Tag Archives: Dream Act

Why has my case been transferred to California?

4 Mar

California

Recently, the Citizenship & Immigration Service sent out thousands of notices to people with applications pending notifying them that their application has been transferred to the California Service Center.   Many DACA applicants with applications pending in the Vermont Service Center received this notice as did many individuals with applications for adjustment of status.  Clients often called, panic-stricken, and ask “what does it mean??”

Quite simply, it means that there was an imbalance in the workload between the two Service Centers.  There were too many applications for the adjudicators in Vermont and too many adjudicators in California with time on their hands.  So, CIS shifted some applications from Vermont to the less busy California Service Center.  That’s it.  Workload allocation and management.  Nothing sinister or foreboding.  CIS periodically makes such adjustments between Service Centers and always causes some anxiety on behalf of applicants.  It only means that the transferred case has a better chance of being resolved more quickly than it did if it sat idle in an overburdened office.

So, relax.  It’s California, after all.

Hey FAU! Drop GEO!

20 Feb

geo-group-splash-13

Yesterday, after receiving a gift of $6 million, Florida Atlantic University announced that it was renaming its stadium “The Geo Group Stadium,” after the for-profit prison company, best known for operating detention facilities on behalf of Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  It is remarkable that any university would name a stadium after a prison company, but simply stunning that Florida Atlantic University, which sits in South Florida, a community that has been decimated by the overuse of civil immigration, would be so tone deaf as to think this was a good idea.  Although $6 million can certainly affect one’s “hearing,” FAU’s renaming of its stadium displays a failure of a university’s most cherished obligation, to empower students to make intelligent, ethical and moral decisions in a complex world.

FAU is a public school with over 30,000 students and boasts that 44% of its students are “minority or international students.”  Twenty-three percent of FAU students identify as “Asian” or Latino.”  And FAU sits in Southern Florida, where GEO operates a notorious link in the immigration gulag, the Broward Transitional Center, in FAU’s hometown of Boca Raton.

Universities have long been at the forefront on civil and human rights issues.  Universities nurtured the civil rights movement, the women’s and gay liberation efforts.  Universities divested from South Africa during apartheid and universities have led the charges against foreign sweatshops that made apparel sold in college bookstores.  And it is no surprise that universities have been actively involved in the immigrant rights movement.  Leading educators have stood up for the DREAM Act, have supported efforts to get individuals out of detention and deportation proceedings, and have led urgency to the need for a better system for employment-based immigration.  So, why would FAU accept a donation and so prominently highlight a company who makes it profits off the maintenance of an immigration detention apparatus that is morally dubious if not downright repugnant?

The GEO Group operates 73,000 “beds,” but it is not the Best Western.  “Beds” is corrections-speak for “places where detainees can try to sleep.”  It has a ignominious track record.  Before they were GEO, they were they were the Wackenhut Correctional Corporation.  British journalist Greg Palast wrote of Wackenhut’s operation of private prisons in New Mexico, “New Mexico’s privately operated prisons are filled with America’s impoverished, violent outcasts — and those are the guards.”  The Wackenhut name was so tarnished with scandal that the board changed the name in 2003.   Yet, transforming the way that they did business was much more elusive. Some of GEO’s greatest hits include:

In addition, the GEO groups lobbies for punitive immigration laws and resists efforts to introduce more discretion for judges to release detained individuals.  After all, the trough must be refilled.  It has a very cozy relationship with ICE.  Just last week, we learned that a former ICE bureaucrat David Venturella, who had some ambitious ideas about pumping up removal numbers, has left ICE for his payday at GEO.  The revolving door between government and for profit incarceration is quite lucrative for ICE bureaucrats, but there is no such door for detainees.

It is simply stunning that a university would agree to name a stadium after this behemoth.  It is especially galling in South Florida, where brave immigrant activists Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez infiltrated the Broward Transitional Center to document abuses and conditions.  Would FAU name their stadium after the Bushmaster assault rifle? Or after Phillip Morris (rebranded as Altria)?  No university in their right mind would ever be associated with such corporate pariahs.  The goal for immigrants rights communities is to make the name of GEO as toxic as those names.  The devastating impact that GEO has had on the immigrant community in South Florida simply makes it an unacceptable choice for naming rights at a stadium.  Especially one in South Florida.  FAU must know that GEO is as much a pariah as gun manufacturers and cigarette pushers.  How many FAU students have been detained by GEO?  How many FAU student’s parents and loved ones languished in GEO’s dungeons?  How many kids never got a chance to attend a football game because GEO got them first?

Dream Activist has started a petition.  Please sign.  Please share on all your networks.  While FAU may be intoxicated with GEO’s money, they need to be reminded that their community or “customers” reject GEO’s profiteering on detention misery.

Immigration Reform 2013: The President’s Plan

1 Feb

What a week it has been.  There has been more positive discussion of immigration reform in the last week than in the past decade and while none of it is perfect, it is a huge improvement over Mitt Romney endorsing self-deportation and SB 1070.  Hard to believe that that was just six months ago.  In the past week, there has been two major comprehensive overhaul plans, word of a third, and the introduction of independent bills that would make discrete but needed improvements to the system.  We will lay out the basics on all these developments in the next few posts.  And we’ll start with the President, not just because he is President, but because it is the better plan.

The President’s Plan focuses on four major areas of reform: (1) continuing to strengthen border security; (2) cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers; (3) earned citizenship; and (4) streamlining legal immigration.

Border Security

The President’s plan will continue the militarization of the border.  The President’s plan talks a lot about working with local communities and foregoing governments to combat transnational crime.  It goes without saying that by creating a legal and efficient immigration system, immigration reform will allow the Border Patrol to focus on the criminal gangs operating in the border region.  We have said it before and will say it again: the lack of a reasonable immigration policy is the biggest reason for illegal immigration.

Adam Serwer reports on immigration and he wrote: “[T]he fact is that enforcement can only do so much to deter illegal immigration, because those seeking a better life will brave ever more dangerous obstacles to get here. What’s needed is an immigration system that allows enough people in to work so that people think they have a decent enough chance to get here that risking their life to do so isn’t worth it.” The President’s plan seems to get this even as it talks about more Border Patrol resources.  We will not spend a lot of time discussing the technology and resources being thrown at the border.  The border is more secure than ever and the immigration enforcement agencies have a budget in excess of $18 billion, yet everyone wants to throw more money at it.  As immigration and immigrant rights and not the budget are our focus, we will leave these matters to the budget hawks.

Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers

The President came into office promising to end the Postville-style raids that rounded up hundreds of immigrants who were doing nothing more than working.  He has largely stuck to that promise and has devoted his employer verification efforts to identifying employers who are violating documentation requirements.  For example, a couple of years ago, there was a lot of news about ICE actions against Chipotle for hiring undocumented workers.  While the ICE action resulted in many immigrants losing their jobs, they were not put through an expedited criminal-deportation program as occurred in Postville.  We have heard of very few cases of individuals placed into removal proceedings for being on Chipotle’s payroll.

The President’s plan will include phased-in nationwide use of E-Verify.  E-Verify is the online verification system to let employers know if documents presented for employment authorization are bona fide.  It is already required by several states and required of employers with federal contracts.  E-Verify is coming nationwide and seems to be one of the prices paid for immigration reform.

Earned citizenship

It is the earned citizenship portion that we are most interested.  The President’s program will require undocumented individuals to come forward and register.  Applicants would have to undergo biometrics and a background check and “pay fees and fines” to receive temporary status.  This temporary status seems little more than a work permit and the security of knowing that you will not be removed.  DACA is a good indicator of what this might look like.  Then, once the line has been cleared, individuals would be able to seek residence.  It is unclear whether they will have a new means of seeking residence or whether they must use the extent process.  We have written before of the fallacy of the line and how tying meaningful change to “clearing” the line makes no sense.  “Going back to the end of the line” has become a political phrase, divorced from any meaning or reality and no one really believes that people will have to wait 25 years for the Filipino fourth preference to clear before people starting seeking residence.  Applicants for residence will be required to “pay their taxes, pass additional criminal background and national security check, register for Selective Service (for men between 18-26), pay additional fees and penalties and learn English and U.S. civics.”  It appears that the President’s program would create a new means to apply for residence rather than requiring immigrants to go through the current broken system.

The bill does exempt DREAMers and certain agricultural workers from the back of the line requirement.  The President’s plan seems to indicate that DREAMers would, well, get the DREAM Act, which would allow them to obtain residency through a new system. The President’s plan calls for strong administrative and judicial review procedures of legalization decisions.

Streamlining Legal Immigration

The President also addresses future flows.  The plan states that it will increase the numbers of family based visas and allow the State Department to “recapture” unused visas.  In addition, employment-based visas would be more plentiful in an effort to alleviate the backlog in the employment based categories.   This has the potential to be a tremendous improvement as the backlogs are caused by the simple economic principle that demand exceeds supply for immigrant visas.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that unused visas are “lost” at the end of the year.  So, there are currently too few visas and the government is failing to distribute all of them.  The question is whether the President’s program would create sufficient visas and efficiencies to meaningfully address the backlog.

The President’s plan promises “to staple green cards to the advanced degree diplomas of STEM graduates” who are going to work in their field in the U.S.  STEM refers to graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  This is a terrific idea that has very widespread support.  It is widely acknowledged that the U.S. needs to do a better job of providing a fast track to residence for STEM graduates.  As conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in today’s New York Times: “Because immigration is so attractive, most nations are competing to win the global talent race. Over the past 10 years, 60 percent of nations have moved to increase or maintain their immigrant intakes, especially for high-skilled immigrants.  The United States is losing this competition. We think of ourselves as an immigrant nation, but the share of our population that is foreign-born is now roughly on par with Germany and France and far below the successful immigrant nations Canada and Australia. Furthermore, our immigrants are much less skilled than the ones Canada and Australia let in. As a result, the number of high-tech immigrant start-ups has stagnated, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship.”

The President also proposes a vibrant “start-up visa” to provide residence to foreign nationals who start businesses and create jobs in the U.S. and would expand the immigrant investor visa classification.  It would also create a new visa for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.

Other important parts

  • The President’s program recognizes that the immigration court system is underfunded and hopelessly backlogged.  The plan discusses additional funding for the immigration court system.  Additional funding for additional judges and support personnel could go a long way to easing procedural hurdles and pressures that often result in quick orders of removal.
  • The President’s program states “The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence.  It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.”
  • Finally, the President’s plan also makes clear that the same-sex partners and spouses of American citizens and permanent residents will be treated equally under immigration law.

Comments

We think, overall, that the President’s program is very good.  There are reasons that we are reluctant to pronounce it as “excellent.”  We would like to see a greater commitment to restoring due process to the immigration courts, restoring discretion to immigration judges, and an effort to re-balance the grotesque overreaction that has allowed so many permanent residents with minor and ancient crimes to be locked up and deported without any chance to explain to a judge that they should be allowed to remain.  We would like the plan to abandon the meaningless “back of the line” language.  We would prefer more full-throated defense of asylum and the need to keep families together.

However, there is much to like in the President’s program.  The inclusion of GLBT families into immigration reform is a big deal and we applaud it.  In addition, we like the increase in visa numbers, which might render the “back of the line” garbage moot.  And we like that the President has made a path to earned citizenship an essential part of his plan.  Too many of us have been afraid that we would get an enforcement heavy bill that does little to benefit immigrants.  We do not see a lot of new enforcement here and we see several benefits.

Next post, we will address the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” plan and the reasons we feel that the President’s program is better.

The Immigration Industrial Complex

9 Jan

5a6cb_man-shocked-at-billThe Migration Policy Institute recently released a study documenting that the U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, dwarfing the $14 million spent on other federal law enforcement agencies. The FBI, the DEA and the ATF, combined, received $14 billion.  Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s budget, alone, is $6 billion.  Something is seriously out of whack here.

None of this is surprising to immigration attorneys.  ICE runs a gulag archipelago of detention centers across the country, holding immigrants who have overstayed visas, entered without inspection, seek asylum, and  committed minor offenses.  ICE has continued to push in the federal courts for expansive definitions of mandatory detention, even if it means detaining people for offenses committed decades ago.  In 2011, ICE detained over 429,000 people, more than any other single government entity.  More than the Bureau of Prisons, the States of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.  ICE operates in its own jails, rents out space at local jails and contracts with private companies like the GEO corporation to manage this enormous population.  In addition, ICE has contracts with BI Incorporated to monitor individuals with final orders of removal.  This often involves ankle bracelets with GPS, telephonic and in-person reporting.  BI officials also monitor an individual’s efforts to obtain passports and plane tickets to depart the U.S. under an removal order.  In other words, they do ICE’s job.  And, frankly, they are pretty good at it.  Over 400,000 removals in 2011 shows how good BI is.  If budget hawks are serious about making government run like a business, how about saving money by eliminating the middleman?

The large budgetary excess for immigration enforcement also provides an explanation for the massive ICE resistance to immigration reform.  After all, if undocumented youth are getting DACA rather than being detained and deported, bed spaced is being underutilized and removals may go down.  In our current economic environment, it won’t be long before some budget-cutting legislator begins to question the excess of the the immigration enforcement budget.  If ICE were to exercise discretion and not detain and deport everyone that they possibly could, can they fulfill their contracts with the private companies that have built jails throughout the country.  If ICE were to take a more reasonable approach to enforcement, would they need to send out 20 agents before dawn to arrest four plumbers working a contract at Dulles because they are working on fake green cards?

The large amount of money at stake for immigration enforcement makes it clear that the efforts of some ICE bureaucrats to derail common-sense immigration reform is a result not of a principled belief in our national security and public safety, but rather to protect their exalted place at the public trough.

As we spend months debating the economic future of this country and what immigration reform will look like, it is worth contrasting the unproductive use of $18 billion tax dollars that ICE has commanded on an enforcement roid rage with the agreed-upon economic stimulus that would be provided by an immigration reform package.

The ACHIEVE Act is Introduced

27 Nov

Last week, we brought you news of the plans of certain Republican Senators to introduce an alternative to the DREAM Act.  Today, Senators Hutchinson (R-TX), Kyl (R-AZ) and McCain (R-AZ) introduced the ACHIEVE Act. The Senators held a press announcement to describe their new bill. They described it as the product of a year of work. Mercifully, there appears to have been some pressure to end their work and put forward a bill as, if they had continued to work, the bill and the process they propose would have become even more cumbersome than the three step process they have outlined.

In last week’s blog, we went over the ACHIEVE Act in detail. It is far more restrictive than the DREAM Act, open to far fewer people than DACA and a monument to bureaucratic obligation and inefficiency. Yet, there is something very revealing about the ACHIEVE Act. All three sponsors of the ACHIEVE Act voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. Its introduction in this lame duck session shows just how much the ground has shifted on immigration since the election. The Democrats should seize the initiative and bring forward the DREAM Act and let the debate begin. The ground has shifted and the Republicans are playing defense on this issue right now. Now, in the lame duck session, is the time to get DREAM done, as the preface to bigger reform in the next Congress.

My Trip to the White House to Discuss Immigration Reform

21 Nov

In Washington, we have very hot summers without a real beach to beat the heat.  Our winters can be wet, sloppy messes or we can get pounded with multiple snow storms in a city completely unprepared for more than three inches of snow.  Along with the occasional security scare, World Bank protest and Presidential motorcade, life in the Nation’s Capital can be challenging.  However, certain things make up for that.  I can see the Washington Monument from my window, the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial on the pool and the genuine devotion of DC area residents to ideas in the public sphere are some of them.

Last night, I had another opportunity to appreciate Washington life.  I received an invitation to attend a meeting at the Office of Public Engagement of the White House to discuss priorities for the Obama administration in the second term.  Now, I would have crossed continents and oceans for such an opportunity.  Luckily, all I had to do was take a short two-block walk on a lovely night and I was in the West Wing.  Amazingly, the security guards at the White House are far more relaxed and confident than the guards at your standard federal building.  Perhaps that was due to the President being on the other side of the earth.  Relieved that I got to keep my belt on, I entered the White House, with about seven other people– an impressive collection of people.  An ornate, inviting, and comfortable lobby awaits:

In the lobby, a TV blared Chris Matthews talking Benghazi non-stop.  It must be strange to sit all day in a lobby where national news is talking about your co-workers all day long.  I asked the receptionist if that grows tiresome and she told me that the TV is usually tuned to ESPN.  Good call.  We were welcomed into the White House by the lovely Rumana Ahmed, pictured below:

What a great impression of inclusion and American diversity and unity all at once to be welcomed to the White House by Rumana.

Prior to the meeting, I reached out to many Friends of Benach Ragland and asked for advice as to what specifically should be said about immigration.  Together, we came up with a wish list of immigration priorities, which grew to fifteen items.  Briefly, however, they settled on a restoration of judicial review over most immigration decisions, a generous waiver of most grounds of removability, reform of visa numbers to eliminate lengthy backlogs, DREAM Act, Permanent Partners, enhanced protection for minors, and increased ease in admitting highly educated immigrants.  I prepared my elevator speech to tell them what they needed to do on immigration.  However, it is well known military truism that the best strategy evaporates in the first seconds of battle.  The meeting grew in different ways and adaptation was necessary.

Rumana took us upstairs to meet Jon Carson.  We walked through the internal guts of the working White House and I was surprised to see people piled on top of each other, still working hard at 6:30 with the President in Cambodia.  The workspace was decidedly not plush.  Jon Carson is a super affable guy who oozes sincerity.  I learned that he has a son in Pre-K at my kids’ school, but, unfortunately, his son and my Pre-K son are in different classes!  Washington Living, again. 

He told us that the administration wanted to hear about what they can do better in the second term and how can they use the next four years to push progressive ideas.  Jon said that the two main immediate issues were the fiscal cliff and immigration.  He also mentioned the logistics of having to sign up millions of Americans for health insurance coverage.  The results of the election really dawned on me as the administration was planning the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Jon said that the theme of the second term of the Presidency would be “citizenship,” a theme the President highlighted at the Democratic National Convention.  We previously riffed on the meaning of citizenship as immigration lawyers, but, sitting in the White House talking about making policy and administrative moves that would affect the lives of millions of people, the active nature of the concept became clearer.  It is about creating closer ties of community with volunteers, schools, religious institutions and neighbors.  Naturally, therefore, the conversation turned to organizing.  Many observers have attributed the President’s victory to an organized workforce and volunteer system that delivered the vote and the participants in the meeting discussed how the Obama volunteer organization, Organizing for America, can be deployed not only in service of an election but also in service of progressive ideals.

As the discussion turned to immigration, I offered that some of the best organized and effective advocates are the undocumented youth who have created networks that have pushed immigration to the forefront.  Organizations like DreamActivist and United We Dream have regularly outpaced more traditional organizations in calling attention to immigration injustices.  Jon mentioned that only once has the President urged the public to contact Congress and that was during the debt ceiling fight last year.  That call to arms shut down the Capitol Hill switchboard.  I mentioned that undocumented youth are pretty good at shutting down switchboards and that, if the President came out strong for immigration reform, he would have formidable allies ready to work.  I told Jon that there was a lot of mistrust of the administration on immigration and that they needed to see strong Presidential leadership to get behind immigration reform.  Jon replied that the White House was well aware of the mistrust and expressed hope that DACA represented a turning point.

Jon wanted to know if immigration reform could be a rallying point for progressives for the long term.  Everyone in the room seemed to agree that it was.  Someone pointed out that no matter what their political persuasion, business supports immigration reform and immigration could be a way to begin to repair damage between the President and business community.  I offered that the important parts of the core of the President’s support of Latinos, Asians and women could be solidified with immigration reform.  Latinos would be Democrats for a generation with a generous immigration reform program – one that does not offer some simple and easy fixes while tightening enforcement, but one that recognizes that we have overdosed on enforcement and are in need to benefit reform.  More butter, less guns.  In addition, an appeal to women could be made if Michelle Obama met with U.S. citizen children whose parents have been deported.  The staggering human cost of enforcement on steroids needs to be examined.

This was not a meeting for detailed proposals about restoring 212(c) or eliminating the three and ten year bar.  Rather, it was big picture.  The White House is now preoccupied with the fiscal cliff.  The top legislative priority after fiscal cliff is settled is immigration.  I have no doubt that the White House recognizes the need for very strong Presidential leadership on the issue.  I tried to emphasize over and over again that reform cannot be left to the Congress and the President must guide and frame the discussion.  I also have little doubt that the President is starting from a very generous reform program.  Lastly, I can tell you that the White House is prepared to deploy all its resources on this.  This includes mobilizing the extensive volunteer network and the OFA system to build support for immigration reform.  Remember all those emails you got during the campaign asking for $17?  They are not going away.  Instead of asking you for $17, whoever, they will ask you to call Congress to ensure that generous common sense immigration reform is passed.

This is the best opportunity in a generation for sensible and humane immigration laws and the White House appears committed to doing it right.  I know that there are those of you who don’t trust the administration at all to do what is right on immigration.  And I will concede that the air of the White House may have clouded my judgment.  It is very hard to remain cynical and jaded in the White House.  I hope that you can put aside your cynicism and can dare to believe that, in the words of Sam Cooke, a change is gonna come. (watch below!)  What do you have to lose?

USCIS Issues New Guidance on DACA – Applications Open Tomorrow

14 Aug

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas and other senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials held a stakeholder conference call on Tuesday, August 14 at 1:00 pm (Eastern) to discuss Secretary Janet Napolitano’s June 15 memorandum. In accordance with the Secretary’s memorandum, USCIS will begin accepting requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals on August 15, 2012. During the teleconference, Director Mayorkas provided an overview of the process by which certain young people who came to the United States as children may request deferred action, provided details on the forms to be submitted, and answered questions from interested parties. Additional information on the announcement can be found here:

1. Filing Process

Starting August 15, individuals will be able to submit I-821(D), the Application for Deferred Action. Individuals filing Form I-821D must also file Form I-765Application for Employment Authorizationand Form I-765WS, Form I-765 Worksheet. The forms will have the addresses of where to file the application. USCIS will inspect if all required documents have been submitted and if the application is complete, USCIS will send an I-797 receipt of notice. Then, USCIS will ask individuals to visit an application support center for biometrics. Insufficient evidence will result in an RFE or an interview. Individuals will receive decision of their application in writing and also separately receive a work permit. Mayorkas says that individuals would be able to check the status of their applications online and that the process will take several months.

2. Education

To be considered currently in school, you must be enrolled in public or private elementary school, middle school or high school OR be in an education, literary or career training program that leads to placement in post-secondary education, job training or employment. This means individuals in GED programs will be eligible to apply as they are currently in school. Circumstantial evidence will not be accepted in relation to proving that you are currently in school or have completed education requirements already.

3. Confidentiality

USCIS says that it will not share with ICE any information that is submitted about parents or guardians in relation to the application for the purpose of initiating removal proceedings. But that information may be shared with national security matters, including ICE and the CBP.

4. Age

Individuals who are not yet 15 and not in removal proceedings will be able to request deferred action when they turn 15. Currently, there is no deadline for the application period.

5. Final Orders of Removal

Individuals with final orders of removal should file for deferred action with USCIS and see if they are granted. They can then follow-up with ICE Office of Chief Counsel to vacate the order.

6. Criminal Convictions

Expunged convictions will be treated on an individualized basis.

Forms are available on the deferred action for childhood arrivals program on http://uscis.gov/childhoodarrivals

To schedule a low-cost consultation to determine your eligibility for deferred action with Benach Ragland LLP, please call (202) 644 8600 for an appointment.