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Monthly Archives: February 2020

USCIS Issues Official Guidance on H-1B Visa Electronic Registration System

By Peek & Toland on February 26, 2020

USCIS recently published its formal notice in the Federal Register about the implementation of the H-1B visa electronic registration system. All employers seeking to submit H-1B cap visa petitions for the fiscal year 2021 must first register using this automated tool and pay a $10 registration fee per named beneficiary.

The initial registration period will run from March 1, 2020, to March 20, 2020. Employers must submit a separate registration for each prospective employee whom they wish to sponsor. If USCIS receives enough registrations, then USCIS will randomly choose the number of registrations that they project is necessary to meet the H-1B visa numerical allocations for FY 2021. USCIS will notify registrants whether their registrations have been selected no later than March 31, 2020. Those employers with registrations chosen will have an eligibility period in which to file their full H-1B visa applications.

USCIS Issues Official Guidance on H-1B Visa Electronic Registration System

Although employers can submit multiple registrations during a single online submission, they can only submit one registration per foreign worker during any fiscal year. If an employer provides any duplicate registrations for the same beneficiary during the same fiscal year, USCIS will invalidate all registrations submitted by an employer for that beneficiary.

USCIS also announced its intent to provide updated guidance and step-by-step instructions online closer to March 1, 2020. As of this date, USCIS has not published additional guidance. However, USCIS plans to hold a webinar for registrants on February 6, 2020, and a webinar for attorneys and applicants on February 11, 2020.

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 Visas

USCIS Showing Preference for Immigrants Holding Advanced Degrees in H-1B Visa Program

By Peek & Toland on February 24, 2020

In the past, the H-1B visa program consisted of a total of 85,000 H-1B visas. Out of the total number of these visas, 65,000 went to applicants with bachelor’s degrees, and the remaining 20,000 went to applicants with advanced degrees. There were separate random pools for workers who only held bachelor’s degrees and workers who held advanced degrees.

Last year, for the 2020 H-1B cap season, USCIS selected visa applicants only from a single pool of applicants. As a result, USCIS first randomly chose the regular 65,000 visa applicants, regardless of whether they had bachelor’s degrees or advanced degrees. The remaining 20,000 spots went only to applicants with advanced degrees. As a practical matter, this means that more individuals who held advanced degrees were awarded H-1B visas than in the past. USCIS states that this change increased by approximately 16% of the H-1B visa holders having a master’s degree or higher, which is about 5,300 more workers with advanced degrees.

USCIS Showing Preference for Immigrants Holding Advanced Degrees in H-1B Visa Program

For the 2021 cap season, however, the order by which USCIS selections H-1B visa petitions will be wholly reversed. USCIS first will select 65,000 applicants who hold master’s degrees or higher from a U.S. institution or a foreign equivalent. The remaining 20,000 visas will be for applicants who hold only a bachelor’s degree. This significant change in the H-1B visa selection process will result in far more workers with advanced degrees than in the past.

USCIS also is debuting its new electronic registration system this season, which will open for submissions on March 1, 2020, and close on March 20, 2020. Employers will need to create the appropriate online accounts and pay a $10 registration fee for each intended worker. At this point in the registration process, employers will only provide basic information about their company and intended workers. USCIS then will choose randomly from the registrations that employers have submitted, and only those employers will be eligible to proceed with filing H-1B visa applications.

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 Visas

Can a Prosecutor Make My Spouse Testify Against Me?

By Peek & Toland on February 20, 2020

Texas Rule of Evidence 504 governs spousal privilege or the circumstances under which prosecutors may compel spouses to testify against one another in criminal proceedings, as well as confidential communications between spouses. Whether a prosecutor can make your spouse testify against you when you are facing criminal charges depends entirely on the circumstances.

Can a Prosecutor Make My Spouse Testify Against Me?

A communication is confidential under Rule 504 if one spouse makes it privately to the other, and the spouse does not intend to disclose the communication to anyone else. A spouse can refuse to testify or disclose any confidential spousal communications, with the following exceptions:

  • The communication was made to enable or aid anyone in committing or planning to commit fraud
  • A party is accused of conduct which, if proven, is a crime against the person of the spouse, any minor child, or any household member
  • A criminal proceeding involving charges of bigamy

In the context of a criminal prosecution of one spouse, then the state cannot call the accused person’s spouse as a witness and compel him or her to testify as to confidential communications between spouses. However, there is nothing to prevent a spouse from voluntarily testifying for the state in a criminal prosecution against his or her spouse. A spouse who has been accused of a crime cannot claim spousal privilege on behalf of his or her spouse and prevent him or her from testifying; it is up to the innocent spouse to decide whether to testify for the state or not. Even if an accused spouse objects to his or her spouse’s testimony, the spousal privilege does not prevent the innocent spouse from testifying. Likewise, if a spouse testifies for the defense in a criminal prosecution of his or her spouse, that spouse is subject to cross-examination by the prosecution.

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

Administrative License Revocation Hearings and You

By Peek & Toland on February 18, 2020

When you are arrested for driving or boating while intoxicated (DWI or BWI), two separate proceedings can affect the validity of your driver’s license. You can receive a license suspension or revocation ordered by the court in your criminal proceedings. However, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) also has an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) program that can impact your license in these situations, as well.

The ALR process begins when you are arrested for DWI or BWI and you:

  • Refuse or fail to take a breath or blood test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
  • Take a breath or blood test showing that your BAC is .08% or more when driving a non-commercial motor vehicle
  • Take a breath or blood test showing that your BAC is .04% or more when operating a commercial motor vehicle

Any of these events will result in the administrative suspension or revocation of your license. The ALR process is entirely unrelated to and unaffected by any license suspensions or revocations that occur as a result of your criminal proceedings.

Administrative License Revocation Hearings and You

When you refuse a blood or breath test during a DWI arrest, the officer automatically will take your license and issue you a temporary license and notice of suspension. At that point, you only have 15 days to request an administrative hearing before DPS to contest the license suspension. If you fail to request a hearing within the required 15-day period, your suspension will go into effect on the 40th day after you received the suspension notice, which usually is 40 days after the date of your arrest.

The process is similar if you submit to a blood test, and the results show a BAC over the legal limit applicable to your case. The only difference is that you don’t receive a notice of suspension immediately from the police officer. Instead, once the requesting law enforcement agency receives the results, they will mail you a notice of suspension and a temporary license. You then have 15 days from the date that you are served with the suspension notice to request an administrative hearing.

It can take up to 120 days for an administrative hearing to occur. You will go before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who will hear evidence from both parties and make a final determination about the suspension or revocation of your license. If DPS proves its case, your license will be suspended, but if DPS is unable to prove its case, your license will not be suspended. You will receive a written decision from the ALJ that you can further appeal if you choose.

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 DWI

AG Certifies Two More BIA Decisions Limiting Deportation Defenses

By Peek & Toland on February 14, 2020

Continuing to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Attorney General William Barr has certified two more Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decisions that will make it much harder for some immigrants to fight deportation. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the same tactic to issue decisions in cases that serve as binding authority to the BIA and immigration court judges. Due to the unique nature of the immigration court system, since it falls under the Department of Justice, which belongs to the executive branch, the U.S. Attorney General has the right to certify BIA decisions or primarily serve as the top immigration court judge.

AG Certifies Two More BIA Decisions Limiting Deportation Defenses

In the first case, entitled Matter of Castillo-Perez, Barr ruled that if immigrants have two or more DUI convictions, they may not qualify for the “good moral character” that is required for the immigrants seeking relief in immigration court in some scenarios. For instance, immigrants in deportation proceedings who are trying to cancel their deportation orders must prove that they have had “good moral character” for a specific number of years to be eligible for this form of relief. Good moral character also is a necessary standard for immigrants to meet when applying for citizenship. Furthermore, the ruling makes no distinction between misdemeanor and felony DUI convictions, nor does it distinguish between DUI convictions 20 years ago and those that occurred much more recently. Since DUI is one of the most crimes for which immigrants face arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this ruling has the potential to impact thousands of immigrants. Barr also notes in his decision that rehabilitation efforts are commendable but do not counteract the DUI convictions in determining good moral character.

The second decision, which concerned cases entitled Matter of Thomas and Matter of Thompson, restricts the ability of state courts to shorten or adjust old low-level criminal sentences to assist individuals during their deportation proceedings. Generally, a criminal conviction can trigger deportation if it carries the potential for a sentence of one year or longer. Some states have enacted laws to avoid triggering deportation proceedings for low-level criminal offenses. Other states have procedures by which individuals can retroactively shorten the sentences for old convictions.

Historically, immigration judges routinely took these sentence modifications into account and accepted them in considering deportation cases. Barr’s recent ruling, however, states that these modifications do not count for immigration court proceedings unless the change occurred due to an error. If a sentence is modified or adjusted solely to avoid deportation, then the immigration judges may not accept the sentence as modified. Instead, immigration judges must consider the original conviction or sentence that the immigrant received.

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 Immigration Reform

What is an Allocution Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on February 12, 2020

Under Texas law, defendants in criminal cases have the right to make a statement in the courtroom before the judge issues their sentences, which is referred to as an allocution. Texas CCP § 42.07 instructs judges to ask defendants if they have anything to say as to why they should not receive a specific sentence from the court. This procedural requirement, or opportunity for an allocution, occurs following a criminal trial or after the parties have submitted a plea bargain to the court for approval.

What is an Allocution Under Texas Law?

In most cases, defendants exercise their right to remain silent and do not make a statement to the court. Especially when defendants have signed plea agreements, and they know what sentence they will receive from the court, defendants have no reason or need to speak. The most common circumstance in which defendants engage in an allocution is when the court is going to sentence them, and there has been no plea agreement. As a result, they do not know what sentence they will receive for the crime, so they may want to take one last chance to speak before they receive their sentences.

If judges forget or fail to ask if the defendants want to speak before sentencing, defendants (or their defense lawyers) must object in open court. Otherwise, defendants will waive their rights to allocution.

Texas CCP § 42.03 also gives crime victims the right to allocution in some situations. In contrast to a defendant’s right to allocution, a crime victim only has the right to address a defendant after the judge has announced the defendant’s sentence for the crime. Victims of crimes in these circumstances are free to express their views about the crime and the defendant’s actions. The defendants have no right to respond to crime victim allocutions. However, victim allocutions will not have an impact on the sentence that the defendants receive, because victims do not speak until the defendants already have received their sentences.

If you or a family member is facing any 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

U.S. Puts Brakes on Refugee Resettlement Program, Leaving Hundreds in Limbo

By Peek & Toland on February 10, 2020

According to a recent CNN article, the U.S. halted the refugee resettlement program in October 2019 altogether. The move left hundreds of refugees stranded and in limbo after the U.S. canceled their incoming flights. This lapse in the resettlement program extended through November 5, 2019. Soon after that date, about 600 refugees of FFY 2020 entered the country as the Trump Administration resumed program operations.

In conjunction with this delay, the Trump Administration issued executive orders that both drastically reduced the refugee resettlement cap to 18,000 for FFY 2020 and allowed states and cities to begin objecting to refugees being resettled in their communities by requiring their written permission before resettlement occurs. In the history of the 40-year program, states and cities have never been able to refuse the resettlement of refugees.

U.S. Puts Brakes on Refugee Resettlement Program, Leaving Hundreds in Limbo

In response to the executive orders, three refugee resettlement agencies now have filed suit against the Trump Administration. These agencies content that the order will irreparably harm the program, which already has experienced an 80% drop in refugee admissions since the President took office.

The impact to this program is of particular interest to the state of Texas, which has more refugee resettlements than in any other state. Active resettlement programs in major Texas cities such as Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio have well-organized procedures in place to welcome new refugees and large immigrant populations. Nonetheless, the state government has often opposed resettlement efforts, especially under the leadership of Governor Greg Abbott, who frequently spars with local government authorities over programs that he views as overly “socialistic.” 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 Immigration Reform

What is an Occupational Driver’s License?

By Peek & Toland on February 6, 2020

An occupational driver’s license (ODL) allows eligible individuals to legally drive even after their licenses have been suspended or revoked. This special restricted license will enable you to drive a personal vehicle back and forth to work and school, as well as to run essential errands, such as getting medical attention and groceries.

What is an Occupational Driver’s License?

You must get a court order finding that you are eligible for an ODL and telling the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to allow you to get an ODL. However, not everyone qualifies for an ODL. For instance, you are ineligible for an ODL if you:

  • Lost your license due to physical or mental disabilities
  • Lost your license due to a failure to pay child support
  • Need your license to drive a commercial motor vehicle
  • Are a threat to public safety if permitted to drive
  • Do not have an essential household need that requires you to drive
  • Received two ODLs in the past ten years following a conviction that affected your license

Another situation that might make you ineligible for an ODL is if you have a hard suspension waiting period because of a previous DWI arrest or conviction. For example, if your license was suspended because you refused to take a breath test when arrested for DWI and you had a license suspension due to an alcohol or drug-related arrest within the previous five years, you are subject to a 90-day hard suspension. This means that you cannot get an ODL during those 90 days.

Once the judge orders that you are eligible for an ODL, you can use a certified copy of the court order as proof of your ODL for up to 45 days after the effective date of the order. You typically will receive your official ODL from DPS during that timeframe. If you don’t receive it within those 45 days, however, you cannot drive until you receive it or go back to court to get the deadline extended. 

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

U.S. Detains Record Numbers of Unaccompanied Minors

By Peek & Toland on February 4, 2020

At the end of federal fiscal year 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) had detained more than 76,000 unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is a 52% increase over the number held in FFY 2018. About 10,400 of those children came from migrant, but the most significant percentage came from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The increase in total family units detained also increased exponentially from FFY 2018 to FFY 2019. CBP detained over 473,000 families at the border, as opposed to about 107,000 in FFY 2018, which represents a 342% increase.

The Trump Administration has unsuccessfully fought to deter unaccompanied minors from entering the U.S. by separating families at the border and making it more difficult for minors to apply for asylum. Mexico has experienced similar increases in the number of unaccompanied children attempting to enter that country. When Mexico detains children, however, they immediately go into the national child protection system to find them housing and care.

U.S. Detains Record Numbers of Unaccompanied Minors

Some experts say that it is the vast increases in detention rates for families and unaccompanied minors that have clogged up an already overburdened immigration court system. The current system of detention and court proceedings is not designed to handle families and children, which makes the current surges in migrant families at the border unsustainable.

While most migrant families and children now are returned to Mexico to await their chance to apply for asylum, conditions have worsened and grown more dangerous at the border. Mexico does not have the shelters, food, or other resources to handle the massive influx of families, who often must wait for months at the border before being able to apply for asylum. Crime also has increased in this area of the country, along with injuries and deaths to children and families.

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 Asylum

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