Monthly Archives: February 2018

Texas Death Row Inmate Gets New Hearing Because Attorney Refused to Present Defense

By Peek & Toland on February 28, 2018

A death sentence may be challenged if incorrect procedures were following during a trial. Recently, a Texas death row inmate was granted a new sentencing hearing because his lawyer refused to present a defense during part of his trial a decade ago.

The case illustrates the importance of an effective criminal defense to protect the rights of the accused.

Hector Medina was convicted of capital murder in Dallas County nine years ago over the shooting of his eight-month-old daughter and three-year-old son in 2007, reported the Texas Tribune.

In October, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals allowed Medina a new sentencing hearing. He will fight for a sentence of life without parole, an alternative to the death penalty.

Texas Death Row Inmate Receives New Trial

Texas Death Row Inmate Will Receive a New Trial

Although Medina is not arguing his innocence, the court ruled he was denied a fair trial. During the punishment phase of his capital murder trial when jurors weigh up whether a defendant should be put to death or face a term of life in prison, his lawyer refused to present a case.

The Tribune reported the trial was delayed. One juror was injured and another left to witness the birth of his grandchild.

Judges at the Court of Criminal Appeals accused the lawyer of intentionally torpedoing the case.

Several of the attorney’s witnesses were due to fly in from other states and out of the country. They could not coordinate to arrive at a newly scheduled date.

Medina is an undocumented migrant from El Salvador. He family members were set to testify on his behalf. The court refused to reschedule during the original hearing.

The failure of the attorney to present evidence at the sentencing hearing meant the court did not hear details about the trauma Medina suffered during El Salvador’s bloody civil war, a potential mitigating factor for the death penalty.

At Peek & Toland PLLC, we are well aware of the trauma and isolation that defendants who are charged with serious offenses such as murder and manslaughter face. These issues may be compounded when the defendant in question is an immigrant who is unfamiliar with the American legal system.

In recent months, a slew of inmates on Death Row in Texas have won new hearings.

Duane Buck, a prisoner on Texas’ Death Row was recently granted relief by the U.S. Supreme Court after his own attorney presented racially discriminatory witness evidence at his trial, noted the Death Penalty Information Center.

If you have been charged with a serious criminal offense, please call our Austin based criminal and immigration law firm at (512) 474-4445.


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White House Floats Immigration Cuts in Exchange for DACA Deal

By Peek & Toland on February 27, 2018

In the fall of 2017, the White House was reported to be finalizing a series of hardline immigration reforms as the price of supporting a DACA deal.

Details of potential cuts to immigration were disclosed in a report in Politico in September.

The proposal was reportedly being worked up by Stephen Miller, the Trump administration’s top immigration adviser.

Miller’s proposal was reported to entail cutting legal immigration by a half over the next decade. Lawmakers on both sides of the political device are skeptical.

The proposal would alienate House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who talked about DACA with President Donald Trump in August indicating they were close to a solution, Politico reported.

DACA deal is mooted by White House

White House floated DACA deal

They could also divide Republicans, many of whom are opposed to cutting legal immigration. Miller started talking with aides on Capitol Hill aides and White House in September about the proposals.

The administration said the proposals were not finalized and could be subject to change.

DACA Deal is Only Hope for Dreamers

Earlier in 2017, Trump indicated he would protect Dreamers. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined his decision to terminate DACA at a press conference at the Justice Department on September 5. He said the program, originally created by President Obama, is unconstitutional and an executive branch overreach.

The DACA program helped almost 790,000 recipients. Its goal was to permit young people who came to the United States as children to work and contribute to their communities without the fear of deportation.

Under DACA, undocumented immigrants under 30, who are known as “Dreamers” gain the temporary right to reside, work and seek education in the U.S., provided they pass background checks. They don’t receive citizenship or legal status.

Previous attempts to slash immigration have foundered in Congress. In the summer of 2017, Trump backed the RAISE Act, a bill that would see a move to a merit-based immigration system and cut legal immigration.

Republicans such as Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin declared the proposal dead on arrival in Congress, reported Politico.

If you or a family member has been impacted by an immigration reform, please contact our Austin family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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House Judiciary Committee Moves to Clamp Down on H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on February 25, 2018

The Trump administration vowed to review H-1B visas in 2017. Despite the tough rhetoric, few new restrictions were imposed.

However, in November 2017, the House Judiciary Committee took a step toward tightening up the rules for these visas that bring skilled workers to the United States from other countries.

An article in Fortune.com noted the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act would add more hurdles when “H-1B dependent” companies seek to obtain work permits.

The legislation was introduced in January 2017 by Republican California Rep. Darrell Issa. In November, it passed the House Judiciary Committee.

Restrictions on H-1B visas

House committee plans restrictions on H-1B Visas

Forbes noted this is just the first of a series of steps of many to make it to onto the statue books. The next stages include a vote by the House. The legislation would then be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and would finally end up before the full upper chamber if it passes in committee.

Many companies, particularly those in the IT sector, hire graduate workers from abroad who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in areas that require a highly specialized body of knowledge.

Under the legislation, a company is considered H-1B dependent if at least 15 percent of its workforce holds this visa.

The new legislation wants to change that threshold to 20 percent of the workforce.

Other important changes call for a minimum salary raise for H-1B holders from $60,000 to $90,000. The change is intended to prevent companies using cheaper foreign workers to undercut local wages.

Under the legislation, U.S. Companies would be required to send reports to the Department of Labor about their efforts to recruit American workers.

Employers dependent on H-1B visas would face as many as five random investigations a year by the Department of Labor. The bill would stop H-1B dependent employers from replacing American workers with H-1B visa-holding employees.

Issa’s bill is the first attempt to change the H-1B visa system through legislation. President Donald Trump has also issued an executive order to shake up the system and warned of other potential restrictions to the visas.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services warns employers who abuse the H-1B visa system can negatively impact U.S. workers, reducing wages and opportunities as they import more foreign workers.

Issa said he’s concerned a handful of companies are abusing the system. He said:

“Unfortunately, the loopholes left open in H-1B have allowed a small handful of companies to game the system…”

Employers face major hurdles in applying for H-1B visas and it’s getting more difficult all the time. As experienced Austin business immigration lawyers we can help you. Call us at (512) 474-4445.


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Tech Companies Tread Warily on H-1B Visa Reform

By Peek & Toland on February 23, 2018

The big tech companies rely on skilled overseas workers. They have criticized a range of government decisions such as the ending of the DACA program. However, on the issue of H-1B visa reform these companies have adopted a lighter touch.

The Verge reported how Microsoft issued a strongly worded statement defending DACA after the Trump administration announced it would be rescinded.

DACA is an Obama-era program that permits immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to remain if they meet certain requirements.

The Trump administration is considering ending the program. The president has asked Congress to move on the issue.

H-1B visa reform

Tech companies are wary of H-1B visa reform

The Verge article points out tech companies were also highly vocal in the condemnation of Trump’s executive order banning travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries in 2017.

Leading executives from companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook were critical of the executive order.

Some employees staged large protests at their worksites. Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder who escaped from Russia to the U.S. as a child, joined protestors at San Francisco Airport.

Arguably, Trump’s executive order on H-1B visas has more impact on tech companies that rely on a steady stream of IT workers from the Indian subcontinent.

The H-1B visa program allows these companies to bring highly skilled workers from overseas. The tech industry relies on H-1B visas more than any other. The order could shake up the system.

Every year, tens of thousands of people are brought into the United States to work for the likes of Google, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple as well as other companies.

For the tech companies, the visa program is a much larger source of workers than the DACA program.

The Verge reported that while Apple is working to protect about 250 DACA workers, in 2016 the company submitted more than 23,000 petitions for H-1B visa workers.

The H-1B visa application process involves a lottery and is controversial. Applications exceed granted visas.

Some American labor groups believe it’s a means of outsourcing jobs and replacing older American employees with cheaper foreign labor that receives fewer protections and benefits. The Verge article speculated that tech companies are not as vocal in the defense of the program as over other issues because they have more to lose.

The article pointed to the inextricable link between the wider immigration agenda and the issue of H-1B visas.

For instance, in early 2017 when a federal judge in Seattle blocked the original travel ban he made reference to a motion from Microsoft that pointed out Washington State’s heavy reliance on H-1B visas to bring workers to the tech industry.

Other companies headquartered in Washington including Expedia, Amazon, and Starbucks, employ thousands of H-1B visa holders.

The judge suggested the loss of highly skilled workers associated with the travel highly skilled workers puts Washington companies at a competitive disadvantage with its global competitors.

If you are seeking H-1B visas for overseas workers, our experienced Austin immigration lawyers can help you. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Trump’s Major Immigration Reform Hits Opposition

By Peek & Toland on February 22, 2018

The Trump administration announced a major immigration reform in January and while the border wall made headlines, some of the other details are potentially more sweeping.

On Jan. 25, the administration offered a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The policy change could help the so-called Dreamers who won a reprieve from deportation and the right to work under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The DACA issue remains held up in Congress with no vote forthcoming.

While the DACA proposal may have been acceptable to Democrats at Congress, other proposals to retreat from family-based immigration and to end the diversity lottery proved more divisive.

major immigration reform

Trump announced major immigration reform

Here are the key points of Trump’s major immigration reform. The White House said the measures are necessary to deal with the “rapidly growing surge of illegal immigration.”

  • The setting up of a $25 billion trust fund to finance a border wall system, including new ports of entry and exit, and other border improvements and enhancements.
  • Hiring new personnel to deal with the immigration backlog by finding more money for new DHS personnel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyers, immigration judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement professionals.
  • Implementing pay and hiring reforms to facilitate the recruitment and retention of “critically-needed” personnel.
  • Deter migrants from illegally entering the United States by ending the catch-and-release policy and by closing perceived legal loopholes
  • Ensure the detention and removal of criminal undocumented immigrants, members of gangs, violent offenders, and aggravated felons.
  • Prioritize the prompt removal of illegal border-crossers regardless of their country of origin.
  • Deter visa overstays with efficient removal policies.
  • Prevent synthetic drugs such as the opioid fentanyl from entering the country.
  • Implement key immigration court reforms to boost efficiency and stamp out fraud and abuse.
  • Provide legal status for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as well as other DACA-eligible illegal immigrants. The time-frame of the program would be adjusted to encompass a total population of approximately 1.8 million people. Give a 10-year path to Citizenship to those who seek work, education and have a good moral character.
  • Promote nuclear family migration by limiting family sponsorships to the United States to spouses and minor children only. The policy would apply to relatives of citizens and green card holders, ending so-called extended-family chain migration.
  • Eliminate the diversity visa lottery and repurpose visas. The Trump administration said these programs allow people to come to the country with no consideration of skills, merit or public safety.

The move from family-based immigration to a more merit-based system is likely to prove contentious. According to CNN, experts say cutting these categories would reduce the roughly 1 million green cards given out every year by 25 percent to 50 percent.

If you or a family member needs help with an immigration matter, please contact our Austin immigration law firm today.

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Green Card Seekers Face New Hurdles From Trump Administration

By Peek & Toland on February 22, 2018

The Trump administration is considering adding a new obstacle to green card seekers by making it harder for members of Congress to help them become permanent residents.

Immigrants often seek help from congressional offices in Washington D.C. in dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In many cases, a lawmaker’s office will communicate through a lawyer or family member.

However, an email sent by a top USCIS official on Dec. 18 which was obtained by The Daily Beast, revealed the agency will soon require multiple new forms. The documentation would include a handwritten and notarized signature, even when an immigrant is overseas, before accepting privacy waivers.

These waivers are required before an immigrant can seek the help of a Congressional office.

More hurdles for green card seekers

Green card seekers face more obstacles

A report on US News quoted USCIS legislative affairs chief Ronald Atkinson who wrote the new policy would help both USCIS and Congress handle inquiries in a more efficient and effective way while also protecting sensitive data and information.

Critics warn the new requirements are meant to be an additional barrier. They say they will impact applicants from out of the country, particularly when there is a language difference.

Atkinson has outlined at least four proposed changes. The documentation:

  1. Must be hand signed by the person intending to immigrate and notarized. Digital signatures won’t be accepted.
  2. It must name the congressional office as the only authorized recipient.
  3. Any non-English text must be fully translated.
  4. Each follow-up query sent over 30 days after a meaningful response is received from USCIS must include the new privacy waiver.

The changes represent the latest tightening up of the rules applying to green card seekers.

In August, the USCIS announced a change to require in-person interviews for people seeking to move from an employment-based visa to permanent residency in the United States, as well as making interviews a requirement for anyone with a visa who is a family member of a refugee or receives asylum before they receive provisional status.

Immigrants are facing more and more hurdles whether they are filing permanent residency applications or work-related visas. Visitors from certain countries are barred under the terms of travel bans.

Due to the increasing demands and paperwork, it makes more sense now than ever to hire a Texas green card attorney. Call us at 512-474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Two Men Are Arrested over a Slaying and Beheading in Arlington

By Peek & Toland on February 22, 2018

Most crimes are run-of-the-mill and involve theft or the loss of property. However, some crimes are so extreme they send shockwaves through a community. Recently, Arlington was reeling from a slaying and beheading in the city.

A report in The Star-Telegram said the second suspect wanted in connections with the killings of two people in Arlington was arrested in Fort Worth in September.

The two victims were found buried in a shallow grave in Arlington. One of them had a severed head.

Police described 28-year-old Hector “El Cholo” Acosta-Ojeda, as armed and “extremely dangerous.” He was booked into the Arlington Jail in September 2017.

Police make arrests over slaying and beheading in Arlington

Slaying and beheading reported in Arlington

The Star-Telegram reported 17-year-old Iris Chirinos, 17, was identified as one of the people in a shallow grave in Burton Drive in Arlington. Chirinos died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.

Authorities did not release the identity of a man whose body was found buried along with Chirinos, a former Sam Houston High School student who dropped out of school earlier this year, according to reports.

Witnesses suggested the body belonged to Chirinos’ boyfriend, known as “Diablo.”

Police found the bodies two days after the discovery of a severed head and a note near a walking trail in a wooded area west of East Sanford and Truman streets. The head was thought to belong to Diablo.

Police also arrested Mariano Sanchez-Pina, 18, on suspicion of murder over the killings. He was later transferred to the Tarrant County Jail where bail was set at $50,000 on a murder charge and $1,000 on a drug possession charge. Acosta-Ojeda was also booked into the Arlington Jail.

Media reports stated investigators tracked Acosta-Ojeda to a Fort Worth home where U.S. marshals arrested him without incident.

Violent crimes of this nature shock members of communities in Texas and elsewhere. They also carry heavy sentences and the prospect of capital punishment in some cases. If you have been charged with a violent crime, please call our Texas criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Key U.S. Supreme Court Cases on Crime and Immigration in 2017

By Peek & Toland on February 21, 2018

Crime and immigration matter often dominate the deliberations of the highest court in the land and 2017 was no exception. The year saw a number of key U.S. Supreme Court cases to feature crime and immigration.

The alleged targeting of Muslims dominated the news in terms of President Trump’s attempts to impose a travel ban but claims of discrimination more than 15 years ago were also heard in the courtroom.

Major U.S. Supreme Court Caaes

U.S. Supreme Court cases in 2017

Constitutional Violations Against Officials

The Supreme Court rejected a damages suit brought against high-level federal officials, including a former FBI director and former attorney general.

The suit alleged they ordered a roundup of Muslim immigrants in New York after the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

In a 4-2 opinion, the justices said damages could not be awarded because they have not been authorized by Congress. Two justices of the then 8-member bench recused themselves.

The Trump Travel Ban

No fewer than three travel bans were imposed by the Trump administration against visitors from certain countries. They were all immediately appealed in the courts.

The U.S. Supreme court cleared the way for the Trump administration to enforce part of an executive order suspending for 90 days the entry of foreign visitors and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations.

The justices said the travel ban may not be enforced against foreign nationals with a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with an entity or an individual in the United States.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the third travel ban to proceed pending more detailed legal challenges. While the earlier bans had only targeted people from majority Muslim counties, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad were added to the list in the third ban.

Sex Offenders and Social Media

The high court unanimously struck down a North Carolina law that made it a crime for registered sex offenders to post a message on websites that may be used by minors. The case related to a Facebook post by a sex offender that was not of a sexual nature.

In the case of Packingham vs. North Carolina, the defendant was charged for posting the phrase “God is good” on his Facebook page after beating a traffic citation. The court struck down the law for being too wide and contrary to free speech.

Although 2017, saw some landmark decisions many important U.S. Supreme Court decisions on crime and immigration remained pending by the end of the year.

A case relating to whether U.S. border agent in Texas could be held liable for a fatal shooting across the border in Mexico was sent back to a Texas court for consideration.

The Supreme Court will re-hear a case to decide whether breaking into a garage or an empty home is a “crime of violence” requiring the deportation of a longtime legal immigrant, reported the Los Angeles Times.

If you require assistance with a crime or an immigration matter, please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.


Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Sex Offender Registration Laws Come under Fire

By Peek & Toland on February 20, 2018

Sex offender registration laws have been in place for decades in states like Texas. However, sex offender registration is coming under increased scrutiny.

A recent article in Juvenile Justice claimed sex offender registration laws for both adults and juveniles are not well thought out but are knee-jerk reactions to terrible incidents of child abductions that resulted in abuse and even killings

The report said the move to set up sex offenders registers followed pressure for something to be done after high-profile crimes involving children.

A case in point is the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

This legislation requires all states to implement some form of sex-offender registration. The idea was that parents and children would be safer if the identities and addresses of sex offenders were known.

Legislation has been in place for decades requiring juveniles who commit certain sexual offenses to register as sex offenders.

sex offender registration laws

Sex offender registration laws are under fire

The article in Juvenile Justice stated it’s time to re-examine these laws. Critical is a reminder of why they were passed in the first place.

The article suggested the juvenile laws were enacted hastily and new information questions the basis of sex offenders laws.

It claimed there are flaws in the idea if juvenile registration, including:

The fact juvenile sexual offenders do not typically become adult sex offenders.

There is scant research showing that registration laws prevent the victimization of children.

Requirements for juveniles to register as sex offenders often do more harm than good.

The Juvenile Law Center claimed the public registration requirements for juveniles who commit sexual offenses are out of line with the underlying philosophy of the U.S. juvenile justice system. Instead of seeking to rehabilitate juveniles, the system is punishing young people who have not fully developed cognitively.

Their report noted that researchers found juveniles who commit sexual offenses had less sexual recidivism than adult sexual offenders.

A derailed assessment of seven studies found a mere 7 to 13 percent of juveniles who commit sexual offenses sexually re-offended within approximately five years.

One of the dangers of punishing juvenile offenders is they may be more easily condemned to a life of adult criminality, a recent report noted.

If you or a child has been accused of an offense such as a sexual crime you will likely be facing very serious consequences. Please contact Peek & Toland PLLC at (512) 474-4445.

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Immigrant Indefinite Detention Case to be Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

By Peek & Toland on February 19, 2018

The issue of immigrant indefinite detention has occupied plenty of time in the federal courts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would re-hear a case considering whether immigrants who were detained by the government have a right to a bond hearing to challenge their indefinite detention.

A report on NPR noted the case was originally argued in Nov. 2016. That was six months before Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the vacant seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia.

NPR reported this case has significant implications for legal permanent residents who the government is seeking to deport because they committed crimes. It also has an impact on asylum seekers who are seeking a court date after surrendering themselves at the U.S. border.

Attorneys and advocates acting for the immigrants claim many of them have the right to be free on bail until their case is heard.

The case sees David Jennings, a California-based field office director at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in California go up against Alejandro Rodriguez a legal permanent resident, who came to the U.S. as a child and worked here as a dental assistant.

High court looks at immigrant indefinite detention

Supreme Court to consider immigrant indefinite detention

Rodriguez was convicted of joyriding when he was a teenager. At the age of 24, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

Green card holders are not guaranteed the same protections from deportation as U.S. citizens. Committing a crime can lead to your loss of permanent residency, we note on our website.

The Rodriguez case is drawn out. More than a decade ago, in 2004, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement began deportation proceedings against Rodriguez. The dental assistant was detained for three years without being afforded the right to appear before a judge to ask for bond.

Rodriguez’s case was taken up by The American Civil Liberties Union. A class action lawsuit was filed. It was successful and Rodriguez won his release. He remained in the United States.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that immigrant detainees and asylum seekers cannot be detained indefinitely. They have a right to a bond hearing every six months.

The appellate court held that to hold these detainees, the government must make a case that immigrants would pose a danger or be a flight risk if they were released.

The Obama administration appealed the Court of Appeals ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. It insisted that Congress rather than the courts has the power to make immigration law.

The federal government is arguing the law allows the government to detain “criminal and terrorist aliens” as well as aliens who are seeking admission to the United States.

The administration argues detained immigrants should not be recognized as a class with the capacity to bring legal action. Justice Department lawyers said detainees instead should rely on individual habeas corpus petitions to challenge detentions.

The ACLU is contesting this approach. It argues that few detainees have access to legal representation and a backlog of these habeas corpus petitions means major delays in securing release.

Immigrant indefinite detention has become one of the key battlegrounds of the immigration debate. If you or a family member is concerned about a detention matter, please call our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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