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Articles Posted in Priorities for Removal

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With just a few weeks into the new year, the judicial branch has been hard at work issuing decisions that spell trouble for the Trump administration.

On Wednesday, January 15th a federal judge in Maryland issued a temporary injunction preventing the Trump administration from implementing the President’s executive order “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement,” issued by the President on September 26th of last year.

As part of the executive order, the President authorized state and local governments to refuse the placement or resettlement of refugees in their communities stating that, the Federal government, as an exercise of its broad discretion, “should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments” consent to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.

The government by its order sought to tighten the placement of refugees in the United States by allowing refugees into the United States only if both the State and local government consent to their placement in the State or locality.

In response to a lawsuit filed by refugee-resettlement organizations challenging the executive order, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte said that the plaintiffs were “clearly likely to succeed in showing, that, by giving states and local governments veto power over the resettlement of refugees within their borders, the [executive] order is unlawful.”

To preserve the status quo, until a final decision is made on the merits, Judge Messitte issued a temporary injunction blocking the government from enforcing any part of the executive order on a nationwide basis.

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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On August 20, 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced “enhanced coordination” efforts to remove Guatemalan adults and families arriving at the border more quickly. These efforts have been implemented to discourage Central Americans from attempting to enter the United States illegally and to deter human smuggling.

Acting Associate Director of ICE ERO Timothy Robbins made the following statement regarding these enforcement actions, “Breaking U.S. laws by illegally entering the United States is an ineffective manner to petition to legally remain in the United States. Ultimately, if you have no basis to remain in the United States, you will be apprehended and returned to your home country.”

ICE has announced that since mid-July it has implemented a more streamlined process to expeditiously remove Guatemalans who have no basis to remain in the United States.

According to ICE, this process allows the US to repatriate these individuals, “without utilizing resources to house aliens or manage their cases while they await immigration or removal proceedings out of custody.”

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USCIS International Field Offices

On August 9, 2019, USCIS announced its plans to maintain seven international field offices open in Beijing, Guangzhou, Nairobi, New Delhi, Guatemala City, Mexico City, and San Salvador.

As previously reported, all other USCIS international field offices will close between now and August 2020.

Functions performed at closing international offices will be handled domestically or by USCIS domestic staff on temporary assignments abroad. In addition, the Department of State (DOS) will assume responsibility for certain in-person services that USCIS currently provides at international field offices.

In addition to issuing visas to foreign nationals who are abroad, DOS already performs many of these service functions where USCIS does not have an office.

Targeted Immigration Raids

As our readers may be aware, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been conducting targeted immigration raids (Enforcement and Removal Operations) to remove undocumented immigrants from the United States.

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On August 8, 2018, DHS issued a policy memorandum directing USCIS to change the way in which the agency counted the days of unlawful presence for F, M, and J status violators.

Under that policy memorandum, F, M, and J nonimmigrants who accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then departed the United States, would trigger either a 3- or 10-year bar to admission depending on the period of unlawful presence accrued in the United States prior to departure. The new policy would begin counting the days of unlawful presence the day after an F, M, or J status violation, unless an exception applied.

These bars would prevent the foreign national from applying for an immigration benefit in the future, without the approval of a waiver of inadmissibility.

This policy was to become effective on August 9, 2018; however, it quickly grew controversial and inspired a slew of lawsuits. Prior to this attempted policy change, USCIS did not begin counting a period of unlawful presence until a USCIS immigration official or immigration judge made a formal finding of a status violation.

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The White House recently issued a Presidential Memorandum to strengthen asylum procedures and safeguard the asylum system against fraud.

The Presidential Proclamation specifically orders the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to take several measures to enhance the security of the asylum system by July 28, 2019.

These measures require the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to enact proposals and/or regulations that would:

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The immigrant caravan from Central America has now reached the Southwest border. Thousands of migrants are now waiting in Tijuana for an opportunity to apply for asylum at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, tensions begin to mount as members of the immigrant caravan rushed the border fence at the San Ysidro port of entry, attempting to enter the United States illegally. In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers shut down both south and northbound traffic at the San Ysidro border crossing south of San Diego for approximately six hours.

The decision to close the San Ysidro port of entry during the holiday weekend was unprecedented considering that the San Ysidro port of entry is one of the busiest land border crossings in the world with 70,000 northbound vehicles and 20,000 northbound pedestrians seeking to cross each day. Many Americans were left stranded in Mexico waiting for the port of entry to re-open to re-enter the country after Thanksgiving.

The saga unfolded on November 25, 2018 when San Diego MTS suspended trolley services at the San Ysidro Transit Center due to increased tensions at the border. Passengers seeking to cross into Mexico were forced to transfer to bus routes traveling to the Otay Mesa border. In similar fashion, Caltrans San Diego announced several closures.

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Several months ago, we reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) amended its policy regarding the issuance of Notice to Appear (NTA) documents in removal proceedings.

During the month of June, USCIS released a policy memorandum indicating the agency’s intent to revise NTA policy to better align with the President’s Executive Order 13768 “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” NTAs are documents that are issued to alien’s subject to removal from the United States. Issuance of an NTA initiates the process of removing an individual from the United States.

Specifically, the Executive Order 13768 called on DHS to “prioritize the removal of aliens described in INA §§ 212(a)(2), (a)(3), (a)(6)(C), 235, and 237(a)(2) and (a)(4) … who are removable based on criminal or security grounds, fraud or misrepresentation, and aliens subject to expedited removal.”

In addition, the Executive Order called for the removal of individuals who:

  • (a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • (b) Have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • (c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • (d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;
  • (e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • (f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but have not departed; or
  • (g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security

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“Fake Dates” Appear on Notices of intent to Deny

Across the nation, news outlets are reporting that dozens of individuals have received court orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordering them to appear in court by a certain date.

The problem? When these individuals showed up to court on the date indicated on the notice, they were turned away by court staffers who notified them that their names were not listed on the judge’s official dockets.

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Beginning next year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will launch a task force located in Los Angeles, designed to identify, detect, and prosecute individuals who have fraudulently gained United States Citizenship, for example by entering into a ‘sham’ marriage to obtain permanent residence, or engaging in other fraudulent activity, such as using a false identity to apply for permanent residence and/or naturalization.

USCIS has already begun to process of hiring lawyers and immigration officers who will review cases of individuals who have been deported, who the agency believes may potentially use a false identity to obtain permanent residence and/or citizenship. Such cases will be referred to the Department of Justice, who will then initiate the removal of individuals who have committed immigration fraud.

Of the denaturalization task force, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna told reporters, “We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place. What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.”

The denaturalization task force will be funded by immigration application filing fees. The denaturalization task force will be primarily focused on targeting individuals who have used false identities to obtain immigration benefits.

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