On the heels of being named “Person of the Year” by TIME magazine, a new interview with President-elect Donald J. Trump reveals new information regarding the former business tycoon’s stance on illegal immigration. As we have previously reported, throughout his campaign the President-elect Donald Trump vowed to crackdown on illegal immigration, claiming that he would deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States unlawfully during. Among other things, Trump also campaigned on the platform that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program once and for all; a program which to this date has shielded hundreds of thousands of young undocumented persons from deportation, and provided them with temporary work authorization. The lives of these young undocumented immigrants have in large part been shaped by the passage of DACA, and the false sense of security it brought them. Today, their lives are in a very fragile state, with the uncertain future of what may happen to this program under a Trump administration, and the looming possibility of their removal from the United States, given that USCIS now possesses vital information regarding their identities and whereabouts. Ever since his election, Trump has desperately attempted to unite the nation. His administration has endeavored to pick up the broken pieces that were left behind by his polarizing campaign rhetoric. In recent months, we have seen Trump dramatically soften his stance on immigration in what may be described as futile efforts to unify the country.
One of the most common questions we often receive during in person and telephonic consultations is whether an aggravated felony may decrease a person’s chances to legalize their status in the United States. The harsh reality is that the immigration options for noncitizen aliens convicted of an “aggravated felony” are severely limited, and in most situations, the immigration laws of the United States subject these individuals to the harshest deportation consequences. Even if you have been lawfully admitted to the United States or are currently a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) you may be subject to deportation if you commit an aggravated felony. In other words, so long as you are a noncitizen alien, you may be at risk of deportation if you are or have been convicted of what is considered an “aggravated felony” in the United States or any other country. What’s more, aggravated felons lose many of the privileges that are designed to provide relief to individuals from deportation, and in some cases these individuals may be prevented from re-entering the United States permanently, following removal from the United States. The immigration laws of the United States, passed by Congress, contain numerous provisions that are designed to keep criminals outside of the United States, and in turn prevent criminals from being allowed to remain in the United States. While Congress has recognized that there are few exceptions to the rule that should be made in cases where there is a compelling argument to be made in favor of allowing a person found guilty of an aggravated felony to remain in the United States, having taken into consideration the fact that an immigrant’s removal may result in extreme hardship for U.S. Citizens. Unfortunately, these exceptions are very few and far in between, and deportation is the most probable outcome. When it comes to crimes of moral turpitude and crimes that fall under the category of “aggravated felonies” the U.S. immigration system is very unforgiving.
What is an aggravated felony?
An aggravated felony is a term that describes a particular category of offenses that carry with them harsh immigration consequences as punishment for noncitizen aliens who have been convicted of these types of crimes. Noncitizens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony lose the opportunity to apply for most common forms of relief available to law abiding noncitizens, that would have shielded them from deportation. Noncitizens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony for example are ineligible to apply for asylum and may not be readmitted to the United States in the future. An “aggravated felony” is an offense that Congress has labeled as such, and does not actually require the crime to be considered “aggravated” or a “felony” to qualify to be an “aggravated felony.” In other words, the term must not be taken literally. Many crimes that are labeled “aggravated felonies” are nonviolent in nature and constitute minor offenses, nonetheless these crimes fall under the Congressional categorization of an “aggravated felony.”
The myth of what constitutes an “aggravated felony”
For purposes of immigration law, an offense does not need to be considered “aggravated” or a “felony” in the place where the crime was committed to be considered an “aggravated felony” under the Congressional definition of “aggravated felony.” There are numerous non-violent and trivial misdemeanors that are considered aggravated felonies per the immigration laws of the United States. At its inception, the term referred to crimes that were of a violent and non-trivial nature including such crimes as murder, federal drug trafficking, and illicit trafficking of firearms. Today, Congress has expanded the types of crimes that fall under the category of “aggravated felonies” to include non-violent crimes such as simple battery, theft, the filing of a false tax return, and failure to appear in court when summoned. To view the complete list of aggravated felonies under the Immigration and Nationality Act please click here. Other offenses that fall under this category include sexual abuse of a minor, although some states do not classify these crimes as misdemeanors or criminalize such behavior for example in cases of consensual intercourse between an adult and a minor. In most situations, a finding of any of these offenses will result in the loss of most immigration benefits, and in cases where the noncitizen is already a legal permanent resident or is in lawful status, the noncitizen will be subject to deportation.
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.
There is no denying that the election of Donald Trump as next President of the United States has dealt a huge blow to the immigration reform effort and diminished any hope for the passage of broader legal immigration reform. We had hoped that with the election of Hillary Clinton we would see an increase in immigration levels for highly skilled workers, as well as increased visa opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. While the news of Donald Trump’s election was a big setback for immigration in general, polling continues to suggest that people across the United States are willing to support fairness in dealing with the undocumented immigrant population in a sensible and human way. By contrast, most Americans disapprove of passing broad legal immigration reform that would benefit foreign workers.
Donald Trump was able to win the favor of a great number of Americans because of his critical view of programs like NAFTA that he believes has allowed American jobs to go overseas. Trump has blamed the U.S. government for allowing programs like the H-1B worker program to exist, saying that foreign workers are taking American jobs. We can expect to see Donald Trump take a restrictive view on legal immigration, keeping immigration levels within historic norms. Donald Trump has until recently softened his tone on illegal immigration, claiming that his priority is to deport only dangerous criminals residing in the United States unlawfully, although his 10-point plan contradicts his recent stance.
It is likely that the Republican House and the Senate will introduce legislation designed to benefit American workers and the economy, and focus less on creating immigration opportunities for foreign workers. Similarly, the Trump administration will likely focus on job creation, and less on passing any meaningful legal immigration reform.
The program that may come under fire by the Trump administration is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative which began on June 15, 2012 as part of an executive order introduced by President Barack Obama. Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program incorrectly calling it an “amnesty.” In actuality, DACA is not amnesty and does not provide a pathway to permanent residency or even citizenship. DACA merely shields the individual from deportation and allows them to legally obtain employment in the United States for a temporary period of time.
Days after defeating Hillary Clinton in the biggest political upset in American history, President elect Donald J. Trump met with outgoing President Barack Obama this morning to ensure a peaceful transition of power. A triumphant Donald Trump also met with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan to discuss his policy priorities, and the unification of the Republican party. Although Donald Trump will not be inaugurated until January 20, 2017 he has made it clear that he plans to work with Republicans in the House and the Senate, to pass legislation on wide ranging issues during his first 100 days in office. Working with a Republican House of Representatives and Republican Senate, Donald Trump announced his administration’s top three priorities: immigration, health care, and job creation. After meeting with Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill, Trump told reporters “we’re looking very strongly at immigration, we’re going to look at the borders, very importantly, we’re looking very strongly at healthcare and we’re looking at jobs.”
While Trump has not provided details on what his immigration policy might look like, he has outlined his 10-point immigration plan on his campaign website and his all new website Greatagain.gov.
Here’s what we know so far about what immigration policy might look like under the Trump administration:
For persons who have entered the United States illegally or who have accrued unlawful presence after having overstayed their visa, the possibility of obtaining lawful permanent residence (a green card) is very limited. In the United States there are generally two ways to adjust status to permanent residence. With few exceptions, a green card may generally be obtained through employment-based sponsorship, or family sponsorship based on a qualifying family relationship, such as a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident relative. Unlawful presence is a very serious immigration offense that is subject to punishment depending on the amount of time a person has accrued unlawful presence in the United States.
Undocumented immigrants who accrue unlawful presence in the United States, and subsequently leave the country, and attempt to re-enter the United States lawfully, may be subject to either a 3- or 10-year bar, based on the amount of time they have accrued unlawful presence in the United States. Specifically, under the Immigration and Nationality Action Section §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) a person who has accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the United States, is subject to a 3-year bar automatically triggered once the person departs the United States. The bar would thereby prevent a person from being re-admitted into the United States, depending on the amount of time they were previously unlawfully present in the country. Similarly, under the Immigration and Nationality Act §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II), a person who has accrued one year or more of unlawful presence in the United States, is subject to a 10-year bar preventing a person from being re-admitted to the United States, once they have departed from 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.
USCIS has announced that beginning October 5, 2016 the validity period for initial and renewal employment authorization cards (EADs) will be extended from the previous one-year validity period to a two-year validity period, for asylum applicants eligible to receive employment authorization. EAD applications pending as of October 5, 2016 and all EAD applications filed on or after October 5, 2016 will receive 2-year EAD cards.
Asylum applicants cannot apply for employment authorization with their initial asylum applications. Applicants with a pending asylum application, who have filed for asylum on or after January 4, 1995, must wait until at least 150 days have passed since filing of their asylum applications (not including any delays that were caused by them) before applying for employment authorization. Once at least 150 days have passed since filing of the asylum application, and provided the application is still pending with USCIS, applicants may apply for employment authorization by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization using the (c)(8) asylum classification. On average it takes approximately 90 days for the I-765 to be processed, and for the employment authorization card (EAD) to be mailed to the applicant. Once you receive the employment authorization card you may begin to work immediately. You may also obtain a driver’s license for the validity period of your employment authorization, and a social security number by presenting your employment authorization card at the DMV and SSA near you. There is no fee to apply for your first employment authorization card if your asylum application is pending with USCIS or you have been granted asylum. If you are applying for a renewal EAD card (it is not your first time receiving an EAD) your application is subject to the filing fee.
In this segment, we answer 5 of your most frequently asked questions received on our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office to schedule a free first time consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office. For more information on the services we offer please click here.
Q: I am a U.S. Citizen who is planning to marry a Moroccan citizen. I am interested in applying for the K-1 fiancé visa for him. The problem is that we have not met in person and it is hard for me to travel to his country because I am a single parent. I know one of the requirements for this visa is to meet in person. Are there any other visa options available to us since we have not met in person? I have heard of people obtaining waivers due to traveling hardships. Please advise.
A: Thank you for your question. This is a very common fiancé visa question. In order to file the K-1 fiancé visa you must meet the following requirements:
- You (the petitioner) are a U.S. citizen.
- You intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e) entering the United States.
- You and your fiancé(e) are both free to marry and any previous marriages must have been legally terminated by divorce, death, or annulment.
- You met each other, in person, at least once within 2 years of filing your petition. There are two exceptions that require a waiver:
If the requirement to meet would violate strict and long-established customs of your or your fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice.
2. If you prove that the requirement to meet would result in extreme hardship to you.
As indicated above there are only two exceptions that would allow you to seek a waiver of the K-1 visa two-year meeting requirement. The first requires the petitioner to demonstrate that compliance of the two-year meeting requirement would violate strict and long-established customs of either your fiancé’s foreign culture or social practice or of your own foreign culture or social practice. While it is difficult to prove this, it is not impossible, however the couple should be aware that substantial evidence is required to prove that either your or your fiancé’s culture explicitly prohibits you from meeting the two-year requirement. Of course this element is largely at odds with traditional Western norms and practices, therefore it is extremely difficult to explain to an immigration officer why you and your fiancé cannot meet in person before you are to be married. This waiver should only be considered in very limited circumstances.