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Monthly Archives: April 2018

Is Sanctuary City Crackdown Depriving Police of Funds?

By Peek & Toland on April 30, 2018

The sanctuary city crackdown has been a major part of federal government immigration policy under the Trump administration. However, questions have been raised about whether it is depriving local police forces of funds to fight crime.

In the fall of 2017, NPR reported on concerns about the non-payment of federal policing grants that police departments across the country rely on for equipment, training, and personnel.

Every year hundreds of millions of dollars is handed out by the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG). Typically grants are given out by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30th.

That didn’t happen in 2017. By the end of October, the grants were yet to be handed out, NPR reported.

Sanctuary city crackdown impacts police funding

Sanctuary city crackdown hits police funds

The station quoted Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in Connecticut. He was concerned about the delay. In 2016, Connecticut received about $2.6 million in JAG grants. Lawlor said:

“Every single state gets one of these grants and this year not a single state has gotten it and we have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice what’s going on. They consistently can’t or won’t answer the question so we don’t know. We assume it’s because they have concerns about sanctuary cities around the country.”

Chicago was at the center of a legal battle over the JAG grants. The Justice Department tried to insist that cities and counties receiving these public-safety grants comply with federal immigration policy. In particular, these jurisdictions should allow immigration agents to access their jails and give the feds advance notice when suspected illegal immigrants are about to be released from custody.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber granted the City of Chicago’s request for a nationwide block on these grant conditions.

Notwithstanding the involvement of the courts, the grants have not been forthcoming.

Not only did the DOJ miss the disbursement date, but states were not even notified of the grant award, which usually happens in the spring.

Lawlor said it typically takes about six months from the date of the award until the check is issued. He said the issue also impacts southern states that don’t even have sanctuary jurisdictions.

NPR noted New Haven in Connecticut is considered a sanctuary city.  Typically, police do not detain suspects on behalf of federal immigration (ICE) agents or collect immigration status from suspects.

Austin in Texas exhibits similar sanctuary city characteristics in generally not complying with detainer requests to hold suspects.

At Peek & Toland , our immigration lawyers have been helping immigrants fight for their rights for decades in Austin and further afield. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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Mexico Takes a Stand Against Texas Immigration Law

By Peek & Toland on April 27, 2018

SB4 is the controversial Texas immigration law that sparked legal challenges from cities and other groups. Last October, Mexico joined the opposition against the state law.

The new law in Texas requires law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration orders and allows police to check the immigration status of people they question.

The Mexican government weighed in claiming the new law led to “unprecedented levels of anxiety in the Mexican community.”

A report on CNS News revealed calls to a 24-hour hotline set up by Mexico’s government to help its nationals in the United States rose over 800 percent since the law known as Senate Bill 4 passed in Texas in the summer of 2017.

Texas immigration law is opposed by Mexico

Mexico opposes Texas immigration law

The Mexican government said in a legal brief, the number of its nationals seeking legal representation at the country’s consulates in Texas rose by 29 percent from May to August 2017 compared to the previous four months of the year.

The brief filed on behalf of the Mexican government stated SB4 deterred Mexican nationals from seeking help when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and other parts of Texas. The brief stated:

“The concern and uncertainty caused by SB 4 is so significant that it deterred Mexican nationals living in Texas (irrespective of their immigration status) from seeking assistance from state and local officials during Hurricane Harvey.”

Mexico branded the law discriminatorily. It fears citizens and people of a Latino appearance will be harassed due to their appearance.

The law prohibits local law enforcement officials, including sheriffs, and campus police, from refusing to assist or cooperate with federal immigration officers. Officials who do so can be subject to fines and even dismissal.

The law prevents local law enforcement departments from adopting policies that limit the sharing or exchange of an individual’s immigration status with other law enforcement officials.

Local officials must honor federal ‘detainer requests’ by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to hold prisoners for longer as their immigration status is investigated.

The bill that was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on May 7 takes aim at so-called sanctuary cities in Texas.

As well as the Mexican government, SB4 faced a legal challenge from cities including Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and Houston.

Parts of the legislation were held up by a judge in the fall of 2017. If you have been unfairly impacted by this law, please contact our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

 

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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What is The Legal Workforce Act?

By Peek & Toland on April 26, 2018

The Legal Workforce Act was introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives by a Texas delegate. It proposed sweeping changes to current law including an extension of the use of E-Verify or an electronic employment eligibility verification system.

The legislation was introduced in the fall of 2017 by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX). It set out many changes to current law. The legislation would require every employer in the U.S. to use E-Verify or an electronic employment eligibility verification system.

The Legal Workforce Act was seen as unlikely to progress in the Senate at the time of introduction.

The Legal Workforce Act

The Legal Workforce Act was introduced in 2017

This is not the first time an extension of E-Verify has been mooted. President Donald Trump has backed the more general use of the system during the election campaign.

E-Verify is an online-based system. It matches up information from the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to federal records stored by the Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, and Department of State. Employers use these records to confirm if a job applicant is authorized to work in the United States.

The key provisions of the Legal Workforce Act include:

  • Compulsory employer participation in the E-Verify. Joining would be phased in over a two-year period based on the size of the employer;
  • Within six months of the enactment of a bill, current workforce employees would have to have their employment eligibility reverified. The provisions would apply to workers requiring a federal security clearance; those assigned to a federal contract; and state, federal, and local government employees.
  • Making conditional job offers conditional on the passing of E-Verify. Currently, the law prohibits use of E-Verify until a job offer is accepted;
  • Starting 30 days after the legislation is enacted, employers would be allowed to voluntarily use E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of any current employee as long as an employer reverified all workers at the same geographic location or those employed within the same job category.
  • Many documents that are currently deemed to be acceptable, would no longer be allowed to prove employment eligibility;
  • Employers would not be liable for an employment action taken with respect to a worker if the employer verifies that worker’s identity and employment eligibility and had a good faith reliance on E-Verify.
  • The legislation would increase penalties brought against employers who knowingly hired or employed unauthorized workers and if they failed to use the E-Verify system or submitted false information to E-Verify knowing it was false.
  • The legislation would allow states to use business licensing and other laws to penalize employers who are not using E-Verify. It would allow states to implement the provisions of the Legal Workforce Act at their own cost if they followed the federal rules and regulations for implementation

While the federal government is supportive of the expansion of E-Verify, there is concern among businesses that the requirement could slow up the hiring process.

The Cato Institute noted in a report that E-Verify could cause delays in the hiring system. If you have an immigration business question please call our Texas immigration law firm at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

DACA Initial Applications Likely to be Accepted Again Starting in July

By Peek & Toland on April 25, 2018

The word daca on an american flag immigration concept 3D illustration

Federal Judge ruling on Tuesday clears the way for U.S. Immigration authorities at USCIS to begin processing DACA initial applications again. Since September of 2017, the Trump administration announced changes to DACA to “wind it down” and that it would no longer be accepting new initial applications. This ruling yesterday indicates the government will be required to continue to process all DACA applications until the pending lawsuits over its legality and the legality of the Trump administration’s efforts to end the DACA program is finally decided by the Federal courts.

This is amazing news for young people who are eligible for DACA but had never had the chance to apply or missed out on applying.

Call Peek & Toland now at 512-474-4445 or email us at [email protected] to discuss if you are eligible and make plans to be ready come July 2018 when initial DACA applications will likely be accepted again under this ruling

Posted in Deferred Action

State Rep Victoria Neave Pleaded No Contest to DWI Charge

By Peek & Toland on April 25, 2018

Driving While Intoxicated charges invariably make headlines when they involve celebrities or well-known politicians. Last October, a state representative pleaded no contest to DWI.

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas was arrested by police in Dallas on June 6, 2017, after she drove into a tree in the Lakewood neighborhood. Police said her blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit to drive.

A report in the Texas Tribune noted Neeve tweeted that she pled no contest, will pay a fine and be put on probation for 12 months.

Texas politician pleaded no contest to DWI

State Rep pleaded no contest to DWI

The representative will have her license suspended after pleading no contest to DWI. She will attend DWI education classes, submit to random alcohol testing and attend a victim impact panel. She issued a statement that read:

 “Earlier this year, I disappointed my family, my constituents, my supporters, and myself. I said then the responsibility was mine and that I would accept the consequences … I accept full responsibility and will continue to work to demonstrate that I have learned from my past.”

Neave’s case illustrates how a DWI conviction can turn your life upside down. If you are a well-know person, there is an added stigma.

In many cases, convicted drunk drivers lose their licenses. They may face heavy fines and jail time. Court fees and other charges rack up and DWI drivers face mandatory counseling programs.

Anyone hit with a DWI charge in Texas could face serious consequences that affect their lives financially, professionally, and socially.

Although there is a temptation to plead guilty to a DWI charge because you want to get the trauma behind you, this may not always be the best course of action.

In some DWI cases, an improper stop by a police officer or issues with testing may be challenged by your DWI criminal defense lawyer.

You should be aware that pleading guilty quickly is unlikely to help your case and you may lose out on potential defense strategies.

The penalties, even for the first DWI in the state of Texas, can be devastating. You should contact an experienced Austin defense attorney at Peek & Toland We have the in-depth knowledge and resources to provide you with exceptional legal representation.

Call us for a consultation if you have been charged with a DWI at (512) 474-4445

Posted in DWI

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Texas Prosecutor Seeks New Mental Disability Standards in Death Cases

By Peek & Toland on April 24, 2018

The mental disability standards used by Texas in death penalty cases were criticized as outdated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017.

Now commentators and at least one state prosecutor are calling for changes in Texas.

After these standards were ruled unconstitutional Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg called for change. Ogg wants Texas to use current medical science to decide if a defendant is mentally disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

The Texas Tribune reported Ogg wants Texas to conform to the standards set up by the American Psychiatric Association which are similar to how Louisiana and Mississippi determine intellectual disability.

The change follows a Supreme Court ruling on Bobby Moore, a death row inmate from Houston.

Case changed Texas Mental Disability Standards

Texas Mental Disability Standards Are Challenged

Moore was convicted of the shooting death of a Houston supermarket clerk in 1980 and sentenced to death.

Ogg said Moore is intellectually disabled. Questions related to Moore’s mental capacity led to a March 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Texas’ method of determining intellectual disability for prisoners on death row.

The Texas method was deemed to be out of date. However, while the Supreme Court ruling dismissed Texas’ old way of determining disability, it stopped short of creating a new one.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took issue with Texas’s standards branding them as posing an “unacceptable risk” of executing intellectually disabled people. The practice is deemed unconstitutional by the nation’s highest court but states set their own standards.

Inmates deemed competent for execution under the old test were suddenly eligible for new litigation.

At least two inmates who had been on death row for decades had sentences changed to life in prison while awaiting a final ruling on Moore’s intellectual capacity.

Ogg has requested Moore’s sentence is reduced to life in prison. She has also asked Texas to create a new way of determining intellectual disability saying it should be consistent with the medical books.

As long ago as 2002, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling meant to stop the execution of people with an intellectual disability. In Atkins v. Virginia, the Court held it to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel unusual punishment to execute death row inmates with “mental retardation.”

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Tribune states that fail to adhere to modern medical standards face the vast majority of legal issues. He said:

“We see persistent problems in states [that] have adopted standards that are clearly inconsistent with the contemporary medical standards or have created procedures that make it virtually impossible to prove intellectual disability.”

Murder is one of the most serious crimes you can face in Texas. Capital murder may carry the death penalty. If you have been charged with this crime, our Austin criminal defense team may be able to help you. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Legislation May Tackle Rent-To-Own Companies Pursuing Charges Against People Who Default

By Peek & Toland on April 23, 2018

Rent-to-own companies have been pursuing criminal charges against people who default on payments for items like electronics and sofas. The practice alarms some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are considering reform legislation.

Support for action by legislators came after The Texas Tribune and NerdWallet published the results of a lengthy investigation into a little-known provision of the penal code written 40 years ago by rental industry lobbyists.

Texas is not alone in this regard. The Tribune noted there are similar laws in other U.S. states. The joint investigation found evidence that charges are being filed against thousands of rent-to-own customers across the country.

Defaulters prosecuted by rent to own companies

Rent to own companies are prosecuting defaulters

Colleyville Republican Konni Burton favors criminal justice reforms at the Texas Capitol. She suggested the civil rather than the criminal law is the best system to sort out these issues. She said:

“While I believe that we, as individuals, are responsible for the contracts in which we enter, I do not believe that one industry, or set of industries, should have special laws allowing the escalation of a dispute to our criminal system. We have a civil system for these kinds of disputes. I look forward to exploring this issue in advance of next session.”

Evidence of criminal prosecutions in these cases came from The Tribune’s investigation.

It turned up a large number of cases in McLennan County. Here, rent-to-own disputes made up a staggering 98 percent of the more than 400 theft of service complaints lodged with police departments over almost four years.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, who represents the Waco area, called for a rigorous review of the issue by the state legislature.

The Tribune reported Birdwell compared these cases to the idea of a debtors’ prison, a concept that’s unlawful in Texas.

Another concerned politician is Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. He said it seemed to be unfair that a contract dispute could end up with one of the parties getting arrested. Watson said there was no reason for police to be involved in such cases and was concerned that a party could be jailed for a misunderstanding.

Defense attorneys are also unhappy about how rent to own cases can land parties with criminal records.

The McLennan County Defense Lawyers Association issued a statement saying the district attorney’s office has exhibited a keenness to take on rent-to-own cases.

More people are charged with crimes of theft than any other kind of offense. Please contact our Austin criminal defense lawyers if you have been charged with a crime of this nature.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Countries Where It’s Easiest for Americans to Get Dual Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on April 19, 2018

It’s no secret that the United States has onerous citizenship rules. People who are seeking citizenship here must be a green card holder for at least five years and go through a 10-step naturalization process. The process is not as difficult in all counties, prompting some Americans to seek dual citizenship.

An article in Business Insider noted how Ireland, for example, has very different citizenship laws than those of the United States.

Ireland considers “jus sanguinis,” or “right of blood” in applications. This means citizenship of the Emerald Isle may be available not just to the children of Irish citizens who were born in Ireland, but also to their grandchildren.

Compared to becoming a U.S. citizen, becoming an Irish citizen is a fairly straightforward process.

Dual citizenship countries

Countries where it’s easy to get dual citizenship

Many Americans have Irish roots and dual citizenship has proved popular to some of them. You need to provide documentation and apply for the Foreign Births Register.

The Business Insider article listed other countries that offer a simplified or brief application process to attract entrepreneurs.

Hungary

You may be able to apply for citizenship of this eastern European country of you can speak Hungarian and prove your Hungarian ancestry. The country has a process called  “simplified naturalization.”

The Consulate General of Hungary states it takes officials in the capital of Budapest about six to nine months to determine whether an applicant qualifies. Hungary’s borders shifted a lot in the 20th Century and there were some caveats based on historical changes.

Israel

Israel has a law of return that makes it fairly straightforward for ethnic and religious Jews, as well as their spouses and grandchildren to gain Israeli citizenship.

You can gain citizenship in a matter of months and have a passport within the year. For more information see the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Peru

You can become a Peruvian citizen in two years if you pay a $25,000 fast-track fee. It takes approximately three months to secure approval for residency.

Once you have lived in Peru for two years, you can apply for citizenship. You must be able to pass tests on Peruvian history and culture and know the Spanish language.

Italy

You can actually inherit Italian citizenship from your great-great-grandfather.

However, as noted on YourItalianPassport.com Italy also has a large number of caveats.

From the outset, you’ll need to find documentation that proves an Italian ancestor lived after Italy’s 1861 unification and did not naturalize elsewhere before July 1, 1912. None of the ascendants in your direct line must have ever renounced Italian citizenship.

If you have Italian ancestors, they can pass on citizenship to children born after January 1, 1948.

There are advantages and disadvantages of dual citizenship. Even if you have a second citizenship and live abroad, the US government expects you to pay taxes.

US citizens living overseas, earning an income and paying to a foreign government are still subject to US income tax, as well as the same onerous tax filing requirements that apply to US citizens resident in the United States.

You can find out more about citizenship by reading the U.S. citizenship resources on our website. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship

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Woman Sues to Remove Religious Language from Citizenship Oath

By Peek & Toland on April 18, 2018

Religious language in the Citizenship Oath is being challenged in a court case by a green card holder who is seeking to become a citizen.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and green card holder who has lived in Scituate in Massachusetts since 2000 has been trying to become an American citizen for years.

She claims her Citizenship dream has been derailed by the words “So help me God,” in the Citizenship Oath.

Perrier-Bilbo is an atheist. She filed a federal lawsuit claiming the inclusion of the phrase in the oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom. She has filed a lawsuit. It states:

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting of defending the constitution as the oath demands.”

Challenge over Citizenship Oath

Religious language in Citizenship Oath is challenged

Perrier-Bilbo has brought the lawsuit even though she was offered a modified oath or allowed to attend a private citizenship ceremony, reported masslive.com.

Perrier-Bilbo claims the four words “so help me God” constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of a particular religion. The lawsuit states the alternatives offered to Perrier-Bilbo by the government put an illegal burden on her for her beliefs.

The suit claims the religious statement to which Perrier-Bilbo does not agree with makes her feel less than a new citizen.

There is a long list of cases which test the First Amendment’s clauses regarding freedom of religion.

The amendment says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Many of these cases have gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court cases, as citizens, states, and the federal government have been pitted against one another.

Initially many of these rulings in the early 20th Century protected people of faith from laws that disadvantage them. However, government agencies were prevented from policies that imposed one religion.

In the 1960s, three rulings outlawed mandatory bible readings and prayers in schools.

In the important 1968 case of Epperson v Arkansas a public school teacher brought an action challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’ “anti-evolution” statute. That law made it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university to use or teach from a textbook that covered the theory of evolution.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which enshrines the First Amendment’s prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion.

If you need help and advice in seeking citizenship, please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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Terrorist Attack Puts Diversity Green Card Lottery in Jeopardy

By Peek & Toland on April 17, 2018

The diversity green card lottery hit the headlines after a terrorist attack in New York in November 2017.

The diversity visa program, also known as the green card lottery, was criticized for allowing an attacker who was an immigrant from Uzbekistan, to come to the US.

Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov was from Central Asia but he had been living in the US since 2010, sources said. He is accused of driving a rented pickup truck down a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan killing eight people, reported CNN.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he didn’t want the diversity green lottery to continue. He called for a switch to a merit-based immigration system.

Diversity green card lottery at risk post New York Terror attack

New York terrorist attack threatens diversity green card lottery

Notwithstanding the criticism, the diversity green card lottery has an unusual history, reported USA Today.

In 1965, The Immigration Act eliminated quotas that previously determined how many people could immigrate to the U.S. from any given country. This key piece of immigration legislation prioritized the immigration of people with close relatives living in the U.S. or the skills that employers wanted.

The provisions proved problematic for hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants who were escaping an economic crisis at home. USA Today noted a quota system was no longer in place. Most of the Irish people who wanted to head west lacked close family living in the U.S. or skills that were in high demand Stateside.

Nevertheless, many Irish immigrants came to the United States anyway and overstayed the terms of their visas. They ended up living as undocumented immigrants.

In 1986, the diversity visa lottery was put forward as a solution to the problem by Irish American members of Congress.

Thousands of Irish immigrants benefitted in 1986. By 1995, Congress had passed a permanent version of the law.

Although demand from Ireland dropped off, every year the program provides green cards to 50,000 people chosen randomly from countries with low immigration numbers to the U.S.

The program appeared to be living on borrowed time even before the New York terrorist attack.

Demand for these visas always exceeds supply. The countries of eligibility include Turkey, Poland, Italy Japan, Romania, Russia, Spain, and Nepal.

Most winners of the so-called green card lottery live outside the United States and immigrate through consular processing and the issuing of an immigrant visa.

Shortly after the terrorist attack, the diversity lottery was again under fire. Federal authorities moved to strip citizenship from four Somali immigrants who prosecutors claim lied about being a family, defrauding the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

The Washington Times reported that one woman, Fosia Abdi Adan, allegedly won the visa lottery in 2000 and then illegally brought three cousins, claiming two were her children and one was her husband to the United States. The feds claim the man was married to another woman at the time.

Removing citizenship is no easy task, although the Trump administration is seeking to make it easier. In the summer of 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court set the bar higher on citizenship stripping in the case of a Serbian woman who lied about her husband’s military service.

To find out more about the diversity green card lottery or citizenship please contact our Texas immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration, Immigration Reform

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