious injury ensues.

The offense of hit and run is also known as leaving the scene of an accident. It’s a very serious offense if a vehicle crash involves injury, death or even property damage.

The offense is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the degree of damage or injury.

Under Texas Transportation Code § 550.021, failing to remain at an accident scene when a death or a serious injury has been caused is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If you drive away from an accident scene with an injury, you can spend five years in prison and receive a fine of up to $5,000.

If you leave the scene of an accident with property damage, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if the property damage is worth more than $200. You can serve up to 180 days in jail and be fined up to $2,000.

Even leaving the scene of an accident with only property damage can land you in serious trouble with the law.

You can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if property damage exceeds $200. You can serve up to 180 days in jail and be fined up to $2,000.

An accident involving damage less than $200 can result in you being charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

If you are charged with leaving the scene, please contact our experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Federal Judge Derails Parts of Texas Sanctuary Cities Law

By Peek & Toland on January 23, 2018

A legal challenge against Texas’ controversial sanctuary cities law has left opponents questioning its full implications.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction and blocked important provisions of Senate Bill 4, reported the Texas Tribune.

The law is intended to prevent sanctuary city policies in Texas. It forbids law enforcement officials like sheriffs, jail administrators and police chiefs from preventing a police officer inquiring about an arrestee’s immigration status.

The law would prevent local jurisdictions opposing federal detainer requests. It requires jail officials to honor all requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to hold inmates facing possible deportation for longer periods.

Texas sanctuary cities law under fire in the courts

Court dealt a blow to Texas sanctuary cities law

It forbids governments from adopting or implementing policies that limit immigration enforcement such as the one in place in Travis County where the sheriff will only comply with ICE detainer requests for people charged with serious offenses.

Garcia placed a temporary block on these measures. He argued a detainer request could violate a person’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge said stopping officials from crafting policies was an infringement of the First Amendment.

In September 2017, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans allowed officials in Texas to partly implement the law while awaiting a full hearing of the appeal in November. The next month Mexico joined the suit against the law.

However, the judge didn’t block the power in the bill for police officers to ask about immigration status. Some opponents of SB 4 fear this measure the most.

A Latino advocacy group told The Tribune this measure was unlikely to lead to a massive change in the way local law enforcement operates.

Thomas Saenz is the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

MALDEF acted for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He said these provisions are unlikely to alter day-to-day operations significantly. He said:

“These two provisions left in place largely replicate what is existing law … Judge Garcia made clear — that the rights and the ability of police to act on any information received extends only to turning that information over to federal immigration authorities.”

The Sanctuary City ban is controversial because it would criminalize officials who fail to comply with federal immigration law, we noted. This controversial law is likely to be fought in the courts for some time to come.

If you or a family member is subject to action by ICE agents, you should contact an experienced Austin cancellation of removal lawyer here to schedule a meeting.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Peek and Toland Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Toland was interviewed by KEYE-TV News about the criminal charges faced by two men in the deadly accident in Cedar Park caused by street racing.

By Peek & Toland on January 22, 2018

Peek and Toland Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Toland were interviewed by KEYE-TV News about the criminal charges faced by two men in the deadly accident in Cedar Park caused by street racing.

Posted in Criminal Defense, General

Missouri Governor Says DACA Recipients in the Military Should Get Path to Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on January 22, 2018

The DACA program has made headlines in recent weeks following the announcement it will be abolished. But not all politicians, even from Donald Trump’s Republican party are in favor of a wholesale scrapping of the program.

In Missouri, Gov. Eric Greitens said he wants to see Congress create a path to citizenship for anyone who joins the military, even immigrants who came to the United States unlawfully as children.

A report in the Kansas City Star last fall noted Greitens is a former Navy SEAL and a Republican. He made his comments the day after Trump revealed he would scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early September.

Call for citizenship for DACA recipients in the military

Should DACA recipients in the military gain citizenship?

Congress was given six months to enact an alternative to DACA by Trump. The Obama-era program allowed so-called

“Dreamers” who entered the country illegally when they were young to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

The move will affect impact about 800,000 people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Greitens said anyone willing to take a bullet for the United States should be given a path to citizenship. He urged Congress to take action, saying:

“I think that it’s really important for Congress to act. I think as they act we need to make sure we’re balancing our insistence on law and order with compassion. We need to make sure we’re making a distinction between violent felons who are in this country illegally and children who were brought here through no fault of their own, who have grown up here in America.”

Currently, it’s possible to secure citizenship through military service under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program.

About 5,000 legal permanent residents a year are recruited to the military under the program and may be eligible for citizenship.

Recruits under the MAVNI program must have a recognized immigration status to join the services such as being a green card holder or the holder of a visa. The military does not accept undocumented immigrants.

To find out more about citizenship applications, call our experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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USCIS to Start In Person Interviews for Certain Visa Holders Seeking a Green Card

By Peek & Toland on January 19, 2018

In the latest crackdown on visa holders in the United States, the authorities started to require in-person interviews for certain visa holders seeking a green card from October 1, 2017.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began interviews with some categories of visa holder and others seeking a green card.

These include people on H-1B skilled worker visas who are applying for permanent residency as well as family members of refugees and asylum seekers.

Interviews for visa holders seeking a green card

Some visa holders seeking a green card face interviews

Workers from India take the largest number of H-1B visas every year. A report in News India noted visa holders who are family members of asylum seekers and refugees will be required to attend an in-person interview when they apply for provisional status before the receipt of a green card.

The changes are seen as part of President Donald Trump’s so-called “extreme vetting” policy. In 2015 about 122,000 people moved from an employment-based visa in the United States to a green card.

In January, Trump signed a travel ban executive order. Two months later in March, he called on federal departments to develop uniform screening and vetting standards intended to identify potential terrorists or others who intended to cause harm to U.S, interests. The order stated these standards could include an in-person interview.

The new requirement will also include L visa holders as well as holders of O and F-1 visas.

An F-1 visa is required to attend an American University, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary or other academic institution, we note on our website.

The requirement for an in-person interview is not new. However, USCIS currently waives the interview requirement for holders of these visas most of the time. Under the new policy, such waivers won’t be granted.

More changes are on the horizon for H-1B visas, one of the most important mechanisms American firms use to bring foreign workers to the United States.

In April, Trump issued an executive order on these visas. The order was short on specifics.

Agencies were asked to come up with changes and submit a report within 220 days of the date of the order including specific recommendations to strengthen implementation of Buy American Laws, including domestic procurement preference policies and programs.

These are fast-moving times for companies seeking to hire foreign workers and the applicants themselves. Please call our Austin visa lawyers for assistance at (512) 474-4445.

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