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Articles Posted in Congress

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Today is a historic day for Dreamers from all walks of life. By a vote of 5-4, Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer rallied together in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, finding that the Trump administration’s 2017 efforts to dismantle the DACA program were improper. This means that the DACA program will remain in place at least for the foreseeable future. DACA was first created by executive order under former President Barack Obama eight years ago, in response to Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform shielding undocumented young adults from deportation.

The creation of the DACA program prompted fury from Republicans who felt former President Obama was side-stepping Congress to create laws of his own. Perhaps the most infuriated of these Republicans was then Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who promised voters he would dismantle the “illegal,” DACA program once and for all. While in office, President Trump nominated two conservative Justices to the Supreme Court to help him do just that, shifting the composition of the Supreme Court to a conservative one.

Today’s ruling is a stunning rebuke to the President’s agenda and hopes for re-election given that the dismantling of the DACA program has been a lynchpin of his campaign. Although the majority of conservatives on the Court favored dismantling the DACA program, Chief Justice Roberts put the debate to rest siding with the liberals on the court to leave the DACA program in place.

After the decision, President Trump immediately took to twitter condemning the ruling stating, “The recent Supreme Court decisions, not only on DACA, Sanctuary Cities, Censes, and others, tell you one thing, we need NEW JUSTICES of the Supreme Court…the DACA decision, while a highly political one, and seemingly not based on the law, gives the President of the United States far more power than ever anticipated…VOTE 2020!” What Trump failed to mention is that these rulings were handed down by a conservative court of his own making.

In their ruling, the five Justices stated that the Trump administration failed to provide an adequate reason to justify ending the DACA program. Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority stated, “we do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound polices. The wisdom of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” In addition, the five justices found that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to adequately address important factors bearing on the administration’s decision to rescind the program.

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A brand-new bill called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2020 (S. 3770) sponsored by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has recently surfaced. As you might have already guessed, the bill seeks to make changes to the current H-1B and L visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse within the H-1B and L visa programs, provide protections for American workers, and enforce stricter requirements for the recruitment of foreign workers. The H-1B visa program is aggressively targeted in this new piece of legislation.


Proposed Changes to the H-1B visa program


First, as it relates to the H-1B visa worker program, the bill proposes changes to existing wage requirements.

The law would require employers to pay the highest wage from three categories:

1) the locally determined prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment

2) the median average wage for all workers in the occupational classification in the area of employment; or

3) the median wage for skill level 2 in the occupational classification found in the most recent OES survey.

Second, the bill would make changes to current law and require U.S. employers seeking to hire H-1B workers to publish job postings on a website established by the Department of Labor. After filing the labor condition application, the employer would be required to post the job on the website for at least 30 calendar days. The job posting would have to include a detailed description of the position, including the wages and other terms and conditions of employment, minimum education, training, experience, and other requirements for the position, as well as the process for applying for the position.

Third, all H-1B employers would be required to prove that they have tried to recruit American workers for jobs offered to H-1B workers. Under current law, only H-1B dependent employers (those with more than 50 full time employees of which at least 15% are H-1B employees) are required to recruit American workers for H-1B positions. This would be a drastic change in the law creating additional burdens for U.S. employers seeking to hire foreign workers with specialized skills.

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The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by nearly all sectors of the economy, but perhaps the most unexpected victim has been the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Unlike many other government agencies, USCIS does not depend on government funding to survive. Instead, the agency primarily relies on fees, charged to applicants and petitioners applying for immigration benefits, to remain in operation.

A spokesman for the agency recently revealed that the agency is strapped for cash. Americans nationwide have had to cut back on spending during this coronavirus pandemic, leaving little money to spare on the very expensive filing fees required for various types of immigration benefits, such as citizenship and green card applications. The agency is in such a precarious position that it has now asked the United States government for a $1.2 billion bailout to remain in operation.

USCIS has said that its revenue could plummet by more than 60 percent by the end of the fiscal year which ends on September 30, 2020. If the agency does not receive additional funding from the government, it will run out of money by the summertime.

In anticipation of its decreased revenue, USCIS is preparing to take drastic measures to stay afloat, such as adding a 10 percent “surcharge” to applications, on top of proposed filing fee increases. These additional fees could be imposed within the coming months.

Of course, an increase in fees is bad news for non-citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Many have blamed President Trump’s restrictive policies on immigration for the decrease in revenue. The President’s most recent proclamations coupled with his restrictive immigration policies have made it more difficult for immigrants and non-immigrants alike to obtain immigration benefits. These policies have been designed to discourage foreign nationals from seeking immigration benefits because of the high rate of visa denials. In addition, the most recent proclamation has kept consular immigration at a standstill.

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The House of Representatives has introduced a new bill called the HEROES Act, (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), that provides short term financial relief during this health crisis. In this post, we discuss who would be covered under the HEROES Act and what type of relief would be provided by the Act.

To become law, the HEROES Act will need to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. The President has openly voiced his opposition for the bill because the bill authorizes federal funds for undocumented immigrants. The bill will likely receive push back in the Republican controlled Senate or at the very least be subject to significant changes. Nonetheless if the bill fails, it will at least provide a foundation upon which Congress can reach a compromise.


What is it?


The HEROES Act is a $3 trillion bill that would provide stimulus checks to individuals who did not previously qualify for stimulus checks under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security), such as undocumented immigrants.


Relief for Undocumented Individuals


The HEROES Act would provide temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care workers and allow them to apply for employment authorization throughout the period of the pandemic. In addition, unlike the CARES Act, undocumented immigrants and their families would be eligible to receive stimulus checks. The HEROES Act would allow direct payments to be issued in the amount of – $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents. The HEROES Act would also authorize undocumented immigrants to be eligible for the first round of stimulus checks sent out in April. The Act also proposes additional health care benefits for immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and would require immigration authorities to release people from immigration detention where possible.


Low-Risk Detainees


The HEROES Act would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not subject to mandatory detention, and those who do not pose a risk to national security. In the alternative the HEROES Act would encourage ICE to pursue low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants such as requiring detainees to wear ankle bracelet monitors.

The bill would also require detention facilities to provide detainees with free and unlimited soap, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.


Expedited Processing for Foreign Medical Workers


The HEROES Act would require expedited visa and green card processing for foreign medical workers seeking to practice medicine, conduct medical research, or pursue education or training to combat COVID-19. Consulates and Embassies worldwide would also be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers, granting emergency appointments in person or teleconference appointments. Foreign doctors who have completed residency programs in the United States would be eligible to receive permanent residence on an expedited basis. Medical professionals in H-1B status would be eligible to transfer between hospital systems without having to apply for a new visa. In addition, medical students would be eligible to transfer rotations within their host institution and would be compensated for their work throughout the pandemic. In addition, such students could work outside of their approved program so long as their work relates to fighting COVID-19.

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On May 7th just days after the President signed his controversial April 22nd executive order limiting the immigration of certain aliens to the United States for 60 days, Republican senators rallied together to urge the President to pass more immigration restrictions—this time targeting nonimmigrant foreign workers.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Josh Hawley of Missouri fired off an impassioned plea to the President asking him to suspend all new guest worker visas for a period of 60 days, and certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year until unemployment levels have returned to normal.

In their letter, the Senators justified their request stating that, “the United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high.” The letter continued “given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economic begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment.”

The Senators praised the President for passing the April 22nd proclamation but said that more needs to be done because guest worker programs “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

The Senators said that exceptions to the 60-day suspension should be rare and limited to time-sensitive industries such as agriculture and issued only on a case-by-case basis when the employer can demonstrate that they have been unable to find Americans to take the jobs.

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We are pleased to report the introduction of a brand-new Senate bill called the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, sponsored by Senators David Perdue, Todd Young, Dick Durbin, and Chris Coons. The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of health care workers available to meet the demand of the COVID 19 pandemic.

If passed, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, would allow nurses and physicians with approved immigrant visas the ability to adjust their status, so that they can help our nation fight the coronavirus and have a durable immigration status.

As you know, there are currently thousands of nurses and doctors stuck overseas waiting in line for green cards to become available, despite a grave need for their services during this public health crisis. What’s worse is that many of these workers already have approved immigrant petitions but are prevented from serving our communities due to the long visa backlogs.

The bill would authorize the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to “recapture” up to 25,000 immigrant visas for nurses and 15,000 immigrant visas for physicians. USCIS would also recapture immigrant visas for the families of these medical professionals.

These recaptured visas would be drawn from the pool of unused employment-based visas that Congress has previously authorized. These visas would be issued in order of priority date and would not be subject to the country caps. To facilitate timely action, premium processing would be applied to qualifying petitions and applications. Furthermore, the bill would direct the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to prioritize visa appointments for fully qualified nurses and physicians to enter the United States as fast as possible.

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President Signs New Bill Authorizing Additional Funding for PPP


Last week President Trump signed a new bill into law that provides an additional $310 billion in aid to small business owners that will be funneled into the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL) administered by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA).

As a recap, the PPP and EIDL was first introduced by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) to help small businesses keep workers on their payroll.

Out of the $310 additional funding, $60 billion will go toward the EIDL program, $250 billion will go toward PPP loans, and $60 billion will be set aside for community banks and community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

Additional funding was required because the first round of $349 billion in aid ran out after just a few weeks of the program being put into effect.

Small business owners who are still need of funds to help pay their company’s payroll costs should take advantage of the additional funding as soon as possible. Intense demand remains high for these forgivable-low interest loans, and funding will dry up quickly.

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Credit: EpicTop10.com


UPDATE—The Latest on DACA: Last summer, the United States Supreme Court accepted the Trump administration’s writ of certiorari, agreeing to review several federal court cases challenging the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA. The Supreme Court could, at any moment, decide the fate of DACA, making this an extremely uncertain time for Dreamers. A decision is expected to be handed down by the Supreme Court in early 2020, just before the 2020 presidential election. In the meantime, given that no final decision has yet been made by the Supreme Court, DACA recipients may continue to submit renewal applications pursuant to three U.S. district court orders that remain in effect. As required by these orders, United States Citizenship and immigration Services (USCIS) resumed accepting renewal requests for DACA, however those who have never before been granted deferred action cannot apply.


DACA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


USCIS Continues to Accept DACA Renewal Requests

In early January of 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs in the case Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security, et al., which challenged the government’s decision to terminate DACA. The preliminary injunction had the effect of temporarily blocking the termination of the DACA program until a final decision is reached on the merits of the case. The injunction applied nationwide and required USCIS to resume accepting DACA renewal applications. Shortly after this court order, USCIS announced that it would resume accepting DACA renewal applications.

The Sapochnick Law Firm has drafted the following answers to your frequently asked questions regarding the current state of DACA, CIS’ announcement informing the public that it will continue accepting DACA requests, and further developments relating to DACA.


WHY YOU SHOULD APPLY FOR YOUR DACA RENEWAL NOW


At this time the fate of the DACA program is extremely uncertain. The United States Supreme Court is set to make a final decision regarding the legality of the DACA program at any time. Given that the liberal justices on the court are outnumbered by 5-4, it is more and more probable that the DACA program will be terminated. Once the Supreme Court casts the final vote, DACA recipients will likely lose the opportunity to apply for renewal of their benefits. Now more than ever DACA holders should take advantage of their ability to apply for a final renewal of their benefits. We hope that the Supreme Court will be on the right side of history, but there can be no guarantees.


1. I have never applied for DACA before, can I still submit an application?

No. The preliminary injunction does not require USCIS to accept DACA applications from first-time applicants. USCIS has made clear that it will not be accepting DACA applications from those who have never before been granted deferred action. The agency will only continue accepting applications to renew a grant of deferred action under DACA.

2. Why did I hear that applications for first-time applicants would be accepted?

In a previous case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, NAACP v. Trump, federal judge John D. Bates ordered the government to submit additional information to justify its decision to terminate DACA—failure to do so meant that USCIS would be required to accept first-time applications for DACA as well as applications from DACA holders for advance parole.

The government did respond within the required period of time, issuing a memorandum outlining the government’s rationale for terminating the DACA program. Having satisfied the court’s requirement to produce the information, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, “stayed” its previous order requiring that the DACA program be fully reinstated. As a result, the portions of the court order that would have allowed first-time applicants to seek DACA and allowed for DACA recipients to apply for advance parole, were stopped.

Given that the government complied with the court order, at this time, USCIS is not accepting DACA applications from first-time applicants, nor applications for advance parole from DACA recipients.

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It has been nearly two weeks since the President of the United States declared a public health emergency for COVID-19, forcing the American economy to come to a screeching halt. Thereafter, states enacted their own measures requiring non-essential businesses across the country to shutter temporarily until the virus has been contained. Although these measures have been undoubtedly necessary to prevent the rapid spread of the virus, the majority of Americans nationwide have lost their livelihoods overnight.

This past week lawmakers have been busy drawing up legislation that would provide emergency financial assistance for individuals, families, and businesses in the United States.

This afternoon Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

Although this legislation is sweeping in scope, this post will specifically discuss financial relief for individuals and families, and more importantly which individuals will qualify to receive financial assistance.

What does the CARES Act do for individuals and their families?

Under the Act, most single individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect to receive a one-time payment of $1,200. Married couples filing jointly (earning less than $150,000), would each receive a check ($2,400) and families would receive $500 per child. For example, a family of four earning less than $150,000 can expect to receive $3,400.

Rebates would begin to phase out at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint taxpayers at 5 percent per dollar of qualified income, or $50 per $1,000 earned. Rebates phase out completely at $99,000 for single taxpayers with no children and $198,000 for joint taxpayers with no children.

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In its latest attempt to limit the entry of asylum seekers to the United States, the Trump administration has published a new proposal in the Federal Register entitled, “Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility,” adding minor crimes to the list of offenses that would bar individuals from obtaining asylum.

The proposal primarily seeks to establish additional bars on eligibility for asylum seekers who have committed certain offenses in the United States after entering the country, including minor offenses. Offenses which have been committed in a foreign country will not be counted. Therefore, the proposal targets asylum seekers who were once present in the United States, now returning to the United States seeking asylum protection, or asylum seekers waiting for a decision on a pending asylum case in the United States who have committed an offense after entering the country.

Under this new proposal, the ineligibility bar would apply to the following individuals: