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Immigration Filing Fees Will Increase

By Peek & Toland on August 12, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security announced a final rule on the USCIS fee schedule. These changes will go into effect on October 2, 2020. Attorney Jeff Peek discusses a few of the changes that will affect most people. 

N-600/N-600K Application for Citizenship/Naturalization
Will increase $530 from $640 to $1,170 

I-130 Petitions for Alien Relative 
Will increase $25 from $420 to $535 

I-192 Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant
Will increase $815 from $585 to $1,400

Work Permits 
Will increase $140 across the board with one exception. Those with DACA are the exception, they will continue to pay $410. Everyone else will have to pay $550. 

I-601A Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver
Will increase $330 

Asylum application now has a $50 fee  

These are just a few main changes that will affect most people. However, there is a massive list of fee changes. You can view all the fee changes on the USCIS website: https://www.uscis.gov/archive/our-fees

View the new rule in its entirety: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2020-16389.pdf

If you have any questions about this matter or any immigration questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 512-474-4445 or visit our website www.peekandtoland.com


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Defense of Third Parties in Texas

By Peek & Toland on August 7, 2020

Today Steve Toland wraps up his incredible series on justification defenses in Texas. In previous episodes, he explained the rules of self-defense, defense using deadly force, and the castle doctrine. Today, he discusses the defense of third parties.

Third-Party Defense Rule 

Texas has some of the most expansive self-defense laws that you’ll find in the country. One of those areas that’s unique is the issue of standing your ground and being able to defend a third party.

The rule in justifying the use of force and defending a third party is that you step into their shoes. The fancy lawyer word for that is subrogate. Essentially, if the person that you’re stepping in for has the right to use self-defense, then you can step in for them and assert that same.

But the same rules of individual self-defense apply:

  1. It needs to be immediately necessary. 
  2. You could not have been the instigator. 
  3. You can only respond proportionately with the force that was brought upon you. 
  4. You have to be in a legal position and not be breaking the law. 

For example, if someone pushes you, you can push them back. If someone exhibits a deadly weapon, then you can respond with a deadly weapon and so on. But it gets tricky. Over the years, the cases we’ve seen with a defensive third party get complicated because what ends up happening is the initial fight ends up in a group fight. Thus, one of the cardinal rules of justification for self-defense is that once you defend yourself, you have to stop. Once the harm is out of the way, you need to stop. Otherwise, the situation can often shift where you become the primary aggressor, and a whole new line of inquiry can begin. Thus, you better make sure that you know the person you’re defending.  

You are allowed to step into the shoes of another person and assert the same rights as self-defense, but you must keep in mind that the same rules apply for third party defense. 

We hope you have enjoyed this series on defense laws in Texas, as always. I encourage you to call attorney Steve Toland or call us here at Peek & Toland if you have any questions about those issues and 

We hope you’ll continue to tune in as we explore new issues moving forward and our show In Your Defense. 


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The Castle Doctrine and the Use of Deadly Force for Self-Defense in Texas

By Peek & Toland on August 6, 2020

Over the years, I’m asked the most about the castle doctrine and the use of deadly force.

What is the Castle Doctrine?
Castle doctrine comes from a Texas law that was passed in 2007 related to deadly force. It’s not as complicated as you first might think.

Castle doctrine says you are presumed to be reasonable, as long as you didn’t provoke the incident, as well as you’re not in the middle of committing a crime. So, if you are reasonable in your belief that someone is breaking into your home, or if someone is forcibly trying to remove you unlawfully from your home, car, or workplace, the castle doctrine comes into play. It covers your home, your car, and your work. And it says that you’re going to be reasonable, and you’re not going to have to prove through asserting a preponderance of the evidence back to the government.

How is Texas Different?

Now let’s talk about a couple of examples because Texas is unique in how they define a home. Texas defines a home as a habitation. So a habitation is your home itself where you’re sleeping, but it does not cover your garage if it’s not connected to your home. It does not cover your outhouse or a shed or where you might keep gardening or lawn equipment. It does not include your home office if it is not connected to your main homestead. Believe it or not, the architectural plans and the makeup of your house would be extremely relevant if you were trying to figure out whether the castle doctrine and the use of deadly force defense applies.

If you have any questions about this issue, God forbid that problem ever happens to you personally. But if it does, we are here to help. We have lots of experience in this area of force and deadly force and would be happy to answer any questions. Please reach out to attorney Steve Toland or us at Peek & Toland.


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Examples That Do Not Justify the Use of Force as Self-Defense in Texas

By Peek & Toland on August 6, 2020

1. Consent to an activity 

You consent to an activity, and it’s agreed upon that people are going to use force upon one another. For example, boxing, football, and soccer, but it has to follow the rules of the game. If you consent to that, you can’t justify getting hit, and then argue self-defense when you hit someone back.

2. Resisting Lawful Arrest 

Even if the arrest turns out to be a mistake, that sounds counterintuitive, but let’s say the police come and arrest John Smith. And it turns out that you’re John Edward Smith, and you’re not the same person. Still, if the police come and arrest you peacefully without using excessive force upon you, you can’t resist arrest, use force, hit the police officer, and justify your actions through self-defense. 

3. Words Alone 

Words alone can never be enough to justify you using physical force upon another person. As a general rule, if you’re out in public, words alone aren’t enough to warrant you using force on the other person. 

4. If you are the one that provokes the situation

You can never justify self-defense when you’re the person that provoked the situation. You can’t create a situation that justifies you using force on someone. For example, let’s say you pick a fight with your arch enemy using words, and the conflict escalates to physical interaction. Well, if you started the situation, you can’t use self-defense later.

As we continue our discussion, we’re going to talk about defensive third parties and the use of deadly force defending yourself, defending yourself at your home, car, or your workplace. Texas has some particular examples of the castle doctrine. We’re going to dive into that in the next couple of series here on In Your Defense. Stay tuned. 

We encourage you to reach out to attorney Steve Toland if you have any questions about defenses of property, defenses of self, or any justification defenses. 


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Can Immigration Check Your Cell Phone? | Immigration Wednesdays

By Peek & Toland on August 5, 2020

Attorney Jeff Peek will discuss the following question often asked by clients:

Can immigration search yourself cell phone when you come through an international checkpoint or airport? 

Most of you are aware of the fourth amendment and protecting your rights against unreasonable searches and seizures from the government. The fourth amendment says, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” 

There are two notable exceptions to the fourth amendment. 

The first exception is searches incident to arrest. Meaning you’ve been arrested. The cops handcuffing you, maybe let’s say a perfect example is driving while intoxicated. At that point, he’s going to pat you down. He’s doing that for his safety, for your safety to make sure there’s no contraband, make sure there are no weapons. But what happens when they find a cell phone in the pocket? At that point, historically, cops used to check your cell phone, which was used as a vital piece of information. But there’s a critical Supreme Court case, 2014 Riley v. California. For the first time, it protected a person from having the police officer check their cell phone if they had it on them during the arrest. Riley said if you have that kind of suspicion, you better get a warrant and show it. So it took away the ability to search a cell phone, from that exception to the fourth amendment. 

Another exception to the fourth amendment is, any time you come through the airport checkpoints or any port of entry to the United States after international travel. You’re subjecting yourself to revision at that point. You don’t have the right to say, “Oh, you can’t search my, my luggage; that’s my personal effects.” They have a right to search for it. And right up to this point, immigration officers and customs officials can search those cell phones when you come in. It was very uncomfortable for a citizen named George Anibowei, who recently came in through Dallas-Fort Worth airport. He’s a naturalized U.S. citizen and a lawyer. He was going through customs when they wanted to search his cell phone. That bothered this lawyer because, first, just the privacy violation, but also because he’s representing clients who are suing the federal government for various things. He had information potentially on his phone revolving those cases. So, he is currently with a lawsuit pending that’s in the fifth circuit on appeal right now.

This topic has already been meted out by a couple of circuit courts in the country:

  • The 11th circuit felt it was constitutional at border checkpoints, that border officers could indeed review your cell phone without a warrant. 
  • The 9th circuit says they at least have to have reasonable suspicion. 
  • The 4th circuit says, “Hey, that’s unconstitutional; you will need a warrant.” 

We now have various courts who have disagreements about the standard that should be used.

As somebody who greatly values his fourth amendment right, I hope that this 5th circuit comes back and says, “We don’t feel comfortable authorizing searches of people’s papers and effects that exist in these cell phones.” 

That’s all we have today, we’ll see you next Wednesday with more interesting immigration information.


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4Rules to Justify Self-Defense in Texas | In Your Defense Series

By Peek & Toland on July 24, 2020

Welcome to In Your Defense. Attorney Steve Toland discusses rules to justify self-defense and goes over examples that do not justify the use of force as self-defense in Texas. 

4 Rules to Justify Self-Defense in Texas

First, you need to remember that Texas is a stand your ground state. You can stand your ground as long as you’re not the primary aggressor.

There are four rules you would need to follow to justify using force against someone else if you’re defending yourself. 

  1. You have to be reasonable in your belief that it must be immediately necessary to exact force upon another person.
  2. You’re only allowed to use the reasonable amount of force needed to stop whatever that person’s doing to you. You have to balance your response proportionately. 
  3. You have to be in a legal position. You can’t be breaking the law when you try and then justify your use of force on somebody else. 
  4. You cannot be the instigator.

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Options You Have If Your Visa Expires During COVID-19

By Peek & Toland on July 22, 2020

Many flights are getting canceled, and different countries are closing their borders due to COVID-19. A question our firm has heard frequently as of late is, what do I do if my visa is about to expire and I can’t go back to my home country because of COVID-19? 

Immigration Attorney Jeff Peek discusses three options that could apply to your case and help you avoid illegal presence in the United States.

1. Extension of Status 

Assuming your permit has not expired, you can file through USCIS and ask for more time. You will need to explain why it is that you’re asking for an extension. You’re going to need to show proof of your intent to return, a return ticket already purchased, your plans, where you’re going to be living, and what you will be doing. It might help if you have a sponsor who is a citizen or a resident to sign a letter.

From experience in the past years, this will typically give you about 5-6 months while they process your application and decide. Therefore, this allows you to be in the U.S. without an accumulation of unlawful presence. 

2. Change of Status 

Change of status is when you change to a different type of visa. This can be a little tricky because the visa you want to switch to has to be immediately available. For instance, if you change from a B1/B2 tourist visa to an F-1 student visa, you have to ask yourself, are you going to be able to enroll in the school immediately? Is the school willing to issue an I-20 to you even though you’re technically on a B1/B2 visa? Can you do that before your temporary visitor visa expires and before the school year starts? Maybe there are other visas like an investor visa or work visas that you could apply. Still, you have to keep in mind that it has to be immediately available. 

3. Adjustment of Status 

Adjustment of status is where you change from any non-immigrant visa to the intent to reside in the U.S. permanently, so you would apply for residency. There are lucky few who are eligible for adjustment of status. Those Individuals are spouses of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens, or minor children of U.S. citizen parents.

We recommend talking to one of our attorneys to see which option is the right fit. We’ve helped many families and individuals further their stay here in the United States legally, especially in the midst of this global pandemic. 

We hope this information has been helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. 

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Student Visas F-1/M-1 and DACA Immigration News Update

By Peek & Toland on July 16, 2020

Attorney Jeff Peek shares the latest news concerning immigration law that may affect you or someone you know. 

F-1/M-1 Student Visa Update 

Last week, the Trump Administration announced some changes to the F-1/M-1 student visas. The announcement indicated that if there was a full-time online program, you would be out of status as an F-1/M-1 visa holder and would have to leave the country immediately.

The great news is that the Trump Administration just announced that they’re going to rescind the previously issued order and that they will not implement that rule. Therefore, you can take a deep breath if you’re an F-1 or M-1 student visa holder. You will still maintain good status with your F-1/M-1 visa even if all classes are online. 

DACA Update 

The second piece of information is pretty interesting and exciting. In a recent speech, President Trump announced that he wants to extend the DACA program and provide a pathway to citizenship. Now it remains to be seen if he has the authority to do so. Trump hasn’t made it completely clear yet what it’s going to be, but he said that soon he would make a big announcement. 

Until then, we would advise anybody who is either renewing DACA or is eligible for DACA to continue to renew your DACA. If you are eligible, but never filed, definitely get your application ready to go and get ready to file. If you’re somebody who may have had a criminal record in the past but got the case dismissed, now it might be a great time to apply. If you live in Texas, you can get criminal cases expunged, so that it will not appear on your record. We certainly can help you with any of those questions. Watch our latest immigration videos for more information about expunctions: 

Stay tuned as we will keep you informed on any immigration law updates. In a matter of time, we will hear new news from president Trump. 

We are here to help you in any way that you can, so if you have any questions, please call us at 512-474-4445 or you can find more information on our website at www.peekandtoland.com.

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Expunctions: What is it? Who Qualifies? and How Can It Help an Immigration Case?

By Peek & Toland on July 15, 2020

Welcome to Immigration Wednesdays. Attorney Jeff Peek briefly explains expunctions, who’s eligible, the process, and the benefits. 

What is it?

It’s a process in the state of Texas whereby one charged with a criminal case, whether it be DWI, misdemeanor, or felony, had that case either dismissed or found not guilty, can then erase it in all records. Records include physical state, paper files, computer, digital, and online so that it doesn’t appear anywhere. 

Process & Eligibility  

First of all, this is in the state of Texas. If arrested in another state, check with lawyers in that state because each state has a very different way of handling expunctions. In Texas, you must have either had the case dismissed or be found, not guilty at trial.

Dismissal 

There are different types of dismissals. In lawyer language, it’s called a straight dismissal, meaning there was no reduction of charges. There was no lesser punishment involved, and the charges are dropped. For example, if you were charged with DWI and they agreed to dismiss the DWI, but then you had to plead to reckless driving or obstruction of a passageway, you would not be able to expunge the DWI because you ended up taking a plea deal and punishment on a lesser case.

Sometimes, you find cases where somebody’s charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and they drop it down to a different level, and it’s dismissed at that lower level. For instance, you have a felony dropped down to a misdemeanor. Still, then you’ve got a deferred prosecution on the misdemeanor, or they dropped it down to a class C ticket, and you got a deferred disposition on the class you ticket that also ended up in dismissal. In some of those cases, you could still be eligible to expunge it. 

Found Not Guilty at Trial

If you go to trial, whether in front of a jury or a judge and you’re found not guilty, you’re also eligible to having expunction and even better. You don’t have to pay the filing fees for that.

What if you have completed probation, are you eligible for expungement? No. What if you finished a jail sentence and it’s been more than ten years, are you eligible for expungement? No. It’s very limited to those two classes. And again, if you have a diversification, there’s another process. 

Benefits 

Secondly, why would you want to do it? There’s a lot of reasons. Here are some examples:

  1. Employers have access to criminal records. They may see that you were arrested, and they may not like the fact that you have a record. Even if you got off on the case. 
  2.  You don’t want your partner or their family to see your record
  3. You want to apply for law enforcement
  4. You want to go to advance your career 

Benefits for Immigrants 

There are also two crucial reasons from an immigration side. For example, there are programs now, in central Texas and other many other counties, where you can enter what is called a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, or sometimes it’s called a Pretrial Diversion Agreement or Drug Courts. These various programs allow you to dismiss the case once you have completed all of their requirements. Sometimes they dismiss it on the front end, sometimes in the back end, but it’s a valid dismissal that your eligible do expunge. For immigration law, USCIS has begun to question whether that dismissal is an actual dismissal. And they’ve said, “No, that’s not a true dismissal, you admitted to doing the crime?” When you sign that Deferred Prosecution, you confessed statements. When you participated in that Pretrial Diversion Program or that Drug Court, you went in front of a judge and admitted that you did those activities. You took responsibility, immigration saying that’s not a dismissal. USCIS is going to count that as a conviction. Even if your paperwork shows “dismissal,” USCIS will argue that those programs require a confession or knowledge of responsibility. Therefore, you are guilty of those charges.

So, it’s vital to dismiss charges that they are entirely removed from your record to avoid running into this issue with the USCIS. 

If you are an immigrant or somebody with permanent residency, and you are in that situation, definitely talk to a lawyer who knows both criminal offense and immigration law.

If you have any questions about expunctions and the process, please call Peek & Toland Law Firm at 512-474-4445, we’d be happy to help. 

TN Visas Under the USMCA

By Peek & Toland on July 7, 2020


TN Visas Under the USMCA

Last Wednesday, July 1, 2020, came and went without much fanfare. Still, it was the first day of the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which, in essence, is a new and revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

The new trade agreement for North America took effect July 1, ushering in tougher labor, content, and wage requirements. The agreement includes an annex to address labor conditions and oppressed wages in Mexico. Specifically, the USMCA calls for collective bargaining and secret votes for unions to dilute the influence of business owners in Mexico and allows U.S. labor inspectors to visit facilities in Mexico. The original NAFTA text on work visas has been preserved in Chapter 16 of the USMCA.

The average Texan/American may not think that USMCA affects them. However, the trade agreement is estimated to support nearly 12 million American jobs (700,000 Texas jobs) due to the trade with Mexico and Canada. A result of $173 BILLION worth of goods between Texas and Mexico every year.  

Employers in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada will be excited to know that the TN visa was not altered under the new USMCA agreement.  The list of professions eligible for a TN visa has not changed. No occupations were added or eliminated.

If your business is interested in hiring talented employees from Mexico or Canada, please reach out to Peek & Toland. We have almost 20 years of helping immigrants and American companies work together to keep the economy moving forward. Contact our office at 512-474-4445 to set up an appointment today.

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