Tag Archives: uscis

Some Provisional News on Provisional Waivers

22 Jul

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It has been four months since the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (CIS) began stateside adjudication of I-601A Applications for Provisional Waivers of inadmissibility due to unlawful presence.  In those four months, we have learned a few things about how U.S. CIS is implementing this new program.  Initially, the U.S. CIS has received over 7,000 I-601A provisional waiver applications.   Many have been already been decided and CIS states that it has a six month processing goal.

Many applications have already approved but a significant portion have been denied.  By far, the most common reason for denial is that the CIS found “reason to believe”  that a person might be found inadmissible by the consulate on a ground of inadmissibility other than unlawful presence.  As background, the provisional waiver is meant to waive unlawful presence for the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.  In regulations, the CIS stated that if an adjudicator has reason to believe that the consulate might find another ground of inadmissibility other than unlawful presence, the adjudicator should deny the application.  This has had the most obvious impact in cases where an FBI rap sheet shows that an applicant for a provisional waiver has been arrested.  Although not every arrest leads to inadmissibility, CIS appears to be taking the position that an arrest is sufficient “reason to believe” that a consulate might find inadmissibility on criminal grounds.  of course, this is highly over-inclusive.  Individuals are, generally, inadmissible due to convictions and not due to charges.  While many arrests do not result in convictions, the CIS approach treats many arrests as the equivalent of convictions.  Thus, even if a person is found to be not guilty of an offense, the fact that she was charged with a crime can be sufficient to create a “reason to believe.”  In addition, another situation in which the “reason to believe” standard frustrates the intentions behind the provisional waiver is where an individual is convicted of an offense that does not, under any circumstances, cause inadmissibility.  Not all convictions result in inadmissibility and certain convictions are very clearly and beyond a doubt not crimes which create inadmissibility.  The CIS is not entertaining arguments that the individual applicant is not inadmissible.  Rather, it is concluding that the bare fact of conviction is enough “reason to believe” that the consulate might find inadmissibility.  Thus, the CIS denies the provisional waiver, leaving the applicant and her U.S. citizen family members to the same Catch-22 they faced before the provisional waiver was introduced to eliminate that dilemma.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association and other advocacy groups have raised this issue in liaison meetings and have asked CIS to revisit this over-inclusive policy.

It appears that, for now, the provisional waiver should only be sought by those with no previous encounters with law enforcement or the immigration authorities.  While CIS has stated that those denied will, generally, not be referred to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) for removal proceedings, the filing of a provisional waiver is expensive and cumbersome process and one’s resources and hopes should only be spent where there is a realistic chance of success.  At this moment, we can not state that there is a realistic chance of success for those with any previous law enforcement contact, no matter how minor or insignificant.

CIS Bureaucrats Union Joins ICE Bureaucrats Union in Opposing Immigration Reform

23 May

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The day before the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the most significant piece of immigration legislation since 1996, the “President of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council, the union representing 12,000 United States Citizenship & Immigration Services adjudications officers and staff” sent a letter to Members of the United States Senate in opposition to the immigration reform bill under review in the Senate.  Despite claiming to be the “backbone of our nation’s immigration system,” the Union leadership complains that they were not consulted over the proposed immigration reform.  Had they been consulted, the union continues, it would have exposed, they claim, the gross politicization and overbearing pressure to approve applications and petitions by individuals who present a danger to the public or a threat to national security.  The letter is so full of inaccuracies, half-truths, and overly dramatic claims that the best way to address it is to address each of their points in turn.

“USCIS adjudications officers are pressured to rubber-stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation.  The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications. USCIS has been trued into an “approval machine.””

No one who spends any time dealing with immigration would recognize this statement.  The agency has been criticized repeatedly for encouraging a “culture of no.”  This criticism is not limited to the “immigration advocates,” but by businesses throughout the U.S.  But let’s not mess with anecdotes.  Numbers and facts matter here.  A look at CIS’ own statistics for January 2013, shows that approvals went up by 7% and denials went down by 8% from January 2012 to January 2013 for applications other than citizenship.  Well, that does seem to bear out an increased approval rate over the course of a year, but, perhaps, not enough to call it an “approval machine,” especially with 2.3 million non-citizenship cases in the pipeline.  But that pattern does not hold up in the citizenship context.  Between January 2012 and January 2013, approvals of applications for citizenship went up by 13% and denials went up by 54%!  Wow, that is a big increase in denials of a serious application.  Granted, this is just one month worth of statistics, but that is one month more than the CIS union leadership offered.  And whether this trend is sustained over several months, it seems reasonable to state, that CIS has become an approval machine in the last year or so.  In addition, the National Foundation for American Policy issued a report last year that concluded that “USCIS adjudicators have demonstrated a capacity to keep skilled foreign workers out of the United States by significantly increasing denials, along with often time-consuming Requests for Evidence, despite no change in law or relevant regulations between 2008 and 2011.”  The statistics and experiences of foreign nationals, their families and lawyers who regularly deal with the USCIS, know that the agency is far from rubber-stamping and is closer to a delay, doubt and deny machine than an approval machine.

“USCIS has created an almost insurmountable bureaucracy which often prevents USCIS adjudications officers from contacting and coordinating with ICE agents and officers in cases that should have their involvement.  USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals that ICE has determined should be placed into removal proceedings.”

The union will get no argument that USCIS is an “almost insurmountable bureaucracy,” but coordination with ICE officers does not seem to be a problem.  Every immigration lawyer knows that if they take someone with an order of removal into CIS, for benefits that the law entitles them to, that they can expect that ICE will be waiting with handcuffs.  In addition, we know of lots of occasions where a person has been arrested and placed into removal proceedings because of information revealed in their applications to USCIS.  Many lawful permanent residents who are subject to removal are identified by CIS and ICE because of applications they file with the CIS and not due to excellent detective work by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  Finally, the visa applications that the CIS officers “are pressured to approve” for removable individuals are usually family based petitions, which they may use to apply for adjustment of status before the immigration court in removal proceedings.  Under the law, a CIS officer has no cause to determine an individual’s removability on an immigrant petition as it is not germane to the petition.  All that a CIS adjudicator is supposed to determine in such instances is whether the family relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary exists.  What the union seems to be complaining about is that they are being told to follow the law and not bring extraneous matters into their adjudications.

“USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that , in accordance with the law, should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices to Appear.  In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer’s request.  Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as USCIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.”

It appears that the union is unhappy that some of its members do not have authority to place an individual into removal proceedings.  The ability to initiate removal proceedings is an awesome exercise of the state’s law enforcement authority.  Not all officers are given that power and that is the way it should be.  Many CIS-issued NTAs are often defective and waste the resources of the immigration court and the ICE trial attorneys, to say nothing of the immigrant.  It is reasonable for the CIS, whose mission is only secondarily law enforcement, to restrict that authority to the more senior personnel.

“The attitude of the USCIS management is not that the agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States or public safety and national security, but that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys that represent them.  While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups- to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission.”

If we and our clients are being served, allow us to register some complaints.  To enter a CIS office, we have to remove our coats and belts.  However, before we even get in, we must line up outside regardless of how hot, wet or frigid it may be.  Once we have reassembled our attire, we are directed to another line to demonstrate that we have a legitimate purpose to be in the building.  After the individual sitting in the “triage” chair allows us to proceed to the interview room, we turn in the appointment notice and have a seat.  Waits of over an hour are not uncommon until an officer appears in the door and shouts out a name.  We enter the interview with the client and have been told on more than one occasion that we, the attorneys, are to sit behind the client and not to sit by the client’s side.  Sometimes, a supervisor’s intervention is required just to settle seating arrangements.  The officer will not have reviewed the file, may not have all the files that they are supposed to have, or not initiated certain background checks.  In light of those facts, despite the client’s qualification for the benefit or satisfactory resolution of any outstanding issues, that client may not be approved until the remaining steps, all internal to USCIS, are undertaken.  This hardly seems like the service we would expect if CIS viewed their job as serving us and our clients.  In fact, the union’s statement makes it fairly clear that the only constituency they have is the welfare and grandiose expectations of the bureaucrats.  It is also worth reminding the union that CIS is a fee-based agency, where the fees that immigrants pay, which have gone up significantly over the last five years, pay the salaries of CIS officials.  And CIS is a monopoly.  Although the CIS now calls our clients “customers,” CIS is a monopoly as clients have nowhere else to turn to obtain U.S. residence.  Again, the CIS union exists solely to protect the interests of the CIS employees.

“Currently USCIS reports a 99.5% approval rating for all illegal alien applications for legal status filed under the Obama Administration’s new deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) policies.  DHS and USCIS leadership have intentionally established an application process for DACA applicants that bypasses traditional in-person interviews with trained USCIS adjudications officers.  These practices were put in place to stop proper screening and enforcement, and guarantees that applications will be rubber-stamped for approval, a practice that virtually guarantees widespread fraud and places public safety at risk.”

This is a highly misleading statistic.  As of April 1, 2013, CIS had received 488,782 DACA applications.  Of those, about 55% have been decided, for a total of 269,738 decisions on DACA Applications.  It is true that of those 269,738, the vast majority, 268,361, have been approved and only 1,377 have been denied.  The approval rate of the decided applications is 99.5%  But the reality is that it is faster to approve a case than to deny it.  Where CIS intends to deny a case, it issues a request for evidence or a notice of intent to deny.  That takes time.  Cases in which there has been an RFE or NOID are much more likely to be denied as the evidence initially submitted did not demonstrate eligibility.  A significant portion of those unadjudicated will result in denials due to lack of eligibility.  The CIS union leadership knows this and is being completely disingenuous.  Moreover, if the CIS is indeed processing the applications without sufficient review, why do they take so long?  We are tempted to think that it is because the CIS officials handling them are not handling them as efficiently as possible.

“While illegal aliens applying for legal status under DACA policies are required to pay fees, DHS and USCIS are now exercising their discretion to waive those fees.  Undoubtedly, these practices will be replicated for millions of illegal aliens if S. 744 becomes law.”  “US taxpayers are currently tasked with absorbing the cost of over $200 million worth of fee waivers bestowed on applicants for naturalization during the last fiscal year.  This is in addition to the strain put on our social security system that has been depleted by an onslaught of refugees receiving SSI benefits as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.”

Wow.  CIS collects, on average about $2.6 billion in fees paid by immigrants, their employers and their families.  CIS receives about $100 million in appropriations from Congress.  One thing is very clear is that, if anyone is on the hook for the $200 million that the CIS chose not to collect, it is the other immigrants who bill that cost at a rate of 26 to 1.  Also, as regards Social Security, something well outside the expertise of the CIS union leadership, most credible studies show that immigrants provide a crucial source of income for the social security system.

“Large swaths of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visaholders, including laws for public charges as well as many other provisions, as USCIS lacks the resources to adequately screen and scrutinize legal immigrants and non-immigrants seeking status adjustment.  There is also insufficient screening sand monitoring of student visas.”

It is hard to tell exactly what the union is talking about.  OK, let’s talk about public charge.  Every immigrant to the U.S. must demonstrate that they have the resources or have access to the financial resources so as not to become a public charge in the U.S.  All applications for residence must be accompanied by evidence demonstrating that.  That evidence is routinely submitted months in advance of adjudication.  It is all in CIS’ files for review.  we hope it is being reviewed.  The family based affidavit of support is about ten pages long- it is a lot of work to prepare one.  We hope that CIS takes the time to review something we have worked so hard on.  If CIS is not reviewing public charge information, it is a gross dereliction of duty on the part of individual officers and not indicative of any larger political purpose.

“A new USCIS computer system to screen application known as ‘transformation’ has proven to be a disaster as the agency has spent upwards of $2 billion for a system that would eventually allow an alien- now referred to as a “customer” under current USCIS policy- to upload their own information via the internet for adjudication purposes.  To date, only one form can be accepted into the program that has been in the making for close to ten years.”

Yep, “transformation” was a boondoggle.  Hopefully, heads will roll about such an egregious waste of money.  We can be sure, however, that the union will be there to defend those employees and keep them on the immigrant’s payroll.

 

It is very disappointing to see the USCIS union parrot the talking points of the rogue ICE union, the restrictions, and the retrograde Senators on the Judiciary committee.  However, it is perfectly consistent with CIS’ warped view of reality.  What this letter shows is that the union, like their ICE brethren, is willing to resort to half-truths, distortions and outright lies to protect the one constituency that they really care about- the bureaucrats they serve.

 

 

 

The union states that the CIS agents are pressured to “rubber stamp” approvals and that the CIS leadership views “aliens and the attorneys which represent them” as their true constituency.  The union also cites a statistic that 99.5% of DACA applications have been approved as evidence of the lax standard of review and the failure of CIS to ensure the integrity of the process.

H-1B Cap Reached for Fiscal Year 2014

5 Apr

As predicted by many in the profession, the H-1B filing cap was reached today.

On one hand, this is good news because reaching the H-1B cap this early into the season is an indicator that the economy is rebounding. This has been the shortest application period to date in the past five years.

However, this means that all applications filed through today will be subject to a lottery– a computer generated random selection process for all applications that were received through today, as in April 5, 2013. No H-1B applications will be accepted past April 5, 2013.

The H-1B cap is a major issue for employers looking to hire foreign workers. Due to the H-1 program’s popularity, the annual allotment of 65,000 slots is routinely filled just weeks (if not days) after USCIS begins accepting applications—leaving employers, and especially technology start-ups, unable to tap much of the pool of foreign labor on which they rely.

The I-Squared Act, a bipartisan bill that is pending in the Senate and would likely be attached to broader comprehensive immigration legislation, would create a floating cap for the H-1B as depicted by the Brookings Institute chart below:

Fluctuating the cap based on economic need would be a welcome change from the current fixed cap of 65,000 for regular H-1Bs, and 20,000 additional for H-1Bs filed on behalf of advanced degree holders. We can only hope that this legislation sees the light of day.

Premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions will begin on April 15, 2013. The USCIS has not yet announced the date of the lottery. Stay tuned for more information.

Opportunity Lost- Administration Seeks Supreme Court Review of De Osorio

26 Jan

On the same day that the immigration world was abuzz with news that the President would unveil his immigration reform plan next week, the administration filed a brief to preserve the unnecessary family separation caused by its cramped  understanding of the Child Status Protection Act reflected in the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in Matter of Wang.  The juxtaposition of the prospect of common sense immigration reform with the wholly unnecessary appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Cuellar de Osorio v. Mayorkas provides significant doubt that the administration really understands the pain caused to American families by the immigration laws and the decisions that the administration takes on a daily basis that make those immigration laws worse than perhaps Congress even intended.  When the administration is more restrictive then Congress, that is a sorry state of affairs.

Enough editorializing.  We can write more about what a disastrous decision this was for the administration once emotions are less raw.  For now, we will focus on what happens.

The administration has filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court to review the decision of the 9th Circuit.  A writ of certiorari is a statement from the Supreme Court that they will review a case.  “I will review” is the basic Latin translation of certiorari.  By petitioning for the writ, the government is asking the court to review a case.  Review at the Supreme Court is discretionary, meaning that the Supreme Court does not review all cases in which certiorari is sought.  In fact, the Supreme Court rejects the overwhelming majority of cert petitions filed each year.  The Supreme Court grants only about 2% of all petitions for certiorari. That might be comforting, but the odds are improved when the petitioner is the Department of Justice, as it is here.  In addition, other factors, such as the split between circuit courts to have reviewed the CSPA, and the national implications of the decision are factors that indicate that the government’s petition for a writ of certiorari in de Osorio are better than the 2% average.

The Supreme Court will vote on whether to hear the case.  Four justices must vote in the affirmative to hear the case. It is difficult to say when the Supreme Court will rule on whether to grant certiorari.  A good discussion of Supreme Court procedure can be found here. If the Supreme Court denies the petition for certiorari, the decision of the Ninth Circuit will stand.  If the Supreme Court grants the petition, it will receive briefs from the parties and all sorts of other interested people and organizations.  It will hold oral argument.  It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hold oral argument before October as the Court recesses from June to October.  A decision would likely come about a year from now.

So, there remain two more opportunities to end this struggle.  The first chance is whether the Supreme Court grants cert.  The second is when, if it grants cert, it decides on the case.

There remains substantial hope.  The lawyers handling this are some of the best in the business.  Many other interested parties will weigh in.  Benach Ragland will continue to be a part of this litigation and continue to advocate for sane immigration laws.  Also, cert is rarely granted.  The government still has an uphill road to follow.  This is a setback and not a defeat.

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.

 

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.

The STEM Jobs Act: More of the Same From the House Republicans

25 Nov

The House of Representatives is moving quickly to give the appearance that they have changed their tune on immigration.  The House is scheduled to vote this week on the STEM Jobs Act, sponsored by the anti-immigrant Lamar Smith (R-TX).  The STEM Jobs Act would provide 55,000 additional visas for foreign nationals receiving advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.   Supporters of the STEM Jobs Act argue that it addresses an acknowledged problem area in U.S. immigration law– the difficulty that many needed and valued graduates have in securing residence.  In light of the many technology companies founded by foreign students, the cumbersome path to residence has caused many of these graduates to flee the U.S. and begin building their businesses in other countries.  There is widespread agreement that those graduating with advanced degrees in the STEM fields ought to be given enhanced opportunities to seek residence in the U.S.

The STEM Jobs Act would make 55,000 visas available to graduates who have received Ph.D. or master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.  According to the House Committee on the Judiciary, STEM graduates with Ph.D.s can receive residence if they:

  • have received a doctorate from an eligible U.S. university in computer science, mathematics, engineering, or the physical (excluding biology) sciences.
  • agree to work for the petitioning employer for at least five years in a STEM field.
  • have taken all their course work while physically present in the U.S.
  • are petitioned for by an employer who has gone through the labor certification process to demonstrate that there are not qualified or available U.S. workers for the position.

If there are visas left over after the Ph.D. visas are given out, graduates with STEM master’s degrees will be able to seek their residence on similar terms.

The House voted on the STEM Jobs Act earlier this year.  However, it failed for two reasons: (1) the House leadership used a procedure that required a 2/3 vote; and (2) only 20% of the Democratic caucus supported the Act.  The reason for the lack of Democratic support was because the bill does not increase the total number of visas available.  The bill eliminates the 55,000 diversity visas (visa lottery), so that the total number of visas issued in any given year is unchanged.  As the diversity visa remains one of the few ways that an individual with no family or employment ties to the U.S. can immigrate, many Democrats opposed its elimination.

The new STEM bill also eliminates the diversity visa.  Yet, the Republicans have sweetened the deal by providing for a temporary visa for the spouses and children of permanent residents.  This visa would allow the approximately 320,000 spouses and children of permanent residents waiting for immigrant visas to enter the U.S. and await their residence in the United States.  It would have the effect of uniting couples separated due to the backlog of visas in the category of spouses and children of permanent residents.  Currently, there is a two year backlog to receive residence as the spouse of a permanent residence.  Individuals receiving green cards today would have had to marry and file prior to July 2010.  The new law would allow people in that queue to enter the U.S. one year after filing an immigrant petition and then could wait out the queue in the U.S. with their families.  Something similar  has been done before in 2000, when V visas were given to those waiting in the backlog.  According to press reports, individuals entering to wait out the family based queue would be ineligible for employment authorization.

In summary, the STEM bill seems to be a non-serious effort to reform our immigration laws.  It is acknowledged that the process of obtaining residence for highly educated and skilled immigrants in the STEM fields is highly cumbersome and onerous.  Yet, STEM fails to fix that.  The cumbersome and onerous part is the labor certification, which requires employers to jump through a variety of hoops to petition for residence for foreign nationals.  Yet, STEM leaves that process intact.  Moreover, by tying a STEM graduate to an employer for five years, the STEM Jobs Act places more restrictions on a STEM graduate than on an individual who received her PH.D. in literature, who does not need to remain with her employer for five years.  If the goal of this bill is to unleash the creative and entrepreneurial talent of the STEM graduates, why are they tied to a specific employer for five years?  If, as the House Judiciary Committee states, STEM graduates are behind many of the innovations and new businesses, why does the STEM Jobs Act shackle them?

The STEM Jobs Act uses a lot of words to create exactly what already exists.  It is called the second employment based preference where an employer may sponsor an individual with an advanced degree through the labor certification process.  However, the current law provides visas for all types of graduates and employees who help the economy.  Those visas, except for India and China, are already current.  The India and China backlog is disgraceful and should be remedied, but it can be done in a far more pithy way than the STEM Jobs Act does.  Add 55,000 visas to the second preference.

This also raises the question of whether those visas should be taken from the diversity visa.  I am no fan of the diversity visa.  It seems silly for a country to give out residence based upon a lottery.  Immigration should be about filling the needs of American families and business.  A lottery strikes me as a very unsophisticated way to give out a very valuable benefit.  That being said, I do not think that the diversity visa should be traded for the STEM Jobs Act.  If the STEM Jobs Act eliminated the need for a labor certification and allowed STEM graduates freedom to work for themselves or traditional employers, the STEM Jobs Act could certainly make better immigration policy.  However, the STEM Jobs Act continues on the same bureaucratic path that has caused the problem we have now and does very little to unleash the forces of STEM graduates.  As immigration law becomes a topic of legislative inquiry, those interested in serious reform should make it clear that the same old ways of doing things must come to an end.

Even the sweetener of uniting families is fairly sour.  Applicants would have to have their I-130 petitions pending for a year before they could seek their visas.  This is roughly half of the current backlog.  Once here, they spouses of permanent residents could not work.  This restriction on employment authorization serves no rational purpose other than to stoke marital discord and financial hardship.
The STEM Jobs Act is not an opening bid in the new immigration reality.  It is a last gasp of the dinosaurs who have strangled and stymied meaningful reform of our immigration laws.  We won the election.  Our ideas should be the starting point.