Monthly Archives: March 2021

Big Immigration Changes Mean Public Charge is Out

By Peek & Toland on March 24, 2021

We have cause for celebration because the Public Charge Final Rule put into effect by the Trump Administration in 2019 is no longer in effect. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will no longer apply the Public Charge Final Rule to new immigration status applications or those pending, effective March 9, 2021.

As mentioned, this is newsworthy, but let’s take a look at the changes and why this is such good news for the immigrant community.

 What does Public Charge mean?

Immigration laws have been on the books for hundreds of years, and changes in every administration usually mean immigration law changes. The Public Charge Rule, introduced in the Immigration Act of 1882, states that immigrants applying for entry into the United States or attempting to adjust their status in the U.S. may be denied a visa or entry due to lack of economic stability. It was implemented to ensure entry is not permitted to persons who would rely on social services for their wellbeing in the U.S.

 Extremities of the Public Charge Rule

The Trump administration put into place much stronger restrictions and burdens of proof to the Public Charge classification.

Those who applied for visas or adjustment status can recall much more stringent audits into your assets and finances during the Trump Administration. Essentially, the Trump Administration, through the Public Charge Rule, made it incredibly difficult for economically disadvantaged people to enter the U.S. It even made it difficult for financially stable immigrants to legally enter due to the high minimums set for income, assets, health, personal insurance, etc. There were so many hoops through which we all had to jump, including immigration attorneys.

 So, what now?

Yes, this is news to celebrate, but it doesn’t mean that the borders are wide open. There is still a process to undergo, and a well-practiced immigration attorney can guide you through the complexities of that process. We still have to focus on sponsors meeting the required salary minimum and whether a co-sponsor is beneficial. While it’s still a convoluted process, the news regarding the Public Charge Rule reverting to the 1999 rules means far less paperwork and intrusion into your life and personal finances.

Please continue to follow us on social media and let us know if there’s something you want to hear on Immigration Wednesdays. We are constantly working to follow and interpret all of the ever-changing immigration laws that affect our clients and the immigration community. If you or a friend or family member are currently in the process of adjusting your legal status in the U.S., please reach out to us at Peek & Toland for guidance. Every immigration case is different, and our trusted immigration attorneys will work to create the most convenient path to citizenship for you.

Posted in Immigration

Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans

By Peek & Toland on March 19, 2021

The Biden administration announced Temporary Protective Status (“TPS”) to anyone from Venezuela who is physically residing in the United States since March 8. So, what does that mean? It means that nationals from Venezuela who have been here in the last week or so are eligible for protected status.

 What is protected status?

To best explain what protected status is, we should first start with what it is not. Temporary protected status is not a green card, residential status, or citizenship. This temporary order protects undocumented persons under the provision from being deported for a limited time, and steps to citizenship or extended visas are viable options during this time of protection.

 Why do we have this?

It’s a pretty universally accepted truth that the U.S. offers more opportunity and provisions than some other countries, particularly those affected by natural disasters, famine, political unrest, war, and a host of other issues that negatively affect the standard of living and safety of the people living there. The Maduro administration and remnants of the Chavez administration have a lingering and detrimental effect on Venezuela’s people, including extreme poverty and lack of basic necessities.

We could go on endlessly about the events that lead to the state Venezuela is in, but the fact that Venezuelan nationals in the U.S. are now eligible for protected status is what is really of great importance here.

 How does this change things for Venezuelans in the U.S?

Prior to the announcement of this protected status, undocumented Venezuelan nationals in the U.S. were unable to seek work permits and provide for their families, not to mention the added and unrelenting stress and fear of deportation. This temporary order of protection is extended through September 22, 2022, and gives the Venezuelan community here plenty of time to seek appropriate job permits and take their first step on their pathway to citizenship.

This is tremendous and exciting news for the Venezuelan community, and it’s news worth sharing. If you or anyone you know is eligible for this temporary protected status, please reach out to us at Peek & Toland. We’d be happy to look into your legal standing here and advise you on the best practice moving forward.

Continue to follow us on social media and check back on our blogs for up-to-date immigration news that affects you, and let us know if there’s anything at all that our experienced immigration attorneys can do to help you secure your future in the U.S.

Posted in Immigration, Latest News

Expanding Consequences of Theft

By jaries@peekandtoland.com on March 10, 2021

Have you ever thought of yourself as a thief or considered taking something that doesn’t belong to you? I’m not talking about a pen from the doctor’s office or Wi-Fi from your neighbor, but physically taking something from someone else’s home, business, or building. For some, those poor decisions can happen in a split second, but there are some consequences of a theft that will make you think twice about stealing anything from anyone, no matter how big or small.

Though I strongly encourage everyone to abide by the law and not steal, let’s play out some hypothetical situations and considerations in order to understand what is truly at risk when committing theft.

What kind of crime is this?

Ok, so you’ve decided to take something from someone else and are assessing your potential punishment by looking at the value of what you’re going to take—whether a stick of gum or a luxury sports car, everything has value. In Texas, we have what is known as the standard value ladder which is used to determine the degree of your crime—class A or B misdemeanors, all the way up to a felony charge. While the monetary value of what you take may be low enough to warrant a puny ticket, there are a few factors that can quickly raise the level of your offense despite having stolen something worth very little.

Partners in Crime

That old adage of “birds of a feather flock together” should not be taken lightly if you’re running with a group of people and getting into trouble together. You see, acting alone in your theft is bad enough, but adding an accomplice (or accomplices!) can earn you conspiracy charges. Next thing you know, you’re facing a felony. So, while we like to use that term, “partner in crime” to mean a friend you’re sticking with through thick and thin, you might consider leaving your partner at home if you’re going to be committing theft.

Location! Location! Location!

I’ve said it before, and it’s true in this circumstance—where you are matters. If you’ve taken something from a business, a building or someone’s home is relevant to what kind of charges you’re facing if you’re caught. Instead of relying on that standard value ladder to determine your crime, you’ve now added breaking and entering and trespassing to your list of crimes. Deciding to steal something from someone’s home? Congratulations, you’ve just graduated to a second-degree felony. Oh, you only took something from their front porch and didn’t actually enter their habitation? Doesn’t matter.

Texas criminal law has an interesting term called curtilage, which states that the outside area of a home or building, including the porch or entryway, is part of the structure. Stepping foot in those areas with some sticky fingers is just as bad as breaking a window to enter and carry out the TV. Where you are matters!

What’s at stake?

Besides the less than pleasant experience of being arrested and charged with crimes for something you thought was small, your entire future is now in jeopardy. If you think a felony charge on your record is no big deal, consider that you’ll be hard-pressed to find an employer willing to hire you with a felony arrest or conviction on your record, especially one of moral turpitude. If you are an immigrant who has been charged with these crimes, the situation is even direr, as you are very much at risk for deportation. Even with citizenship, the risk does not outweigh the reward.

As mentioned, we hope nobody ends up in the position of fighting a theft crime, and we hope these factors are taken into consideration before you decide to act on “something small” that could irrevocably change your life. If you or someone you know has found themselves in this situation, please reach out to one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Peek & Toland, and be sure to continue following us on social media where we will continue to break down aspects of the law that affect you.

Posted in Uncategorized

Your Mental State and Your Criminal Defense

By Peek & Toland on March 9, 2021

There’s often a social stigma cloaked around discussion of mental health in the U.S., though there is a shift occurring when addressing this topic, one of which is how a person’s mental state can affect their criminal defense strategy. We’ve all seen the Law & Order episodes where a defendant attempts to get off by pleading insanity; and, while insanity is likely the most well-known defense when we look at mental health in criminal cases, it’s not so one-dimensional.

The spectrum of mental and emotional wellness is broad and encompasses an array of issues many people face every single day. The pressures and isolation from a global pandemic are enough to cause malaise in even the most enduring minds. Add to that the extreme winter storm Texas just faced and from which we are still trying to recover, and it’s a bit easier to understand that insanity isn’t the only way people can be affected mentally and emotionally in their everyday lives. But what does that have to do with a strategy for criminal defense? Let’s take a look at three ways your mental and emotional wellness can impact your criminal defense but in a positive way.

Is ignorance bliss?

There’s a common misconception that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and intending to commit a crime (whether you realize it or not) means you’re guilty; however, you have to take into account that every crime has an intentional element, or mens rea. Elle Woods said it best when she argued in Legally Blonde that “a complete lack of mens rea tells us that there can be no crime without vicious will.” Sometimes, especially in cases when an individual is not well emotionally or mentally, crimes are in fact committed with no ill intent, and that definitely plays a role in your defense.

Does this mean mental unwellness gets you off scot-free? No, but it means your mental state is very much relevant, and any good criminal defense attorney will know how to set the scene when presenting a case where a client’s mental state impacted their actions. So, maybe ignorance is not bliss, but it is a factor.

Provision 16.22

The second way in which a person’s mental state can affect their defense and outcome in the initial phases of an arrest and arraignment comes in provisions that take into account mental state, intellectual disabilities, PTSD, anxiety, and more when it comes to setting your bond. A strong and capable criminal defense attorney will know about provisions like Article 16.22 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and they’ll know the most effective means to present this, which has a definite influence on the way a prosecutor will look at a defendant as they request a bond and move forward throughout the case.

Diversion Programs = Dismissal?

The third way that your mental state can help or hurt your criminal defense comes in the admittance to and completion of a pretrial diversion program. Every county will have its own programs available, and it’s up to your attorney to know about those and determine which is the best for you. There are an array of diversion programs in each county, and there’s certainly allowance for persons with impaired mental states. Completion of these programs and abiding by their set conditions often result in a criminal case being dismissed and altogether expunged from a person’s record, which is a much happier and more hopeful place to be than is the beginning phases of arrest and fighting charges. Having an experienced attorney is the first step in getting to that hopeful place with a clean record.

If you or a loved one were charged with a crime, and you feel like your mental state could have been a factor, it’s important to contact a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Peek & Toland are well versed in this type of defense, and we’d be happy to hear the circumstances of your case and help.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Changes in ICE Policy and Practice

By Peek & Toland on March 3, 2021

Before the Biden administration even took office, we knew U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) would likely undergo sweeping reform in their policies and practices, and that has definitely come to fruition, as evidenced by the interim guidance memo recently released which covers enforcement and removal policies and priorities. These shifts in practice impact the immigrant community, especially those facing criminal charges.

Do you have a clean slate?

Amongst ICE changes in practices is the shift on whom they deem a priority enforcement. Prior to the current administration, we would saw an overreach in justice in the place of the leniency we are seeing now. A basic tenement of that is the increased likelihood for release and bonds. If you’re confronted by ICE in jail, whether the arrest is from something small or more serious, and have been in the U.S. before November 1, 2020 and have never been convicted of an aggravated felony, ICE may not place a detainer on you. They are now taking into account your criminal history, or lack thereof, and trying to get a better understanding of each case before placing a detainer, and there’s very much a possibility of them releasing you or giving an immigration bond.

Spots on Your Record?

All of what we’ve discussed here so far sounds great for immigrants without a troubled past, but what if you have some questionable offenses on your record? If you have previous offenses that you think may count you out on the opportunity for release or bond, it’s more important for you than ever before to have an experienced criminal AND immigration attorney to navigate those waters for you. Sweeping policy change happens fast, and you need attorneys who are well-practiced in keeping up with those changes on a daily basis and interpreting them for best practical use for their clients. Don’t rule yourself out for options because of your past. We are here to assess your individual case, which ICE will now more carefully review.

At Peek & Toland, we receive dozens of detention calls each day regarding getting out, posting bonds, moving, etc., and those questions are not easily answered unless you’ve personally seen and handled hundreds of these kinds of cases. It is only through the successful handling of these types of criminal/immigrant combination cases that we are poised to effectively communicate details of each case with ICE, possibly details of your case and life you didn’t know were relevant.

If you or someone you know is facing difficult decisions on the strategy of their criminal charges as an immigrant, we’d be happy to review your case, even if you’ve already consulted another attorney and are unsure if they’re knowledgeable of the latest changes in ICE practice, as well as criminal law reform.

We’re very hopeful about all the updates and changes from this new administration and what that means for the immigrant community. Continue to watch our social media channels and our Immigration Wednesdays segment as we continue to follow these changes in immigration policy and practice, and do not hesitate to contact us if you have even a hint of concern about your current immigrant criminal defense strategy.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Immigration

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