Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

We are Benach Collopy!

28 Jan

You’re still here?  We moved a year ago!  Well, there is a lot to catch up on!  Read this and then go to BenachCollopy.com.

We are extremely excited to announce that Benach Ragland LLP is now Benach Collopy LLP as Thomas Ragland departs the firm at the end of January 2016. Partners Ava Benach, Dree Collopy and Jennifer Cook will continue to practice immigration law the only way we know how: strongly committed to achieving the goals of Benach Collopy clients and advancing the rights of immigrant communities. At the same time, we express our most sincere gratitude and affection for Thomas Ragland.

We are excited for this new direction in our practice. Benach Collopy LLP recognizes the enormous contributions of Dree Collopy, who has been with Benach Ragland since its earliest days. She is the author of the Asylum Primer, published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), which is the most important resource on asylum law in the United States. In addition, she chairs AILA’s Asylum Committee, helping the organization set its national position on asylum related matters, from legislation to advocacy to litigation. Finally, Dree also teaches immigration advocacy to law students at Catholic University. Jennifer Cook and Ava Benach, along with associate attorney Adi Nuñez will round out the attorneys at Benach Collopy. Familiar faces of paralegals Satsita Muradova and Liana Montecinos will be available to keep clients taken care of at all times. And we will continue to brew the best cup of coffee in town.

Benach Ragland was founded to provide the highest quality of legal services to immigrants and to be an important part of the struggle for immigrant rights. That mission does not change as we become Benach Collopy. We continue to share those values that defined our careers from the beginning and opened Benach Ragland nearly four years ago. Our goals, mission and approach to the practice of law remain the same and we look forward to the honor of continuing to work for and with you at Benach Collopy.

Now, I (Ava) am going to get personal.

Thomas Ragland and I have been partners for over ten years and have shared the most significant achievements lawyers can ever hope for. From changing national policies on the length of certain background checks to getting individuals released from detention to winning security and stability for thousands of clients and their families, we pursued justice for clients while sharing many more triumphs than setbacks. During this decade, between us, we have had four children, mourned the deaths of beloved mentors and partners Michael Maggio and Roberta Freedman, worked alongside great lawyers like Denyse Sabagh and provided springboards to a new generation of lawyers, who have gone on to do tremendous things in immigration law. We have seen clients become friends and go on to achieve wonderful victories, both great and humble. And we got to do it alongside each other as partners and friends. Although that partnership ends this month, the friendship does not.

 

In law, you never know if the person that walks into your waiting room is bringing you the case that defines your career. And you may not realize that that moment has happened until years later. That is what happened with Thomas’ practice. Some time ago, clients contacted Thomas that set his practice onto a different and exciting path, one that grew difficult to accommodate in a firm of our size. This path had Thomas flying around the world working on problems of the thorniest nature and it became increasingly clear that Thomas needed the resources of a bigger firm to provide a wider breadth of services to his clientele. Thomas can be found at Clark Hill, PLC.  All of us at Benach Collopy wish him the best of luck and a hearty abrazo.

Image

Scenes from the Immigration Bar: An Immigration Reform Carol

24 Dec

Immigration Reform Carol

Federal Court Victory for Hospital Staffing Services Company

10 Dec

hospital

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Public Meetings with Benach Ragland

5 Dec

Schedule

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

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

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

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

GMU, FX CAMPUS

Office of Diversity, Inclusion and

Multicultural Education (ODIME)

Fairfax Campus

4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA. 22030

SUB I Suite 2400

 

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

ALEXANDRIA, JESUS ES EL KYRIOS CHURCH

5730 General Washington Drive, 2nd Floor

Alexandria, VA. 22312

 

MONDAY, DEC 8, 6PM-8PM

Holy Trinity Church

McKenna Center, 3513 N. St., NW

Washington, DC

 

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

SHIRLINGTON BRANCH LIBRARY-CAMPBELL ROOM

4200 Campbell Ave.

Arlington, VA. 22206

 

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

DC SOUTHWEST LIBRARY

900 Wesley Place, S.W.

Washington, D.C.

202-724-4752

 

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

DC MOUNT PLEASANT LIBRARY

3160 16TH St. N.W

Washington, D.C.

202-671-3121

 

THURSDAY DECEMBER 18, 7:00PM-8:30PM  

ARLINGTON CENTRAL LIBRARY- AUDITORIUM

1015 N. QUINCY ST.

Arlington, VA. 22201

 

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

WILLISTON MULTICULTURAL CENTER

6131 WILLISTON DR.

Falls Church, VA. 22044

 

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

Holy Korean Martyrs Catholic Church

5801 Security Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21207

Blue Room

 

More will be added.  See you soon!

Early Details of Executive Action

20 Nov

s1.reutersmedia.netThe President spoke to the nation tonight to reveal his long-awaited plan to reform immigration laws to the extent that his authority allows him.  Those who have watched and waited had a number of questions answered even before the President took the lectern.  The biggest announcement is that the President will extend deferred action eligibility to the parents of United States citizens or permanent residents who have been in the US. since January 1, 2010.  The biggest disappointment is that the President took no action to protect the parents of young people granted DACA. Applications for any benefit are not to be accepted until “early 2015.”

  1. Deferred Action for Parents of Citizens and Residents who have been in U.S. since January 2010.  Applicants will have to demonstrate that they have been here since that date, that they have paid taxes, that they pass criminal and national security  checks.  They must show that they are not an enforcement priority, which has been newly defined in this action.
  2. Expanded DACA eligibility.  Individuals who arrived in the U.S. prior to the age of 16 and prior to January 1, 2010, regardless of their current age, can seek DACA if they meet the educational and discretionary criteria.
  3. Enforcement Priorities.  The Morton Memo on enforcement priorities is being rescinded and a new comprehensive inter-agency memo will identify enforcement priroties whose removal will be sought and expedited.  The groups prioritized are as follows: (1) serious threats- suspected terrorists, those convicted of felonies, gang members, and recent entrants (after 1/1/14); (2) individuals convicted of significant or multiple misdemeanors (similar to the current DACA standards); (3) individuals who have ignored removal orders and re-entered the country after 1/1/14.
  4. Departure under advance parole will not generate unlawful presence inadmissibility.
  5. The I-601A Provisional Waiver will be extended to the spouses of permanent residents.
  6. The Extreme Hardship Standard will also be modified.
  7. Pre-registration for those with approved but not current immigrant petitions to give those waiting for priority dates access to work permits and advance parole as if they had already applied for adjustment of status.
  8. Guidance to the Citizenship and Immigration Service on L-1B Specialized Knowledge Professionals and National Interest Waivers for Entrepreneurs.
  9. Increased periods of work authorization through optional practical training.

Unfortunately, the President has not gone so far as to provide for deferred action for the parents of those granted DACA.  In addition, the President has shown no sign of letting up on his persecution of women and children arriving at our Southern border.

More details and analysis to come.

GUEST BLOG: GWU Law Clinic Victory in Domestic Violence Case! By Paulina Vera

10 Nov

Vera Blog PhotoThis blog post was written by Paulina Vera, a student at George Washington University Law School, who is part of the Law School’s outstanding immigration clinic.

On October 10, 2014, my client, S-G-L-, was granted asylum by Immigration Judge Paul W. Schmidt of the Arlington Immigration Court. S-G-L- fled Honduras in 2009 after her domestic partner attacked her with weapons and repeatedly beat and raped her. S-G-L- feared that her abuser would find her if she were to move elsewhere in Honduras and for that reason she made the decision to flee to the United States. Unfortunately, S-G-L- had to leave behind her 10-year-old daughter.

S-G-L-‘s hearing only lasted about ten minutes. But those ten minutes took years of preparation and I personally worked on the case for a little over three months. The GW Law Immigration Clinic first began to represent S-G-L- in the fall of 2011. However, because her hearing was rescheduled twice, S-G-L- had to wait years before appearing before the court.

Several of S-G-L-‘s former student attorneys attended her hearing. In fact, S-G-L- joked that she had never been surrounded by so many attorneys before. Their presence helped ease my nerves and I was reminded of just how lucky I was to have their support throughout the entire process. S-G-L-‘s former student-attorneys include Diane Eikenberry, Rachael Petterson, Denisse Velarde-Cubek, Gabriela Muñoz, Kelly Rojas, and Aimee Rider. They helped in many different ways, including putting together S-G-L-‘s affidavit, obtaining her work authorization, and gathering medical reports.

By the time I was assigned to S-G-L’s case, the main tasks left were to put together the pre-trial filing (PTF) and to represent S-G-L- at her individual hearing. My first challenge arose when I reviewed S-G-L-‘s approximately 30-page affidavit with her. Though I am fluent in Spanish, I found it difficult to find the right words to discuss the traumatic experiences S-G-L- had endured. As previously mentioned, S-G-L- had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her domestic partner. This was not a topic that I was used to talking about in Spanish. Thankfully, S-G-L- was incredibly patient with me. We were able to communicate by explaining concepts or words in several different ways and sometimes, even by using gestures.

I encountered another challenge in putting together the behemoth of a pre-trial filing. By the time I was done putting it together, it was a little under 300 pages, which is actually on the shorter side as far as Clinic PTFs go. There were so many details that I had to pay attention to at once – Did my cover letter succinctly and accurately explain why the elements of asylum were met? What information should I highlight in the table of contents? Was there enough information in the affidavit? Was there too much? In addition to all of these questions, I had to figure out all of those practical things you don’t learn in a law school classroom; for example, how to correctly number, copy, and file copies of the PTF to the Court and to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

However, the preparation for my direct examination was the biggest challenge I faced. I was understandably nervous going into the moot of my hearing but I struggled to push past those nerves even as the moot went on. I kept trying to ask what I thought would be the “perfect” question and I would pause all too often to think about what answer I was trying to elicit from my client. No matter what point of my client’s testimony we started at, I just could not seem to get the hang of it. By the end of the moot, I was frustrated and disappointed in myself.

The feedback I received from my supervisors and fellow student-attorneys after my moot helped tremendously. They reminded me that I had all the reason to be confident in myself – I had spent months preparing S-G-L-‘s case and knew the PTF backwards and forwards. My supervisors, Professor Alberto Benitez and Jonathan Bialosky, advised me that there was no such thing as the “perfect” question. They also reminded me that in immigration court, a direct examination was more conversational, so I should not force it so much. Previous student-attorney, Rachael Petterson – who was kind enough to play the role of Immigration Judge at my moot – told me that there was nothing wrong with the way I felt and she shared that she too felt the same frustrations at her first moot.

Ultimately, I did not hEOIRave to conduct my direct examination at S-G-L-‘s hearing. Yet I was ready for it. When I entered the courtroom on October 10th, I was still nervous, but no longer in a way that was debilitating. Keeping in mind all of the advice that had been given to me, I felt more confident at the actual hearing. These are lessons that I will certainly use in practice after I graduate.

Another lesson I learned in preparing for S-G-L-‘s hearing was the importance of working with the DHS trial attorney. A week before my hearing, I reached out to Ms. Jill Parikh to see if we could discuss any issues in the case. After she returned my call and outlined the various issues

she had flagged, my supervisors and I felt confident that those specific issues had been addressed by the PTF. Therefore, before the hearing I approached Ms. Parikh and asked her if she would be willing to move straight to her cross-examination, which she agreed to. After her brief cross-examination, Ms. Parikh did not oppose a grant of asylum.

At the hearing, I learned that winning asylum is also very much dependent on the adjudicator. Judge Schmidt carefully reviewed the pre-trial filing before the hearing and was familiar with the horrific facts of the case. After he granted S-G-L- asylum, he took the time to address S-G-L- and advised her to “do good things for [herself], her daughter, and the country that granted [her] refuge.” His words moved S-G-L- to tears and she repeatedly thanked him. He also reminded S-G-L- to thank her student-attorneys and Ms. Parikh. I am grateful for Judge Schmidt’s kind words regarding my pre-trial filing.

I am grateful to the GW Immigration Clinic for the opportunity to help S-G-L- seek safety in the United States. There are many people in my support system that I want to thank. I would like to thank my supervisors, Professor Benitez and Mr. Bialosky, who answered my many, many questions, set up moot hearings, and gave me invaluable feedback on my pre-trial filing and my hearing preparation. I would like to thank all of S-G-L-‘s prior student-attorneys for putting countless hours of work into this case and for being a comforting presence in the courtroom on the day of S-G-L-‘s hearing. Many thanks to my fellow student-attorneys as well for their encouragement and their willingness to help out at S-G-L-‘s moot hearing. I would like to thank Professor Maggs for observing the hearing and for his continued support of the work the Clinic does. Finally, I would like to give a big thank you to S-G-L- for being the best first client I could have asked for. S-G-L- suffered unimaginable persecution in her home country and I am inspired by her strength and her perseverance.

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.