Monthly Archives: January 2020

DOJ Changes Immigration Judge Hiring Practices to Stack BIA

By Peek & Toland on January 29, 2020

With little fanfare, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has made significant changes to its hiring practices. The purpose of these changes is to populate the powerful Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) with immigration judges whom immigration advocates have accused repeatedly of bias in their decisions. These rule changes are indicative of many of the steadily growing political nature of the immigration court system, which some claim has led to unfair and biased court proceedings.

The DOJ changed its hiring practices to add six immigration judges to the 21-member BIA in August 2019. All six judges have among the highest asylum denial rates of immigration judges throughout the country. In 2017, some of these judges also had the highest numbers of decisions that the BIA sent back to them for reconsideration. Individuals have filed public complaints against at least three of the six judges, although the Director of the Executive Office of Immigration Review noted no negative information about any of the judges that would preclude their appointments.

DOJ Changes Immigration Judge Hiring Practices to Stack BIA

Nonetheless, the DOJ appointed these six judges without subjecting them to the usual two-year probationary period. Instead, these six judges received a permanent position on the BIA, effective immediately. With no probationary period, it is virtually impossible to remove permanently appointed judges from office.

Furthermore, the DOJ paved the way for some candidates for the open BIA positions by no longer requiring that the judges work from a central location in Virginia. Instead, the BIA members can work remotely from any immigration court across the country. The new BIA members are also not limited to reviewing appellate cases, which is the typical function of the BIA. The new board members also may serve as trial immigration judges, as well as review appellate decisions. This dual appointment has never occurred before.

Traditionally, the BIA consists of board members from different backgrounds. Their job is to review judicial decisions from the immigration courts that parties have appealed. Three-member panels of the BIA can issue rulings that set binding precedents on various aspects of immigration law, including asylum and stays of deportation. As these decisions are binding, immigration judges and adjudicators must rely on these decisions in making rulings in future cases.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal immigration matters of countless individuals and businesses. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

Posted in Immigration

Drunk Driving Penalties for Individuals Under the Age of 21

By Peek & Toland on January 27, 2020

If you are a minor or under the age of 21, it is illegal for you to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in your system. As a result, consuming any amount of beer, wine, or liquor could result in criminal charges of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor (DUIA by a Minor). The consequences of this offense vary according to your history of previous crimes and your age. For a first offense, you could face the following penalties for a Class C misdemeanor conviction:

  • A fine of up to $500
  • A 60-day driver license suspension
  • Completion of 20 to 40 hours of community service
  • Mandatory attendance at an alcohol awareness class

The penalties can increase, even for a first-time offense, if you are over the age of 17 and are caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent or higher. In this situation, you can face a fine of up to $2,000, three to 180 days in jail, and a license suspension ranging from 90 days to one year. In most cases, individuals generally do not face jail time for a first offense, but older minors often will be required to serve some jail time for a second or subsequent offense.

Drunk Driving Penalties for Individuals Under the Age of 21

Not surprisingly, second and subsequent drinking and driving offenses for minors carry the potential for more significant penalties than those that might result from a first offense. For instance, the license suspension for a second offense for a minor is typically 120 days and increases to 180 days for third and subsequent offenses.

Minors also are subject to the state implied consent law, which subjects individuals to license suspensions when they refuse to take a chemical test for their BAC during a DWI arrest. Minors who refuse chemical testing can be subject to a 180-day license suspension for a first offense and a one-year suspension for a second offense. 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 DWI

DPS Crime Lab Backlog Exceeds 2,500 Cases

By Peek & Toland on January 23, 2020

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director, Steven C. McCraw, recently acknowledged to the state House of Representatives Transportation Committee, which funds DPS, that the agency’s crime lab is unable to keep up with forensic evidence requests. The backlog is adversely affecting the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, as defendants linger in jail for months or even years awaiting test results. McCraw attributed the backlog to high rates of staff turnover and the length of time necessary to hire and train new staff, which can average about 18 months. For instance, McCraw pointed out that the Welasco crime lab had not been fully staffed in five years.

DPS Crime Lab Backlog Exceeds 2,500 Cases

DPS revealed that as of September 17, 2019, the Weslaco crime lab had over 2,650 unreleased evidence requests. Almost half of that total was unreleased biology and DNA requests. DNA test results are especially crucial to both prosecutors and defense attorneys in many criminal cases, as these results have the potential to prove guilt or innocence.

Currently, the average processing time for forensic biology testing is 218 days, and for DNA testing, 300 days. Firearms testing cases average 228 days, and fingerprint testing cases average 255 days. On the other hand, drug cases typically take 90 days to process. DPS does prioritize some cases, such as those that involve threats to public safety, high profile incidents, and situations in which defendants may be incarcerated for lengthy periods pending test results.

DPS has received just under 6,000 requests for evidence testing this year alone. The bulk of these tests involve toxicology and seized drugs. Still, DPS has released test results in over 6,000 cases this year, as well. 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

New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 21, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the year 2020 promises new restrictions on H-1B visas that are likely to decrease the number of H-1B visas further that the federal government issues. First, employers will be required to participate in electronic registration by paying a $10 fee and providing some information about their proposed applications. These registrations then are placed in a lottery each April for the 65,000 available H-1B visas and the 20,000 cap-exempt visas for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. As a result of the ease with which employers can enter the lottery at a relatively low cost, many expect that the electronic registration process will increase the number of applicants significantly. This process could have the effect of pushing out smaller employers in favor of larger employers with more applications. Additionally, since details on the selection and timing of applications following the lottery have been somewhat unclear, employers anticipate time pressures to figure into the ability to submit H-1B visa applications.

Another new development concerns an anticipated rule that would redefine “specialty occupation,” “employment,” and the “employer-employee relationship.” For instance, internal USCIS documents have revealed a proposal to exclude computer programming from specialty occupations. Another possibility is that professions that do not require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree would not qualify as specialty occupations. Redefining “employment” also could affect information technology (IT) service companies, which already are seeing a much higher denial rate of their H-1B visa applications.

New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

Various other policies that could impact H-1B visas are currently the subject of litigation, whose outcomes are uncertain at this point. One such issue relates to the Non-Speculative Work Rule, under which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has demanded that companies provide a list of all work assignments that an H-1B visa holder will have for as many as three years into the future. This litigation is indicative of an increasing trend toward challenging H-1B visa denials in court.

Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Visas

Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 20, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a document that outlines the proposed rules that it intends to put into effect in 2020. These rules will have far-reaching implications for employers, international students, foreign workers and investors, and individuals who are seeking asylum.

First, DHS intends to further tighten the restrictions on the H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers. Denial rates for this popular visa program already have quadrupled over the past four years. The DHS unified agenda states that it will continue to take steps to ensure that only the best foreign nationals obtain visas through this program. It intends to revise the definition of the employer-employee relationship for the visa program and ensure that U.S. employers are paying appropriate wages to these visa holders. These changes, which DHS already appears to be informally implementing, given the suddenly high denial rates, are harming IT services companies and positions for computer programmers, who seem to be subject to increased scrutiny in recent years.

Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

Another aspect of the H-1B program that the Trump Administration long has vowed to change is the work authorization for many H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders. Over the past several years, these individuals have received work permits that allow them to work in the U.S. while their spouses were H-1B visa holders, a feature that made the visa program much more attractive for many foreign nationals. DHS intends to publish the proposed rule in March 2020.

DHS also has announced proposed changes to the L-1 visas by revamping the definition of the employer-employee relationship and ensuring that U.S. employers pay these workers appropriate wages. U.S. companies report, however, that DHS already has cracked down on the L-1 visa program substantially. Informal policy changes to this visa program have led to 80 to 90% denial rates at U.S. consulates in India, and similar denial rates at U.S. consulates in China. Many of these denials are based on allegations by consular officials that U.S. companies should have only a limited number of employees with specialized knowledge. However, there is no basis in the law for this restriction.

The Trump Administration also is planning to move toward the elimination of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to work in the U.S. for limited periods in specific fields following graduation. Another change that could affect international students is the intention of DHS to block students from re-entering the U.S. for ten years if they violate their immigration status, even unknowingly, while attending U.S. colleges and universities.

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 Immigration Reform, Visas

House Reaches Agricultural Immigration Reform Agreement

By Peek & Toland on January 17, 2020

House members introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which is a bipartisan bill that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers. The bill also establishes funding for farmworker housing and aid programs. The purpose of this bill is to modernize the H-2A visa guest worker program and ensure worker rights to safe working conditions and fair wages. The bipartisan authors of the bill, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), called it a compromise solution that offers stability for American farms.

Under the proposed legislation, an uncapped number of visas would become available for farmworkers through a merit-based system, called Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. These visas would last for five-and-a-half years and be renewable. Existing undocumented immigrant farmworkers would be eligible to enroll in the program if they worked at least 180 days over two years or 100 days over three years in the agricultural industry. Farmworkers also would undergo a criminal background check.

Applications would be available for only 18 months after the effective date of the law, with the option for the Department of Homeland Security to extend the application period for an additional one year. CAW applicants would receive interim work authorization after applying for this visa program. Qualified workers would not have to return to their home countries to apply.

House Reaches Agricultural Immigration Reform Agreement

Individuals who complete eight years of CAW status would be eligible to apply for green cards. A path to citizenship via green card also would be available for individuals who completed four years of CAW status and who have ten years of previous agricultural work experience.

The bill also would establish a mandatory nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural workers. Various organizations representing both farmers and farmworkers support the bill, including Western Growers, United Farmworkers, National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. 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 Immigration Reform

ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

By Peek & Toland on January 15, 2020

LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company based in Louisiana, has profited considerably off the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policies. Within the past year, six of the eight contracts for new immigration detention facilities have gone to LaSalle, despite its documented history of poor conditions and abuse. The federal government pays LaSalle and other private prison companies $70 per day for each detained immigrant.

In October, a migrant incarcerated at one of LaSalle’s facilities committed suicide after being placed in solitary confinement. He received the punishment for participating in a hunger strike. Another migrant, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, reports deteriorating health due to a lack of adequate medical care. Immigrants also have complained of being served moldy food and being subject to verbal abuse by guards.

ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

Many of the new immigrant detention facilities are located on the sites of former county jails. In 2017, LaSalle faced wrongful death suits as a result of inadequate guard training. That incident caused the death of two inmates. Earlier this year, four guards were found guilty of either pepper-spraying handcuffed immigrants while they knelt on the ground or standing around while other guards did so.

As conditions continue to deteriorate at these facilities, the immigrant population continues to grow. Historically, immigrants seeking asylum who passed the “credible fear” interview and could prove that they were not a danger or a flight risk often received parole. Parole grants have become increasingly rare under the Trump Administration. For example, the ICE field office in New Orleans granted 75% of all parole applications in 2016. In 2018, that number dropped to 1.5%. Although a federal judge blocked ICE from categorically denying all parole applications, these numbers seem to indicate otherwise. Due to the sluggish pace at which the immigration court system moves, many of these immigrants remain detained indefinitely.

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

Posted in Immigration Reform

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

By Peek & Toland on January 13, 2020

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Trump Administration recently extended temporary protected status (TPS) for an estimated 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. This extension of TPS allows these individuals to continue legally residing in the U.S., at least until January 2022, according to the Salvadoran Foreign Minister. When individuals have TPS, they have protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S.

Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security, downplayed the extension, stating that it was only extending work permits for Salvadorans for one year past the resolution of ongoing litigation, not extending TPS. The federal government also denied that the TPS reprieve had any connection to its resumption of financial aid to El Salvador or the recent signing of an asylum agreement with that country. According to this agreement, El Salvador must take steps to restrain asylum-seekers and immigrants from proceeding to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

Following the Trump Administration’s move to end TPS for Salvadorans in 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit. A federal district court in California blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from terminating TPS for Salvadorans and natives of some other countries. Ironically, the federal government has extended TPS for Salvadorans voluntarily, even though it has deemed the country safe for other immigrants seeking asylum. TPS traditionally was designed to assist immigrants fleeing civil war or environmental disasters. Most Salvadorans who have TPS came to the U.S. in the 1980s, when a widespread civil war was occurring in the country. That war came to a stalemate in 1992.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing immigration problems. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As a result, we will strive 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.

Posted in Immigration Reform

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 9, 2020

Historically, assault and battery were two different criminal offenses that involved very different actions. Assault occurred whenever individuals did something to place others in fear of imminent harm, such as making threats to harm them. On the other hand, battery involved intentional physical contact with others that injured them.

Tex. Pen. Code § 22.01, however, establishes the single criminal offense of assault, which combines elements of both traditional assault and battery. Under this code section, individuals commit the crime of assault when they:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly threaten others with imminent bodily injury
  • Intentionally or knowingly cause physical harm to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly have reasonably offensive or provocative contact with others

Texas law provides for no separate criminal offense of battery. The only battery-like offense is contained within the crime of assault.

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

Assault charges can range from a fine-only Class C misdemeanor charge to a felony of the first degree, depending on various factors. These factors include whether injuries occurred, the severity of any injuries, and the status of the victims. For instance, assault against a public servant in the course of carrying out his or her official duties will result in a more severe charge than an assault against others. Likewise, if the attack involves strangulation, the level of the charge also can increase.

Furthermore, aggravated assault charges may ensue under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.02 when individuals commit an assault that results in serious bodily injury or involves a deadly weapon. This offense is a second-degree felony, and it can become a first-degree felony in selected circumstances.

Assault and aggravated assault also are offenses that can arise in a domestic context, such as between spouses, family members, or significant others. Repeated assaults of a domestic nature can result in enhanced charges and penalties, depending on the situation.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your criminal proceedings. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout your case. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies for defending you and working toward your desired objective. Allow us to handle your criminal case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Criminal Defense

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 7, 2020

Being arrested often causes you to experience panic, fear, and stress in quick succession. As a result, you may not be thinking altogether clearly as you desperately try to explain yourself and your actions to police, in hopes of being released. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer can tell you, however, giving in to your panic and talking to the police is not advisable. It may lead to self-incrimination, which can make your defense to criminal charges far more damaging.

During the initial stages of your arrest, you should remain silent, beyond responding to fundamental questions about your identity. Trying to explain why you were at a specific location and what you were doing are strategies that are likely to give police more ammunition to use against you in a criminal prosecution. Your first and only question should concern your ability to call a lawyer to represent your interests. Even if you do not call an attorney initially, you should do so before you appear in court and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the criminal charges that you are facing.

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

If you can post bail to gain your release following an arrest, you should take care to avoid any actions or statements that could cause you further problems. These actions include those that may incriminate you and those that could land you in more trouble with the law. While out on bail, you should resume your regular activities and avoid drawing attention to yourself, especially by avoiding any damaging social media posts.

Finally, you should make all efforts to work with your attorney to build a strong defense in your case. You should tell your lawyer the entire truth so that he or she can better handle your situation and defend your interests. When you hold information back from your lawyer, you can irreparably damage your defense, and that information often will come back to haunt you in the future.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to assisting individuals in resolving their criminal charges. We know that criminal proceedings can be intimidating and overwhelming for those who are facing potential penalties for criminal charges. We will work with you to achieve the most favorable outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled criminal defense attorneys today.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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