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Visit the new BenachRagland.com!

13 Feb

newwebsite

This is the last post that will appear on Lifted Lamp.  Over the past six months, Benach Ragland has designed, developed and launched a new website.  The new website integrates this blog into Benach Ragland allowing for all the information we publish to be available in one place.  If you are a subscriber to this blog and wish to continue to receive email notification of posts, you can sign up here.

Please take some time to visit our new website.  We are very proud of the new site and fpartnerseel that it accurately conveys who we are, what we do, and how we can serve our clients in the community.  On the site, please take some time to watch the video about our client, Abel Rodriguez.  Also, you can meet our newest associate, Elanie Cintron and learn about her deep involvement in the fight over family detention in Artesia.  You can also learn about our February Client of the Month, an incredibly resilient and inspiring young woman.  Plus, you can meet and learn more about all those people you may only know over the phone and email, like Liana, Sandra, Satsita, Mariela and Hanif.  Finally, you can learn the latest details on the President’s executive action to help the parents of U.S. citizens and young people.

We would like to thank the talented and friendly team at Llewellyn Creative who brought their artistry and passion to creating our site.

We will continue to blog sharing our thoughts on the latest immigration news and providing useful and educational materials to the community we serve through the blog on our own website.  We hope to see you there!

BR Has Another New Lawyer!

5 Feb

We are thrilled to welcome and announce the newest addition to our BR family, Elanie Cintron. Elanie has joined us in DC as an associate attorney from North Carolina by way of Brooklyn, New York (where she received countless awards and honors as a law student at Hofstra University, including the prestigious Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Fellowship) and Denver, Colorado (where she immediately set herself apart as a rising star in the immigration field as an associate attorney with powerhouse firm Lichter Immigration).

image1

(Elanie with her asylum clients from Honduras)

As the child of two U.S. military service members, Elanie learned from her parents a sense of duty and service to our country. Rather than defending our country through military service, however, Elanie has dedicated herself and her career to defending the American ideals of justice and equality as a true advocate for vulnerable populations. Most recently, Elanie completed about six “tours of duty” volunteering at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico as part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s pro bono project.

IMG_1535  image1  In Artesia, Elanie represented detained women and children refugees seeking protection from the domestic and gang violence they had fled in Central America. It is in that setting in which BR Partner Dree Collopy met Elanie and was immediately impressed by her skills as an attorney and passion as an advocate for justice. Through her work in Artesia, Elanie won asylum for a woman and her young son from Honduras, who had fled years of horrific domestic violence. Applying her client’s compelling story to the legal minefield of gender-based and particular social group asylum claims, Elanie convinced an immigration judge that her client and her client’s young son merited protection in this country. Upon being granted asylum, Elanie’s clients were released from the horrific conditions in Artesia, the Obama Administration’s detention center that has now been shut down in shame. Living freely and safely in the United States, Elanie’s clients still send her nearly-daily messages of gratitude for her selfless devotion to their cause.

It is this kind of attorney that we at BR seek out to join us in our shared mission. Elanie, welcome to our family! Fig too, of course.

image2

(Elanie’s dog, Fig)

Five Things We Have Learned about the I-601A Provisional Waiver Program

12 Jan

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/39267368″>Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright [Bob Dylan 1962]</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user8051179″>Dan Pick</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Last week, we had another I-601A provisional waiver approved.  This makes us 6 for 6, so far, with a few more pending.  We have learned quite a bit in the past 18 months or so that we have done provisional waivers.

  1. Don’t underestimate your own hardship.  We think that people endure a lot of hardship and have grown accustomed to it and accepted it as the normal state of affairs rather than recognizing that things could be better.  We think that many people living with an undocumented spouse have come to accept the anxiety  surrounding the risk of separation, financial ruin and uncertainty.  Of course, this is a common human coping mechanism.  As Bob Dylan sang, “I’ve never gotten used to it, I just learned to turn it off.”  Many people that come into our office states that they can not point to any specific hardship that they would suffer if their spouse were forced to remain in their home country; they just know it would be bad.  We have found that the sense merely scratches the surface and that by digging, speaking, and, most importantly, listening, the details of the hardship can be identified.  Extreme hardship may be financial, emotional or health and safety related.  It can be a combination of these factors or it can be the presence of a single form of hardship.  The bottom line here is that too many people wrongly assume that they do not have the hardship to meet the standard and a honest and open conversation with an attorney can reveal hardship that an individual may have learned to turn off.
  2. The availability of the provisional waiver changes the game in removal proceedings. Many cases where the only relief has been a long-shot cancellation of removal are now strong provisional waiver cases.  We have found that the government is willing to terminate and reopen cases where a good claim to a provisional waiver case can be made to ICE.  These practices change from office to office, in fact, from ICE attorney to ICE attorney, but, as a general rule, we have found tremendous flexibility in removal proceedings for people who qualify for provisional waivers.
  3. The family is alive and well.  Back in 2012, when DACA came out, we were heartened to see all the young people who came to our office with their parents to discuss how DACA could change their lives.  The parents were always apprehensive and elated simultaneously to see the possibility that the dreams they had for their children being realized, if only partially.  we decided then that the family is alive and well in America.  With the provisional waiver, we are meeting all sorts of people who are raising families under the trying circumstances of one of the spouses lacking legal status.  The lives that people have been able to build despite this challenge are impressive.  However, the opportunity of obtaining lawful status opens up so many doors for families and removes the anxiety and stress of uncertainty over immigration.
  4. The National Visa Center remains a hold-up.  The NVC has been good at putting a hold on immigrant visa processing where a provisional waiver has been filed.  However, once the Visaprovisional waiver is approved, the NVC reverts to its standard practice of being an impediment, rather than a facilitator of orderly processing of immigrant visas.  For example, one challenge we have seen relates to police clearances from El Salvador.  According to the State Department, those police certificates must be obtained by the applicant in person in El Salvador.  That’s fine, except for the case of provisional waivers, where the applicant is in the U.S.  Since the NVC will not schedule an appointment until it has all the documents, this issue could force an applicant to return to El Salvador and wait several months for an interview, undermining the benefit of certainty that the provisional waiver is supposed to provide.  We are working on this specific issue and will update this blog as circumstances merit.
  5. There is nothing better than solving this situation.  When an individual goes to the Embassy, gets the visa, and returns to the U.S. as a permanent resident, we are lucky to be the first ones called.  We share the joy and relief of our clients and can immediately see the reduction in tension in their lives.  Getting to be a part of and a witness to that transformation is one of the great things about being an immigration lawyer.

Think you or someone you know may qualify for the provisional waiver? Contact us at consults@benachragland.com or 202-644-8600.

BR Clients of the Month- January 2015

5 Jan

Irma and Kenny

At a time of year when we honor togetherness and fresh starts, we are comforted to know that Benach Ragland clients, Kira and her four-year-old son Ricky, have finally been granted asylum and are reunited with their husband/father, Andre, here in the United States.*  This family of faith was tornapart by targeted and systematic violence at the hands of the M-18 gang, the de facto government in Guatemala, all because they preached about peace and encouraged non-violence in their community – in the eyes of the M-18, a message of disloyalty and dissidence that needed to be eradicated.

In 2010, Kira and Andre, a deacon in the local church and the M-18’s main target, decided that he should flee in an attempt to save the family and protect their unborn son Ricky.  They believed and hoped that Andre was the gang’s only target; they were wrong.  Immediately following Andre’s escape to the United States, the gang began its relentless pursuit and persecution of Kira and their son because the gang believes that families breed disloyalty.  They threatened her with rape and murder, restrained her and beat her face bloody on multiple occasions, threatened to cut her unborn son out of her belly, threatened to kidnap Ricky after he was born, and grabbed and held Ricky at knifepoint on multiple occasions.  The gang made their reasons clear: Andre, a man of faith who preaches his message of peace and non-violence against their way of life, is their enemy who must be targeted and punished for his disloyalty and dissidence.  Since Andre was no longer available to target and punish, Kira and their young son Ricky would be his proxy.  By harming them, the M-18 could continue to harm Andre and punish him for his message of peace and non-violence – his disloyalty and dissidence.  Kira went to the police twice, begging for help, but they turned her away, refusing to provide meaningful protection.  After first escaping to her sister’s home, the gang pursued and found Kira there, held her four-year-old son Ricky at knifepoint, and threatened them again.  With no place to hide, Kira and Ricky fled to the United States in search of safety.

After four years filled with horrific and nearly daily violence, followed by a harrowing journey to the United States, Kira and Ricky sought help from a U.S. immigration ofIMG_1537ficer to beg for protection.  Instead of help, these refugees were among the first to be detained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, a makeshift detention facility in the middle of the desert, hidden out of sight and out of mind as the Obama Administration sanctioned a series of procedures meant to deport them as quickly as possible right back to the danger from which they had fled.  But the arrival of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s pro bono project halted the deportation of Kira, Ricky, and the hundreds of other mothers and children detained in Artesia.  Benach Ragland Partner Dree Collopy spent a week volunteering in Artesia to provide pro bono legal services to women and children.  While there, she met Kira and Ricky and was inspired by their courage and strength.  She took their case pro bono, demanding compliance with U.S. and international law and due process on their behalf.

Ricky's additions to Dree's notes.

Ricky’s additions to Dree’s notes.

After five months of detention in inhumane conditions, two lengthy bond hearings, one status hearing, three hearings on the merits of their asylum claim, generous donations to secure an expert witness, Dree’s several trips to Denver and Artesia, and hundreds of pro bono hours by Benach Ragland and the volunteer AILA attorneys on the ground in Artesia, Kira and Ricky have been granted asylum and released from detention.  They are finally safe and have been reunited with Andre in the United States.  2015 is going to be a good year.

BR Has a New Lawyer!

17 Dec

Adi

We have waited just over three months for this day, where we can introduce Adi Nuñez as an attorney at Benach Ragland!  Although Adi has been with us since September, Adi was sworn in as a member of the bar of the State of Maryland today and now has all the rights, privileges and obligations of being a licensed attorney.  We welcome Adi into this profession that we love and know that Adi will use her powers to benefit our clients, their families and communities for years to come.IMG_1537

This is not to say that she has not already used those powers.  Behind the scenes, Adi has poured her heart and soul into some of our most significant cases, such as Dree Collopy’s recent victory in a gang-based asylum claim for a woman and her son detained at the federal gulag in Artesia, NM.  She also was there for the great jamon and wine event last week to celebrate the holidays at BR.

A Californian of Mexican heritage, Adi joins an office that represents much of Latin America- Cuba (Andres), Colombia (Sandra), Honduras (Liana), and Peru (Mariela).  If Cubans played soccer (excuse me, futbol), we could have a World Cup.  Adi moved east to attend Catholic University for law school.  While there, she was a Student Attorney aHoliday luncht the Immigration Clinic taught by Dree Collopy.  She made quite an impression on her professor who scooped her right up after her graduation.

While Adi’s academic career included a couple of unfortunate detours working for the government on immigration enforcement issues, we do not believe that it was anything that a few months of winning cases for people won’t fix.  Also, some of her mother’s Mexican food would help too.

Adi has the care, passion and intellect to represent immigrants and their families well.  We expect many more great things from her as she grows into her career and congratulate her on this important milestone.

 

Federal Court Victory for Hospital Staffing Services Company

10 Dec

hospital

Just beforeTKR Thanksgiving, we filed suit in federal district court against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of a hospital staffing services company. Our lawsuit challenged the agency’s denial of an H-1B specialty occupation visa to a foreign physician whom the company sought to employ to care for patients in a low-income, medically underserved area. This is a story of why litigation matters, and why suing the government is sometimes the only way to achieve a just outcome. Last Friday, a mere fourteen days after the lawsuit was filed, USCIS reopened the case, reconsidered its prior denial, and approved the H-1B visa. The company will get its physician, the physician will get to stay in the U.S. and continue his work in internal medicine, and the residents of the medically underserved area will be afforded the quality medical care they so desperately need. But there’s more to the story …

Many communities throughout the U.S. lack sufficient, quality health care services. Their local hospitals are not sufficiently staffed and the specialties and expertise that many patients require are simply unavailable. Thus, certain regions of the country are designated by the federal government as health professional shortage areas, because they struggle to attract qualified doctors and nurses who are willing to live and work in often rural areas where the residents may be poor or low-income. In an effort to meet this need, Congress passed a law whereby foreign physicians who would otherwise have to leave the U.S. upon completion of their residency – and remain outside the country for at least two years – can waive this Physicianrequirement by committing to spend three years in a health professional shortage area. The program makes sense – patients in medically underserved communities get a qualified, committed physician and the foreign doctor avoids a two-year exile from the United States.

The physician whom our client sought to employ is typical of those who benefit from the program. After completing his residency at a U.S. hospital, he was granted a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement in exchange for his agreement to serve in one of the state’s health professional shortage areas. He was offered a position as an internal medicine physician by the hospital staffing services company, which then filed a petition for an H-1B visa on his behalf. Everything appeared to be in order and it seemed only a matter of time before the visa would be issued. But the immigration service had other ideas.

Rather than approve a straightforward petition filed by a company that had never before been denied an H-1B visa, USCIS issued a lengthy request for additional evidence (RFE), questioning the nature of the job of the viability of the petitioner. The company promptly submitted a detailed response. The agency then issued a second RFE, asking for yet more information and documentation – all of which had previously been provided. Once again, the company filed a thorough response and gave the agency everything it asked for. But USCIS was not convinced, and issued a lengthy decision denying the H-1B petition – based on a purported (and insignificant) discrepancy that had not been raised in either of the RFEs. Remarkably, the agency expressed doubt that the company had made a “credible offer of employment as an Internal Medicine Physician.”

At this point, we were contacted by the attorney who represented the company before USCIS. She knew the agency’s decision was wrong and sought our help in overcoming the denial. Once we’d reviewed the decision and the underlying materials, we agreed, and proposed that litigation in federal court – rather than a protracted administrative appeal – was the best course. The company agreed, so we filed suit challenging the agency’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) as arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law and past agency practice, and unsupported by substantial evidence. We described the merits of the petition and detailed the hardships visited upon the company, the physician, and the medically underserved community impacted by the loss of a qualified doctor. To fast-track the case, we also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking the Court to enjoin USCIS from its erroneous decision and order the agency to issue the visa.

And it worked. Our litigation forced the agency to reexamine the petition and consider whether its myopic decision could withstand the scrutiny of a federal judge. Just two weeks after the case was filed – and one week before a scheduled court hearing – USCIS reopened the case on its own motion and granted the H-1B petition. Today, instead of packing his bags and preparing his family for an early and unexpected departure from the United States, the physician will go to work in a community in dire need of his services. Suing the government isn’t always the best option, but sometimes it’s the only strategy that works.

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Public Meetings with Benach Ragland

5 Dec

Schedule

Over the next couple of weeks, Benach Ragland attorneys and staff will be traveling the greater DC area to offer FREE public meetings to discuss the Presidents Executive Reforms to Immigration.  These forums are open to the public and provide an opportunity for people to learn the specifics of the reform programs and get the latest updates.  Our summary of the executive reforms can be found here.

Throughout December, Benach Ragland is offering reduced fee consultations for those who think that they might be covered by these reforms.  You can get the latest news by following this blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.  To schedule time for an individualized consultation, please call us at 202-644-8600 or email msanchez@benachragland.com.

Below is a schedule of our open forums.  We hope to see you at one!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5, 6:00PM-7:30PM        

GMU, FX CAMPUS

Office of Diversity, Inclusion and

Multicultural Education (ODIME)

Fairfax Campus

4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA. 22030

SUB I Suite 2400

 

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6, 12:30PM-2:00PM

ALEXANDRIA, JESUS ES EL KYRIOS CHURCH

5730 General Washington Drive, 2nd Floor

Alexandria, VA. 22312

 

MONDAY, DEC 8, 6PM-8PM

Holy Trinity Church

McKenna Center, 3513 N. St., NW

Washington, DC

 

TUESDAY DECEMBER 9, 6:30PM-8:00PM

SHIRLINGTON BRANCH LIBRARY-CAMPBELL ROOM

4200 Campbell Ave.

Arlington, VA. 22206

 

THURSDAY DECEMBER 11, 7:00PM-8:30

DC SOUTHWEST LIBRARY

900 Wesley Place, S.W.

Washington, D.C.

202-724-4752

 

MONDAY DECEMBER 15, 7:00PM-8:30PM

DC MOUNT PLEASANT LIBRARY

3160 16TH St. N.W

Washington, D.C.

202-671-3121

 

THURSDAY DECEMBER 18, 7:00PM-8:30PM  

ARLINGTON CENTRAL LIBRARY- AUDITORIUM

1015 N. QUINCY ST.

Arlington, VA. 22201

 

FRIDAY DECEMBER 19, 6:30PM-8:30PM

WILLISTON MULTICULTURAL CENTER

6131 WILLISTON DR.

Falls Church, VA. 22044

 

Sunday, January 11, 12:30PM-1:30PM            

Holy Korean Martyrs Catholic Church

5801 Security Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21207

Blue Room

 

More will be added.  See you soon!

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Expansion of I-601A Provisional Waiver Program

23 Nov

Another positive development included in the President’s administrative reforms to U.S. immigration laws is the proposed expansion of the provisional waiver program, which the President initiated in 2013.  The provisional waiver, as initially introduced allowed the spouses and children of U.S. citizens to seek a waiver of inadmissibility for the three and ten year bars due to unlawful presence to seek a waiver in the U.S. rather than after proceeding abroad to seek a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.  This program has been successful and we have had several provisional waivers approved and been lucky to witness reunions made possible by the provisional waiver.

The provisional waiver was initially limited only to spouses and children of American citizens.  The new memo instructs CIS to “expand access to the provisional waiver to all statutorily eligible classes of relative for whom an immigrant visa is immediately available.”  This will clearly include the spouses and children of permanent residents, but could also potentially include a larger group of  individuals such as the adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

Also, for tremendous significance, the Secretary of Homeland Security has directed the CIS to “clarify the factors that are considered by adjudicators in determining whether the “extreme hardship” standard has been met.  Most importantly, the Secretary has directed CIS to consider whether a legal presumption of extreme hardship may be determined to exist.  The creation of the presumption of hardship would reduce the burden on applicants seeking to show extreme hardship.  We particularly love this idea, because we suggested it here while pointing out the legal authority for such a move. 

Benach Ragland is offering reduced fee consultations for individuals who may be covered by any of these reforms.  To schedule an appointment, please call 202-644-8600 or email msanchez@benachragland.com.  You can learn the latest news on this blog, on our Facebook page and can follow us on Twitter: @BenachRagland.

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Expanded DACA Eligibility

21 Nov

Another significant development coming out of the Presidential reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of DACA beyond its original parameters established in 2012.  For descriptions of the original DACA requirements, please see here. 

The executive reforms announced yesterday make the following reforms to the DACA program:

  • The date of entry for DACA eligibility has been changed from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.  Individuals who entered the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and prior to January 1, 2010 can qualify for DACA under the revised guidelines.
  • The age cap has been eliminated.  Originally, DACA was limited to individuals under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012.  The upper age limit has been eliminated and those who entered the U.S. before January 1, 2010 and were under the age of 16 will qualify regardless of their current age.
  • DACA work authorization will now be valid for three years as opposed to two.

These reforms will be implemented within 90 days. The other DACA requirements remain unchanged.

Over the coming weeks, Benach Ragland will hold reduced fee consultations for those who think they may qualify under this program.  We will also be holding free information sessions at community centers in the greater Washington metropolitan area.  For the latest information, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @BenachRagland.  To schedule a reduced fee consultation, please call 202-644-8600 or email msanchez@benachragland.com.

 

 

 

Is Executive Action on Immigration Imminent?

14 Nov

obama immigration reformIt is only fitting that major technological achievements like the successful placement of a lander on a comet be paired with news that the Obama administration is planning many reforms to our nation’s immigration policies.  After all, our space program and many of our most successful technological breakthroughs are directly related to an immigration policy that made it easier for the best and brightest to come and work here.  Yet, many worry today that our immigration system is so broken that it prevents the entry and lawful integration of hard workers struggling to improve their lives in the U.S.  The comet lander was a project of the European Space Agency and not NASA.

U.S. immigration policy today, instead, says no to the best and brightest, rejects those who are willing to perform jobs that others refuse to do, and breaks up families over minor violations.  In short, U.S. immigration policy not only does not help America grow, but is actually a hindrance.  Most people of fair judgment recognize this.  Last year, the Senate took a step to make some needed reforms to U.S. immigration law.  While the bill the Senate passed was far from perfect, it would have gone a long way to fixing many of the problems with the immigration system.  However, the House of Representatives refused to take up the bill and instead voted to deport DREAMers and sue the President.

In light of the crisis in immigration, the President announced in June that he would make changes by the end of the summer in regulations and policies to ameliorate the harsh edges of immigration law.  He pushed this back until after the November election to help certain Democrats retain their Senate seats, which they lost anyway.  Ironically, the one democrat that he could have helped with executive action, Mark Udall of Colorado, also lost, partially due to a discouraged Latino electorate.  Immediately after the drubbing Democrats took, the President reiterated his commitment to executive action on immigration reform.  Then IT happened.  A breathless report appeared last night (November 12) on FOX News stating that the President was going to announce his immigration “amnesty” plan on November 21 and he would legalize millions of immigrants.  The White House quickly denied that any final decisions had been made and that, certainly, no timelines had been promised.  Yet, today, the New York Times reported that the President was weighing an option that could provide up to 5 million immigrants with some type of DHS_cis_WR_atprotection from removal.  The NYT article stated that a central part of the plan is to provide deferred action, like DACA, to the parents of U.S. citizens or to people who have been here for a long period of time.  In addition, according to the Times:

Mr. Obama’s actions will also expand opportunities for immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation’s southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history.

A new enforcement memorandum, which will direct the actions of Border Patrol agents and judges at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement and judicial agencies, will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers, officials said.

So far, these articles are the clearest indication that the President intends to do something about immigration.  And it appears that he is ready to do it soon.  It is important to note that nothing has been decided, no timetables have been set, and that the President is still free to choose to do nothing.  In addition, the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has stated that the House will fight him “tooth and nail” on administrative reform.

In the meantime, it does appear that some form of administrative reform is coming.  We still don’t know what it might look like.  We asked this in August and still do not know for sure.  Although we do have some ideas. People who may benefit, such as the parents of U.S. citizens, should make sure that they have certified birth certificates, marriage certificates, tax returns, dispositions of criminal charges, school records, church records, passports and other papers showing who they are, what they have done with their lives and why they deserve a chance to stay.  And, since it is ThrowOverwhelmedback Thursday, we offer you this post from just over two years ago about what immigrants should do while waiting for deferred action relief.  Many of the suggestions remain good advice.

Stay tuned.  We will give you accurate and current information as it happens.