To our loyal readers and clients, we wish you and your families very safe and happy holidays. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued trust and loyalty in our office. Our clients continue to inspire us with their stories of hope, courage, and innovation. Although it is a very challenging time for immigration law due to our current political climate, we believe that our executive and legislative branches will work together to find a solution to pressing issues that have remain unresolved for so many years. We hope that in the new year, members of Congress will begin talks to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including legislation to protect Dreamers from deportation. Whatever happens in the new year, we will be here every step of the way to help you achieve your immigration goals. See you in the new year!
Much to our dismay, Congress was unable to pass the DREAM Act, or any comparable legislation to protect Dreamers from deportation, before going into recess for the holidays. During the last few weeks, members of Congress in the House and the Senate have been scrambling to pass a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. We hoped that during this time Democrats and Republicans would put their differences aside to lay the groundwork for an immigration deal that would solve the DACA problem once and for all. Instead, Republicans in Congress focused on passing a sweeping tax bill that is likely to be signed into law by the President as early as Friday. As a result, discussions about DACA were cast to the wayside, leaving these issues to be dealt with in 2018.
Unfortunately, Congress has now gone into recess and will not reconvene until January 3, 2018. This means that Republicans will have a very busy month in January. As you may recall, the President has given Congress until March 5, 2018 to pass legislation shielding Dreamers from deportation, because that is when DACA enrollment will begin to expire in large numbers. Congress must now work within a very tight deadline to begin DACA negotiations swiftly if they expect to meet the early March deadline. When Congress reconvenes after the holidays, the President will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss their legislative priorities for 2018. A DACA solution will undoubtedly be high on their list. Republicans have legislatively been more united than ever, so it is in the GOP’s best interest to resolve the issue by the deadline, instead of prolonging an issue that has been ignored for far too long already.
Given the recent termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the controversy surrounding the immigration system as of late, in this post we address the numerous myths surrounding the DACA program and of immigration law in general. Although there are numerous studies and empirical research debunking the common myths attributed to the immigration system, as well as detailed economic reports published by governmental agencies corroborating the positive effects of immigration, Americans continue to hold a negative perception of immigrants and are increasingly skeptical of the immigration process. In truth, much of these perceptions are perpetuated by the unwillingness of Americans to obtain readily available information on the internet, to discover that the immigration process for individuals who entered the United States illegally is riddled with obstacles. More and more we are seeing Americans rely on news stations to accurately deliver the news and do the work for them. Unfortunately, the best way to understand the immigration process itself is to go straight to the source, and not rely on such sources for information.
The public needs to know the facts to better understand that the average immigrant actually has very few immigration options available to them under the current immigration system.
MYTH #1 It is easy to get a green card under current immigration laws
Most Americans believe that it is relatively easy to get a green card. This cannot be further from the truth. Immigration laws are highly complex and are designed to make it more difficult for extended family members, low-skilled workers, and undocumented immigrants to immigrate to the United States. Under current immigration laws, there are generally only two ways to immigrate to the United States and obtain permanent residency, outside of special immigrant categories specifically reserved for special categories of individuals including: asylees, refugees, certain witnesses of crimes, victims of abuse, and individuals who may qualify for withholding of removal. It is extremely difficult for individuals to qualify for permanent residency under one of these special categories.
Outside of these special categories, foreign nationals may immigrate to the United States and obtain permanent residency, only if they have a qualifying family member (such as a US Citizen or LPR spouse, child, etc.) who may petition for them or if the beneficiary works for a U.S. employer on a valid visa who is willing to sponsor the foreign national by petitioning for their permanent residency.
On August 02, 2017, Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced a new Act called “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” before the U.S. Senate, otherwise known as the RAISE Act, which is a new piece of legislation that has recently been backed by President Trump.
The RAISE Act aims to overhaul the employment-based immigration system and replace it with a skills-based system that awards points to immigrants based on the immigrant’s level of education, age, ability to speak the English language, future job salary, level of investment, and professional achievements. In addition, the RAISE Act would terminate the Diversity Visa Program, which awards 50,000 visas to foreign nationals from qualifying countries, and would ultimately reduce the number of family-sponsored immigrants allowed admission to the United States. The Act intends to focus on the family-based immigration of spouses and minor children and would reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States.
Among other things the RAISE Act would:
- Terminate the Diversity Visa Program which awards 50,000 green cards to immigrants from qualifying countries;
- Slash the annual distribution of green cards to just over 500,000 (a change from the current issuance of over 1 million green cards annually);
- Employment-based green cards would be awarded according to a skill-based points system that ranks applicants according to their level of education, age, ability to speak the English language, salary, level of investment, and achievements (see below);
- The issuance of employment-based green cards would be capped at 140,000 annually;
- Limit the maximum number of refugees admitted to the United States to 50,000;
- Limit admission of asylees. The number of asylees admitted to the United States on any given year would be set by the President on an annual basis;
- Amend the definition of “Immediate Relative” to an individual who is younger than 18 years of age instead of an individual who is younger than 21 years of age;
- Adult children and extended family members of individuals living in the United States would no longer be prioritized to receive permanent residence. Instead the focus would remain on the immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens and legal permanent residents such as spouses and children under the age of 18;
- The Act would allow sick parents of U.S. Citizens to be allowed to enter the United States on a renewable five-year visa, provided the U.S. Citizen would be financially responsible for the sick parent.
On May 7, 2017 Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed the controversial “Texas Senate Bill 4” into law which will take effect on September 1st. Among its major provisions, the bill outlaws the establishment of “sanctuary cities” which serve as safe havens for undocumented immigrants, requires local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities by holding undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, and permits local law enforcement officials to question individuals regarding their immigration status in the United States. In September, the bill will be enforced by officers throughout the state of Texas including by police officers on college campuses. The bill, however, will not apply to officers contracted by religious groups, schools, government mental health care facilities, and hospitals.
More specifically SB4:
- Blocks local entities from passing laws and/or adopting policies that prevent local law enforcement officials from inquiring about a person’s immigration status
- The law makes it a crime for sheriffs, constables, police chiefs, and local leaders to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities (Class A misdemeanor)
- Imposes sanctions on law enforcement officials and local jurisdictions that do not comply with the law
- Cities who fail to comply with the law may face fines of up to $25,000 per day, and the police chiefs, sheriffs, or mayors of noncompliant jurisdictions may be charged criminally and/or removed from office
- Allows police officers to question anyone they believe to be residing in the United States unlawfully about their immigration status, including at routine traffic stops
A new 90-day progress report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security outlines how the agency is planning on implementing the provisions of the Executive Order 13767 entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” signed by President Trump earlier this year. Although the progress report is only a preliminary assessment of how the agency will enforce the executive order, the report reflects what immigration enforcement might look like in the near future.
Securing the border: Regarding border security, the progress report outlines that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is taking immediate action to plan, design, and construct a physical wall on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Specifically, the report states that CBP is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct prototypes to expand the southern border, and has submitted a request for funding from Congress for $20 million.
On June 23, 2016 the United States Supreme Court made headlines when it affirmed a federal court’s decision in United States v. Texas, preventing the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. An eight-person bench delivered a single one-line decision on the ruling stating, “the judgment of the lower court is affirmed by an equally divided court.” This controversial decision ultimately resulted in the halt of the expansion of the DACA and DAPA programs, leaving these programs in legal limbo. The DACA and DAPA programs were first introduced by President Barack Obama two years ago, as part of a series of executive actions on immigration. With the passage of these programs, the Obama administration hoped that the Republican controlled House of Representatives would be persuaded to discuss the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. This effort proved fruitless. Republican Congressmen and women not only refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform, they politicized the issue of immigration altogether, blocking the President’s Supreme Court nomination following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, in order to prevent the Supreme Court from becoming liberal. Together, these programs would have shielded nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation by giving them “deferred status,” and would have provided applicants with a temporary three-year employment authorization card. Although these measures proved short of an amnesty, they were made in response to Congress’s refusal to pass meaningful immigration reform for the undocumented population living in the United States.
The expansion of the DACA program would have increased the population eligible to apply for employment authorization to people of any current age, who had entered the United States before the age of 16, and who could demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since January 1, 2010. Similarly, the DAPA program would have shielded millions of parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents from deportation if they could demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since January 1, 2010, and pass the required background checks.
New Jersey’s 4th largest city, Elizabeth, is soon to become one of several municipalities in New Jersey to offer photo identification cards for the undocumented immigrant population, and other underserved members of the community such as homeless persons. On Tuesday, city council members voted unanimously to approve a city ordinance benefitting undocumented immigrants who do not have any form of photo identification. A second and final vote on the ordinance is expected next month. According to the U.S. Census nearly half of the residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey are foreign-born persons. Elizabeth is only one of many cities in New Jersey that has considered adopting a municipal identification card program. Recognizing that New Jersey is home to a large population of undocumented immigrants, various cities in New Jersey already have a municipal identity card program incorporating the undocumented immigrant population into society. New Haven, Newark, Roselle, Perth Amboy, Highland Park, Asbury Park, Trenton, and many other cities have adopted some form of municipal identification card.
The photo identification cards will provide basic information including the person’s name, date of birth, address, and an expiration date. Only persons 14 years of age or older will be able to obtain these photo identification cards. Although these cards will not be a form of federal identification, and do not confer any type of immigration benefit, or employment authorization, having access to a photo identification is very important for the undocumented immigrant population for various reasons. First, it is nearly impossible to obtain certain benefits without a valid photo identification. For example, many undocumented immigrants are unable to open a bank account, access basic government services, enter government buildings, fill prescriptions, obtain medical care, enroll in adult courses, or receive state benefits they are entitled to, but cannot receive without presenting a valid photo ID. Second, this measure will be especially important for persons who cannot obtain a driver’s license, passport, or other government issued ID by any other means. Third, because many undocumented immigrants cannot open a bank account since they do not have a form of identification, undocumented persons are often targeted as walking ATMs because they carry large amounts of cash.
Yesterday, October 19th the third and final Presidential debate took place in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was the last opportunity Presidential candidates, Donald J. Trump, and Hillary R. Clinton, had to present their positions on various different issues, and make a final attempt to gain the support of undecided voters. The debate has left much to talk about, while many questions still remain unanswered. The moderator of the debate, Chris Wallace, of FOX news questioned the candidates on various different topics ranging from the Supreme Court nomination, economy, foreign policy, and more importantly the candidates’ positions on immigration reform.
On the subject of immigration, the moderator introduced his question on immigration by providing an overview of each candidate’s positions on immigration. Wallace discussed the fact that throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has staunchly advocated for mass deportations and the building of a more secure border, which he believes will successfully deter undocumented immigrants, criminals, and terrorists from entering the United States.
By contrast, Wallace highlighted the fact that Hillary Clinton has offered no specific plan on how she would secure our southern borders, where there is currently a massive influx of immigrants, specifically unaccompanied children from Central America, seeking refuge in the United States. Wallace reiterated Hillary Clinton’s commitment to offer a comprehensive immigration reform package within the first 100 days she is in office that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with proven ties to the United States.
Each candidate was asked to discuss why their immigration policy is the best, and why their opponent is wrong. Donald Trump was given the first opportunity to respond. Trump opened the conversation on immigration by taking the position that providing amnesty for undocumented immigrants would be a ‘disaster’ for various different reasons. First, he stated that it would be unfair for undocumented immigrants to be given a path to citizenship, while immigrants wishing to enter the United States legally, are forced to wait many years to obtain permanent residence. Second, he emphasized that securing our country’s borders is his number one priority. Trump bolstered his claim that strong borders are necessary, by referring to mothers he had met on the campaign trail, whose children were brutally killed by people he claims entered the country illegally. He also stated that for the first time ever he has been endorsed by 16,500 Border Patrol Agents, as well as ICE who share in his belief that our country needs strong borders. Third, Trump claims that strong borders are necessary to deter the thousands of people who are coming into the country illegally, and to prevent drugs from pouring into the United States. Lastly, he stated that the war on drugs is the biggest problem the United States is facing today, thus in his view this presents an even greater obligation to secure our borders. He blamed the Obama administration for its failure to deter illegal immigration, illicit drugs from coming into the United States, and for allowing criminals to enter the United States.
In this segment, we bring you the latest immigration news. This month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a status report on border security in the Southwestern border region. In other news we provide you with an update on the Proposed International Entrepreneur Rule, and finally we would like to remind our readers to tune into the final Presidential Debate on October 18th.
Department of Homeland Security Releases Report on Border Security for the Southwestern Border Region
On October 17, 2016 the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, released a report on the state of border security in the Southwestern region of the United States for fiscal year 2016. The Secretary reported that the total apprehensions by border patrol on the southwestern border have increased, relative to the previous fiscal year. During fiscal year 2016 there were a total of 408,870 unlawful attempts to enter the United States border without inspection by a border patrol officer. Although the number of apprehensions during this fiscal year were higher than the previous year, the number of apprehensions in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 were much higher than fiscal year 2016. Johnson also reported that illegal migration in this region has changed demographically. Today, there are fewer Mexican foreign nationals and adults attempting to cross the Southwestern border illegally. The problem now is that more families and unaccompanied children from Central America are making the dangerous trek from Central America to the United States, fleeing gang related violence, organized crime, and poverty. In 2014 for the first time in history, the number of Central Americans apprehended on the Southern border outnumbered Mexican nationals. The same phenomenon occurred during fiscal year 2016.
How is DHS dealing with the influx of undocumented immigrants from Central America?
DHS is struggling to deal with this humanitarian crisis. Thus far the United States has implemented an in-country referral program for foreign nationals of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The program gives certain immigrants the opportunity to apply for refugee protection in the United States. DHS has also expanded the categories of individuals that may be eligible for the Central American Minors program, although adults may only qualify for this program if they are accompanied by a qualified child. The Government of Costa Rica and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration have developed a protection transfer agreement to relocate unaccompanied children and their families to safer regions. DHS was given $750 million in Congressional funds this fiscal year to provide support and assistance to this vulnerable population of migrants. Johnson recognized that there is much work to be done to secure and border, while at the same time addressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.