Musings on Immigration

Our Globally Recognized Team of Immigration Lawyers Sharing Knowledge and Providing Counsel on Immigration Issues that Affect You, Your Business and Your Family

Senator Specter and Immigration Reform


Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) (Wow, that looks weird), just changed parties, and this changes the dyanmic somewhat for immigration reform this year. While Senator Specter has always been considered a friend of immigration and immigration reform, he has long been under pressure from more conservative Republican Senators to not support a legalization plan as part of CIR package. That pressure to remain closer to the “new,” more conservative Republican party approach (as opposed to the Reagan era Amensty approach), is now gone.

Does this mean we will definitely have immigration reform now, particularly if Norm Coleman ever gives up his challenge to Senator-elect Franken? No, but it certainly paves the way for at least one more vote for a CIR package.

Probably even more important is the boost this gives to those who believe, like us, that CIR is essential to renewed economic growth. Senator Specter spoke to our Spring AILA Conference (was it that which pushed him over the edge?). He let us know that he actually gets it. He understands all the key aspects of reform. He understands it is NOT just about legalization. He understands that it is also about DREAM. It is also about increased immigrant visa numbers. It is also about more sensible nonimmigrant visa categories. It is also about reforming how USCIS operates, and it is also about smarter enforcement and going after the real bad actors, not those struggling to put bread in the mouths of their children.

Overall, Senator Specter’s decision to switch parties is a good for CIR and good for immigrants.

An Immigrant Writes About the “State” of Immigration


Hi Mr. Charles,

I am writing to you today less as your company’s client but more as an immigrant to USA conversing his concerns to the president of AILA.

As our nation has taken a U-turn in the overall direction on the topics of major national agenda and foreign policy unfortunately one single area where we have not seen any activity is broken immigration system in USA. Especially in the state of Georgia where legislations such as 287 g one of the most strict nationwide immigration laws passed during the Bush administration period don’t make it any easier for immigrants to live peacefully in this state. I am legal immigrant to USA from the day I laid first step on this soil and still I feel threatened by such legislations who single out immigrants using local police authorities. Police force is given by law an tremendous authority to protect the people of America, allowing immigration enforcement in the hands of local state wide law enforcement authorities with minimal training provides just enough unchecked power which can be easily abused against immigrants who can’t even appeal or have no rights in this country.

As we all know United States of America is a land of immigrants, from the first pilgrim who set foot on this land until today all immigrants should be treated equal. American forefathers would have not dreamt the tremendous power given to law enforcement as it is today without any checks and balances. Authority without checks and balance is not they might have desired. America stands for Justice, Freedom and pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately even after being the law abiding resident of the state of Georgia I am discouraged every day by knowing that even though my wife who voted for change last year will not see change in her husband’s fear and continuous hopelessness in the system. My case for family based adjustment of status has been pending with INS since several years.

I am personally a Law abiding worker and tax payer working for a Major company in Georgia living in a respectable neighborhood but my heart goes out to those thousands of immigrants who wake up every morning is this great state of Georgia to earn livelihood for their children and families. I personally want to dedicate my time and resources to immigration broadly and immigrants in Georgia. They say it’s darkest just before the dawn and believe me when I say it is getting there in our beloved state when it comes to discrimination and unequal treatment of immigrants in society and law enforcement specifically. There is a strong need for change in Georgia when it comes to immigration policy. A simple example of such treatment would be I paid 20$ fee for the renewal of my driver’s license which is valid fee for renewal of up to 10 years, but unfortunately due to new legislation since my EAD expired every year my driver license is only renewed for 1 year instead of 10. Is there any law that protects immigrants from such injustice. I would rather like to pay 2$ for my 1 year license than 20$ since due to state laws my license is only renewed for 1 year rather than 10 years. It’s about principle and justice in America.

I have read your recent interviews and followed news on your website. I personally admire your efforts in bringing hope for millions of immigrants across the nation.

Please let me know if there is anything I can or should do to improve this condition for myself specifically and millions of immigrants across America.

Real ID - A Real Mess


Thanks to the Real ID Act, it is impossible for most undocumented people to get driver’s licenses. This has created a real mess. Denying driver’s licenses to millions of undocumented immigrants has not only forced thousands of unlicensed and uninsured drivers onto our roads, making our roads more dangerous for everyone, it also has meant that vital information about all these people who are living here is not in our DMV database – the largest law enforcement database in the country. If I get into a car accident on the way to work, I want the person who hit me to have a license because I want them to have insurance. If a crime is committed against me, I hope that the criminal has a license because it will make it easier for the police to find that individual. Society doesn’t gain anything by refusing drivers licenses to the undocumented. Yes, it makes their lives a little bit more difficult but it doesn’t help the rest of us. Does the inability to obtain a license make it more likely that an undocumented person will return to their home country? I don’t think so. I don’t know of any American who has deserted their family and moved to another country just because their drivers’ license was suspended or revoked here and they think they could get one in Canada, Mexico or Europe. On top of that the States have to bear the responsibility and cost of validating that holders of driver’s licenses are citizens or legal residents of the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week said she is working with governors to repeal the Real ID Act. Let’s hope she’s successful.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status


In 1990, Congress created the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This provision of the law allows minors who are unaccompanied to apply for their own green cards without first having a sponsor. To be eligible for a green card in this category, the person must be under 21 and be unmarried, have been declared a ward of a juvenile court judge which has ruled that the child is eligible for long-term foster care or has placed the child in the custody of a state agency. Also, the juvenile court judge must find that it would not be in the child’s best interests to be returned to their home country. The decision reached by a court regarding the child is final and binding on the USCIS. It’s important to remember that although the child must be found to be eligible for long-term foster care- he or she does not have to be placed in foster care. Many children present in the United States are residing with aunts, uncles, cousins or other relatives. These children do not need to be placed into foster care and can continue to reside with their relatives. One of the major benefits of Special Immigrant Juvenile status is that the child does not have to return to his or her home country in order to obtain their green card. In many cases, the children are not even interviewed by USCIS and receive their approval notices or green cards by mail less than a year after filing.

There are over half a million children in the US foster care system right now. Many of them are undocumented and are immediately eligible for SIJS status. Having lawful permanent resident status would give these children the ability to enter third level education; obtain drivers licenses and work legally in the United States. By failing to recognize their eligibility and take the appropriate steps to obtain status for them- states are sentencing them to a life in the shadows of society.

Adoptive Moms Jailed in Egypt


To their defenders, all they were trying to do was provide orphans with a better chance in life. To the prosecution, they were involved in forging documents to try to adopt children illegally and smuggle them out of the country.

Two American women are currently sitting in an Egyptian jail awaiting trial for human trafficking. How did they end up there? Both women found orphans in Cairo orphanages and then both women made a fatal error. Instead of following the correct procedure (which includes getting permission from the orphanage to remove the child from Egypt and obtaining a rarely granted Guardianship Order); the women obtained fraudulent birth certificates for the children and presented these to the embassy.

US citizens often have the misconception that the consular staff is there to assist in bringing their relative to the US. In fact, the consular staff is charged with determining who is eligible for a visa and who is not. Every country has its own laws governing how children can be removed from that country. These laws provide a mechanism to prevent large scale child trafficking. The US government cannot and will not grant a visa to a child to enter the US unless it is satisfied that a Judge in the child’s home country has reviewed the matter and determined that the child will be safe. The US also has a series of checks and balances (including a mandatory social worker evaluation and an extensive criminal background check) to ensure that children don’t fall into the wrong hands. If a consular officer believes that someone is trying to unlawfully remove or traffic a child from a foreign country, he or she is obligated to inform local authorities. The procedure is the same regardless of whether the potential trafficker is a known pedophile or a well meaning prospective adoptive mother.

Unfortunately, the two women who are currently charged with child trafficking now face 10 year prison sentences in Egyptian jails and the babies they wanted to adopt have been returned to their orphanages and will likely remain there permanently.

Immigration and the Pulitzer Prize


Today, Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for their series of articles of the infamous “Sheriff Joe” of Maricopa County. The Tribune won the most prestigious award in journalism for revealing how a popular sheriff’s focus on immigration enforcement endangered investigations of violent crime and other aspects of public safety.

You can read their articles, a five part series titled “Reasonable Doubt” at: http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/reasonable_doubt

Do not miss this opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for how one man’s goal of eradicating undocumented immigrants turned the largest county in America into a more dangerous place to live. As a graduate of Arizona State University in Maricopa County, and as a former resident, I am grateful that the East Valley Tribute had the courage to publish these articles. Congratulations again to Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin!

IMMIGRATION REFORM – COMING THIS FALL? REASONS FOR OPTIMISM


President Obama has always insisted that immigration reform is a top priority for the president’s first term. The president’s position on was recently reiterated by White House spokesman Nick Shapiro who said that “the president has consistently said that he wants to start the discussion later this year because our immigration system is broken … but the economy comes first.” The big “but” is what generally concerns all those who are pushing for reform. However, another spokesperson for the president informed the press that the president intends to try to take comprehensive immigration reform to the floor later this year, probably in the fall. Cause for hope. Additional reasons for hope include the following:

First, the president considers himself to be a great “multi-tasker.” (See the president’s rebuffing of candidate McCain who proposed that the debates cease so they could focus on the economic crisis). This goes to the fact that the president can work both on the economy and the broken immigration system currently in place at the same time, meaning that the “big but” should not be an obstacle that the multi-tasking president cannot overcome.

Second, the president supported former president Bush’s reform. As a senator, Obama supported immigration legislation that would have increased funding and improved border security technology, improved enforcement of existing laws, and provided a legal path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Third, and finally, there appears to be support for reform on the Hill. Senator Schumer, from New York, explained yesterday that Congress was willing to work with Obama on comprehensive immigration reform. The Senator stated that “[w]e must solve the immigration issue, and we can, even in these difficult economic times. I believe there is a real chance of passing comprehensive reform this year, and the Senate panel on immigration will begin a series of meetings and hearings later this month with an eye towards meeting that goal.”

With immigration reform possibly on the horizon, I have two pieces of advice for those immigrants who could potentially benefit from the reform. First, behave yourself. If your record is clean, your path to legalization will no doubt be easier. Second, save your money. There will no doubt be fines to pay and filing fees as well, just as with 245(i) back in 2001. Save now.

The Four Rules to Live By in Adjustment of Status Interviews


When I meet with couples to prepare for an adjustment of status interview, I begin by explaining that there are four rules, that if followed will help the interview go off without a hitch. Though I usually charge for this valuable information, I have decided against my better judgment to share the four rules (I call them the platinum rules) for adjustment interviews that all clients should live by at adjustment interviews.

1. If you do not know the answer to a question the officer asks, or do not remember the answer, say that you do not know or remember – do not guess at the answer. If you are wrong this could lead to trouble in that the officer may think you are lying if your answer contradicts a prior answer, or the truth. Officers will not likely hold it against you if you simply can’t remember. Having a bad memory is not a ground for denying your application.

2. Do not help each other answer the questions. Without fail, the man in the relationship will forget an important date, place or name, and the wife will, out of frustration or anger, try to intervene and assist the poor stupid man. This is a big no-no. Officers get very annoyed/angry when the person who is asked a question does not answer the question, or gets help from the spouse. I have seen interviews stopped and spouses separated when one spouse tries to help the other answer a question. Avoid this like the plague.

3. Answer only the question you are asked, and do it clearly and concisely. For instance, if the officer asks what color the sky is, you would answer “blue.” You would not proceed to ramble on about the different shades of blue, or the pretty color orange the sky often takes at sunset. If the question an officer asks can be answered by stating either yes, or no, say yes or no. Officers are not amused by rants. They have a job to do and people waiting. Further, the officer is not your priest taking a confession – listen carefully to the question and answer that question. As a side note, you should have told your attorney everything, and nothing is worse than learning about criminal issues at the interview.

4. Do not ask the officer questions. If you do not understand a question, simply state that you do not understand the question. I was recently in an interview where the officer simply asked the client for his social security number. The client had previously worked illegally, but at the time had acquired a work permit and a valid social security number. When the client was asked for his social security number he asked the officer, “Do you want my valid social security number, or the fake one I used before.” Things did not go smoothly for this client. DO NOT ASK THE OFFICER QUESTIONS. Save them for the attorney after the interview is over.

Though these rules may seem like common sense, they need to be respected and reviewed with frequency.

Why Is the Georgia Legislature Always Attacking Immigrants?


The Georgia State Legislature’s 2009 session just ended on Friday, and none too soon. Thanks to the efforts of sensible State Senators who truly understand the unwelcoming message that SB 67 (English only driver’s license exams) would have sent to foreign investors in the Georgia economy (e.g. Kia Automotive), we have one less anti-immigration law taking effect later this year.

But, that means several pieces of poorly written, improperly considered, and incredibly costly anti-immigration legislation still did manage to pass through the Georgia Legislature and is headed to the Governor’s desk for signature. Clearly it is time for Governor Perdue to do what is right for Georgia and veto these bills. Now is not the time to kowtow to immigrant bashers and sign these pieces of legislation:

SB 20, which provides that no local government, whether by initiative, referendum, or any other process, shall enact, adopt, implement or enforce any “sanctuary” policy. A Georgia community enacting a “sanctuary” policy? Yeah right–Glad that passed. Georgia is now safe from anyone with compassion towards other human beings.

SB 350, which requires a minimum of two days in jail for the first offense of failing to have a driver license and would create a felony for a fourth conviction within five years. The bill would permit the driver to avoid conviction by producing a Georgia driver license (but not a license from any other jurisdiction). While adversely affecting immigrants, it also affects anyone who cannot get a Georgia driver license. And, this law also fails to recognize the full faith and credit clause of the constitution. More importantly, SB 20 and SB 350, when considered together cause a great problem. If ICE, the federal agency charged with enforcement of immigration laws, decides that they will follow Secretary Napolitano’s plan and only focus on removing criminal aliens, and then ICE does not consider driving without a license a serious criminal violation, what will all these counties do with the hundreds of people they are now detaining at direct cost to the county and NOT the State. What if the County decides it cannot afford to detain all these people? Does the state still withhold the funds? Did anyone at the Capitol even consider this?

HB 2, which penalizes the hundreds of municipal and county governments that have not yet enrolled in the Federal Government’s E-Verify Electronic Employment Verification Program, mandated by SB 529, by withholding Local Assistance Road Program funding. Becuase, after all, the municipalities and counties in Georgia are hiring hundreds of foreign workers–oops, the Bill’s sponsor could not produce evidence of either a single person denied employment by a city or county already enrolled in E-Verify in Georgia, or of a single person who was undocumented who was hired by a Georgia city or county. Sure glad that legislation passed–it clearly solved a major, non-existent problem!

So, the bottom line is this–Why is the Georgia Legislature passing laws that have no real effect? What is causing them to constantly consider bills that attack immigrants, directly or indirectly, and continue to cause Georgia to suffer under the image of a backwoods state struggling to remain in the 60s?

Have hatred and passion against immigrants become so elevated that it has caused the state legislators to spend thousands of hours on a Bills that do nothing but cause foreign nationals to think: “I do not want to live in Georgia.” Is that really the message a State suffering in an economic downturn should be sending? Or is it really simple. Is it that a majority of State Legislators either do not care about the message that is being sent both within and outside the state, or that they actually support the anti-immigrant message these pieces of legislation represent?

What happens when the economy rebounds? Who will build the houses, staff the hotels, and bus the tables? Is this work only for the undocumented? Absolutely not, BUT, as we learned over the last decade of economic growth, the undocumented population fueled tremendous economic growth and allowed Georgia to catapult to being a national leader in growth. Perhaps, the folks at the State Legislature did not consider this; or perhaps they did not care. Perhaps they just dislike immigrants so much, BOTH legal and illegal, that the ramifications of this legislation simply do not matter to them.

Do our State legislators really understand the long-term consequences of NOT encouraging immigration to this State

Do they not know that direct foreign investment in Georgia, AND the people that come with that direct foreign investment, creates and maintains thousands of jobs in our economy. Do they really believe that by making life in Georgia virtually impossible for someone who is “illegal” really will cause such folks to leave? Please tell me that our elected state legislators are really smarter than this.

The “New” Form I-9 and the Problems Created by USCIS in Not Fixing It!


Today is the first day that the “new” Form I-9 must be used by all U.S. employers. The problem? The new Form I-9 is virtually the same as the “old” Form I-9, but the new Form I-9 disallows an entire segment of the authorized legal work population from using documents they previously used to verify their employment eligiblity from now doing so. The USCIS displayed a callous indifference to the ability of thousands of people, legally authorized to work in the United States, to obtain and retain employment.

The Form I-9 was revised as the result of a 1998 change in statute pertaining to employment verification (Yes 10 years ago!). The new Form I-9 fails to account for many situations where people are actually authorized for employment: Omitted is the interim work authorization given by regulation to individuals who are waiting for USCIS to complete its slow process of renewing a work-authorized status. People given haven in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have no way under the form to document to an employer the automatic extension of work authorization that USCIS declares when TPS designation is extended. The list goes on, and is far too long.

These situations are not technicalities. They represent real people with legal, work-authorized status in the U.S. The real shame is that the USCIS has spent a decade trying to develop this form, and still managed to ignore these key issues. While the prior Form also did not account for these situations, guidance and interim measures were developed to cover them. Those measures all appear to go out the same door through which the new form enters. Many thousands of people with the right to work in the U.S. will not be able to document that right, and employers are left with no indication of how to handle these employees.

DHS and USCIS delayed implementation of this form once for 60 days in order to allow for more public comments, but have elected to go forward with the form unchanged notwithstanding significant criticism of the form and its legal inadequacies. The USCIS needs to further defer implementation of this “new” Form I-9 until it can issue a truly useable form with proper instructions. The fact that a one page form, used by all U.S. employers, requires a 65 page “handbook” to fill it out correctly, is yet one more indication of broken immigration system.