ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

By Peek & Toland on January 15, 2020

LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company based in Louisiana, has profited considerably off the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policies. Within the past year, six of the eight contracts for new immigration detention facilities have gone to LaSalle, despite its documented history of poor conditions and abuse. The federal government pays LaSalle and other private prison companies $70 per day for each detained immigrant.

In October, a migrant incarcerated at one of LaSalle’s facilities committed suicide after being placed in solitary confinement. He received the punishment for participating in a hunger strike. Another migrant, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, reports deteriorating health due to a lack of adequate medical care. Immigrants also have complained of being served moldy food and being subject to verbal abuse by guards.

ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

Many of the new immigrant detention facilities are located on the sites of former county jails. In 2017, LaSalle faced wrongful death suits as a result of inadequate guard training. That incident caused the death of two inmates. Earlier this year, four guards were found guilty of either pepper-spraying handcuffed immigrants while they knelt on the ground or standing around while other guards did so.

As conditions continue to deteriorate at these facilities, the immigrant population continues to grow. Historically, immigrants seeking asylum who passed the “credible fear” interview and could prove that they were not a danger or a flight risk often received parole. Parole grants have become increasingly rare under the Trump Administration. For example, the ICE field office in New Orleans granted 75% of all parole applications in 2016. In 2018, that number dropped to 1.5%. Although a federal judge blocked ICE from categorically denying all parole applications, these numbers seem to indicate otherwise. Due to the sluggish pace at which the immigration court system moves, many of these immigrants remain detained indefinitely.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your immigration matter. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

By Peek & Toland on January 13, 2020

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Trump Administration recently extended temporary protected status (TPS) for an estimated 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. This extension of TPS allows these individuals to continue legally residing in the U.S., at least until January 2022, according to the Salvadoran Foreign Minister. When individuals have TPS, they have protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S.

Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security, downplayed the extension, stating that it was only extending work permits for Salvadorans for one year past the resolution of ongoing litigation, not extending TPS. The federal government also denied that the TPS reprieve had any connection to its resumption of financial aid to El Salvador or the recent signing of an asylum agreement with that country. According to this agreement, El Salvador must take steps to restrain asylum-seekers and immigrants from proceeding to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

Following the Trump Administration’s move to end TPS for Salvadorans in 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit. A federal district court in California blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from terminating TPS for Salvadorans and natives of some other countries. Ironically, the federal government has extended TPS for Salvadorans voluntarily, even though it has deemed the country safe for other immigrants seeking asylum. TPS traditionally was designed to assist immigrants fleeing civil war or environmental disasters. Most Salvadorans who have TPS came to the U.S. in the 1980s, when a widespread civil war was occurring in the country. That war came to a stalemate in 1992.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing immigration problems. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As a result, we will strive to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 9, 2020

Historically, assault and battery were two different criminal offenses that involved very different actions. Assault occurred whenever individuals did something to place others in fear of imminent harm, such as making threats to harm them. On the other hand, battery involved intentional physical contact with others that injured them.

Tex. Pen. Code § 22.01, however, establishes the single criminal offense of assault, which combines elements of both traditional assault and battery. Under this code section, individuals commit the crime of assault when they:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly threaten others with imminent bodily injury
  • Intentionally or knowingly cause physical harm to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly have reasonably offensive or provocative contact with others

Texas law provides for no separate criminal offense of battery. The only battery-like offense is contained within the crime of assault.

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

Assault charges can range from a fine-only Class C misdemeanor charge to a felony of the first degree, depending on various factors. These factors include whether injuries occurred, the severity of any injuries, and the status of the victims. For instance, assault against a public servant in the course of carrying out his or her official duties will result in a more severe charge than an assault against others. Likewise, if the attack involves strangulation, the level of the charge also can increase.

Furthermore, aggravated assault charges may ensue under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.02 when individuals commit an assault that results in serious bodily injury or involves a deadly weapon. This offense is a second-degree felony, and it can become a first-degree felony in selected circumstances.

Assault and aggravated assault also are offenses that can arise in a domestic context, such as between spouses, family members, or significant others. Repeated assaults of a domestic nature can result in enhanced charges and penalties, depending on the situation.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your criminal proceedings. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout your case. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies for defending you and working toward your desired objective. Allow us to handle your criminal case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 7, 2020

Being arrested often causes you to experience panic, fear, and stress in quick succession. As a result, you may not be thinking altogether clearly as you desperately try to explain yourself and your actions to police, in hopes of being released. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer can tell you, however, giving in to your panic and talking to the police is not advisable. It may lead to self-incrimination, which can make your defense to criminal charges far more damaging.

During the initial stages of your arrest, you should remain silent, beyond responding to fundamental questions about your identity. Trying to explain why you were at a specific location and what you were doing are strategies that are likely to give police more ammunition to use against you in a criminal prosecution. Your first and only question should concern your ability to call a lawyer to represent your interests. Even if you do not call an attorney initially, you should do so before you appear in court and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the criminal charges that you are facing.

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

If you can post bail to gain your release following an arrest, you should take care to avoid any actions or statements that could cause you further problems. These actions include those that may incriminate you and those that could land you in more trouble with the law. While out on bail, you should resume your regular activities and avoid drawing attention to yourself, especially by avoiding any damaging social media posts.

Finally, you should make all efforts to work with your attorney to build a strong defense in your case. You should tell your lawyer the entire truth so that he or she can better handle your situation and defend your interests. When you hold information back from your lawyer, you can irreparably damage your defense, and that information often will come back to haunt you in the future.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to assisting individuals in resolving their criminal charges. We know that criminal proceedings can be intimidating and overwhelming for those who are facing potential penalties for criminal charges. We will work with you to achieve the most favorable outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled criminal defense attorneys today.

The Many Failures of E-Verify

By Peek & Toland on January 3, 2020

The federal government and politicians of both major parties have celebrated the E-Verify system as an easy, cost-effective means of keeping immigrants without legal immigration status out of the U.S. This database checks personal identifying information of all newly hired workers against existing government records. If the E-Verify system flags a worker, employers must fire them immediately. With this disincentive or barrier to seeking legal employment, proponents of this system argue that illegal immigration will stop. However, E-Verify has failed in various respects and ultimately has not garnered the anticipated results.

One of the main problems with E-Verify is that it checks only the identity information provided by the worker, not the worker himself or herself. Therefore, if the worker provides false paperwork using someone else’s identity, he or she quickly can get around E-Verify. As a result, states that have mandated the use of E-Verify, such as Arizona and Mississippi, have had steady undocumented immigrant populations since implementing the system. Plus, E-Verify did not prevent the employment of 680 undocumented immigration workers targeted in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in August. If E-Verify had correctly worked, those individuals never would have been employed in the first place.

The Many Failures of E-Verify

Further, some employers do not use E-Verify, even when mandated to do so by state law, and when they do use it, they often look the other way and ignore the results. In many states, employers utilize the system only about half the time. In other cases, pretended not to see visible indications of undocumented immigrant status, such as ICE-issued ankle bracelets for immigrants involved in deportation proceedings. Employers have no incentive to use E-Verify, as states rarely enforce the requirement against employers. Moreover, the federal government does not hold employers accountable, either. For example, the government took no action against the Mississippi plants that employed hundreds of undocumented workers.

Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

What is the Seven-Year Rule for Background Checks in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 2, 2020

Employers increasingly are conducting background checks on prospective employees when they apply for jobs. The reasons for background checks are simple: employers do not want to hire employees who may steal from them or might create some liability for them. For instance, suppose a daycare does not perform a background check on an applicant and hires the applicant to provide care to children directly. If the employee has a history of physical or sexual abuse against children and then causes harm to another child, the daycare could be civilly liable for not correctly conducting a background check before allowing the employee to work with children.

Generally, employers may conduct a background check using a credit report agency going back seven years for prospective employees. However, there are various exceptions to that rule. For example, if you are applying to a job with a salary of $75,000 or more, the employer can run a background check back to your 18th birthday. This same rule also applies when you apply to a job with an insurance company.

What is the Seven-Year Rule for Background Checks in Texas?

Furthermore, if you are applying to a job that requires residential delivery services or in-home services, the employer must conduct a select background check. This check must include 20 years of felony and ten years of misdemeanor criminal history for crimes of family violence, crimes against property, such as theft, or public indecency. The only exception is if the individual already is licensed by a state professional licensing agency that already has performed a criminal background check for the same reason.

Although few employers conduct background checks themselves, as most use a credit reporting agency, those that do perform background checks themselves have no limits on how far they look back into an applicant’s past. Therefore, while it may be unusual, a prospective employer does have the ability to look farther back into your past than the previous seven years.

If you or a family member is facing any criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

By Peek & Toland on December 30, 2019

Forbes is reporting that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is denying petitions for H-1B visas at historically high rates. The denial rate for new H-1B visa petitions for initial employment is at 24% as of the third quarter of FY 2019. This is four times higher than the initial denial rate for these visas in FY 2015, which was six percent. Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, the denial rate never rose above eight percent.

One of the types of companies that have been most hard hit by these skyrocketing visa denial rates is information technology (IT) services companies. Some evidence suggests that USCIS has singled out these companies for an unusually high level of scrutiny. A recent study showed that 12 of the 27 IT companies analyzed had H1-B visa denial rates of 30% or more, in contrast to denial rates ranging from two to seven percent in 2015.

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

Based on the latest data from USCIS, denial rates are highest for initial H-1B visa petitions or those that are requesting a visa for new or new concurrent employment. However, denial rates for continuing H-1B visa petitions also have increased. Continuing petitions, such as those that extend a visa for continuing work with the same employer, changes in the employer, and amended petitions. These visas typically are used for the same employees that USCIS previously approved for visas. As of the third quarter of FY 2019, the denial rate for continuing petitions was 12%, as opposed to being three percent in FY 2015 and five percent in FY 2017.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

What is Voir Dire?

By Peek & Toland on December 26, 2019

Voir dire is one of the first procedural steps that occur when a criminal case goes to trial. During the voir dire process, the prosecutor and defense attorney directly interact with prospective jury members for the first time. In many cases, this process can leave potential jurors with lasting impressions about both the prosecution and the defense.

What is Voir Dire?

In any criminal case, the court may call 60 to 80 people to court for jury duty. The task during voir dire is for both the prosecutor and the defense attorney to have input into choosing a fair and impartial jury to hear the case. Each attorney has ten challenges for cause that they can use during voir dire to exclude prospective jurors from the case. Some of the most common difficulties for cause involve those potential jurors who:

  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor theft offense or a felony offense
  • Are legally blind, deaf, or otherwise have a bodily or mental defect or disease that renders them unfit for jury service
  • Are prejudiced or biased against or in favor of the defendant
  • Have been involved in the case in some other way, such as a witness or grand juror member

Plus, some challenges for cause are unique to the prosecution and the defense. For instance, the prosecutor can challenge a prospective juror for cause if he or she is conscientiously opposed to the death penalty, and the case is a capital case in which the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.

Additionally, each side has ten peremptory challenges during voir dire. When using these challenges to exclude prospective jurors, neither side is required to give a reason for excluding the juror. However, neither side can use peremptory challenges based on discriminatory factors, such as race or sex. If one side believes that the other has based a peremptory challenge on a discriminatory factor, then that attorney must object to preserve the issue in case of future appeals.

When you are facing any criminal charges in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

Trump Administration Failing in Acquiring Texas Private Land Needed to Construct Its Border Wall

By Peek & Toland on December 23, 2019

Although the Trump Administration has promised to complete 500 miles of its border wall by the end of next year, the probability of it being able to achieve this goal is growing dim. According to a recent Washington Post article, of the 166 miles of the border wall that the Trump Administration intends to build in Texas, new construction is complete on only two percent of that distance, or less than four miles. Furthermore, 162 of the 166 miles lie on private property, not federal property. Nonetheless, the Trump Administration has acquired only 16% of the private land that it needs to complete the project through purchases of the land. So far, it has not had to use its eminent domain authority to take any property in Texas. 

In response to these setbacks, the Trump Administration has accelerated construction efforts along the hundreds of miles of desert that already is under federal control in Western states. The government is just now starting to contact landowners along the lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas to complete survey work on their land. This area of the planned wall construction is far more challenging, as the terrain is not flat and does not lie in a straight line. However, this area is also the busiest area for illegal border crossings, which makes construction in this area crucial to achieving the government’s goals.

Trump Administration Failing in Acquiring Texas Private Land
Needed to Construct Its Border Wall

Some private landowners do not want to give up their land to a large steel structure and say it’s unnecessary. The river also makes the planned construction more challenging. Furthermore, ongoing litigation about the Trump Administration’s ability to use military funds for the border also has hampered construction in south Texas.

The immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience that you need when you are seeking any relief or benefit under federal immigration laws. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation. We intend to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you through this complicated situation.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Accuses Trump Administration of Civil Rights Violations in its Migrant Policies

By Peek & Toland on December 19, 2019

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently released a 200-page report that raises significant concerns about the policies of the Trump Administration concerning migrants, family separation, detention, and asylum. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as a bipartisan fact-finding agency whose purpose is to provide information about national civil rights policy.

In 2015, the Commission issued guidance to DHS and HHS about troubling conditions at the border that potentially violated civil rights. Both DHS and HHS failed to implement any of their recommendations.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Accuses Trump Administration of Civil Rights Violations
in its Migrant Policies

In its new report, the Commission concluded that current federal immigration policies likely have violated the due process and civil rights of many immigrants and created an unnecessary crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border. Although the Commission sought data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to compile its report, neither agency responded. As a result, the Commission based its findings on public testimony, media and government reports, and legal documents.

The report focuses specifically on the damage caused by the 2018 zero-tolerance policy that results in widespread family separations. Based on statements from the American Psychiatric Association, the Commission concluded that the policies likely caused long-term and potentially irreversible childhood trauma to migrant children. These conclusions mirror those that the HHS Office of Inspector General made in a September 2019 report. Both reports also focused on the dangers to immigrants in substandard, overcrowded, and unsanitary detention conditions.

Two members of the Commission, including the lone Republican and an independent member, dissented from the report. They pointed out the lack of research that went into creating the report, alleging that no member of the Commission visited a detention facility in preparing the report.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

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