How to Expedite an Asylum Interview

By Peek & Toland on July 27, 2017

If you filed for asylum in April or May 2014 in Houston, you should have received an asylum interview by February 2017.

The excruciatingly long wait times are made clear by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in its affirmative asylum scheduling bulletin.

These wait times apply to the third category of asylum seekers. Children are allocated a higher priority. Nevertheless, the asylum system is dogged with delays and immigration courts are over-burdened.

The system is also mired in uncertainty. If your family is waiting outside the United States, a three-year wait can be devastating. Some asylum seekers simply give up and risk returning to persecution or threats to their lives in their home countries.

how to expedite your asylum interview

Immigrants are waiting years for an asylum interview

Increasingly, people are abandoning their cases or trying their luck in Canada where waits can be shorter.

Although asylum is an unpredictable and stressful process, there are some ways you can seek to expedite your asylum interview.

If your case is finished, you may be able to expedite it. In other words, you should have all the evidence gathered and translated if it’s in another language and the affidavit must be finished.

You don’t want a situation in which an asylum seeker fast tracks a case when it’s not complete. An experienced Texas asylum attorney can make sure you are properly prepared for your case.

Of course, asylum seekers need a good reason to expedite their case.

Here are some possible reasons to expedite a case.

1 Illness

If the applicant has a physical or mental health issue, it may be a good reason to expedite a case. It’s necessary to get relevant letters from a doctor and explain how an early interview might help your condition. If the stress of a long wait will make your condition worse that information could be relevant.

2 Severe financial loss

If a long wait will cause a serious financial crisis, this can be another reason to expedite your case.

3 Separation from family members

If you are facing separation from family members it may help your case to expedite an interview. You may have children who rely on you as a breadwinner. If you have suffered persecution in your home country, your family may be facing a threat.

If an asylum applicant is successful, he or she can file petitions to bring a spouse and minor unmarried children to the United States. Many people make the dangerous trip to the United States to seek asylum for their families rather than themselves.

Applicants can help make their case by getting medical evidence together or collecting police reports if family members are threatened or reports of injuries from hospitals.

If you are seeking asylum, our Austin immigration lawyers can help. Find out more about us here or call (512) 474-4445.

How immigration Impacts Economic Growth

By Peek & Toland on July 26, 2017

There has been considerable debate in recent months about whether immigration has a positive or a negative impact on the economy and the lifestyle of the United States. A recent study suggests immigration has a more dramatic impact on economic growth than many people think.

Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal immigrants are responsible for almost half of the growth of the population of the United States. They are also responsible for a considerable rise in the U.S. labor force.

The report on CNBC was based on assumptions relating to the projected increase in the population and GDP of the United States.

The relationship between immigration and economic growth

Immigration impacts economic growth

Joel Prakken, senior managing director and co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, said projections that the economy will grow by 2 percent link labor size growth to an increase in productivity.

Prakken said immigrants appear to make up a larger portion of the growth in the labor force. The population of the United States is aging but immigrants tend to be younger. They may come to the United States specifically to seek jobs. He said:

“Most people are totally shocked when they actually process the fact that immigrants are already almost half of the population growth, assumed in our 2 percent GDP projection and by the time you get to 2045, 80 percent of it is.”

The increase in the proportion of the population born in the United States is expected to fall due to the aging of the population and declining fertility rates.

Could Moves to Cut Immigration Impact Economic Growth?

Prakken said he’s concerned a proposed bill in the Senate would limit immigration. This legislation would half the 1.1 million immigrants who arrived in 2015 if enacted. Prakken said over a period of time that could dent the growth rate of 2 percent by approximately a quarter point. Over time the impact on the economy could become more progressively more serious.

The census assumes immigration will continue to increase. However, the bill would not allow for any growth.

A raft of studies has pointed to the positive impact immigration has on economic growth. Last year we noted research from the National Academy of Sciences that noted immigration may have a beneficial impact on the wages of local workers.

If you or a family member needs the services of an experienced Austin immigration lawyer please contact us here.

Jeff Sessions Announces Expedited Removal of Illegal Immigrants Who Committed Crimes

By Peek & Toland on July 25, 2017

Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new process to speed up the deportation of incarcerated undocumented immigrants who committed crimes. While the federal government is trumpeting the changes as a way of saving money for the taxpayer, expedited removal has alarmed some commentators.

Sessions sold the change as an “expansion and modernization” of the Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

The revised IHP identifies undocumented immigrants who are inmates in federal correctional facilities. It will allow immigration removal proceedings to be carried out via video teleconference and removes the undocumented immigrant on completion of sentence, rather than releasing them to an ICE detention facility or into the community for an adjudication of status.

Expedited removal of immigrants may be controversial

Attorney General details expedited removal

Sessions proposes bringing an Immigration Judge to the inmate to determine removability, rather than bringing the inmate before a judge. He said the change will save resources and speed up hearings.

Sessions said:

“We owe it to the American people to ensure that illegal aliens who have been convicted of crimes and are serving time in our federal prisons are expeditiously removed from our country as the law requires. This expansion and modernization of the Institutional Hearing Program gives us the tools to continue making Americans safe again in their communities.”

A uniform intake policy was scheduled to be put in place by April 6. The number of facilities taking part in the expedited removal program will be expanded.

What Increased Expedited Removal Will Mean for Immigrants

A report in The Hill said new processes are likely to be used by the Trump administration to speed up its deportation program.

Trump has pledged to deport as many as 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, the fact each person earmarked for deportation has a statutory right to a hearing, would make that aim almost impossible.

The Hill article said the backlog for hearings keeps on growing. At the end of January, it was 542,411 cases and the average waiting time to appear before an immigration judge was almost 700 days. If no new cases were presented, it would take more than two-and-a-half years to catch up with the backlog. Texas has the largest backlog in the country, we noted in a recent blog.

Even if the immigration judges did not receive any additional cases, it would take them more than two-and-a-half years to catch up.

However, Trump authorized an expedited removal provision in his executive order on immigration signed in January.

Expedited removal proceedings can be conducted by immigration officers. An immigrant without the proper documentation or one who has committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to get into the country may be removed without a hearing before an immigration judge under the order.

Undocumented immigrants subject to the expedited process must be detained until they are removed. Typically, they may only be released due to a medical emergency.

According to Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, the policy will face a legal challenge. He claimed the Trump administration is willing to “trample on due process” and even circumvent protections for vulnerable children.

Expedited removal is very significant. It is not clear how widely it will be used. The fact that the federal government is speeding up the deportation process means it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin immigration lawyer if you are facing deportation. Please call Peek & Toland, PLLC at (512) 474-4445.

Sweeping Criminal Justice Bill Would Strengthen Racial-Profiling Law After Sandra Bland Death

By Peek & Toland on July 24, 2017

The death of Sandra Bland in a jail cell in 2015 has proved a catalyst for sweeping legislation that targets racial-profiling in Texas.

Rep. Garnet Coleman submitted House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act, in March. The Statesman reported how the bill would strengthen racial-profiling laws in Texas. It would also prevent people being jailed for fine-only offenses and curtail police powers during traffic stops.

Some legislators believe the bill would have saved Bland’s life. In late March, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety heard public testimony on two bills that would make traffic infractions like speeding and the failure to use a turn signal punishable only via a fine.

Sandra Bland, a black woman, was pulled over by a state trooper in July 2015. She changed lanes without signaling in Texas. The situation quickly deteriorated. After taking her information and returning to her car window to give her the traffic ticket, the trooper told Bland she appeared to be irritated. When she refused to put out a cigarette, he ordered her out of her car.

The trooper arrested her. She was charged with resisting arrest and put in a cell.

Bland was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell three days after the traffic stop. An investigation found she took her life. Coleman said she would not have died had the reforms in HB 2702 been in place two years ago. He said.

“It took us a long time to draft this piece of legislation. We wanted to get it right.”

Coleman submitted a 55-page bill. Its provisions include:

  • Requiring police and troopers to monitor traffic stops and officers to find out if a disproportionate number of minority members were pulled over. Officers in violation would receive extra training and counseling. If this failed and the problems persist, they could be subject to a six-month suspension.
  • Police officers would no longer be allowed to stop vehicles for a traffic violation as a “pretext” to investigate other crimes. The only exception would be when there was a strong suspicion another offense was committed.
  • County sheriffs would be required to prepare a monthly report on suicides at their jails, attempted suicides, and other incidents like injuries, sexual assaults, and use of force. An outside law enforcement agency would investigate such incidents.
  • Police officers and troopers would be required to take courses in de-escalation tactics, limiting the use of force.

Racial-Profiling in Texas – How an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You

There is considerable evidence of racial-profiling in Texas and elsewhere. In the past, we have noted how policies such as stop and frisk can lead to racial-profiling.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Duane Buck, a man from Houston who ended up on Death Row, the justices blocked Buck’s execution because of racial-profiling by a defense expert at his trial.

Many people suffer deprivations in jails and police cells in Texas. Our jail release attorneys can establish if your rights are being violated. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Republicans Seek to End Diversity Immigrant Visas

By Peek & Toland on July 21, 2017

The system that hands out diversity immigrant visas is known as the “green card lottery.” Every year, as many as 14 million people seek to win one of 50,000 diversity immigrant visas.

We highlight how diversity immigrant visas work on our blog. It’s targeted at countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The chances of winning the “green card lottery” is about 0.3 percent, states Voice of America.

diversity immigrant visas are under threat

visas awarded under the ‘green card lottery’ are under threat

Foreign residents who attain diversity immigrant visas get to live in the United States and may later attain citizenship. But the green card lottery is under threat.

Recent legislation submitted by two Republican lawmakers would discontinue the lottery. Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia penned legislation that would end it after 22 years.

Their proposal also calls for a reduction in the number of immigrants and refugees allowed to enter the United States every year.

The SAFE for America Act would spell an end to diversity immigrant visas if it’s enacted. While both Republican and Democrats attempted to end the diversity program in 2016, the proposal was buried in other legislation that failed to pass.

Voice of America stated the legislation is more likely to succeed this time. Unlike last year, Republicans control both Houses of Congress and the White House. It’s also in line with President Donald Trump’s restrictions on immigration.

Announcing their bill, the two senators claimed it would help the effort to raise the wages of Americans. Perdue said it was part of the effort to fix so-called shortcomings in the existing immigration system.

Is There a Link Between Diversity Immigrant Visas and Jobs and Wages?

However, some researchers say it’s almost impossible to prove there is a link between diversity immigrant visas and jobs and wages.

Opponents of the green card lottery say people requesting the visa are sometimes lying about key details. In a report a decade ago, the U.S. Government referenced fraud in relation to the program. However, the State Department subsequently improved the application process to reduce the likelihood of abuse.

The countries that are eligible to apply for the green card lottery in 2018 include Spain, Italy, Turkey, Poland, Romania, Japan, Russia, and Nepal.

Diversity immigrant visas are one of the few ways foreigners can legally move to the United States if they are not refugees or are not sponsored. Successful applicants must have a high school education or a work history to qualify.

In 2015, just 48,097 diversity visas were handed out by the United States, less than 10 percent of all immigrant visas given that year, reported Voice of America.

At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we help applicants for a wide variety of immigrant and non-immigrant visas in Texas. Call us at (512) 474-4445 for more details.

Forensic Science Commission Says Allegations of Improper DWI Blood Testing in Austin Are Unfounded

By Peek & Toland on July 20, 2017

DNA testing at the Austin police crime lab that closed down last year has been under scrutiny as evidence of outdated practices emerged. However, Texas Forensic Science Commission officials determined allegations of improper DWI blood testing at the lab are unfounded.

The investigation was important because samples from DWI blood testing provide evidence in thousands of cases.

Austin lab cleared of improper DWI blood testing

Austin lab cleared of improper DWI blood testing

A shortage of trained staff and other concerns at the police lab in Austin led to its closure last year. Despite speculation the lab would open in early 2017, it remained shuttered.

As well as concerns about DNA analysis, the commission investigated claims by Debra Stephens, a former lab employee in December. Stephens claimed Austin lab techs were using a method to calculate results from DWI blood testing that failed to leave a wide enough margin of error. In other words, they were overstating the confidence in their results, The Statesman reported.

Last year, she told The Statesman she discovered the deficiency after she was hired to retest a blood sample in a case that challenged the Austin lab’s results. She said she reached a very different conclusion.

However, Commission officials said the complaint was not accepted for investigation. Commission member Dr. Sarah Kerrigan reviewed it. She concluded Stephens mixed up measurements in her complaint.

Despite the rejection of the complaint, concerns linger about DNA testing at the lab. It remains closed and officials are deciding how to proceed.

Earlier this year officials in Travis County district attorney’s office started the process of informing more than 2,000 defendants who were convicted of crimes that their convictions could be eligible for review.

These cases involved forensic evidence from DNA analysis.

Another report in The Statesman suggests the lab may have bucked DNA standards for years. It still received a pass.

The report cited interviews staff who worked there who said many of the lab’s problems simmered for years before its closure.

Donna Stanley, the former DPS analyst hired to start the lab up more than 10 years ago said:

 “They never supported the things I needed to set up the DNA lab.”

Analysts were reported to have raised issues concerning the lab’s inadequate methods with their supervisors. The reports said they were ignored. Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not trust the lab’s results. They requested reviews of its DNA analyses.

A DNA match is seen as one of the strongest indicators of guilt. But the concerns about the Austin lab have raised question marks about many convictions linked to forensic evidence. If you are concerned about a conviction contact our Austin criminal defense team.

Smart Crime Fighting App Is Launched in San Antonio

By Peek & Toland on July 19, 2017

Police forces are constantly seeking to use new technology to solve crimes. The rapid development of apps has changed the way offenses are reported. In Texas, for example a new crime fighting app has been unveiled.

Federal investigators launching a new crime-fighting tool called Report earlier this year in San Antonio. They are hopeful it will lead to more tips from the public.

The free smartphone app can be used by people to report anything suspicious.

Police in San Antonio launch crime fighting app

A new crime fighting app is launched in San Antonio

According to Fox 29, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is hopeful the app will lead to leads in high-profile cases such as the January 28 mosque fire in Victoria in Texas. While investigators do not believe the mosque burning was a hate crime, they have said it appears to have been arson. The crime remained unsolved months afterwards.

The ATF explained how to use the Report app in the report. Users can download the app and type ATF into the search box.

The app guides the user through specific details that the feds believe are important to report.

ATF resident agent in charge David Robison said:

“The app guides you through specific details that would be important for us to follow up on. The details include who, what, where and when.”

Robison said the reporting technology is anonymous. He said people who have witnessed serious crimes like bombings and arsons are often nervous to come forward because they think they will be revealed as the source of the information.

The Crime Fighting App and Other New Technologies to Combat Crime

A crime fighting app is not the only piece of new technology to revolutionize detective work in recent years.

A GovTech article last year revealed how police have embraced a wide range of technologies, many of them linked to mobile devices.

Technologies being rapidly adopted include in-car computers, body cameras, license plate readers, technology for facial recognition, and even mobile consoles for fingerprint reading.

The rapid advance of these technologies concern some civil liberties groups.

They fear the privacy rights of citizens and defendants could be endangered by the rapid advance of technology.

Jennifer Lynch of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation said:

“One of my biggest concerns is that mobile technologies can be used to gather info about people in ways that violate their Fourth Amendment rights.”

As Austin criminal defense lawyers, we are always concerned about Fourth Amendment rights. You can find out more about the Fourth Amendment here.

To contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers in Austin, Bastrop, San Antonio, Round Rock and elsewhere, call (512) 474-4445.

Texas Appeals Court Rules DWI Blood Sample Taken Without Permission from Boxer is Admissible

By Peek & Toland on July 18, 2017

A Supreme Court ruling in 2016 stipulated a DWI blood sample could only be taken from a defendant when police obtain a warrant.

However, in Texas an appeals court has ruled a blood sample taken by police without a warrant from a boxer from El Paso is admissible at his trial.

Police say Joel Garcia allegedly drove drunk and killed three people in 2014. A report in the El Paso Times noted he is facing three counts of intoxication manslaughter.

Earlier this year, the case came before the Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals which ruled that a blood sample taken from the boxer was under exigent circumstances. The sample could, therefore, be presented as evidence in his trial.

A DWI blood sample

The appeals court decision reversed the original ruling of a district court judge that would have stopped the sample being used in Garcia’s trial.

The boxer was involved in a wreck that killed Joshua Deal, 23, Shannon Nicole Del Rio, 22, and 19-year-old Isiah Deal on Christmas Eve in 2014.

According to police reports, the three were heading east on Vista del Sol Drive. A Camaro traveling south on Joe Battle Boulevard allegedly ran through a red light, hitting them in the driver’s side door, police said. The Pontiac the Deal brothers and Shannon Del Rio were traveling in burst into flames, killing them.

As well as the intoxication manslaughter charges, Garcia is charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance. The additional charge was reported to be a significant factor in the appeals court’s ruling.

Judge Gonzalo Garcia of the 210th District Court, originally threw out the blood sample evidence in July 2015.

When a DWI Blood Sample Can Violate a Defendant’s Rights

Judge Garcia said the DWI blood sample against the boxer taken by El Paso police was inadmissible. He also scolded officers for their conduct in the investigation of the wreck.

Garcia refused to provide a sample of his blood after his arrest, police documents stated. Police instructed staff at the medical center where Garcia was being treated for injuries, to obtain a sample of his blood before they obtained a search warrant. Officers claimed medical staff took the blood sample because the boxer was about to receive medications that could change his blood/chemistry, the arrest affidavit stated.

Judge Garcia agreed with defense counsel that investigators taking Garcia’s blood before they obtained a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

You have a right to refuse a blood test. As the Supreme Court ruled last year, police should obtain a warrant before carrying out a blood test. However, there are some instances which are ruled exigent circumstances which can include a fatal accident. Find out more about blood tests here on our website.

If you have been charged with a DWI or intoxication manslaughter, it’s important to talk to an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Attorney General Suggests Link Between Marijuana Legalization and Violent Crime

By Peek & Toland on July 17, 2017

Recent comments by new Attorney General Jeff Sessions have rekindled the debate about whether marijuana legalization is linked to violent crime.

Sessions’ remarks come at a time when an increasing number of states have legalized marijuana including Colorado, Oregon, California, Washington and Maine. The drug remains illegal in Texas.

marijuana legalization is under fire by attorney general

Attorney General takes aim at marijuana legalization

The new attorney general is a long-term opponent of marijuana. He recently linked it to elevated levels of violence. Sessions said:

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot. I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

Sessions detailed a meeting with Doug Peterson, the attorney general of Nebraska. A report in the Huffington Post stated Nebraska’s attorney general is worried about marijuana entering the state from neighboring Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012.

Nebraska and Oklahoma filed lawsuits against Colorado in a bid to overturn state laws allowing the sale of recreational marijuana. These actions were unsuccessful.

The comments of Sessions and White House press secretary Sean Spicer, may signal a federal crackdown on Marijuana and put the federal government on a collision course with states that legalized pot.

How Federal Policies Could Test Marijuana Legalization

Sessions said distributing marijuana anywhere in the United States remains an offense, irrespective of legalization. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled marijuana remains illegal at a federal level.

Spicer’s comments appeared to open the door for a Trump administration crackdown on recreational marijuana.

He said states that legalize marijuana will see greater enforcement of federal laws.

There are contradictory studies regarding whether marijuana use is linked to violent crime. The legalization of marijuana has taken place too recently in many states for in-depth research to be carried out.

However, the results of a 16-year study published in the journal PLOS-One, suggested medical marijuana laws had no impact on any of the Part I offenses.

If you have been charged with a drugs offense in Texas, you could be facing a heavy penalty. Call our Austin criminal defense team at (512) 474-4445.

Supreme Court Rejects Racial Stereotyping in Death Penalty Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 14, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court has sent out one of the strongest messages to date about racial stereotyping in the criminal justice system, reopening the case of a black man who was sentenced to death in Texas.

The nation’s highest court considered the case of Duane Buck in February, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Buck was convicted of capital murder after the jury in his case was told African Americans are more likely than whites to commit crimes. The testimony came from a defense expert. It was relevant because the likelihood of a defendant to re-offend is a factor the jury considers in a capital murder case.

Racial stereotyping banned by Supreme Court

Supreme Court considered racial stereotyping

At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said racial stereotyping has no place in a sentencing hearing. He said:

“Our laws punish people for what they do, not for who they are.”

The Supreme Court decided to re-open Buck’s cases in a 6-2 decision. The justices criticized the Texas authorities for declining to give a new sentencing hearing to Buck.

Buck is from Houston. He was convicted of shooting and killing his former girlfriend and seriously injuring her new boyfriend more than 20 years ago.

The comments of a defense expert made the case controversial. Although Buck was found guilty of murder, as the jury deliberated on his fate, members heard from a defense expert who detailed statistics showing blacks are more likely to commit subsequent crimes than whites.

The jury sentenced Buck to death after hearing the expert testimony.

Supreme Court Takes Stance Against Racial Stereotyping

In the case of Buck vs. Davis, the nation’s high court said it was a mistake for the jury to consider the expert’s purported statistics. Roberts said when a jury is considering a question of life or death, racial prejudice has no place.

The Supreme Court sent Buck’s case back to a court in Texas to reconsider the death sentence.

While Texas state attorneys set aside the death penalties of six other black defendants after the juries heard evidence containing racial stereotypes, they refused to reopen Buck’s case, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas gave dissenting opinions. Thomas argued Buck was properly sentenced to death for a brutal murder.

If you are charged with murder, you are more likely to face the death penalty in Texas than in any other state. At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we offer a vigorous defense to murder in Texas. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.