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Monthly Archives: December 2019

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

By Peek & Toland on December 30, 2019

Forbes is reporting that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is denying petitions for H-1B visas at historically high rates. The denial rate for new H-1B visa petitions for initial employment is at 24% as of the third quarter of FY 2019. This is four times higher than the initial denial rate for these visas in FY 2015, which was six percent. Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, the denial rate never rose above eight percent.

One of the types of companies that have been most hard hit by these skyrocketing visa denial rates is information technology (IT) services companies. Some evidence suggests that USCIS has singled out these companies for an unusually high level of scrutiny. A recent study showed that 12 of the 27 IT companies analyzed had H1-B visa denial rates of 30% or more, in contrast to denial rates ranging from two to seven percent in 2015.

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

Based on the latest data from USCIS, denial rates are highest for initial H-1B visa petitions or those that are requesting a visa for new or new concurrent employment. However, denial rates for continuing H-1B visa petitions also have increased. Continuing petitions, such as those that extend a visa for continuing work with the same employer, changes in the employer, and amended petitions. These visas typically are used for the same employees that USCIS previously approved for visas. As of the third quarter of FY 2019, the denial rate for continuing petitions was 12%, as opposed to being three percent in FY 2015 and five percent in FY 2017.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

Posted in Visas

What is Voir Dire?

By Peek & Toland on December 26, 2019

Voir dire is one of the first procedural steps that occur when a criminal case goes to trial. During the voir dire process, the prosecutor and defense attorney directly interact with prospective jury members for the first time. In many cases, this process can leave potential jurors with lasting impressions about both the prosecution and the defense.

What is Voir Dire?

In any criminal case, the court may call 60 to 80 people to court for jury duty. The task during voir dire is for both the prosecutor and the defense attorney to have input into choosing a fair and impartial jury to hear the case. Each attorney has ten challenges for cause that they can use during voir dire to exclude prospective jurors from the case. Some of the most common difficulties for cause involve those potential jurors who:

  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor theft offense or a felony offense
  • Are legally blind, deaf, or otherwise have a bodily or mental defect or disease that renders them unfit for jury service
  • Are prejudiced or biased against or in favor of the defendant
  • Have been involved in the case in some other way, such as a witness or grand juror member

Plus, some challenges for cause are unique to the prosecution and the defense. For instance, the prosecutor can challenge a prospective juror for cause if he or she is conscientiously opposed to the death penalty, and the case is a capital case in which the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.

Additionally, each side has ten peremptory challenges during voir dire. When using these challenges to exclude prospective jurors, neither side is required to give a reason for excluding the juror. However, neither side can use peremptory challenges based on discriminatory factors, such as race or sex. If one side believes that the other has based a peremptory challenge on a discriminatory factor, then that attorney must object to preserve the issue in case of future appeals.

When you are facing any criminal charges in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Trump Administration Failing in Acquiring Texas Private Land Needed to Construct Its Border Wall

By Peek & Toland on December 23, 2019

Although the Trump Administration has promised to complete 500 miles of its border wall by the end of next year, the probability of it being able to achieve this goal is growing dim. According to a recent Washington Post article, of the 166 miles of the border wall that the Trump Administration intends to build in Texas, new construction is complete on only two percent of that distance, or less than four miles. Furthermore, 162 of the 166 miles lie on private property, not federal property. Nonetheless, the Trump Administration has acquired only 16% of the private land that it needs to complete the project through purchases of the land. So far, it has not had to use its eminent domain authority to take any property in Texas. 

In response to these setbacks, the Trump Administration has accelerated construction efforts along the hundreds of miles of desert that already is under federal control in Western states. The government is just now starting to contact landowners along the lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas to complete survey work on their land. This area of the planned wall construction is far more challenging, as the terrain is not flat and does not lie in a straight line. However, this area is also the busiest area for illegal border crossings, which makes construction in this area crucial to achieving the government’s goals.

Trump Administration Failing in Acquiring Texas Private Land
Needed to Construct Its Border Wall

Some private landowners do not want to give up their land to a large steel structure and say it’s unnecessary. The river also makes the planned construction more challenging. Furthermore, ongoing litigation about the Trump Administration’s ability to use military funds for the border also has hampered construction in south Texas.

The immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience that you need when you are seeking any relief or benefit under federal immigration laws. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation. We intend to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you through this complicated situation.

Posted in Immigration Reform

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Accuses Trump Administration of Civil Rights Violations in its Migrant Policies

By Peek & Toland on December 19, 2019

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently released a 200-page report that raises significant concerns about the policies of the Trump Administration concerning migrants, family separation, detention, and asylum. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as a bipartisan fact-finding agency whose purpose is to provide information about national civil rights policy.

In 2015, the Commission issued guidance to DHS and HHS about troubling conditions at the border that potentially violated civil rights. Both DHS and HHS failed to implement any of their recommendations.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Accuses Trump Administration of Civil Rights Violations
in its Migrant Policies

In its new report, the Commission concluded that current federal immigration policies likely have violated the due process and civil rights of many immigrants and created an unnecessary crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border. Although the Commission sought data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to compile its report, neither agency responded. As a result, the Commission based its findings on public testimony, media and government reports, and legal documents.

The report focuses specifically on the damage caused by the 2018 zero-tolerance policy that results in widespread family separations. Based on statements from the American Psychiatric Association, the Commission concluded that the policies likely caused long-term and potentially irreversible childhood trauma to migrant children. These conclusions mirror those that the HHS Office of Inspector General made in a September 2019 report. Both reports also focused on the dangers to immigrants in substandard, overcrowded, and unsanitary detention conditions.

Two members of the Commission, including the lone Republican and an independent member, dissented from the report. They pointed out the lack of research that went into creating the report, alleging that no member of the Commission visited a detention facility in preparing the report.

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 every day 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 resolve your immigration law case successfully.

Posted in Immigration

What is an ICE Hold?

By Peek & Toland on December 17, 2019

When immigrants are in jail on allegations that they committed a crime, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often will ask the law enforcement agency holding the person to detain him or her beyond the regular release date. This is commonly referred to as an “ICE hold.” The purpose of this hold is so that ICE can take custody of the individual after the other law enforcement agency has released him or her from custody.

An ICE hold is a request from the federal government, but not an order or a mandate. ICE holds also are not automatic orders of removal or deportation. ICE holds are not reviewed or signed by a judge but are issued by ICE. Therefore, it is up to the individual law enforcement agency whether to detain a person on an ICE hold.

What is an ICE Hold?

Furthermore, an ICE hold expires 48 hours after the time that the law enforcement agency typically would release the person from custody. This 48-hour period excludes holidays and weekends and does not begin to run until the person is eligible for release by the local law enforcement agency. If a person is still in custody on an ICE hold after the 48 hours have elapsed, then the law enforcement agency should release the person.

Early intervention in these cases is often key to fighting back against both criminal charges and immigration law matters. If the ICE hold is in error, for instance, an attorney may be able to contact ICE and have the hold lifted.

With the number of immigrants living in Texas, ICE holds are becoming far more common. As a result, you need to understand what an ICE hold is and how it might impact your case. The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our criminal defense attorneys.

Posted in Immigration

Migrant Camp on Texas Border Continues to Deteriorate

By Peek & Toland on December 13, 2019

In Matamoros, Mexico, a makeshift camp of about 2,000 migrants has formed gradually on the shores of the Rio Grande at the Gateway bridge. Tarps and trash bags form tents that do little to protect migrant families as they wait for decisions on their asylum claims. Many migrants have been living here for months as part of the “return to Mexico” program implemented by the U.S. government. Under this program, authorities return immigrants who appear at the border to apply for asylum to Mexico, pending their asylum claims or to await a time to file their applications. Migrants have reported that U.S. immigration officials have assured them of shelter in Mexico while they await asylum. However, most migrants in this situation have found no refuge.

Mexican immigration officials provide plates of food a few times each day, but they typically run out after feeding 40 or 50 people. Other migrants primarily rely on groups of religious organizations, immigration activists, and other donors who provide food, water, blankets, and other necessary supplies. There is no running water; two wooden shower stalls and fewer than ten portable toilets have led to steadily deteriorating conditions due to the steadily growing migrant camp. Migrants use the river for bathing, fishing, and drinking, and use a nearby wooded area as their bathroom.

Migrant Camp on Texas Border Continues to Deteriorate

Nonetheless, many migrants have reported that the outdoor camp is preferable to detention in the U.S., where they were separated from their children and continuously berated by immigration officials. The cells in which they were housed often became covered in human waste with no access to cleaning supplies or clean clothing.

The city of Matamoros initially planned to relocate the migrants to a stadium that is almost a two-hour walk from the Gateway bridge. However, migrants feared that they would miss their asylum hearings if relocated, and the city later scrapped plans for relocation, stating that they could not forcibly move the migrants due to their presence on federal land.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

Posted in Asylum, Immigration Reform

USCIS Implements Electronic Registration System for H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on December 12, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it would debut its electronic registration system in time for the next H-1B lottery. After completing a successful pilot testing phase, USCIS will require all employers seeking to file H-1B cap-subject visa petitions for the fiscal year 2021 to first register electronically and pay a $10 registration fee. According to USCIS, the move will streamline the process substantially in cutting down on the flow of paperwork and data between USCIS and the employers. USCIS also lauds the move as a step toward modernizing and transforming USCIS from a paper-based process to an online filing system.

Traditionally, employers seeking H-1B workers subject to the cap filed their full petitions and accompanying documents with USCIS to participate in the lottery process. In contrast, the electronic registration system will require employers only to submit basic information about their business and each requested worker. USCIS then will use these electronic registrations to conduct the lottery process. Only the employers with registrations chosen in the lottery will qualify to submit H-1B cap-subject visa petitions to USCIS. Therefore, employers not selected in the lottery no longer will have to go through the time-consuming and costly process of preparing and mailing a full petition to USCIS.

Applying for an Immigration visa.

The initial registration period for the 2021 H-1B cap selection process will occur from March 1 to March 20, 2020. As it grows closer to the open registration period, USCIS will post additional instructions, dates, and timelines for participants. USCIS also may extend or reopen the registration period if it does not initially receive the number of registrations needed to reach the allowable number of visa petitions. Whether an employer registers during the initial registration period, a subsequent period, or a period before another H-1B lottery in the future, the employer will have to pay the required $10 fee.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your individual or business immigration matter. We will be taking appointments to discuss your options and how to reserve your place on our client list in the coming weeks. If you are interested in the H-1B process, it’s important to make a reservation early with an immigration attorney so you have counsel should you receive a lottery slot. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration, Latest News

What Weapons Are Illegal in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on December 11, 2019

Although Texas has liberal gun laws compared to many other states, various weapons are illegal to possess, make, transport, sell, or repair under state law. Having any of these weapons in your possession can result in criminal charges that carry the potential for severe sanctions.

Under Tex. Pen. Code § 46.05, some of the weapons that Texas law makes illegal include:

  • Improvised explosive devices and explosive weapons
  • Machine guns
  • Short-barrel guns or firearms
  • Firearm silencers

Other illegal weapons include devices that dispense chemicals, armor piercing ammunition, zip guns or improvised firearms, and tire deflation devices that use spikes to puncture tires, such as spike strips. Brass knuckles were illegal weapons until just this year when the state legislature legalized them.

What Weapons Are Illegal in Texas?

Generally, possessing illegal weapons is a third-degree felony offense. A conviction for a third-degree felony can result in a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years and a fine of up to $10,000. Possession of a tire deflation device, however, is a state jail felony, which can cause a sentence of incarceration of six months to two years, plus a $10,000 fine.

State law also places restrictions on where you can carry or possess “location-restricted” knives. Adults and juveniles generally can possess knives that are not location-restricted, or with blades shorter than five and one-half inches, anywhere. However, the law prohibits individuals from possessing knives with blades that are longer than five and one-half inches in specific places. Although individuals can possess these knives at home, in their vehicles, and their boats, while walking to their cars, and for hunting and fishing purposes, they cannot possess them in some locations. These locations include courthouses, schools, and police stations, among others.

If you or a family member is facing weapons charges or any other criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Can a Prosecutor Use Text Messages as Evidence Against You in Court?

By Peek & Toland on December 9, 2019

Text messages often create a detailed written record of interactions, conversations, and incidents that occur between two people. If properly preserved, prosecutors may be able to use text messages as evidence in criminal prosecutions, depending on the circumstances.

Like all other forms of evidence, text messages are not automatically admissible in court. They must meet the standards of the rules of evidence. One of the requirements for evidence to be admissible in court is that there be proof that it is authentic. To be authentic, the person who is introducing the evidence to the court must be able to show that it is what he or she is claiming it to be. Authenticity is a common challenge to the admissibility of evidence in court.

Can a Prosecutor Use Text Messages as Evidence Against You in Court?

Generally, it is not enough for a witness for the state to testify that she knew that she received a text message from the defendant because it came from the defendant’s cell phone number. Since individuals easily can use phones that belong to others, merely receiving a message from a specific number is not enough to authenticate as being sent by the owner of the phone. Instead, individuals must be able to point to other direct or circumstantial evidence that proves the message came from a specific person.

Texas criminal courts consistently have used a liberal standard in determining whether a text message is authentic, or that it is what the witness identifies it to be. For instance, a witness might testify not only that he received a text message from the defendant’s number, but that the defendant identified himself in the message and called him in the middle of the text messages to tell him something specific. This evidence points to the conclusion that the defendant sent the text message to the witness.

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 and explore your options. We then can help you make the decisions that are mostly like to be beneficial to you, based on your situation. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

Posted in Criminal Defense

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

By Peek & Toland on December 6, 2019

USCIS recently announced that it had taken steps to revise Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. Immigrants can use this form to request a waiver of the regular fees that they must pay to file various petitions and undergo biometric services. Previously, the request for fee waiver utilized means-tested public benefits programs as a factor in determining whether immigrants were entitled to a waiver of these fees. Means-tested benefits are available at the federal, state, and local government levels, and includes programs like Medical, SNAP or food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income or SSI.

The newly revised form removes references to these means-tested programs. Instead, the form allows anyone whose income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to apply for a waiver of the required fees. Additionally, immigrants who demonstrate financial hardship also may qualify for a waiver of these fees. Immigrants must submit the newly revised form along with supporting documentation, including their federal income tax transcripts. The revised form will be required in any filings after December 2, 2019.

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

USCIS decided that it should no longer use means-tested benefits programs as a factor for consideration because the income levels necessary to qualify for these benefits vary significantly from one state to another. Therefore, individuals who might be eligible for one program in one state might not be eligible for those same benefits in another state, even if they have the same income.

USCIS relies heavily on fees for revenue to fund its budget. More than 95% of its budget reportedly is based on fees. In the fiscal year 2018, USCIS granted about $293.5 million in fee waivers for immigration filing fees and other services. The changes to the waiver request form do not alter the types of fees that USCIS has the authority to waive.

An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and present your options. Finally, we can 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 Citizenship

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