Texas Governor Seeks to Remove Sheriffs Over Refusals of Detainer Requests

By Peek & Toland on April 25, 2017

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is seeking the power to remove law enforcement officials who fail to comply with federal detainer requests.

The governor has aimed his comments at new Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez who has imposed a policy would limit compliance with federal immigration authorities in Austin.

Hernandez said she would restrict her staff’s compliance with federal detainer requests to hold undocumented prisoners.

Greg Abbott seeks to derail Travis County on detainer requests

Moves are afoot to clamp down on Austin’s status as a sanctuary city

The sheriff ran for office on a platform that included limiting compliance with these requests. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials make detainer requests of jails when they ask local law enforcement officials to hold inmates who may be illegally in the United States.

Detainer requests are sometimes illegally placed and done so without a warrant.

Hernandez’s stance is consistent with the policies of a sanctuary city. Austin’s police also have a policy not to ask people who are arrested their immigration status.

Abbott told Fox News he and other lawmakers will seek to push through new rules to remove Texas sheriffs from office if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials over the handling of individuals who are thought to be undocumented immigrants.

Abbott previously warned he will strip state grant funding from Travis County if Hernandez does not change tack. However, the sheriff remains defiant, according to media reports and has gained a national profile in the contentious immigration stand-off with the federal government.

The governor warned Texas sheriffs would also face criminal and civil penalties if they did not comply with detainer requests from ICE.

One opponent of the policy is Congressman Lloyd Doggett. He told The Statesman Abbott’s proposal was unlawful and neither the governor or the legislature has the authority to remove an elected sheriff from office.

Hernandez will honor detainers requests only in cases in which a suspect has been charged with a serious offense like murder, human trafficking or sexual assault. Federal agents obtain a court order or an arrest warrant.

Our Travis county immigration attorneys work hard to keep families together. If you have been hit with a detainer request, you may have rights. Contact us here for help.

Texas Stops Issuing U-Visas to Undocumented Child Crime Victims

By Peek & Toland on April 24, 2017

Immigrant children who are abused have been afforded protection thanks to U-visas since 2000. However, that changed last year in Texas when Child Protective Services stopped issuing them.

To make matters worse CPS did not inform those involved in immigrant child protection, reported KXAN.

U Nonimmigrant Visas (known as U-Visas) were implemented in 2000 under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The U-Visa program allows immigrant victims of crime to remain in the United States for up to four years. Their family members are eligible to apply for a green card.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines U-Visas as visas for those who suffered mental or physical abuse. They help law enforcement or government officials to prosecute or investigate criminal activity.

U-visas are no longer being issued for children of immigrants in Texas

Texas CPS decided to stop issuing U-Visas last April. The immigrant support network American Gateways said it was not informed of the decision.

Edna Yang, the assistant deputy director, said:

 “The fact that they are stopping these certifications means that there are thousands of children that won’t get an immigration benefit and won’t get protection that they really deserve.”

She said the fact CPS had not talked to any of the agencies working with immigrant children about its decision is disturbing.

The Department of Family Protective Services maintained its decision formed part of a routine review and was not related to immigration.

It decided there were more appropriate law enforcement agencies that could issue the certifications

KXAN reported only CPS issued the U-visas in the past. In the four years from 2010 to 2016, it issued fewer than 50 U-Visas in Texas and rejected 22.

A 2010 report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), stated undocumented children in state care are “more than five times as likely to come into care for sexual abuse.”

Texas Child Protective Services has been criticized for years for being underfunded and failing children it is charged with keeping safe.

The report stated more than 2,800 children at high risk of neglect or abuse were ignored for weeks by state employees. There were reports of dozens of children being killed in foster care.

U-Visas are intended to protect immigrant victims of crime. They are also meant to help law enforcement officers investigate crimes in a sector often unwilling to testify due to their undocumented status. It’s a concern when state agencies retreat from a program of this nature.

If you need advice on U-Visas, please contact Peek & Toland, PLLC at (512) 474- 4445.

Homicides Rise Sharply in Austin and San Antonio

By Peek & Toland on April 21, 2017

Concerns about rising numbers of homicides in Texas cities including Austin and San Antonio last year were not just anecdotal.

Many cities experienced a sharp increase homicides of a magnitude not seen in decades.

A report on the TV station KVIA revealed the number of deaths seen in Austin was the highest in two decades. The city recorded 39 homicides, the most since 1997.

The rise in homicides at 75 percent was second highest of the nation’s major cities after San Diego in California. The highest number of homicides ever recorded in Austin was 52 in 1985 –  the earliest year the FBI had homicide statistics for larger cities.

Austin and San Antonio see homicides rise

Homicides rise in Austin and San Antonio

Austin police said in a report in the Statesman no one particular cause was behind the spike. They pointed to Austin’s rapidly growing population.

San Antonio has experienced one of the largest spikes in homicides in the country. Police investigated 151 killings in 2016. It’s the highest figure in 20 years and a rise of 61 percent on 2015.

The city’s Police Chief William McManus told the San Antonio Express-News a quarter of the homicides were spontaneous. Police figures found 40 percent of the killings to be related to drugs or connected to families or acquaintances.

In January, KSAT reported on measures announced by San Antonio police to curb violent crime.

The San Antonio Police Department implementing an intelligence-driven approach to cutting violent crime in 2017.

McManus said violent crime also increased about 9.2 percent overall year-on-year in the city.

The Police department is creating a new Violent Crime Task Force to bring together disparate units like gang and vice units and narcotics. It will combine their intelligence in a bid to counter violent crime.

Police will focus on targets in San Antonio rather than specific target areas, and go after individuals who are involved in violent crime.

If you have been charged with a violent crime, you are likely to be facing a long time behind bars if convicted. Some murder charges lead to the death penalty being imposed.

Call our experienced Austin criminal defense team today for help at (512) 474-4445.

How Texas is Fast-tracking Juvenile Offenders to Adult Jails

By Peek & Toland on April 20, 2017

The process by which Texas transfers juveniles into the adult system has been almost routine in past years. However, the fast-tracking of juvenile offenders is under fire.

Recently, Houston Public Media highlighted the case of Miguel Navarro. He was just 15 when he stabbed a 20-year-old during a fight at a party at Katy in Texas. The man died of his injuries.

The Houston Public Media report pointed out the stabbing took place during a confused fight. Nararro and his older brother were abused for being Hispanics and attacked by the older group at the party.

Navarro was arrested and charged with murder the morning after the party. He was from an impoverished background and his family relied on a court-appointed defense attorney.

Juvenile offenders are being fast-tracked to adult jails

He was advised by his court-appointed attorney he would be treated leniently in an adult court due to his youth. The tactic backfired. Navarro was sentenced to 99 years.

Navarro is now 24. He has been behind bars since he was a teenager. The Houston Public Media report made it clear what happened to Navarro was no anomaly when it comes to juveniles tried as adults in Texas.

Navarro’s case will be heard by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A recent case sheds new and disturbing light on how easily juveniles are transferred to adult courts in Texas.

In the 20 years from 1995 to 2015, more than 5,200 teens were certified as adults in the state.

Navarro researched the facts in prison. He found the case of Cameron Moon, another teen from Texas who was tried as an adult.

The Impact of the Cameron Moon Case on Juvenile Offenders in Texas

The case of Cameron Moon v. State of Texas, led to a change in the way juvenile offenders are treated in Texas. The Court of Criminal Appeals found a standardized procedure was used to transfer Moon, who was indicted for murder when he was 16, to the adult courts.

The Court of Criminal Appeals heard arguments from Moon’s lawyer that the juvenile court abused its discretion in waiving jurisdiction.

The juvenile court failed to provide a specific statement detailing reasons for the waiver.

Moon’s attorney said the juvenile court misunderstood and misapplied the factors it was meant to consider in whether to waive jurisdiction.  The conclusions the juvenile court reached about Moon’s sophistication and maturity were not supported by the evidence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals said the evidence the juvenile court used related to assess Moon’s sophistication and maturity was inadequate. The court said the evidence used to support the findings about the protection of the public and the likelihood of Moon’s rehabilitation was also flawed.

Unlike the adult system, the juvenile justice system has an emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders.

The Moon decision led to new legislation and has meant waivers to adult courts can no longer be rubber stamped. An upsurge in appeals is likely.

If you are a juvenile who has been charged with a serious crime, you will likely to face an adult court. A conviction at a young age can ruin your future. Call Peek & Toland, PLLC for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Trump Issues Executive Order on H-1B Visas Under ‘America First’ Campaign

By Peek & Toland on April 19, 2017

Trump Issues Executive Order on H-1B Visas Under ‘America First’ Campaign
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on H-1B visas this month, ordering a review intended to eliminate abuses of the system.

Trump signed the executive order on April 18 at the headquarters of hand and power tool manufacturer Snap-on Inc. in Wisconsin. He said it will help American workers whose jobs are threatened by skilled immigrants. The order outlines a fundamental review of the system by agency heads.

Trump took aim at what he said are hiring abuses in a visa program heavily used by U.S. technology companies. He issued the order as part of his ‘America First’ campaign.
The H-1B visa program is one of the most important mechanisms companies use to bring skilled overseas workers to the United States. There is a cap of 65,000 visas issued every year and a 20,000 cap for master’s visas. Immigration authorities receive far more applications than visas are available and they go into a lottery system. In April, 236,000 H-1B visa applications were received.

Trump was critical of the H-1B visa system during the election campaign. In March, the Trump administration suspended the expediting of H-1B visas.The executive order is the first comprehensive announcement from the Trump administration about the fate of the H-1B program. However, the executive order is vague and leaves unanswered questions, according to commentators.

What the New Executive Order on H-1B Visas is Likely to Do

1. Force Companies to Pay More
Concerns that companies are using H-1B visas to hire cheap foreign workers who undercut the local workforce means the review is likely to up the wages employers must pay visa recipients.
The administration has indicated it will change the way the “prevailing wage” is worked out for H-1B visa calculations. It could start handing out visas for the highest-paid jobs and best-educated employees instead of giving work to any applicant who meets the basic requirements for the visa.

2. Crack Down on Outsourcing Firms Using Visas
The executive order is also intended to target outsourcing firms that apply for large numbers of H-1Bs to staff call centers. These firms are accused of bringing tech workers over from India on low wages for short time periods. Requiring firms to pay more could be a disincentive to the outsourcing firms.

3. Ending the Lottery
Trump has pledged to end the “random lottery” presently used to allocate the 85,000 H-1B visas every April and to replace it with a “merit-based” system.

4. Seek New Rules from Agencies to Stop Abuse of the System
The order directs U.S. agencies to propose rules that will prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the program.

What the New Executive Order on H-1B Visas Doesn’t Do

1. Provides a timetable for changes to the H-1B visa system
While agencies have been asked to come up with proposals, no timetable is set out in the order for the implementation of changes. However, the order says department heads should submit a report within 220 days of the date of the order and “shall include specific recommendations to strengthen implementation of Buy American Laws, including domestic procurement preference policies and programs.”

2. Set out a Mechanism for Change
Changes to the H-1B visa program require Congressional approval because the terms of the program are set out in the 1965 Immigration and Nationalization Act. The executive order does not contain any guidance about how changes would be implemented.

3. Provide Hard Figures
The executive order does not suggest a wage companies should pay skilled foreign workers or give guidance about the number of visas that will be issued in the future.

Notwithstanding the many unanswered questions, it’s clear the government’s direction on H-1B visas is a restrictive one. In these confusing times it makes sense to hire an experienced Austin business and immigration lawyer. Call us at (512) 474-4445 for a consultation.

Texas Father Admits Hate Crime Hoax, Say Reports

By Peek & Toland on April 19, 2017

Texas and other states experienced a surge in hate crimes in the days and weeks after the presidential election. However, one well-documented incident in Texas appears ton have been a hate crime hoax.

Authorities in Texas said David Williams admitted to vandalizing his own Fort Worth-area home and making it look like a hate crime.

A report on Fusion said Williams, of Denton, claimed he woke up with his wife Jenny on Dec. 12 to find the family’s vehicles on fire. Racist graffiti directed at African Americans was painted across the family’s garage. Williams and his family are white.

Williams told the Denton Record-Chronicle he believed “punk kids” committed the vandalism. The newspaper later reported Williams admitted responsibility for the incident. Jenny Williams said her husband’s head was “definitely not in the right place.”

Hate crime hoax made headlines

Williams faced being charged with arson at a minimum over the hate crime hoax, according to Denton Fire Department spokesperson David Hedges.

However, reports said David Williams was being held in a mental health facility. Authorities were looking at whether any other charges should be brought.

When an Offense is a Hate Crime Hoax

Although the idea of staging a hate crime seems bizarre, it’s not the only apparent hate crime hoax. There are other examples of this taking place across the country.

The incidents illustrate how false claims about crimes can be made for a variety of reasons. Sadly, in some cases the wrong people end up arrested for these crimes.

Last year the so-called “San Antonio Four” were exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The four women were accused in 1994 of the sexual assault of two young girls.

In 2012, the younger accuser recanted her story. It appears the girls were pressurized to invent the story by a family member.

More false claims concern sexual offenses than other crimes. Recently, Bloomberg reported how statistically between 2 percent and 8 percent of all reported rapes are found to be false.

The issue came to the fore over the recent controversial report by Rolling Stone about a rape at the University of Virginia that was later discredited. However, only about 40 percent of rapes are reported.

The Bloomberg article pointed out that means for every false accusation of sexual assault, about 100 rapes are committed.

If you have been charged with an offense such as a hate crime or a sexual offense, witness evidence may be flawed. An experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer can exploit weaknesses in the prosecution case. Call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445 and read about our credentials on our website.


The International Entrepreneur Rule is Finalized

By Peek & Toland on April 18, 2017

The International Entrepreneur Rule was one of the last immigration reforms to come out of the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration.

In January, the department released its final international entrepreneur rule. It was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 17.

The Department of Homeland Security says the amended rule will encourage foreign entrepreneurs to set up business entities in the United States with “high growth potential.”

The rule will go into effect 180 days after publication. Within that time it could still be derailed by Congress or President Donald Trump.

The International Entrepreneur Rule is Finalized

Following the publication of the rule in August, the public and other responders were given 45 days to comment. Although Trump has taken a hard line on immigration, an article in Small Business Trends speculated that the new president may want to retain it.

The final rule contains some changes to the one we discussed earlier in a blog. The amendments are intended to make it easier for foreign investors to take advantage of the rule.

Changes in the Finalized International Entrepreneur Rule

  1. The minimum investment required from a qualifying investor is now $250,000. The original rule floated an amount of $345,000.
  2. The final rule contains relaxations on the requirements to be a “qualified Investor” under the rule.
  3. Under the final rule, a foreign entrepreneur must have an ownership interest of at least 10 percent for initial parole, and at least 5 percent to be eligible for a second period of re-parole. The proposed rule had set the minimums at 15 percent for initial parole and 10 percent for re-parole.
  4. The final rule relaxes the job and revenue creation requirements from initial indications in the proposed rule. The applicant must show the enterprise creates at least five full-time jobs in the first period of parole.

The final rule will make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs. However, there are still a considerable number of hurdles to be negotiated.

In contrast to the EB-5 Investor program which we detail here, those taking advantage of the International Entrepreneur Rule do not gain eligibility for a green card by taking part.

An experienced Austin immigration lawyer can help you to take advantage of this new program. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

US Department of Defense Announces Extension to Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program

By Peek & Toland on April 17, 2017

The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced the extension of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program through Sept. 30, 2017.  The MAVNI program is a path to citizenship but it’s limited in its scope.

The MAVNI allows successful applicants to enlist in the military even if they are not a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. The Military Accessions program is only available to certain medical personnel and those with language skills in short supply.

MAVNI applications are accepted by the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

immigrant benefits are available under the Military Accessions program

The Military Accessions program is for vital members of the armed services

To qualify, you must have been in the U.S. legally for at least two years as an asylum recipient or refugee. Alternatively, you can qualify if have were protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for two years or have Temporary Protected Status (TPS). People from certain nonimmigrant categories are also eligible.

The extension of the program was reported in the New York Post.

When you enter any branch of military, under the Military Accessions program, you are immediately eligible to apply to become a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, the MAVNI program has many restrictions. The Post reported current plans are for no more than 1,400 people to be admitted into the MAVNI program from the end of 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017.

A background fact sheet on the program points out the Secretary of Defense allows the branches of the military to recruit some legal aliens whose skills are “considered to be vital to the national interest.”

The skills in question must be critical ones under the Military Accessions program, namely, doctors, nurses, and experts in languages with associated cultural backgrounds.

An applicant who is eligible under the program will not be rendered ineligible because he or she has a pending application for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program may be narrow in its scope but it’s a great potential path to U.S. citizenship if you are successful.

An Austin immigration lawyer can advise you on whether you meet the criteria for this program. At Peek & Toland, PLLC we have decades of experience in smoothing the path to citizenship to numerous applicants.

Please call us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Medical Worker Visas Help Meet Shortage of Health Professionals

By Peek & Toland on April 14, 2017

Doctors and other health workers are important members of society. However, a shortage in key areas has made foreign doctors and nurses increasingly vital meaning more health care providers are applying for medical worker visas.

We are seeing an expansion of health care services here in Austin. Baylor Scott & White Health, the nation’s largest nonprofit health care system, is to open two clinics in the heart of the downtown.

The major investment was detailed in Austin Business Journal. Previously, the health provider was confined to the suburbs of the city.

Medical worker visas bring doctors to the country

The health care sector is expanding rapidly. The growing demands of the baby boomer generation combined with staff shortages in some sectors has led more hospitals and clinics to seek physicians and nurses overseas.

According to Forbes more than a quarter of the doctors and surgeons who are working in the United States are from other countries along with about a fifth of all nurses and a sixth of dentists.

According to the latest predictions, the United States will face a shortage of 46,000 to 90,400 doctors by 2025.  Primary care took the biggest hit, a trend likely linked to pay levels lagging behind those of other areas. From 2000 to 2004, the median income rose by just 10 percent in the primary care field compared to 16 percent for non-primary specialties.

Given the level of demand, a properly functioning system of medical worker visas is necessary.

What Medical Worker Visas Should You Apply For?

Visas for Doctors

At Peek & Toland, PLLC, we help medical providers apply for visas for doctors. Notwithstanding the shortages of health care professionals in some areas, it can be tough to obtain a visa.

Most doctors enter the United States on either J-1 or H-1B visas. The H-1B is often preferred by the physicians. However, the J-1 may be the only option offered by some health care providers because there are fewer liabilities and responsibilities on the employer.

The J-1, or exchange visitor visa, is sponsored by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

ECFMG places inflexible limits on the length of the visa, change in programs, and other areas like working additional jobs.

ECFMG is authorized by the U.S. Department of State to sponsor J-1 Exchange Visitor doctors who are enrolled in training or accredited programs of graduate medical education as well as advanced research programs. You can find out more about J-1 visas here.

Visas for Nurses

The H-1C nonimmigrant category was created in 1999 during an acute shortage of nurses. Demand for the visas has fluctuated in recent years. Currently, only 500 H-1C visas are granted annually. There are numerical limits for each state based on the state’s population.

States like Texas with more than nine million people have a cap of 50 a year.

Given the small numbers of visas given, only the most qualified nurses from other countries will be accepted. You can read about the requirements here on our website.

The caps on visa numbers are restrictive given the projected size of the demand for health professionals in hospitals and other medical facilities.

More doctors from Spanish speaking countries would also help address the serious shortage of doctors who speak a second language.   While almost 40 million people in the United States spoke Spanish as of 2011, making it the second-most prevalent language after English, Forbes reported less than 4 percent of health providers are proficient in the language. The shortage is even more acute in relation to other languages.

At Peek & Toland, PLLC our seasoned immigration attorneys help medical professionals who are seeking employment in the United States apply for visas. Given the shortage of visas, it’s vital to get your application right. You can read more about the process here. Contact us at (512) 474-4445 for a consultation

Road Rage in Texas Leads to Severe Sanctions

By Peek & Toland on April 13, 2017

The term ‘road rage’ was derived from a series of shootings on the highways in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It has since become synonymous with a string of aggressive driving offenses. Many road rage offenses carry a severe penalty in Texas.

The term “road rage” in Texas is used broadly by police to describe aggressive driving, speeding, cutting off drivers and tailgating. These actions may be accompanied by excessive horn honking and rude gestures or even assaults.

There are no specific offenses that mention road rage. However, aggressive driving may be a factor in.

Road rage is an issue in Texas

Reckless Driving.

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of $200. The Texas Transportation Code defines the offense as operating a vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

Deadly Misconduct

Some types of road rage could constitute deadly misconduct in Texas. This could include deliberately cutting off another driver or seeking to run a driver off the road. The road rage driver is placing the other driver in danger of serious bodily injury because his aggressive actions could cause a motor vehicle accident or collision.

The offense of deadly misconduct is a Class A misdemeanor if it involves conduct that puts person another in danger.

Assault and battery

A road rage incident will be an assault or a battery when somebody is harmed if, for example, a driver punches another motorist in an altercation.

Vehicular Manslaughter

If the victim is killed in a road crash as a result of road rage or aggressive driving, the offense is likely to be charged as vehicular manslaughter.

A manslaughter offense is a second-degree felony in Texas. The charge usually carries a sentence of two to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of no more than $10,000.

Cities that Take a Proactive Approach to Road Rage

In some cases, road rage drivers may not be charged. In January,  a TV station reported how one woman said she was going to pull a gun on another in San Antonio when she mistakenly thought another car hit hers.

The incident was caught on camera. Police said charges were not filed against either woman.

You should not assume you will escape charges if you lose your cool on the road. Even threatening words can constitute an assault.

A more serious incident was reported in Dallas in the same month. Police said one man walked up to a driver in a car on North Central Expressway after an altercation and punched him.

The person who was punched then pulled out a gun and shot the other man, CBS reported.

Some cities in Texas have taken a proactive approach to road rage. In 2000, the Lubbock Police Department initiated its Halt Aggressive Driving Program. Enforcement teams, working with fully loaded, unmarked cars worked overtime at certain locations to catch aggressive drivers.

Our Texas criminal defense attorneys can help you if you have been charged with an offense. Call us at (512) 474-4445.