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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Can Same-Sex Couples Apply for Green Cards?

By Peek & Toland on February 18, 2019

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, federal policy changed to recognize same-sex couples as legally married. Furthermore, following a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 2015, all U.S. states must license and legally recognize same-sex marriages. As a result, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now considers petitions from same-sex couples in the same way that it considers petitions from opposite-sex couples. Same-sex foreign spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents are now eligible to apply for green cards. Any same-sex marriage that was official and legally recognized in the U.S. or the foreign country in which it took place is valid for any U.S. immigration purposes.

Like opposite-sex couples, the burden is on the married couple to show that they entered into a bona fide marriage in good faith, and not for the purposes of money or to obtain an immigration benefit. To that end, same-sex couples will go through the same application and interview process to obtain a green card, and later, if they so choose, to remove the conditions from their green card or seek naturalization.

Can Same-Sex Couples Apply for Green Cards?

Eligibility to petition for an immigration benefit on behalf of a same-sex spouse and a spouse’s admissibility are determined according to existing immigration laws, but the fact that a couple is homosexual cannot be a basis for denial of the petition. However, USCIS can deny a petition for a green card for any other reasons, just as it could deny a petition for any other reasons for a heterosexual couple.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases on a daily basis and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to successfully resolve your immigration law case.

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Sex Offender Guidelines Under Texas Law

By Peek & Toland on February 17, 2019

Individuals who are convicted of certain sexually-based offenses in the state of Texas are required to register with the sex offender registry, which is a state and national database that gives information about sex offenders in different locations. The information that individuals are required to report includes their names, physical descriptions, current address, and current place of employment. If an address or place of employment changes, the individuals have an affirmative duty to change the information with the registry. The length of time that these individuals are required to register depends upon the nature of the offense; in some cases, individuals must maintain their registration for life.

Those individuals who are convicted of some sex offenses have restrictions on where they can live, work, and even on public places that they can visit. For instance, some individuals may not be present in or near a “child safety zone.” These zones are places where children normally gather, such as schools, daycare facilities, playgrounds, churches at which children attend programs, and arcades or similar places of interest to children. This also means that these individuals may not be allowed to live in certain areas that are near child safety zones.

Sex Offender Guidelines Under Texas Law

Individuals convicted of some offenses also may be prohibited from any type of employment that puts them in contact with children. These occupations might include teachers, religious workers, daycare workers, camp counselors, and therapists or counselors for children.

If individuals violate these conditions, they may violate the terms of their community supervision or parole, which can lead to revocation and a return to incarceration. Likewise, violating some of these prohibitions, such as failing to register as required, can result in separate criminal offenses that also may result in jail time.

When you are charged with any type of criminal offense in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Taking steps to get you released from jail and fight for your rights at the outset of your case is typically easier than waiting until your case has progressed. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Theft of Firearms

By Peek & Toland on February 16, 2019

Theft occurs pursuant to Tex. Pen. Code § 31.03 when persons unlawfully appropriate property belonging to others without their consent and with the intent to deprive the owners of their property. This offense includes what is commonly known as receiving stolen property, or appropriating property with the knowledge that it has been stolen by others.

“Consent” to the appropriation of property does not exist if it was:
• Induced by deception or coercion
• Given by anyone whom the individuals know has no authority to act on behalf of the owner
• Given by anyone whom the individuals know is unable to make reasonable property dispositions, due to youth or mental disease or defect
• Given solely to detect the commission of an offense
• Given by anyone whom the individuals know has a diminished capacity to make decisions as a result of advanced age

The level of the charges and the potential penalties for theft typically depend on the value of the property that is the subject of the theft. However, there are exceptions to this general rule for certain kinds of property. In the case of a firearm, the charge is automatically a state jail felony. This is the case even though theft usually does not reach the level of a felony offense unless it involves property valued at $2,500 or more. Nonetheless, even if a firearm is not worth $2,500 or more, the charge is still a felony.

Theft of Firearms

For a state jail felony, Tex. Pen. Code § 12.35 prescribes a potential penalty of 180 days to two years in jail, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. However, if the individuals who stole the firearm previously were convicted of certain felony offenses, then the offense becomes a third degree felony. Conviction on a third degree felony can result in a prison term ranging from two to ten years and a maximum $10,000 fine.

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense against any criminal charges. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case, present your options, and help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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DACA Students Remain in Limbo

By Peek & Toland on February 15, 2019

According to a recent EdSource article, the takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrats is renewing hopes of a Congressional fix for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA has provided temporary protection from deportation and work authorization for about 700,000 young adults who came to the U.S. as children.

During the recent mid-term elections, many DACA recipients joined efforts to encourage others to vote for representatives who they believe will support a solution for the DACA program. This was particularly the case in the state of California, which has the highest population of individuals receiving benefits under DACA.

While the DACA program has been overshadowed by the Central American migrant caravans in recent months, DACA recipients remain in a sort of limbo, as courts nationwide consider their plight and the Trump administration continues to make attempts to end the program. USCIS is still accepting renewal applications for those already in the program, but it is not currently accepting new applications. Those DACA recipients face an uncertain future, as they wonder whether they will be able to legally remain in the U.S. or be unceremoniously deported to native countries in which they have not lived since they were small children. In many cases, DACA recipients have no memories of living in their native countries or the ability to speak the language.

DACA Students Remain in Limbo

The Trump administration previously tied any relief for DACA recipients to funding for a border wall, which has now resulted in a government shutdown. Most recently, the administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the DACA litigation, citing a need for immediate resolution. The federal government sought this relief even prior to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in one of the cases challenging the termination of DACA. The President suggested in a recent interview that he was no longer interested in discussing a DACA fix until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issues. It could be well into 2019 before the high Court rules on the DACA cases, if it chooses to consider the cases at all.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to assist you with all your immigration needs. Trust us to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Posted in Deferred Action

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DHS Releases Proposed Changes to H-1B Visa Program

By Peek & Toland on February 14, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would change procedures for the H-1B visa program. This program allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers on a temporary basis in certain specialty occupations. These occupations require the theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge and qualifying individuals must have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specialty area.

Congress issues an annual cap on H-1B visa program. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives more petitions than the cap allows, it uses a computer-generated random selection process, called a lottery, in order to choose the petitions that are approved.

Under the proposed rule, USCIS would reverse the order in which it selects H-1B petitions according to the annual cap and the advanced degree exemption. The point of this change would be to increase the number of beneficiaries with master’s degrees or higher degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education. USCIS believes that this would result in the selection of petitions based on merit rather than on a random selection. Emphasis would be placed on the most-skilled and highest-paid workers.

DHS Releases Proposed Changes to H-1B Visa Program

Currently, USCIS selects petitions for the advanced degree exemption prior to the H-1B cap. Under the new rule, USCIS would select the number of petitions needed to satisfy the cap first, and then select the petitions to be used for the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS also would implement an electronic pre-registration program for the process. In the event of technical challenges with the electronic registration process, USCIS would have the authority to temporarily suspend the registration requirement. The theory behind this change would be to make a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B visa administration process.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal representation of countless individuals facing various immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf in order to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys today.

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Texas Ruling May Allow Licensing of Migrant Family Detention

By Peek & Toland on February 13, 2019

The 3rd Texas Court of Appeals recently overturned a lower court ruling that could allow the state to formally issue child-care licenses to two detention centers in the South Texas cities of Dilley and Karnes that house immigrant families. Since the centers are not licensed child-care facilities, the Flores settlement, a landmark court decision restricting the detention of immigrant children, requires the government to release immigrant children from them within 20 days of their detention, which also often resulted in the simultaneous release of their parents. These two detention facilities comprise most of the detention space available for immigrant families at the present time, or about 3,500 people.

The state of Texas had attempted to provide child-care licenses to these facilities via a special regulation shortly after they opened in 2016, but the ruling of an Austin judge halted those efforts. That ruling was based on the fact that the regulation would have allowed the facilities to function as licensed child-care facilities without them having to comply with statewide minimum facility standards with which all other licensed child-care facilities must comply. This includes standards that prohibit children from sharing bedrooms with unrelated adults.

Texas Ruling May Allow Licensing of Migrant Family Detention

The appellate court now has overturned that decision and dismiss the suit. The court based its decision on its finding that the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership and various parents who formerly were detained in the facility had no legal standing to challenge the decisions of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which is the state agency that issues child-care licenses. Therefore, the appellate court dismissed the entire lawsuit, ensuing that the regulation cannot be challenged.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you obtain through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration law case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Immigration

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New Study Shows Unauthorized Immigrant Population Decreasing

By Peek & Toland on February 12, 2019

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has continually decreased from 2007 through 2016, based on the most recent statistics available. In 2007, Pew’s research indicates that there were approximately 12.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., but that as of 2016, there were only about 10.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

About 7.8 million of undocumented individuals are part of the American civilian workforce. Six states are the home to 58% of unauthorized immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Between 2007 and 2016, the unauthorized immigrant population decreased in about dozen states, but rose in three states: Louisiana, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

New Study Shows Unauthorized Immigrant Population Decreasing

The biggest decrease in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. was among Mexican immigrants, who as of 2016 made up about half of the unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Those numbers decreased from almost seven million in 2007 to less than five-and-a-half million in 2016. Pew researchers attribute this trend to various factors, including a weaker U.S. economy, increased border enforcement, Mexico’s recession, and decreased birth rates in Mexico.

Nonetheless, the total number of unauthorized immigrants from other countries in the U.S. has not changed significantly, although there have been some slight increases in the number of undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. from Central America, including El Salvador, the Honduras, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. The average amount of time that unauthorized immigrants have spent in the U.S. also has increased, to 14.8 years, up from 7.1 years in 1995. In fact, two-thirds of the unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. have been living there for more than ten years, as opposed to only 35% in 2005.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to helping both individuals and businesses resolve their immigration-related issues. Immigration law is a complex, ever-changing area of the law that necessitates legal advice from experienced immigration lawyers who keep up-to-date with all relevant changes in law and policy. We will work with you to achieve the most positive outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled immigration attorneys today.

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Trump Administration Requests US Supreme Court to End DACA

By Peek & Toland on February 11, 2019

The Trump administration recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate three lower federal court rulings, from courts in California, New York, and the District of Columbia, that blocked its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This step was highly unusual, as intermediate federal appeals courts had not yet ruled on the lower court decisions. This is the second time that the administration has sought certiorari in an attempt to bypass the lower federal courts. The administration, through Solicitor General Noel Francisco, argued that since the Obama administration had no authority to establish DACA in the first place, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the unilateral power to eliminate what it has characterized as a “discretionary” program.

Trump Administration Requests US Supreme Court to End DACA

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling upholding the lower federal district court’s decision blocking termination of the DACA program. This could set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court hearing the consolidated cases, since there now is an actual Court of Appeal ruling to consider, which sidesteps the Trump administration’s choice to directly seek intervention by the Supreme Court. However, many expect that the high Court will not formally decide whether to take up the matter until January 2019, which could push a ruling well into spring 2019.

Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas continues to consider the case of Texas v. Nielsen, which was brought by the state of Texas in order to challenge the lawfulness of the DACA program. Most recently, that court declined to issue a preliminary injunction halting DACA, due in large part to the orders by other federal courts in other jurisdictions across the U.S. that have kept the program intact. The judge in that case declined to upset the status quo, stating that to do so did not make sense and did not serve the best interests of the country.

When you or a loved one is facing an immigration law dilemma involving DACA or another issue, you need legal advice and counsel from experienced Texas immigration attorneys. At Peek & Toland, we are here to help you with your immigration case. We will devote all our efforts to representing your interests, answering your questions, and calming your concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact Peek & Toland and schedule a time to meet with us today. We can help protect your rights and get you the relief that you need.

Posted in Immigration Reform

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What is the Difference Between an Acquittal and a Not-Guilty Verdict?

By Peek & Toland on February 10, 2019

The legal implications of an acquittal and a not-guilty verdict are essentially the same. A not-guilty verdict is an acquittal. However, it is not a finding of innocence.

Courts do not make findings that individuals are innocent of the crimes with which they are charged. A jury, or in some cases, a trial judge, makes a finding that individuals are not guilty, or that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a not guilty verdict is not the only means of getting an acquittal. It is possible to be found guilty by a judge or jury, appeal that finding, and have an appellate court overturn the guilty verdict, which acquits the individual.

What is the Difference Between an Acquittal and a Not-Guilty Verdict?

Once an individual is acquitted of a criminal offense, the prosecution cannot appeal the acquittal. The constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy prevents the prosecution from continuing to pursue the individual for the same crime. Once an acquittal occurs, double jeopardy already has attached and the defendant can no longer face charges for the same crime, except under a very narrow exception.

There also is the possibility that an individual could obtain a partial acquittal. This means that the jury or judge found the individual not guilty of some charges or counts, but guilty of others. The individual then can face the criminal sanctions for the charges or counts of which the individual was found guilty

If you are facing criminal charges, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can ensure that all of your rights a protected at all stages of your criminal proceedings. At Peek & Toland, we are dedicated to protecting your rights and defending you any accusations of wrongdoing that you may be facing. We are here to investigate the facts surrounding your case, consider your options, and help you develop the strategy that is best designed to achieve a successful outcome in your case. Do not waste time attempting to handle legal matters on your own; contact our office as soon as you are charged with a criminal offense so that we can provide you with the help that we need.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Fight Over Work Permits for Spouses of H-1B Visa Workers Rekindles

By Peek & Toland on February 10, 2019

Almost two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its intent to strip the spouses of H-1B visa holders of their work authorization. The estimated 90,000 foreign nationals are spouses of skilled guest workers, which include tech workers and medical professionals, were granted H-4 work permits starting in 2015, which made H-1B visas a more attractive option for guest workers with families.

A legal challenge was filed against the work permit program long ago based on displacement of American workers due to the issuance of H-4 work permits. The federal district court ruled against the U.S. workers, and they appealed that decision. This litigation had been on hold since April 2017 to allow the federal government more time to come up with a regulation to end the program. After almost two years, DHS has yet to produce a regulation. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently revived the lawsuit by setting briefing deadlines for both sides to the dispute.

Fight Over Work Permits for Spouses of H-1B Visa Workers Rekindles

In response to the newly set lawsuit deadlines, DHS now has been rushing to promulgate a regulation to eliminate the work permit program, with the goal of completing it prior to the briefing deadlines in the lawsuit expiring. The consensus is that DHS would rather eliminate the program completely rather than attempt to defend it in court. The hope of DHS is apparently that the court will defer to the administrative rulemaking process based on its interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. If DHS can publish the regulation in time, then it is widely assumed that the court will again put the lawsuit on hold.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to assist you with all your immigration needs. Trust us to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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