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The Great Green Card Procurement Announcement Internet Freak-Out of October 2014.

23 Oct

Kim Jong un

In the past two months, North Korean despot Kim Jung-un disappeared and reappeared.  And earlier this week, the U.S. government sought bids on a potential government contract.  Both events caused massive speculation but little information regarding critical policy issues.

Those who watch the immigration issue with obsessive scrutiny noticed this week that the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service put out a request for bids for a contractor who could provide supplies to produce up to 34 million work permits.  Anti-immigration outlets quickly picked up on this obscure notice and sounded the alarm that the administration was preparing for “amnesty.”  Likewise, immigrant advocates were heartened and thought that this requisition orderCards was evidence that the administration planned to “go big” and announce expansive administrative measures to relieve the suffering caused by our merciless immigration laws.  The speculation grew so hot that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest felt the need to tamp down expectations.  Yesterday, Earnest said, “I think those who are trying to read into those specific orders about what the president may decide are a little too cleverly trying to divine what the president’s ultimate conclusion might be. What I would caution you against is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.”

If people are “a little to cleverly trying to divine what the president’s ultimate conclusion might be,” the blame lies squarely with the White House.  On a topic of immense policy importance, the White House has been extraordinarily tight-lipped about that it plans to do or not do.  After resisting administrative action for several years while presiding over the most efficient deportation machine this country has ever known. the President raised hope of executive action in June 2014, announcing that he would take action on administrative reform by the end of the summer.  He charged the Secretary of Homeland Security with offering plans as to what steps the administration could take to relieve the suffering his removal policies have caused.  Of course, proposals for administrative reform have been around since before the President took office in 2009.  That deadline was scuttled to assuage skittish and vulnerable Democrats facing election in November.  So, the President announced that he would hold off on reform until after the elections.

Meanwhile, the tension mounts.  The anti-immigrant crowd is screeching about “Obama’s lawless amnesty” and the “ISIS-ebola-unaccompanied minor” threat.  Families continue to be torn apart and many Latino leaders are calling on people to sit out this election.  Everyone is waiting on the President to announce his plan.  The lack of information about what the President may do is what causes the internet to go berserk over “the procurement practices of the department immigration-protest-your-handsof Homeland Security.”  In the absence of real information, speculation and hysteria will fill the void.

Last month, the world engaged in speculation that North Korean despot Kim Jong-un had been overthrown because he had not been seen in weeks.  Reports of injuries to the dictator filled the airwaves until he reappeared in public.  Of course, such speculation makes complete sense in a country that tightly controls its media and in a government that operates by power and secrecy.  People interested in those affairs have learned how to divine what may be happening through little clues.  Just like in the Soviet era, insiders would try to figure out who was in and who was out by where they were seated at Party Congresses.

The internet freak-out caused by the White House’s lack of information about its plans and a cannily-timed procurement request can only be expected where the administration behaves more like the secretive cabal in North Korea than an American administration genuinely interested in solving a real problem.

What Might Executive Action on Immigration Look Like?

26 Aug

As Facebook is crowded with pictures of kids going back to school, we must face the inevitable end of summer.  However, for immigrants, it is possible that the end of summer will bring long-awaited administrative relief from the Obama administration.  In June, President Obama went to the Rose Garden to state that, in the absence of legislation from Congress, he was going to use his executive power to address the harshness of U.S. immigration laws.  He stated that he instructed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to present recommendations for changes that the administration could make to existing interpretations of immigration law that would ameliorate the inhumane consequences of current immigration policy.  The Secretary was instructed to produce his recommendations and plan by the end of summer.  With the President returning from vacation soon and the traditional end of summer holiday of Labor Day approaching, expectations are sky high that the President will announce meaningful administrative actions in the coming weeks.  Washington is awash in rumors, speculation, leaks, and hopes as to what the nature of immigration relief might look like.  In this blog, we take a look at some of the common possibilities that keep popping up in reports.  We have written in the past about steps that the President could take to make U.S. immigration laws less harsh.  This post is about those measures that have been commonly reported in the media.

  • Parole-in-place.  This would be the most ambitious use of presidential authority.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act gives the administration the ability to parole any immigrant into the U.S. if the administration determines that it would be in the national interest.  Ordinarily, parole is granted to allow someone to enter the U.S. from abroad.  However, parole-in-place is a mechanism to parole those already in the U.S. who have not been admitted, such as those who entered unlawfully.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO:  By paroling those who entered illegally, parole-in-place would have the effect of making them eligible for adjustment of status to permanent residence based upon the petition of an immediate relative, such as a U.S. citizen spouse or a child over 21.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Those who entered unlawfully and have close U.S. citizen family ties.  This could be more expansive than those who can benefit from the provisional waiver as the provisional waiver is not available to those who are inadmissible on criminal grounds or fraud grounds.  Conceivably, parole in place would allow immigrants to seek adjustment of status with the opportunity to apply for all of the waivers that are available to other adjustment applicants.
  • Deferred Action.   Conventional wisdom is that the President will utilize the deferred action method used for young people in 2012 which would provide no stable or durable status, but would provide a reprieve from removal and the ability to obtain employment authorization.
      • WHAT IT IS: in June 2012, the President created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which formalized a policy that the government was not interested in seeking the removal of young people who entered as children, stayed in school, and, generally, avoided trouble.  The President could expand the Deferred Action program to include other favored groups, such as the parents of U.S. citizen or the parents of DACA recipients.
      • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By granting deferred action, the administration would be formally recognizing that the individual is not a priority for removal and would not be sought for removal.  Deferred action comes with work permits, allowing individuals to live without fear of removal, to work legally, obtain social security numbers and driver’s licenses.
      • WHO IT WOULD HELP: This is hard to say.  The administration could create a class of individuals who would qualify for expanded deferred action.  There is general legal consensus that he may not grant deferred action to all undocumented individuals. Commonly discussed potential classes include the parents of U.S. citizens and the parents of DACA grantees.  Another broad class would be deferred action for those immigrants who would benefit under the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013.   It is likely that, like DACA, any deferred action grant would have eligibility requirements relating to length of time in the U.S, work history, an the lack of a criminal record.Deferred Action.  The President could simply expand Deferred Action beyond the DREAMers.  He could identify classes of individuals who the administration identifies as low priorities for removal from the U.S.
  • Recapture of visa numbers.  This is among proposals favored by the business community.  It would not necessarily apply to individuals without status, but would help fix the extraordinary backlog in employment-based visas.  Some individuals do fall out of status waiting for their spot in the backlog to become available to them.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act makes a limited number of visas (green cards) available every year and divides them among various categories.  Sometimes, because of the way the visas are allocated, many of those visas go unused every year.  This contributes to horrendous backlogs that hurt employers’ ability to retain key personnel.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By changing the way visas are counted and allocated, this change would shorten lines for visas in the employment-based categories, shortening the time it takes for a foreign employee to obtain residence.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Employment-based immigrants, their families, and their employers.  Reduction in the amount of time necessary to sponsor an immigrant through work could help many people who could seek residence through employment and fall out of status while waiting in the backlog.
  • Work authorization for H-4 Visa Holders.  This is another of the priorities for the business community.
    • WHAT IT IS: Individuals admitted in H-4 status are the spouses and children under 21 of H-1B visa holders, who may enter the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer in a professional capacity for up to six years.  Under current law, an individual admitted into the U.S. in H-4 status is not allowed to accept employment in the U.S.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: Administrative change could make H-4 visa holders eligible to apply for employment authorization.  Since the Immigration & nationality Act does not prohibit such employment authorization, regulatory change could create a category to allow H-4s to work.  There is precedent for this as changes to the law allowed L-2 visa holders, the spouse and children under 21 of L-1 intracompany transferees to obtain employment authorization.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: The spouses and children of H-1B visa holders and their families.  Businesses want this change because international candidates sometimes turn down offers to work in the U.S. because their spouse can not work.

Executive action seems all but assured.  The questions is not “if,” but “exactly what” and “when.”  The President has waited far too long to take this actions.  Millions have suffered in a cynical attempt to pacify the House GOP and enforcement-lust.  The President has returned from vacation and it is time for everyone to get back to the important work of addressing the colossal failure of U.S. immigration law and the even more contemptible failure of Congress to deal with it.

Confidentiality of Asylum Applications at Risk

21 May

If the internet is good for anything, it is exposing a person to articles and information one ordinarily would not encounter.  So it was when I stumbled across this article on Fox News Latino.  The article discusses the Mexican government’s statement that Gaston Azcarraga, the former owner of the defunct Mexicana Airlines was in the Unit109-mexicana-airlinesed States and seeking asylum.  At BR, we know nothing about Mr. Azcarraga’s claim to asylum or whether it is likely to succeed.  But we do know that asylum applications are supposed to be confidential and that it is particularly important that a claim to asylum not be revealed to the government of the country where the applicant fears persecution.  To see a Mexican government official state that an Mexican national is seeking asylum in the United States is inimical to the entire concept of asylum and undermines the trust in the asylum system that confidentiality is supposed to enhance.

I have been to hundreds of asylum interviews.  They all begin the same way with the asylum officer informing the applicant that asylum applications are confidential and that the information provided by the applicant will not be shared with the applicant’s home country.  The reason for this promise of confidentiality is obvious.  If an asylum applicant is not confident that her information will be kept secret, she is unlikely to be able to tell the full story of why she is seeking asylum.  Because a grant of asylum is anything but guaranteed and there is a good chance that an asylum applicant will be returned to the country where she fears persecution, without the promise of secrecy, an asylum applicant will understandably be reticent to tell the full story.

The requirement of confidentiality is enshrined into the asylum regulations.  The regulations provide that the information in an application for asylum, including the fact that an individual applied for asylum, shall be kept confidential.  There is an exception for disclosure to U.S. government officials under limited circumstances.  There is also an exception that allows for disclosure “at the discretion of the Attorney General.”  While that latter exception may seem wide enough to drive a truck through, such an exercise of discretion has been rare.  If the Attorney General is increasingly exercising his authority to disclose the fact of an asylum application, that abuse of discretion would undermine the entire regime of confidentiality.  It appears that this is a growing problem.  Friend of Benach Ragland (FOBR) Jason Dzubow wrote last fall that U.S. Embassy officials in China routinely violate the confidentiality provisions of the law. And, of course, some rogue official revealed a few years ago that President Obama’s aunt had applied for asylum.

In rare circumstances, the unlawful disclosure of an application for asylum has been found to generate a new basis to seek asylum.  In an unpublished opinion last year, the Board of Immigration Appeals reopened asylum proceedings based upon a breach of confidentiality.  The BIA wrote:

The respondent’s motion alleges that a United States official advised her that in obtaining the respondent’s travel documents, for the purpose of removal, he communicated by email with the Chinese Consulate in such a way as to breach the confidentiality requirements at 8 C.F .R. § 1208.6.  According to the respondent, she asked the official for copies of the emails, and he advised her that he deleted them. The respondent has proffered evidence of her attempts to obtain copies of the emails as well as other evidence concerning information supplied to the Chinese Consulate. The respondent asserts that circumstances in China have changed based in part on the government’s awareness that the respondent is a failed asylum seeker.  While the DHS has filed a statement of opposition to the motion, the DHS does not dispute the respondent’s claims that confidentiality requirements may have been breached.  We find it appropriate to reopen pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 1003.2(a) and remand the record to the Immigration Judge for proceedings on whether the respondent is eligible for withholding of removal under the Act or protection under the Convention Against Torture in light of the new evidence in this matter.

Now that Mexican officials are aware of the application, it seems that Mr. Azcarraga’s claim has grown stronger.  There is widespread acknowledgement of the heavy hand of Mexican law enforcement.  Ironically, the desire to punish Mr. Azcarraga may have grown and his claim approved as a result of  this revelation and the embarrassment of the Mexican government.

Good News on I-601A Provisional Hardship Waiver Applications!

18 Mar

VisaToday, the US Citizenship & Immigration Service announced a fix to one of the more serious problems with the provisional waiver process for unlawful presence.  As you may know, the CIS instituted the I-601A provisional waiver process last year to allow immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens but are also ineligible to seek residence in the U.S. due to unlawful entry to seek a provisional waiver of inadmissibility in anticipation of seeking a visa at the U.S. embassy abroad.  The provisional waiver, sought on form I-601A, only waives inadmissibility due to unlawful presence (i.e., entering without inspection and remaining more than 6 months in the U.S.).  The waiver does not waive any other ground of inadmissibility such as inadmissibility due to criminal convictions or fraud.  To address this issue, the CIS decided early on that where another ground of inadmissibility may be present, such as due to criminal convictions, the CIS would deny such applications because there was a reason to believe that inadmissibility might apply.  This approach left a lot of people out of eligibility for the provisional waiver, many of whom are not, in fact, inadmissible despite having criminal convictions.  This is because not all convictions create inadmissibility.  The largest class of crimes that cause inadmissibility are those that are considered to involve “moral turpitude.”  Crimes involving moral turpitude are those offenses that are inherently base, vile, or depraved.  They usually involve theft, dishonesty, or violence.  However, many crimes, such as trespass, disorderly conduct, or a simple driving under the influence, clearly do not involve moral turpitude.  In addition, there is an exception to inadmissibility for “petty offenses.”  A petty offense is one in which the maximum possible sentence does not exceed one year and the individual is sentenced to less than 180 days in prison.  A crime involving moral turpitude that falls within the petty offense exception does not cause inadmissibility.  However, under the reason to believe standard, CIS was denying waiver applications simply because an offense could create inadmissibility, which was patently unfair to those who were not, in fact, inadmissible.

In an email today, U.S. CIS stated that on January 24, 2014, it issued Field Guidance to its offices instructing officers not to find a reason to believe someone might be inadmissible where the applicant is clearly not inadmissible.  The Field Guidance provides:

USCIS officers should review all evidence in the record, including any evidence submitted by the applicant or the attorney of record. If, based on all evidence in the record, it appears that the applicant’s criminal offense: (1) falls within the “petty offense” or “youthful offender” exception under INA section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii) at the time of the I-601A adjudication, or (2) is not a CIMT under INA section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) that would render the applicant inadmissible, then USCIS officers should not find a reason to believe that the individual may be subject to inadmissibility under INA section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) at the time of the immigrant visa interview solely on account of that criminal offense. The USCIS officer should continue with the adjudication to determine whether the applicant meets the other requirements for the provisional unlawful presence waiver, including whether the applicant warrants a favorable exercise of discretion.
The CIS has also agreed to reopen, on its own motion, cases that were denied on “reason to believe” to determine whether an applicant denied was, in fact, inadmissible.  If not, the CIS would proceed to consideration of the merits of the I-601A provisional waiver application.
This is a tremendous improvement from the previous position that CIS took.  It is a credit not only to CIS but to the many individuals and groups who pushed CIS on this issue.

Stateside Waivers Have Arrived

4 Mar

Sixty agonizingly long days after final regulations were published, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) this morning released Form I-601A, Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, and its accompanying instructions. In previous posts, we discussed many aspects of the stateside waiver process (see here, here, and here). In this post, we’ll discuss some basic filing-related details.

How much will it cost?

The filing fee for Form I-601A is $585 plus $85 for biometrics for applicants under age 79. No waivers are available for either fee. The check or money order should be made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” (not DHS).

Where should Form I-601A be filed?

According to USCIS’ website, Form I-601A should be filed with the Chicago Lockbox. Before filing their forms, applicants should double-check the website or call the National Customer Service Center at (800) 375-5283.

What must be filed with Form I-601A?

All applicants must submit a copy of the approval notice (Form I-797) for the immigrant visa petition showing they are the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, as well as a copy of the fee receipt from the State Department for the immigrant visa processing fee. All applicants would also be wise to submit evidence in support of their claims of extreme hardship that would be suffered by a qualifying relative. (Examples of such documentation are listed in the instructions.)

What other materials must be filed with Form I-601A may vary based on applicants’ prior criminal and immigration histories. For example, applicants who are currently in removal proceedings must provide a copy of the Notice to Appear (NTA) along with an order demonstrating that their case has been administratively closed. Applicants who have ever been arrested or detained (for any reason other than a traffic violation) must provide information about the incident. Applicants who have been charged with a crime must provide certified court dispositions showing the outcome of proceedings, even if the relevant records are sealed or have been expunged. And applicants who were arrested but not charged must provide documents from the arresting or prosecuting authority demonstrating that charges were not filed.

Does the granting of a provisional waiver make me “legal”?

No. The approval of a Form I-601A will not affect an individual’s immigration status in any way. It does not provide employment authorization or any other interim benefits, and does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence. Nor does it eliminate the requirement that applicants depart the country to obtain an immigration visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, nor guarantee that an immigrant visa will actually be issued.

What if my request for a provisional waiver is denied?

Applicants whose requests for a provisional waiver are denied have two options. First, they can re-file Form I-601A with the required filing and biometric fees. Second, they can seek a regular waiver of unlawful presence using the standard Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, after attending an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Do I need an attorney to file Form I-601A?

We think so. Visit us at BenachRagland.com or check with your local bar or the American Immigration Lawyers Association to find qualified attorneys to assist you.

Should I Seek a Provisional Waiver or Just Wait for Immigration Reform?

13 Feb

bird-in-handThe optimism and hope that have been generated by all of the hype around immigration reform has been intense.  Every day, a new prominent political figure comes out in favor of immigration reform.  Look, Sean HannityCondoleeza Rice!  Was that closet really big enough for Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes? Eric Cantor and John Boehner now support the DREAM Act after voting against it in 2010!  It is enough not only to induce whiplash, but it is creating a frenzy of anticipation that often manifests itself in odd ways in the privacy of a consultation with an immigration lawyer. Specifically, many people are now asking, should I just wait for immigration reform?

For the past couple of years, the last resort of the hopeless case was the possibility of immigration reform.  The whiff of a chance of a possibility of potential reform was the only bit of hope that we could muster for some folks who came into our offices.  After we explained that the law did not provide them with any practical options, we were able to console the client with the hope that someday the political system will come to their rescue. As the day becomes more and more visible, the number of people considering doing nothing and hoping for the best appears to have increased.

Frankly, that has always been a pretty decent option for many people.  People who entered the U.S. illegally and had few significant family ties generally had little opportunity to fix their immigration situation.  Sure, we could do some long shot application with little chance of success that would cost a lot of money.  But we often advised people not to spend their money on quixotic ventures and to sit back and see whether the law will develop in a way that could benefit them.  Wait and see was really the best advice.

Now, we seem to be on the verge of the “see” portion of wait and see.  Immigration reform seems imminent and the incentive to wait and see has increased.  But, even though the promise of immigration reform seems within our grasp, real changes that will help untold numbers of people have taken effect now. It is unwise to avoid these measures in the hope that immigration reform will save the day.

The biggest example of this is the I-601A provisional waiver.  The government has changed the process of seeking waivers of inadmissibility for those spouses of U.S. citizens who are only inadmissible due to unlawful presence.  By allowing the couple to seek a waiver of inadmissibility in the U.S. before making an uncertain trip to the U.S. embassy in their home country, the administration has removed a formidable obstacle to legalization of thousands of immigrants married to Americans who are unwilling to take the risk of being separated from their families for up to a decade. This procedural change has the potential to allow thousands of people to legalize their status.

Yet, just as these very important and welcome changes take effect, people are pulling back.  Why should I try to seek a waiver when Obama is going to legalize everyone anyway?  The answer is the old cliche about the bird in hand.  The provisional waiver is the bird in hand and, as much as we believe it is going to happen, and as much as we want it to happen, immigration reform is not a done deal and can collapse.  It has happened before.  There are forces assembled to fight immigration reform tooth and nail.  They will find a ready audience in much of the Republican caucus in the House, always fertile ground for anti-immigrant sentiment.  Even if Congress passes immigration reform, there is no guarantee it will include a path to citizenship.  The Senate plan offers applicants a temporary status that will last until a border commission says that the border is secure, an automated entry and exit system is imposed, and the entire backlog is cleared.  Senator Dick Durbin, one of the most pro-immigrant Senators, said that that temporary status could last as long as ten years!  At the end of those ten years, applicants can seek residence!  To paraphrase the Beatles, the path to citizenship is the long and winding road.  If it even happens!

The provisional waiver is law.  It is really happening and people can use it to fix their status and obtain residence.  No temporary status.  No watching committees and reading the tea leaves of pundits and politicians.  It is in the Code of Federal Regulations and there is a form.  Nothing in immigration is real until there is a form and the provisional waiver has a form- the I-601A.

The provisional waiver is not perfect.  It needs to be available more widely.  But it has the advantage of being law.  A bird in hand.  Over years in immigration law, we have learned that one must take the opportunities presented to you.  The government fails to bring conviction records to a hearing, move to terminate removal proceedings.  The government fails to oppose a motion to reopen, file a notification of non-opposition.  Seek an extension of work authorization even though the residence interview is in two weeks.  Immigration law is so stacked against the immigrant that we must take those opportunities presented to us when they are presented.  They may not come again.

The Provisional Waiver and Removal Proceedings

17 Jan

 

Over the last few weeks we have answered dozens of questions about the provisional waiver.  One group of questions keeps appearing- questions about how people in removal proceedings or with a removal order can qualify for the provisional waiver.  Whereas, the initial rule announced by the Department of Homeland Security indicated that the provisional waiver would be unavailable to people in removal proceedings, the final rule is somewhat more forgiving.  The final rule states that an individual in removal proceedings can not seek a provisional waiver with the Citizenship & Immigration Service (CIS) unless proceedings have been administratively closed or terminated.

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As Julie Andrews sang, let’s start at the very beginning as it is a very good place to start.  Removal proceedings are initiated when the DHS issues a charging document known as a Notice to Appear (NTA) and lodges it with the Immigration Court.  Any of the three immigration agencies, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, Citizenship & Immigration Services and Customs & Border Protection has the authority to issue NTAs.  Usually, the time between DHS issuing an NTA and filing it with the court is close to simultaneous.  However, on occasion, the NTA is issued and not filed with the court for days, weeks, months or even years.  An individual is not “in removal proceedings” until an NTA has been filed with the court.  Until the NTA is filed with the court, DHS has exclusive authority to choose not to bring removal proceedings against an individual.  In cases where an NTA has been issued and not filed with the court, that individual is not in removal proceedings and should remain eligible for the provisional waiver.  Removal proceedings continue until the immigration judge grants relief and terminates the case or the person departs the U.S. either under an order of voluntary departure or an order of removal.  In cases where there is a final order of removal, but the individual has not been removed yet, even though there are no more proceedings before the court, that individual is still “in proceedings” and would be ineligible for the provisional waiver.

Once a person is in removal proceedings, the provisional waiver rule is clear that those proceedings must be administratively closed or terminated before that individual can seek the provisional waiver.  Termination of removal proceedings can happen in one of two ways.  First, proceedings are terminated where the immigration judge grants relief, allowing an individual to remain in the U.S. in some sort of legal status.  Second, and this is the rarer form of termination, ICE may elect to terminate proceedings because it has decided that seeking removal in a particular case is no longer in the interests of the government.  Although the DHS has exclusive authority to issue and to decide whether to file a Notice to Appear in immigration court,  once proceedings have been initiated, DHS becomes a party to litigation and only the immigration judge has the authority to terminate removal proceedings.

Administrative closure is a tool of convenience for immigration courts.  Administrative closure allows the court to take a case off an active docket and place it into “hibernation.”

clipart_sleepingbearBy administratively closing a case, the case remains pending before the immigration court, but it is taken off the active calendar.  When a case is pending before the court, it is on an active calendar and at the end of each hearing another hearing must be calendared.  When a case has been administratively closed, it is not on any calendar and no hearings are scheduled.  The case remains before the court, but the court is not acting on the case.  In order to get the case back on the active docket, one of the parties must file a “motion to recalendar” the case.  Cases can be administratively closed for months or years at a time.  Either party may request administrative closure and the immigration judge has authority to grant it.  Until recently, the law required the concurrence of both the foreign national and the government to allow for administrative closure.  However, last year, in Matter of Avetisyan, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that an immigration judge may grant administrative closure over the objection of one of the parties.  In other words, DHS can not unilaterally deny the foreign national’s  ability to obtain administrative closure.

People currently in removal proceedings who would otherwise qualify for the provisional waiver can seek both termination and administrative closure.  We expect that ICE, who represents the government in removal proceedings, will be fairly accommodating to requests to terminate or administratively close cases where the foreign national can present a prima facie case for eligibility for the provisional waiver.  In these cases, your lawyer ought to prepare a motion to terminate or administratively close demonstrating that you qualify for the provisional waiver and that the pending removal proceedings are the only impediment.  These individuals should be able to demonstrate that they are the spouse, parent or children of a U.S. citizen and that their only violation of law relates to entering illegally.  By presenting evidence to the government of qualification for the provisional waiver and readiness to file it, it seems that ICE would exercise its discretion to administratively close the case to allow the applicant to file the provisional waiver application.  Upon approval, termination seems appropriate.  If the case is not approved, it is reasonable to expect that ICE would seek to recalendar the case and proceed with removal proceedings.  Should the government refuse to join a motion for administrative closure, the immigration judge has the authority under Matter of Avetisyan to close the case nonetheless upon the motion of the foreign national.

People with old orders of removal who have not yet departed the United States would need to reopen removal proceedings so that removal proceedings can be administratively closed or terminated.  This is a heavy lift.  If the removal order is more than 90 days old, a foreign national will, generally, need the government to agree to reopen for the purpose of closing.  Makes sense, right?  However, there may be circumstances where the hardship is so clear and extreme and the facts are so compelling that the government agrees to this.  By asking the government to join a motion to reopen, an individual with a final order of removal, who may or may not be on the government’s radar screen for removal, makes herself vulnerable to enforcement of the removal order should the government prove unwilling to join in reopening.  While there are limited circumstances in which an immigration judge can reopen on his own motion, those instances are rare and should not be, generally, relied upon.

Finally, people who have been deported or departed the U.S. under an order of voluntary departure or removal are ineligible for the provisional waiver and must seek the waiver through the traditional means at the consulate in their home country.

The provisional waiver has the potential to help thousands of people in removal proceedings.  Many of them may be waiting for hearings on cancellation of removal which requires a much higher level of hardship than the provisional waiver’s standard of extreme hardship.  It is not really conceivable that anyone can navigate this thicket without experienced counsel.  Visit us at BenachRagland.com or check with your local bar or the American Immigration Lawyers Association to find qualified attorneys to assist you.

 

Q&A on I-601A Provisional Waivers

11 Jan

The Citizenship & Immigration Service has released more information about the I-601A provisional waiver process set to begin on March 4.  The I-601A provisional waiver process is meant to allow the immediate relatives of United States citizens to seek a waiver of inadmissibility due to unlawful presence while in the United States and prior to departing the U.S. for an interview at a U.S. consulate abroad.  Under the previous procedure for seeking this waiver, an immigrant would have to depart the United States to seek the waiver, subjecting himself to the ten year bar on returning.  The immigrant could apply for the waiver, which could take up to two years to be approved.  However, if it were not approved, the immigrant would be barred from returning for a period of ten years.  Understandably, few immigrants were willing to take this risk of separation from their family, homes and careers.  By allowing immigrants to seek the waiver in the United States prior to departing the U.S., the CIS procedural change will allow thousands of immigrants to regularize their status.

The newly released question and answer memo from the U.S. CIS helps clarify some of the legalese from the official regulations released on January 2, 2012.  So let’s talk procedure and, although this process applies to the children between 19 and 21 and the parents of U.S. citizens, we are going to focus on the spouses of U.S. citizens:

  1. First, you need an I-130 to be approved.  An I-130 immigrant petition is filed by a U.S. citizen on behalf of her foreign spouse.  The petition classifies the immigrant as the spouse of a citizen.  An I-130 petition is filed with the CIS and must be supported by evidence of a legal and bona fide marriage.  As of this moment, the CIS will deny petitions by same-sex married couples, but that does not necessarily mean that they should not file I-130s.  Currently, the CIS is taking between 6-9 months to adjudicate I-130 petitions.
  2. Once the I-130 is approved.  The CIS will send the approved petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) of the Department of State, which will initiate processing of an immigrant visa to be completed at the consulate in the home country of the foreign national spouse.  To be able to file an I-601A provisional waiver application, the immigrant must initiate the consular processing by paying the immigrant visa processing fee.
  3. Starting on March 4, 2013, immigrants with an approved I-130 petition by a U.S. citizen spouse who have paid the immigrant visa processing fees to the NVC may file applications for I-601A provisional waivers with the CIS.
  4. Individuals MAY NOT FILE for I-601A provisional waivers if the applicant is: (1)  inadmissible on other grounds (certain convictions, fraud, etc.); (2) in removal proceedings that have not been administratively closed; (3) outside the U.S.; (4) scheduled for a visa interview at a U.S. embassy abroad; or (5) an applicant for adjustment of status.
  5. I-601A provisional waiver applications have a filing fee of $585 plus the $80 biometric fee.
  6. Applicants must establish that the denial of a visa would cause their U.S. citizen relative extreme hardship.  Extreme hardship is defined as hardship going beyond that normally suffered by a family when there is prolonged separation.  In evaluating extreme hardship, adjudicators must look at the totality of the circumstances– health issues, emotional and psychological issues, financial issues, country conditions abroad, family ties in the U.S. and abroad.  There is no magic formula and each case must be evaluated on its own individual merits.  It is never enough to rely on generalities, but the particular hardship factors related to the individuals involved must be explored and presented.
  7. The filing of an application for I-601A provisional waiver will not provide any interim benefits such as employment authorization, lawful status, or protection from removal.
  8. Upon approval of the I-601A provisional waiver, an applicant will have to travel abroad upon the scheduling of the visa interview and apply for the immigrant visa.  The approval of an I-601A provisional waiver does not guarantee visa issuance as the consulate may discover new ineligibility in the visa interview.  For this reason, applicants should consult counsel prior to filing for a waiver and certainly prior to traveling abroad.
  9. If the I-601A provisional waiver is denied, there is no direct appeal.  An applicant may file a motion to reopen or reconsider or file anew with additional evidence.  The applicant may also proceed abroad and apply for the waiver at the consulate abroad.
  10. The CIS will adhere to its latest guidance on the issuance of Notice to Appears regarding denied applications for waivers.  Under current policy CIS will not issue notices ot appear in removal proceedings unless there is evidence that the individual denied is an enforcement priority such as a convicted criminal, an individual who has committed immigration fraud or has a final order of removal.

Benach Ragland will be hosting a Live Question & Answer session online today at 2PM EST.  Please feel free to join us so we can answer your questions.

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10 Facts About the New Provisional Waiver Process

2 Jan

Today, the USCIS  finally published the much-awaited rule on the unlawful presence waiver (I-601A), which will take effect on March 4, 2013.  We previewed this development in this blog in October 2012.

This is an enormous development.  The so-called stateside waiver process will allow thousands of immigrants to take the steps to regularize their immigration status.  The new waiver provisions do nothing to change the substantive requirement that an immigrant demonstrate that the denial of her permanent residence would cause extreme hardship to her U.S. citizen spouse or parent, but do eliminate the risk of long-term separation that has always been required to even seek the waiver.  By relocating decision-making of waivers to the United States and allowing immigrants to seek them in advance of their departure for their home country, this new regulation should reduce the numbers of immigrants without status in a humane way that honors family relationships.

The new waiver process will allow the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while they are still in the United States and before they leave to attend their immigrant visa interview abroad. Under the old rule, applicants who are not eligible to adjust status in the U.S. to become lawful permanent residents must leave the U.S. and obtain an immigrant visa and unlawful presence waiver abroad. The current process involved a long wait and a lot of uncertainty as the applicant had to prove extreme hardship to U.S. citizen parent or spouse in order to win a waiver for unlawful presence to get back to the United States. The new process is intended to reduce the reluctance of non-citizens who may wish to obtain a green card through their marriage to U.S. citizens or relationship to a U.S. citizen parent, because the applicant would no longer be deterred by lengthy separation and uncertainty of success imposed by the process.

Under the new rule, an applicant must meet all of these requirements to qualify for the waiver:

  • Applicant must be present in the U.S. at the time they file for the waiver;
  • Applicant must prove hardship to U.S. citizen spouse or parent;
  • Applicant must be barred from readmission based only on unlawful presence in the U.S. and have no other grounds of inadmissibility;
  • Applicant must be a beneficiary of an approved immediate relative petition;
  • Applicant must have a case pending with the Department of State based on the approved immediate relative petition and paid the immigrant visa processing fee;
  • Applicant must depart from the United States to obtain the immediate relative immigrant visa; and
  • Applicant must be able to prove extreme hardship to her or his U.S. citizen spouse or parent.

After reading through the 148-page rule, here are a few things you should know about the new process:

  • The provisional waiver is limited to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who can prove extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen:

Applicants for the waiver must be able to prove extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse of parent. The extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse or parent is a discretionary determination based on a totality of circumstances.

Many commentators argued for the provisional unlawful presence waiver to apply to certain additional family and employment based visa preferences. After all, the I-601 waiver is not limited to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. However, DHS justifies limiting the provisional waiver process to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens because immigrant visas are always available for this category as opposed to preference categories. The DHS also hopes that the new rule would also encourage long-term LPRs to naturalize, so that their spouses, parents and children under the age of 21 can become immediate relatives and also benefit from the process.

  • The waiver is limited to waiver for unlawful presence, and not other grounds of inadmissibility:

Non-citizens who have other grounds of inadmissibility besides unlawful presence are not eligible for this new process but may nonetheless be eligible for the waiver and ultimately, an immigrant visa, through the existing process.

  • The waiver is available to non-citizens in removal proceedings who have their proceedings administratively closed or terminated:

Non-citizens in removal proceedings should have their proceedings administratively closed or terminated and apply directly to the USCIS for the waiver. For cases that have been administratively closed, the non-citizen should seek termination AND receive termination before departure from the U.S. to avoid triggering other bars of inadmissibility. The waiver is unavailable to applicants who have received deferred action but have final orders of removal or other grounds of inadmissibility beyond unlawful presence. Individuals with final orders of removal should seek to have their proceedings reopened and then administratively closed, in order to apply for the waiver with USCIS.

  • Interviews still scheduled abroad:

Under the new process, immediate relatives who have already departed the United States must pursue their waiver from abroad. Also, immediate relatives who are still in the U.S. must still depart the U.S. for the consular immigrant visa process. However, the immediate relatives who are in the U.S. can apply for the provisional waiver from within the United States and wait until it has been approved to depart the country so that they do not face lengthy separation from their families.

Non-citizens who have already been scheduled for their immigrant visa interviews at consulates abroad are ineligible for the provisional unlawful waiver process. However, if the DOS scheduled the immigrant visa interview after the publication of the final rule, the non-citizen can apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver. An individual can also qualify for the waiver process in the U.S. if she or he has a new immigrant visa cases because DOS terminated the immigrant visa registration associated with the previous interview and they have a new immediate relative petition filed by a different petitioner.

  • The waiver is not limited to first-time filers:

The filing of the provisional unlawful presence waiver is not limited to those filing for the first time as DHS agrees that the one-time filing limitation that was initially proposed was too restrictive. Rather, when an applicant’s waiver has been denied or withdrawn, the applicant can file a new waiver with the appropriate fees. This is especially pertinent to cases where circumstances have changed since the first filing or the first filing was done through notarios or ineffective assistance of counsel.

  • Who is not eligible?

USCIS  has specifically stated that the following non-citizens would be ineligible for a waiver:

  1. Applicants under the age of 17
  2. Applicants subject to other grounds of inadmissibility
  3. Applicants who have already scheduled an immigrant visa interview abroad before the publication of this rule
  4. Applicants who do not have an immigrant visa pending with the Department of State, based on the approved immediate relative petition and have not paid the immigrant visa processing fee
  5. Applicants in removal proceedings, unless the proceedings are administratively closed
  6. Applicants subject to final orders of removal
  7. Applicants with pending applications to USCIS for adjustment of status
  • No non-removability clause:

For individuals who are denied a waiver, DHS will follow the NTA issuance policy in effect at the time of adjudication  This means that individuals whose waiver request is denied or who withdraw before final adjudication will only be referred to ICE for removal proceedings if he or she is considered a removal priority by the agency, such as having a criminal history, engaging in fraud, misrepresentation, national security or public safety threat.

  • No appeal process:

There is no appeal for denial of an I-601A waiver. However, in the event of denial, there are several alternate avenues such as filing a new form I-601A with the required fees or filing a form I-601 after attending the immigrant visa interview abroad and after the department of State determines that the individual is inadmissible. The I-601 can be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Office of CIS.

  • No right to employment authorization or parole upon the filing of a waiver:

A pending or approved provisional waiver does not create lawful immigration status, extend an authorized period of stay or protect non citizens from removal or grant any other immigrant benefit such as employment authorization or advance parole.

  • Filing fees for the process will be $585, plus a biometrics fee of $85.

There are no fee waivers available for the process.

The new procedure does not take effect until March 4, 2013.  Before filing any waiver application, it is advisable that you consult with an immigration lawyer.

Indifference

13 Dec

 

It is very true that the immigration laws need a wholesale revision.  Congress needs to make substantial changes, regulations need to be re-written, precedent decisions scrapped and new guidance forthcoming.  But another change is needed and this change may the hardest of all.  It is a change of attitude within the agencies.  We have written in this space on multiple occasions about the hostility that elements within ICE have for their political leadership and the “culture of no” within CIS has been well-documented.  However, less reported is the blase indifference that many civil servants within the agency take toward the people affected by the way they go about their jobs.

Here is where I am supposed to say that the majority of the people who work for the immigration agencies are hard-working, well-intentioned people laboring under tremendous workloads and inadequate resources.  I am supposed to say that those who are indifferent to the human lives in the case before them are far outnumbered by the valiant majority who struggle against the bureaucratic odds to make a difference.  Sorry, but I can not say that.  I have to say that indifference is the default and care and compassion and vigor are the exception.  Such virtues do exist within the immigration agencies, but they are rarely on display.  Initiative and “going the extra mile” are snuffed out like weeds in those Round-Up commercials.  The overwhelming majority simply have little concern for the people affected by the way they do their jobs.  Immigration reform will be incomplete unless it addresses this problem as the power of clerks and administrative staff to harm the interests of immigrants remains immense.

Let’s focus on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Immigration Court system.  Here are just a couple of things that have happened to us in the past few months that show how bureaucrats affect people’s lives by the way they do their jobs:

  • Client was detained by ICE.  ICE said that he was subject to mandatory detention.  We wanted to argue to the Judge that he was not.  We filed a request for a bond hearing, which is a matter of right, on October 24.  The case was not scheduled until November 27, five weeks after we filed.  This meant that our client had to sit in jail for an additional five weeks after we asked for his release before a judge could consider his claim that he should not be detained.  Five weeks is a long time to sit in jail when the law says you do not have to sit in jail.  The decision on when to give him a hearing was made by the Immigration Judge’s legal assistant.  No doubt she was reacting to limits on how many cases a judge can hear on any given day, but the harm of the judge hearing one more case against an individual spending several weeks in jail ought to be considered.
  • Client was detained by ICE.  When ICE detains an individual that they are placing into removal proceedings, ICE must issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) charging the individual with removability.  ICE must file the NTA with the Immigration Court and the Court must schedule the hearing.  We requested bond.  Although the rules require the Court to schedule a bond hearing for any detained individual regardless of whether an NTA has been filed, the Court’s backlog in recording the filing of NTAs causes the staff to fail to schedule a bond hearing.  A hearing was finally scheduled 30 days after the client is taken into custody and the Judge orders release.
  • Client was scheduled for hearing on her application for cancellation of removal for 10/31/2012.  That hearing was set in December 2011.  Hurricane Sandy closed the Immigration Court that day and for several days afterwards.  Expecting that the court would reschedule the case once it reopened, we wished to inform the court that we did not need much time for a hearing.  In December 2011, the Court scheduled the case for three to four hours of time.  However, since then, we negotiated with ICE counsel and agreed that all issues in the case could be resolved in a hearing of an hour or less.  On November 15, 2012, we filed a motion letting the court know that we did not need much time, so that the Court could squeeze us in wherever it had time.  We made several calls to and left messages with the court’s clerical staff, none of which were returned.  We finally spoke with the legal assistant to the judge around December 1, who stated that she had not seen the motion and she would have to look for it, but that she was not going to stop what she was doing to do so.  If she found it and the Judge ruled on it, she would give us a courtesy call.  On December 4, 2012, we got the call- hearing on December 11!  However, on December 5, the rumors started flying- the cap on grants of cancellation of removal had been met and no cancellation grants could be made until October 1, 2013.  As these were just rumors, we went ahead with the hearing, traveling to another city to be there on December 11.  At the hearing the Judge informed us that, since there were no cancellation numbers, she could not and would not hold a hearing and we could come back in October 2013.  So many small acts of initiative could have made a difference here: (1) the clerk could have addressed the motion in a timely manner and we could have gotten on the calendar before  numbers ran out; (2) when numbers ran out, the court could have called and rescheduled knowing that we would have to travel to attend the hearing at substantial cost to the client.
  • They never call back.  Never.

These are problems that are not going to be addressed by legislation.  They require a wholesale change in attitude and a lesson in courtesy. This is not simply a problem of
“poor customer service.” I hate the idea of customer service in a government agency. I think they owe us MORE than a business owes its customers. We are citizens, we are a polity and they are our government. They derive their authority from us. A business derives its income from us, which it can choose to accept or not. Citizen vis-a-vis government is entitled to more respect and deference than a Slurpee-buying sap at a Seven-Eleven.  Homer_and_Apu

These problems require an understanding that immigration detention is a serious deprivation of liberty that must be limited in duration and for the most serious matters.  A culture must grow within the Immigration Court that anything that unnecessarily prolongs detention is to be avoided and that resources will be provided to ensure that immigrants have access to prompt hearings.  Employees of the court system must be trained to recognize that they should do all they can to ensure that detained individuals have access to process.  A person is charged with murder is put in front of a magistrate judge within 24 hours who sets bail (or not).  A person charged with overstaying a visa is often detained for weeks before he gets review of his detention.  How does that system make sense?

This post was mostly cathartic.  Future posts will explore some of the legal underpinnings of the immigration detention regime.  For example, a U.S. Supreme Court decision many years ago said that removal proceedings are civil and not criminal and many criminal procedural protections are, therefore, unavailable in removal proceedings.  Given the militarization of the border and the use of detention during removal proceedings, we wonder how much of that flawed doctrine still can stand.