Peek and Toland Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Toland was interviewed by KEYE-TV News about the criminal charges faced by two men in the deadly accident in Cedar Park caused by street racing.

By Peek & Toland on January 22, 2018

Peek and Toland Partner and Criminal Defense Attorney Steve Toland were interviewed by KEYE-TV News about the criminal charges faced by two men in the deadly accident in Cedar Park caused by street racing.

Missouri Governor Says DACA Recipients in the Military Should Get Path to Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on January 22, 2018

The DACA program has made headlines in recent weeks following the announcement it will be abolished. But not all politicians, even from Donald Trump’s Republican party are in favor of a wholesale scrapping of the program.

In Missouri, Gov. Eric Greitens said he wants to see Congress create a path to citizenship for anyone who joins the military, even immigrants who came to the United States unlawfully as children.

A report in the Kansas City Star last fall noted Greitens is a former Navy SEAL and a Republican. He made his comments the day after Trump revealed he would scrap the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in early September.

Call for citizenship for DACA recipients in the military

Should DACA recipients in the military gain citizenship?

Congress was given six months to enact an alternative to DACA by Trump. The Obama-era program allowed so-called

“Dreamers” who entered the country illegally when they were young to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

The move will affect impact about 800,000 people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Greitens said anyone willing to take a bullet for the United States should be given a path to citizenship. He urged Congress to take action, saying:

“I think that it’s really important for Congress to act. I think as they act we need to make sure we’re balancing our insistence on law and order with compassion. We need to make sure we’re making a distinction between violent felons who are in this country illegally and children who were brought here through no fault of their own, who have grown up here in America.”

Currently, it’s possible to secure citizenship through military service under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program.

About 5,000 legal permanent residents a year are recruited to the military under the program and may be eligible for citizenship.

Recruits under the MAVNI program must have a recognized immigration status to join the services such as being a green card holder or the holder of a visa. The military does not accept undocumented immigrants.

To find out more about citizenship applications, call our experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

USCIS to Start In Person Interviews for Certain Visa Holders Seeking a Green Card

By Peek & Toland on January 19, 2018

In the latest crackdown on visa holders in the United States, the authorities started to require in-person interviews for certain visa holders seeking a green card from October 1, 2017.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began interviews with some categories of visa holder and others seeking a green card.

These include people on H-1B skilled worker visas who are applying for permanent residency as well as family members of refugees and asylum seekers.

Interviews for visa holders seeking a green card

Some visa holders seeking a green card face interviews

Workers from India take the largest number of H-1B visas every year. A report in News India noted visa holders who are family members of asylum seekers and refugees will be required to attend an in-person interview when they apply for provisional status before the receipt of a green card.

The changes are seen as part of President Donald Trump’s so-called “extreme vetting” policy. In 2015 about 122,000 people moved from an employment-based visa in the United States to a green card.

In January, Trump signed a travel ban executive order. Two months later in March, he called on federal departments to develop uniform screening and vetting standards intended to identify potential terrorists or others who intended to cause harm to U.S, interests. The order stated these standards could include an in-person interview.

The new requirement will also include L visa holders as well as holders of O and F-1 visas.

An F-1 visa is required to attend an American University, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary or other academic institution, we note on our website.

The requirement for an in-person interview is not new. However, USCIS currently waives the interview requirement for holders of these visas most of the time. Under the new policy, such waivers won’t be granted.

More changes are on the horizon for H-1B visas, one of the most important mechanisms American firms use to bring foreign workers to the United States.

In April, Trump issued an executive order on these visas. The order was short on specifics.

Agencies were asked to come up with changes and submit a report within 220 days of the date of the order including specific recommendations to strengthen implementation of Buy American Laws, including domestic procurement preference policies and programs.

These are fast-moving times for companies seeking to hire foreign workers and the applicants themselves. Please call our Austin visa lawyers for assistance at (512) 474-4445.

Trump Puts the Onus on Congress Over DACA

By Peek & Toland on January 18, 2018

The announcement last September that President Donald Trump will discontinue the DACA program was seen as a massive blow to so-called Dreamers who came to this county as children and know little else.

However, the ending of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on September 5 may not be the end of moves to legitimize these undocumented immigrants.

Trump gave Congress six months to pass legislation to safeguard the Dreamers and to allow them to continue to work in the United States. Trump was even reported to be working out a deal with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

Given the recent failure of Congress to reach a consensus on a wide range of issues, the six-month window may well prove to be fruitless, according to commentators.

Trump clearly put the onus on Congress in the wake of the decision. His tweet the following day warned that if Congress would not legalize DACA he would revisit this issue.

There was some confusion about the meaning of the tweet. Politico reported an unwillingness on the behalf of officials to elaborate on the promise beyond an assurance from Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores that Trump would put more pressure on Congress.

Congress considers DACA

Trump Puts Onus on Congress over DACA

Many critics are skeptical that the President will do anything for the Dreamers. They noted his continued attacks on his predecessor Barack Obama on the issue and the re-emphasis on his commitment to the America First doctrine.

Congress remains the best hope for as many as 800,000 DACA recipients. Some of them will be eligible for deportation as early as next March.

Congress must act fast if it is to preserve the program’s protections before the DACA recipients begin losing their status in March.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he is hopeful that Congress will reach a solution in time. He said:

“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”

Congress may also tackle the whole issue of immigration reform. It remains to be seen if it can act decisively given such a small window.

If you are impacted by the changes to DACA and need advice, please call our Austin family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Federal Authorities Arrest 14 Cartel Members on Drugs Offenses in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 17, 2018

The border areas of Texas are frequented by the big drug cartels from Mexico. Recently, federal and state law enforcement agencies in El Paso, Texas arrested 14 alleged members of a trafficking organization for drug offenses in Texas.

The operation picked up members of the Orrantia Drug Trafficking Organization, including ringleader Mario Armando Orrantia, reported Fox News.

The arrests for drug offenses in Texas took place in June 2017. The suspects were hit with drug trafficking charges, stated U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin and Special Agent in Charge Will Glaspy of the DEA’s El Paso office.

Cartel members are arrested on drugs offenses in Texas

Drugs offenses in Texas – cartel members are arrested

Police announced they seized large amounts of drugs during the operation. They seized about five kilograms of cocaine, 600 kilograms of marijuana, almost $140,000 in cash and seven vehicles, reported Fox.

Glaspy said in a statement:

 “DEA and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners severely disrupted the Orrantia Drug Trafficking Organization operating here in El Paso.”

In the summer, a grand jury indicted 12 of the suspects on conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

Five of the suspects were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. Seven were hit with charges of substantive drug possession with intent to distribute, 10 people with conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one of the suspects on bulk cash smuggling.

Glaspy said the organization was disguising its alleged criminal activity under the cloak of being a legitimate business and threatening the safety of local communities.

He said the Drug Enforcement Agency, along with its partners in law enforcement partners are committed to bringing to justice people who import and distribute illegal drugs in communities.

The organization was accused of pumping hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into the El Paso area. The DEA said the drugs were then transported to locations across the United States including Colorado, Ohio, and South Carolina. Investigators said the organization was making money from the drugs and laundering it, according to investigators.

The suspects were being held in federal custody. All but two of them face at least 10 years to life in prison, reported Fox News.

Drug trafficking is dealt with at a federal level. People charged with this crime typically face heavy sentences.

Whether you have been caught with a just a pounds of marijuana, or large amounts of cocaine you can be charged with trafficking if the authorities believe it was not merely for your personal use.

You can find out more about drug trafficking on our website.  If you require the services of an experienced Texas drug trafficking lawyer, you should contact our Austin attorneys.

Contact us here or call us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit is Launched by the Justice Department

By Peek & Toland on January 16, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Session has launched an opioid fraud and detection unit to look more closely at opioid prescriptions amid concerns about soaring death rates from the use of the prescribed drugs.

In August, Sessions announced the setting up of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. It’s a Department of Justice pilot program intended to use available data to help fight what the DoJ called a devastating opioid crisis ravaging families and communities across the country.

Sessions said the unit would focus on opioid-related health care fraud. It will use available data to find and prosecute people contributing to the drug epidemic.

Opioid fraud

Opioid fraud detection unit is launched

The Attorney General pulled few punches in a speech to law enforcement officers and their families in Columbus, Ohio. He labeled the current epidemic “the worst drug crisis in our history.”

Sessions pledged to prosecute doctors who over-prescribed opioids. He said:

“I have created this unit to focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute individuals that are contributing to this opioid epidemic. This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids — like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription.”

Sessions announced he will be assigning 12 experienced prosecutors who will focus on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud cases in 12 locations around the country.

Columbus is at the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. Sessions said one person in Columbus dies of a drug overdose every day.

The pace of the fatalities is increasing. Ohio’s coroners report more than 4,000 people in the state died of a drug overdose in 2016. In Columbus, the coroner has already seen a 66 percent jump this year from the same time in 2016.

Cracking down on health care fraud was a key aim of the Obama administration. Texas saw a string of massive prosecutions centered on doctors and clinics.

Recently, President Donald Trump branded the opioid crisis a national emergency. The drug is causing as many as 1.3 million hospitalizations a year in the United States, reported the New York Times.

If you are facing health care fraud or other offenses in Texas, please call our criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.


Stripper from Texas is Sentenced to 32 Years in Prison Over Cop’s DWI Death

By Peek & Toland on January 15, 2018

Texas has a specific offense of intoxication manslaughter used when drunk drivers kill. It can carry a very heavy sentence. Last year, a former stripper was sentenced to 32 years in prison over a cop’s DWI death.

Amber Willemsen was sentenced to 32 years for killing a Pearland police officer after leaving work last year.

Williemsen, a former assistant principal of a school, left work at a strip club when she crashed head-on into a cruiser driven by Pearland Police officer Endy Ekpanya on East Broadway Street in Pearland while drunk.

Willemsen was found guilty of intoxication manslaughter in connection with Officer Ekpanya’s death, reported KHOU.

The mother of two got drunk during her seven-hour shift at a strip club off the Gulf Freeway just before the wreck, prosecutors said. Police said her blood alcohol content level was measured at .162 which is twice the legal limit to drive.

Cop's DWI death in Texas

Stripper sentenced over cop’s DWI death

Amber Willemsen told a friend in jail she consumed a few drinks on the night of the accident. According to evidence presented to the court, she clearly remembered everything that happened.

News reports said she drank vodka from a bottle in a parking lot the night she hit the police officer.

The impact of the crash crushed the driver’s side of Ekpanya’s car. He was extracted from the vehicle but died on the way to the hospital.

Harris County court records showed Willemsen was out on bond for a charge for possession of methamphetamine at the time of the crash. She received probation in October 2012 for driving while intoxicated.

Media reports noted Willemsen worked as an assistant principal at Bauerschlag Elementary before she became a stripper. She resigned in May 2012.

Texas is unusual among states in having an intoxication manslaughter crime on its books we noted last year.

The law requires the prosecution to prove your intoxicated driving caused the fatal crash. Intoxication manslaughter in Texas is a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

If you have been charged with this serious crime, our Texas criminal defense lawyers would like to hear from you. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Mother Makes Plea to ICE Not to Deport the Immigrant who Identified Son’s Killers

By Peek & Toland on January 12, 2018

Deportation can be undiscriminating. Earlier this year, a mother from New York made a plea to authorities not to deport an undocumented immigrant who help bring her son’s killers to justice.

Sofia Cuetlach, the mother of a murdered Brooklyn man, called on federal immigration officials to release William Siguencia Hurtado. He was arrested in June despite testifying in two Brooklyn homicide cases, including her son’s.

The mother’s call and the subsequent publicity may have had an impact because he was later released from ICE

Siguencia Hurtado is an immigrant from Ecuador. He is married to a U.S. citizen, has two children and has lived in the United States since 2002. Siguencia Hurtado was the only eyewitness in the murder trial of the killers of Cuetlach’s son.

Mother makes immigrant deportation plea

Mother makes plea over immigrant deportation

A report in the New York Daily News noted he was arrested during an annual check-in on June 29 at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York. He was detained as part of President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Cuetlach said she would help him by testifying on his behalf to avert potential deportation.

In 2012, Siguencia Hurtado was a witness to the murder of Cuetlach’s 20-year-old son outside a nightclub. He helped police arrest the suspects when he noticed them again two weeks later.

Support for Siguencia Hurtado also came from Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. He sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, urging officials at the department to release the Ecuadorian.

The New York Post reported Siguencia Hurtado crossed the Mexican border 15 years ago. He was arrested in 2004 for harassment and statutory rape. The charges were later dropped.

A federal immigration judge ordered him removed from the United States in 2005, after he failed to appear for a deportation proceeding. However, he quietly built his life in Brooklyn where he has a 5-month-old son and a 10-year-old daughter with his wife.

Reports in the media in August, stated Siguencia Hurtado was released from detention after being arrested by ICE in July.

The reports noted he pays taxes, and is married to a US citizen who is attempting to legalize his status.

If you or a family member is facing deportation in Texas, you should contact Peek & Toland, PLLC at (512) 474-4445.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Texas – Round Rock Driver is Charged

By Peek & Toland on January 11, 2018

Leaving the scene of the accident is a serious traffic offense in Texas, even if the wreck involved no injuries.

Last year, Round Rock police charged a driver with leaving the scene of a wreck after his vehicle hit a train at McNeil Road and the Interstate 35 frontage road.

Police said no injuries were caused. Officers received a call about a collision between a Union Pacific train and the car. They searched local hospitals to find the driver who was involved in the collision, reported The Statesman.

Police located a damaged vehicle at the corner of Logan and South Mandell streets in Round Rock, approximately a mile south from the collision.  The driver abandoned his car and was located at Buck Egger Park off South Mays Street.

The consequences of leaving the scene of an accident

Leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense

Although no injuries were reported in this case, many drivers are accused of leaving the scenes of accidents involving serious injuries and even deaths.

In August 2017, a woman in her 40s was fatally hit by a pickup in a hit-and-run crash in Fort Worth, according to police.

Officers were called out to the intersection of Euless South Main Street and Trinity Boulevard where they found the woman lying in the street badly injured.

A report in the Star-Telegram stated witnesses told police the woman was struck by a white pickup truck as she attempted to cross the intersection. The truck had a green light and it failed to stop after hitting the woman, according to police.

The Consequences of Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Texas

Hit and run is also known as leaving the scene of an accident in Texas. It’s a very serious offense when a vehicle crash involves death, injury or even property damage.

The offense ranges from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the degree of damage or injury.

Under Texas Transportation Code § 550.021, failing to stop after an accident that causes death or serious injury is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Fleeing an accident involving injury can result in you spending up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

If you leave the scene of an accident with property damage, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if the property damage is worth more than $200. You can serve up to 180 days in jail and be fined up to $2,000.

An accident involving damage less than $200 can result in a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

You should never leave the scene of an accident. Investigators can charge you with leaving the scene of a wreck if they can show you were driving the vehicle. They will use evidence such as license plate numbers, traces of paint from the scene, or witness statements.

If you have been charged with this crime, please call our Austin and Round Rock criminal defense lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Would your business survive an Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) audit?

By Jessica Aries on January 10, 2018

Would your business survive an Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) audit?Some convenient stores and other business owners are about to find out. Today, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) descended on 7-11 stores nationwide to perform immigration audits and interviews with employees and store managers.

“Today’s actions send a strong message to U.S. businesses that hire and employ an illegal workforce: ICE will enforce the law, and if you are found to be breaking the law, you will be held accountable,” stated Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director in a statement to CNN.

Is your business prepared for an ICE audit?

Businesses cannot avoid an immigration audit, but they can take steps to ensure they are prepared for one. Our team of experienced immigration attorneys can walk your business through the entire process of preparation to ensure you are ready should ICE seek an audit of your business. Should your business be selected for ICE audit, Peek & Toland will help your business navigate what to do and how best to work with ICE to ensure your business can continue to operate during the audit.

Is your business in I-9 Compliance?

As part of I-9 compliance, it is illegal to knowingly hire or continue to employ unauthorized workers. A failure to comply with I-9 compliance may result in fines, forfeiture of company assets, and potential imprisonment. Those businesses that fail to comply may be criminally prosecuted or fined anywhere from $375 to $16,000 per violation. A penalty for failing to provide a Form I-9 can range from $110-$1,100 per violation. Can your business afford these penalties?

I-9 requires that employers complete an Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 (Form I-9) to verify the employees’ identity and eligibility to work legally in the U.S. This form must be completed with 3 business days of the employee’s first day in the position and employers are required to maintain this form for all current employees. Employers are also required to maintain former employee’s documents for at least 3 years for the day of hire or 1 year after the employee is no longer employed.

What is E-Verify?

To confirm the information on the employee’s documentation is correct, many employers use an online tool called E-Verify. Although E-Verify is currently voluntary for most employers, those businesses who maintain federal contracts or subcontracts that contain the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause are required to participate in E-Verify. It is anticipated that all U.S. employers will be required to use E-Verify in the near future.

What should business owners do?

The simple answer is to hire an experienced immigration attorney. If your business is worried about risk and a potential immigration audit, then hiring an experienced immigration firm like Peek and Toland to help prepare your business for a potential immigration audit is essential.

Should your business be selected for an immigration audit, it is paramount to hire an immigration attorney to advise your business right away.Our experienced immigration attorneys are well-versed in all areas of I-9 compliance and ICE audits.

Our legal services include:

  • Risk Assessment and Risk Avoidance
  • Internal and Third Party I-9 Audits
  • Reviewing and Correcting Mistakes on Existing I-9 Forms
  • Government Investigations
  • Internal Audits of Existing I-9 Forms
  • Obtaining and Maintaining I-9 Forms

To learn more about Peek and Toland can help your business or company with ICE audits, I-9 compliance, or E-verify, please call us at 512-474-4445.