Archive | Family Based Immigration RSS feed for this section

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.

EXECUTIVE REFORMS TO IMMIGRATION: Top Six Changes

1 Dec

immigration_reform

The President’s executive reforms to the U.S. immigration system make a number of very positive changes that have the potential to help millions of people.  Although we have written about various components of the reforms individually, we have summarized six major portions here in one place.

Benach Ragland will be offering several free community meetings throughout December and will be offering reduced fee consultations for people who may benefit from these reforms.  To get the latest information about where we will be, please “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @benachragland.  To schedule a reduced fee consultation, please email: consult@benachragland.com or call 202-644-8600.

  • Deferred Action for the Parents of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

The centerpiece of the President’s immigration reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of deferred action to cover certain foreign national parents of United States citizens. Here are the details:

The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service will give deferred action and employment authorization to individuals who:

  • As of November 20, 2014, have a son or daughter who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 2010
  • Are not in lawful status as of November 20, 2014
  • Are not an enforcement priority
  • Do not present other factors that weigh against a favorable exercise of discretion

People who fall within the DHS’ new enforcement priorities will be ineligible for deferred action.  With a new memo issued today, Nobama immigration reformovember 20, 2014, the DHS has revised the enforcement priorities for the agency.  The new enforcement priorities are divided into three levels of priority of decreasing priority.  Presumably, those not within the enforcement priorities memo are not enforcement priorities and should qualify for benefits and not be subject to efforts to seek removal. We have summarized the new enforcement priorities memo here.

Applicants will be required to provide fingerprints and undergo national security and criminal background checks.  The filing fee will be $465.  CIS has been directed to begin accepting applications no later than 180 days from the date of the announcement (May 19, 2015).  Work permits will be valid for three years and individuals granted deferred action can also seek advance parole to travel internationally.

  • Expanded eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

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 regarding education and criminal issues remain unchanged.  The new parole provisions should also assist DACA grantees.

  • The New Enforcement Priorities Memo

s1.reutersmedia.netAs part of the executive actions reforms announced by the administration yesterday, the administration has redefined the enforcement priorities for Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  Briefly, any law enforcement agency with limited resources can not realistically enforce the law against everyone who may have broken it.  Law enforcement agencies must pick and choose how to allocate their limited resources and where to expend their efforts.  The new enforcement priorities memo provides very clear guidance to ICE as to who their efforts ought to be focused upon.  Groups of people have been classified into three priorities for enforcement, in declining orders of priority.  Individuals not within this memo are, presumably, not priorities, and should be eligible for benefits and not subjected to enforcement actions like detention and removal.  The three classes of priority are as follows:

Priority 1 (Most serious)

  • individuals suspected of terrorism, espionage or who are otherwise a threat to national security
  • individuals apprehended at the border while trying to enter the country illegally
  • individuals involved in gangs or gang activity
  • individuals convicted of a felony unless the essential element of the offense is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of an aggravated felony

Priority 2 (Medium serious)

  • individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors, not including traffic offenses or offenses where an essential element is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of a “significant misdemeanor”, which is defined as: an offense of domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, burglary, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug trafficking or distribution, driving under the influence, or any offense not included above for which the individual was sentenced to 90 days or more in custody (unlike in most immigration situations, a suspended sentence does not count)
  • those who have entered the U.S. unlawfully after January 1, 2014
  • significant visa or visa waiver abusers

Priority 3 (Less serious)

  • Individuals with a final order of removal entered after January 1, 2014, unless there are other factors that suggest that the individual should not be a priority for enforcement.

Once again, presumably, an individual not on any of these lists should not be considered a priority for removal and ICE is directed not to expend resources of seeking their detention and removal.  We will be watching ICE to see how the agents in the field respond to these revised priorities.

  • Clarifications and increased use of Advance Parole

Another positive change to the immigration laws announced last night is the Secretary of Homeland Security’s instruction that DHS counsel should prepare a legal memorandum forthcoming that departures pursuant to advance parole will not trigger the three and ten year bars.  This memo is to ensure that all departures on advance parole are treated consistently across the country for unlawful presence purposes.

Individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days who then depart the U.S. are subject to a three year bar on returning.  Individuals with a year or more of unlawful presence face a ten year bar after departure.  In Matter of Arrabally and Yerabelly, 25 I.&N. Dec. 771 (BIA 2012), the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that individuals who deAPparted on an advance parole granted due to a pending application for adjustment of status have not made a “departure” for purposes of triggering the three or ten year bars.  while this was a welcome decision, there was confusion and disagreement whether this applied to all departures on advance parole or only to those who departed on advance parole issued to applicants for adjustment of status.  For example, DACA recipients can get advance parole and it was unclear whether their departure would subject them to a bar to return due to unlawful presence they may have accrued prior to DACA’s existence.

The new memo is to clarify that any departure from the U.S. under advance parole no matter why that parole was granted would not be considered a departure for purposes of triggering the three and ten year bars.  This means that people with advance parole, perhaps as a result of DACA, or through the new “DAP” program, for parents of U.S. citizens, will be able travel to visit family abroad without having to lose everything they have achieved in the U.S.

  • Expansion of the Provisional Waiver

Another positive development 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. 

  • Parole in Place for family members of those seeking to enlist in the military

The package of reforms introduced by the President includes new policies on the U.S. of parole-in-place or deferred action for the family members of those seeking to enlist in the military.Military

Parole in place is a function of the Department’s discretionary authority to parole anyone into the U.S.  Parole in place is a mechanism to allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole an individual into the U.S., providing that individual with legal status and the ability to seek adjustment of status.  Recently, the government has used parole in place to allow the undocumented spouses, parents and children of Servicemembers, including Veterans, to adjust status We discussed this process here in August.

The new policy builds on this use of parole in place.  The Secretary of Homeland Security has instructed the CIS to work with the Department of Defense to “address the availability of parole in place and deferred action to the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or resident who seeks to enlist in the armed forces.

The “seeks to enlist” criteria is a major expansion of this authority and may provide residence to the close family members of those who want to join the military.

These reforms present many exciting opportunities for immigrants. In connection with other parts of the law, it may be possible to achieve more than a work permit.  We are excited about the possibilities for so many immigrants and look forward to the chance to serve you.

 

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Families of U.S. Armed Forces Members and Enlistees

23 Nov

MilitaryThe package of reforms introduced by the President includes new policies on the U.S. of parole-in-place or deferred action for the family members of those seeking to enlist in the military.

Parole in place is a function of the Department’s discretionary authority to parole anyone into the U.S.  Parole in place is a mechanism to allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole an individual into the U.S., providing that individual with legal status and the ability to seek adjustment of status.  Recently, the government has used parole in place to allow the undocumented spouses, parents and children of  Servicemembers, including Veterans, to adjust status We discussed this process here in August.

The new policy builds on this use of parole in place.  The Secretary of Homeland Security has instructed the CIS to work with the Department of Defense to “address the availability of parole in place and deferred action to the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or resident who seeks to enlist in the armed forces.

The “seeks to enlist” criteria is a major expansion of this authority and may provide residence to the close family members of those who want to join the military.

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: 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: Deferred Action for the Parents of U.S. Citizens and Residents

21 Nov

As Joe Biden once said, this is a “big f’in’ deal.”

The centerpiece of the President’s immigration reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of deferred action to cover certain foreign national parents of United States citizens. Here are the details:

The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service will give deferred action and employment authorization to individuals who

  • As of November 20, 2014, have a son or daughter who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 2010.
  • Are not in lawful status as of November 20, 2014
  • Are not an enforcement priority
  • Do not present other factors that weigh against a favorable exercise of discretion

People who fall within the DHS’ new enforcement priorities will be ineligible for deferred action.  With a new memo issued today, November 20, 2014, the DHS has revised the enforcement priorities for the agency.  The new enforcement priorities are divided into three levels of priority of decreasing priority.  Presumably, those not within the enforcement priorities memo are not enforcement priorities and should qualify for benefits and not be subject to efforts to seek removal. We have summarized the new enforcement priorities memo here.

Applicants will be required to provide fingerprints and undergo national security and criminal background checks.  The filing fee will be $465.  CIS has been directed to begin accepting applications no later than 180 days from the date of the announcement (May 19, 2015).

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.

Five Things We Have Learned About I-601A Provisional Waivers

18 Nov

Nearly two years since the announcement of the provisional waiver of inadmissibility, known as the I-601A extreme hardship waiver, we have learned quite a bit about the people that need this waiver and the way the government is processing them.  Here are the top five things we have learned:

  1. The process has transformed lives.  We have witnessed families emerge from desperation and hopelessness to seize the opportunity to take charge of their lives.  Freed of the fear that a trip to a consulate abroad would mean a lengthy separation, families are empowered and made optimistic that their dreams can be realized and that the law and the U.S. recognize their value.
  2. CIS has gotten better at this.  When the program started in April 2013, I-130 petitions became very backlogged, with delays of over a year.  Since then, the government has significantly reduced the processing time for I-130 petitions to about five months, as of the time of this blog.
  3. People should never presume that their hardship is not enough.  This point reminds us of the Bob Dylan line “I have never gotten used to it, I just learned to turn it off.”  People who live with many forms of pain have become so used to it that they think it is normal or appropriate.  Detailed conversations with compassionate counsel can elicit many factors relevant for an extreme hardship determination.  Extreme hardship is never the same from one person to another.  There is no substitute for taking the time to learn about people and what makes them tick.  Documenting extreme hardship is the most personal of tasks and requires the time and compassion necessary to understand where people are coming from.
  4. We are reminded why we love our job.  Facebook has given us a front seat view of the process.  We now can watch through photos, videos and status updates the thrill that a client has when they return home after several years of not seeing their family.  We can see the happy reunions and the good luck wishes from friends in the U.S.  We see grandparents meeting their grandchildren for the first time.  We share the client’s nerves as they prepare to enter the Embassy.  And we get to see the moment that they return to the U.S. on their immigrant visas.  It does not end there however.  We get to hear about their lives, buying a house, changing jobs,having a baby, and returning home for the holidays for years to come.
  5. Expanding the provisional waiver would be great.  The provisional waiver only applies to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.  Expanding it to be available for the spouses and children of permanent residents, for example, or the adult children of citizens, as has been suggested in some reports, would multiply the benefit that has been given through the provisional waiver.

Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio: CSPA at the Supreme Court

9 Dec

Supreme_Court_US_2010

Tomorrow, December 10, 2013, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio, reviewing the 9th circuit decision that reversed the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision in Matter of Wang that rejected the applicability of the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) to a large number of immigrants.  If the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the 9th Circuit, many aged-out young adults will be immediately eligible to apply for residence.  If the Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit, the BIA’s interpretation will stand and young adults who aged-out while their families’ petitions were stuck in the immigration backlogs will continue to wait for alternative paths to residence.

At the heart of the dispute is a common question in U.S. immigration law- how much deference does a court owe to an agency’s interpretation of matters within its expertise.  In a seminal 1984 case, Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, the Supreme Court held that the answer to that question requires a two part analysis.  First, the court must determine whether Congress spoke clearly in the statute.  If Congress spoke clearly, the court must look to whether the agency faithfully implemented the statute’s directive.  The second part of the analysis comes into play if the court determine that Congress did not speak clearly and left the details of the matter to the expertise of the agency.  Where Congress spoke ambiguously, courts should defer to the agency’s special expertise so long as their interpretation was reasonable.  As a practical matter, if a court finds that Congress’ directive in a piece of legislation was ambiguous, it will likely uphold the agency’s interpretation.  Thus, in this case, the Court must decide whether the Child Status Protection Act was clear in how these aged-out young people should be treated.  If the court decides that Congress was pellucid in the language of the statute, it is likely that the court will reject the BIA’s interpretation and uphold the 9th Circuit’s decision.  In addition to the 9th Circuit, one other court, the 5th Circuit, has also rejected the BIA’s formulation.

Cuellar de Osorio’s lawyers will be arguing that Congress spoke with particular clarity when it passed the Child Status Protection Act and intended for all aged-out derivative beneficiaries of their parent’s immigrant petitions to be able to reclaim their original filing date rather than going back to the “end of the line” after turning 21.  They are supported by a brief filed by several Senators who explain to the Court that their intention in passing the legislation was to help as many aged-out children as possible.  The government seeks to muddy the waters and state that Congress was not clear and that the court should defer to the government.  The government warns of major disruption to the way visas are distributed if the Court rejects its interpretation.

Tomorrow, lawyers for the government and for the immigrants affected will get their chance to argue the case before the Supreme Court.  A decision will likely come in the spring of 2014.

Administrative Relief for Military Families via Parole in Place

19 Nov

Image

Members of the U.S. military make significant sacrifices in order to serve their country.  Yet, many dedicated U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are either prevented from serving in the military or their service is considerably limited because of who they love and who their family members are.  Active service members are often stripped of their security clearances, unable to advance up the ranks, and threatened with discharge from service if they have undocumented spouses, parents, and children.  Even more shocking, just recently the Pentagon confirmed that it plans to bar American citizens and lawful permanent residents from enlisting in any branch of the U.S. military – the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard – if those citizens and permanent residents have undocumented spouses and children.  The Pentagon confirmed that the reason for this rule is that citizens and permanent residents who have undocumented spouses and children living with them are thought by the Pentagon to be committing the crime of “harboring.”  Obviously, there may be security reasons behind these policies; however, there must be a way to both protect the security of the United States while also assisting and honoring U.S. citizens and permanent residents who want to dedicate their lives to serving this country.  U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents should not be faced with the impossible choice between serving their country and being with the ones they love.

For these reasons, there is concern that members of the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members In the United States.  Military preparedness can be adversely affected if active military members, who can be quickly called into active duty, are worried or anxious about the immigration status of the spouses, parents, and children.  Veterans, who have served our country and made significant sacrifices for the United States, may also face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members.  In response to these concerns, the Obama Administration and the President’s previous Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, attempted to address some of these issues by applying existing legal remedies in ways that assist members of the U.S. military, veterans, and their families.  One of these policy initiatives revolves around the legal mechanism of Parole in Place.

Pursuant to INA § 245(a), adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent resident is only available to an individual “who was inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.”  Thus, an individual who has entered without inspection is ineligible to become a permanent resident while physically present in this country, even if married to a U.S. citizen.  Instead, the individual must depart the U.S. in order to obtain an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.  However, such a departure from the U.S. consequently renders the individual inadmissible to reenter this country for ten years after the date of departure.  As a result, the process to obtain permanent resident status for an individual who entered the U.S. without inspection affects not only that individual, but also, his or her U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members.

This situation presents more serious, unique hardships on military families, which is why the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) identified Parole in Place (“PIP”) under INA § 212(d)(5)(A) as an administrative mechanism that could avoid imposing such difficult circumstances on military families.  In a letter to Congress dated August 30, 2010, the Secretary of Homeland Security identified several tools that the Department utilizes “to help military dependents secure permanent immigration status in the United States as soon as possible.”  Among these tools, the Secretary identified PIP as a tool “to minimize periods of family separation, and to facilitate the adjustment of status within the United States by immigrants who are the spouses, parents and children of military members.”  PIP is especially significant in the support it provides to military families during wartime.  It is a purely discretionary remedy that takes into account the negative impact that the separation of family members may have on a military member’s morale, readiness, or ability to complete his or her service.

Despite this clearly articulated policy from the Secretary of Homeland Security, however, some U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) offices, the agency within DHS responsible for adjudicating applications for immigration benefits, questioned whether PIP should be granted to certain family members of active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, individuals in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or individuals who previous served in the U.S. military.  Similarly, even when PIP was granted to spouses, parents, and children of U.S. military members and veterans, some USCIS offices questioned the legal authority to actually grant adjustment of status to these individuals based on their PIP.  These questions led to inconsistent adjudications of PIP requests and adjustments of status based on PIP throughout the country.  Ultimately, USCIS decided that it needed to clarify its policy regarding these two questions by issuing a policy memorandum.  In response, many USCIS offices put such PIP requests and PIP-based adjustment of status applications on hold, awaiting the clarified policy from its Office of the Director.  Accordingly, many members of the U.S. military, veterans, and their families have been waiting – some for several years – for their family members’ PIP requests and PIP-based adjustment of status applications to be adjudicated.  This resulted in revoked security clearances and the inability to advance for many military members, as well as negative impact on service members’ morale and readiness to serve.

Thankfully, the waiting is now over.  In a policy memorandum dated November 15, 2013, the Office of the Director for USCIS clarified the agency’s policies regarding PIP.  First, USCIS confirmed that PIP is a discretionary remedy available to spouses, parents, and children of active members of the U.S. Armed Forces, individuals in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, and individuals who previously serviced in the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.  Second, after a lengthy legal analysis and discussion of the specific language of the Immigration and Nationality Act, USCIS verified that a grant of PIP cures inadmissibility for being present without having been admitted or paroled and for being one who “arrives” at an undesignated time and place.  This means that an individual who entered the U.S. without inspection, but subsequently received PIP, is not inadmissible for these grounds.  Consequently, if he or she is otherwise eligible to adjust status, he or she may do so while present in the U.S., thus avoiding lengthy separations and negative impacts on the U.S. military member’s morale, readiness, and ability to serve.

As stated by Secretary Napolitano in her letter to Congress, the purpose of PIP is “to minimize periods of family separation, and to facilitate the adjustment of status within the United States by immigrants who are the spouses, parents, and children of military members.”  USCIS has now reaffirmed that purpose and will move forward in adjudicating all of the PIP requests and adjustment of status applications that have been placed on hold.  Many members of the U.S. military will no longer have to wait with revoked security clearances and the inability to progress in their military careers.  Their ability to complete their service to our country will no longer be negatively impacted.  They will no longer be faced with the impossible choice between their service to the United States of America and their family members.  We commend USCIS for making these important clarifications and for doing its part to ensure that our military members are ready and able to complete their service and our veterans are cared for and honored for their service to our country.

This post was written by Dree K. Collopy.

Congratulations to the National Center for Transgender Equality: Let’s Hope ENDA Does Better than CIR!

13 Nov

Our moment

Last night, Jen Cook and I went to the National Council for Transgender Equality’s  (NCTE) 10th Anniversary event.  The evening was themed “Our Moment,” reflecting the organization’s intention to build upon the successes of the gay rights movement in the past year, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Windsor decision, and the many states that have enacted gay marriage.  In fact, even as the party went on, the festivities were interrupted to announce that Hawaii became the 16th state to allow for gay marriage.  As acceptance of full rights for gays and lesbians has grown tremendously over the past few years, acceptance of the essential humanity of the transgendered has not moved as quickly.  There have been victories- the Affordable Care Act provides increased access to needed medical services to transgender individuals, transgender individuals such as Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Lana Wachowski have upped awareness of trans issues in our culture.  Even Chelsea Manning has forced us to confront the dilemmas facing trans people in the military and in prison.

There was palpable excitement in the room last night.  Last week the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal nationwide to fire or discriminate in employment issues against someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Employment discrimination against trans individuals is a serious problem, with 90 percent of trans individuals reporting that they suffered some form of employment discrimination in their lives.  The Senate ENDA bill is termed “trans-inclusive,” because it has expressly included discrimination protections for transgender individuals, whereas previous incarnations had sacrificed the “T” in GLBT as protections for trans individuals were just a bridge too far for some.  But this years ENDA is trans-inclusive and is now headed to the House of Representatives.   As immigration lawyers, our hearts sank as we heard people express optimism over the chances for its passage in the House.  Over the last four months, we have watched as the House has run out the clock on immigration reform.  Even after being confronted by young activists who brought their plights to him over breakfast, Speaker John Boehner made it clear today that no immigration legislation is moving this year.

 

If anyone believes that House members can be moved by hearing the personal stories of those effected by our terrible immigration laws or due to employment discrimination because of gender identity, Boehner’s cold response to these teenagers who spoke truth to power should put that notion to rest.  George Washington called the Senate the “cooling saucer” because it was meant to temper the excitable House of Representatives.  That role has changed and a group of 40 Tea Party Republicans in the House can stymie the hopes and aspirations of immigrants and trans men and women.  It is truly ironic because both pieces of legislation easily passed the Senate and would easily pass the House if the speaker would just bring it to a vote.  Yet, the Speaker cares more about the needs of his 40 Tea Party members than he does the suffering of 11 million immigrants or the need for employment discrimination protection for vulnerable minorities.

Our involvement in trans issues began when young trans women came into our office and asked us to help them apply for asylum.  Most had come from Central America and they all had stories of beatings, rapes, and rejection by their family.  They braved smugglers and human traffickers to make it to the U.S., where they found a chance to be themselves.  We have been able to obtain asylum for dozens of transgender individuals and not just from Central America.  Persecution of the non-gender-conforming is a worldwide pestilence.  To hear and know their stories and their bravery in leaving their homes under dangerous circumstances to have a chance to simply be themselves fills us with great admiration and respect for these individuals.  Their needs are far more fundamental than a job.  They come to America to be who they are.  It all starts there.  Over the years of representing trans individuals in asylum and then for green cards and, ultimately, citizenship, we have watched them grow into themselves, get stable employment, start relationships and family, and give back to their communities.  To watch a human being develop to her potential is like watching a flower bloom.  You can never grow tired of it.

The NTCE has done tremendous work to bring trans civil rights to the forefront of the political arena.  Like immigration reform, I am confident that full civil rights for trans people will occur in the future.  Last night, we heard from 33 year old Dylan Orr, a White House appointee, and 23 year old Sarah McBride, a political activist, about their professional experiences as a trans man and trans woman respectively.  They are the future and that gives us confidence and joy.

Board of Immigration Appeals Affirms Same-Sex Marriage

20 Jul

Earlier this week, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the sweeping-change in immigration law that the Windsor decision ushered in.  In Matter of Zeleniak, 26 I.&N. Dec. 158 (BIA 2013), the Board recognized that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Windsor, was not an impediment to recognition of same-sex marriage by immigration authorities.   In Zeleniak, U.S. citizen Serge Polajenko filed an immigrant partner for his husband, Oleg Zeleniak.  The Citizenship & Immigration Service (CIS) found that the couple had a legal marriage in Vermont, but denied the petition, citing Section 3 of the DOMA.   On July 17, 2013, the BIA sent the case back to the CIS stating that the CIS should only consider whether the marriage was entered into in good faith.  Thus, the BIA affirmed that Section 3 of DOMA, as a result of Windsor, was no longer an impediment to approval of a petition by U.S. citizen on behalf of his same sex husband, so long as the couple was married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

The BIA went further than the immediate issue at hand and sought to identify those areas of immigration law that are impacted by the Windsor decision.  The BIA stated:

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor has therefore removed section 3 of the DOMA as an impediment to the recognition of lawful same-sex marriages and spouses if the marriage is valid under the laws of the State where it was celebrated. This ruling is applicable to various provisions of the Act, including, but not limited to, sections 101(a)(15)(K) (fiancé and fiancée visas), 203 and 204 (immigrant visa petitions), 207 and 208 (refugee and asylee derivative status), 212 (inadmissibility and waivers of inadmissibility), 237 (removability and waivers of removability), 240A (cancellation of removal), and 245 (adjustment of status), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(K), 1153, 1154, 1157, 1158, 1182, 1227, 1229b, and 1255 (2012).
Ironically, the BIA’s decision appeared the same day that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resurfaced from ignominy to publish a wholly unnecessary and surly opinion in the New York Times stating that Windsor did not compel immigration recognition of same-sex marriages.  Relying on 1982 decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the former Attorney General stated that Congress did not intend to cover same-sex spouses when it used the term “spouse” in the 1952 Immigration & Nationality Act (INA).  As a lawyer who has tried to cite 9th Circuit laws in other parts of the country, I am well aware of the limited reach of a decision of a single appeals court.  You would think that the former Attorney General would be as well.  It is important to keep Mr. Gonzales’ point-of-view in mind, however.  Under our system, the Attorney General has the authority to overrule the BIA on any matter of immigration law. Which is why it is important that Mr. Gonzales, thankfully, no longer occupies that post.