Month: April 2017

Attorney Amany Ragab Hacking Presents on Immigration Appeals

The Eighth Circuit Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association – St. Louis Chapter recently asked Attorney Amany Ragab Hacking to present on appellate practice in immigration cases on April 6, 2017 at the en banc courtroom at the United States Court of Appeals in the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse.  

Amany joined a distinguished panel of 8 lawyers who each spoke about their specific practice areas, including criminal, civil, social security, bankruptcy, tax and habeas corpus.  

Amany shared her insights on the differences between immigration appellate practice and the other practice areas.  

Specifically, she discussed the concept of “consular non-reviewability” which is a bit unique in the large appellate context.  It gives consular officers almost unfettered discretion in deciding whether to issue an individual a visa or to deny an individual a visa.  

This can be incredibly frustrating for clients who have incurred a great deal of expense and waited months, in some cases years, only to have their case denied in the final stage of the immigration process. It is vital to vet cases well and prepare them as best as you can before this stage to minimize denials.

In addition, in immigration practice, unlike the other practice areas, the US Attorney General can write an opinion to supersede decisions already made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) – which is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws in the United States. This power is somewhat controversial and has limited procedural safeguards or protections to check it.  That is why whom we elect as president can make such a profound impact on the immigration process in this country.  

Amany also discussed how the REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, stripped federal courts of jurisdiction over immigration appeals. Unlike other practice areas, the federal courts have limited power in immigration cases.  She emphasized how important it is to understand the particular appellate procedure for your immigration case, as not doing so will delay your case further.

Finally, she discussed the analysis that every lawyer should make when taking on immigration appeals – should you appeal or not appeal and just start over. Too often the appellate system may not be the best next step for your client for a number of reason – it will take longer to appeal something requires the administrative bureaucracy to admit they made a mistake than it will for you to start over and provide what is needed to prevail.  It depends on the case, and requires good advice and reasoning.  

In the end, Amany highlighted some tips and immigration sources for the other attorneys – including using the Freedom of Information Act as a tool to learn more about your client and their immigration history; being a good advocate for your client in everything you send to immigration, not just forms, but your letters, memos, and all writing; and to read up on immigration changes through the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Bar Association.  

Can a writ of mandamus help in delayed asylum cases

 

Can a writ of mandamus lawsuit work for people who have delayed asylum cases? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of office here in St. Louis, Missouri. You know one of our favorite things to do here at the Hacking Law Practice is to file lawsuits on behalf of immigrants who’ve been waiting too long for immigration benefits. Typically, we do that in the citizenship context, so probably over a hundred people have benefited from working with us to file lawsuits on their behalf against the USCIS. The way it works is you file a lawsuit, you ask a federal judge who doesn’t work for the immigration service, who’s appointed for life and who is not part of the executive branch, to compel the immigration service to decide a case.

We’ve had people who’ve been waiting for their citizenship for one, two, three, four, five, even nine years benefit from us filing a lawsuit. When you file a lawsuit, it generally requires the USCIS to take the case off the shelf. For some reason, they’ve taken people’s cases and put them up on the shelf, and the lawsuit makes them explain the source of the delay. When delays have gone on for a really, really long time, the agency usually does not want to fight. They just want to move the case forward. We oftentimes get positive movement on the cases, oftentimes scheduling an interview or scheduling an oath ceremony.
We’ve always known that it works in the citizenship context. We’ve also had success, which you can learn about on other videos, when it comes to green card delays. We even had success suing the State Department for delays in processing immigrant visas for the spouses of US citizens. The one thing we’ve never done before is file a mandamus action for someone who had been waiting for asylum. One of the reasons we were reluctant to do that is we weren’t entirely sure, given the fact that the immigration service and the asylum office has so much discretion in granting or denying asylum, we were reluctant to file a lawsuit on the asylum front. We weren’t sure if it was going to work.

About six months ago, we were hired by a very nice couple from Syria who happen to live in Michigan. They had filed for asylum in December of 2012. They had their interview just a few months later, which is unusual, but it does happen. Sometimes, randomly, certain asylum cases get assigned very quickly to an interview. Their interview happened literally six weeks after they filed. The interview was in January of 2013, and at the time that they hired us in October of 2016, they had been waiting for three and a half years for their decision. They had done everything they could do to try to get help. They had contacted the CIA ombudsman. They had contacted their senators and representatives in Michigan, and they had made numerous InfoPass appointments, and they just couldn’t get any movement.

One thing to keep in mind is this couple had hired the largest immigration law firm in the country. If I told you their name, you’d have heard of them. They have offices around the country and around the world. I think generally they specialize more in business immigration, and while they did take this asylum case, when I reviewed the paperwork that had been filed, I didn’t think they had done a very job. Specifically, what I complained about was the fact that the statement that was submitted in support of the asylum application was all over the map. It wasn’t very focused. It left a lot of things wide open and a lot of issues for inquiry by the asylum officer.

I talked to my client about how the initial interview had gone. He said that it had gone very well, that the officer had talked to them for about an hour, which is also unusual, and that the asylum case, he was told by the officer, would be approved in a couple of months. None of that made real sense. Nonetheless, we decided to file a lawsuit. We filed suit in Chicago, because that’s where our client’s asylum case was pending. We filed it in federal court. We served copies on the defendants, and pretty quickly, he got rescheduled for another interview. That was last January. I attended the interview with my clients. It was a long day. My client had a lot to say, and they had a lot of ground to cover. They were revisiting and reissuing focus on the case and the questions that had been answered back in 2013, and they wanted to make sure that my client had not supported any kind of groups that the United States was worried about in Syria.
When the interview was over, we thought that we had done a good job and that we would be getting a decision shortly.

It turns out that we had to wait a little bit longer. Now, the defendants had a certain amount of time to answer the lawsuit. Typically, it’s 60 days, but because they were working with us, we had given them some extensions and were coming up against a new deadline. I got a call from the US attorney who was defending the lawsuit to tell me that, lo and behold, the immigration service, the asylum office, wanted to interview our client one more time. Now, I took this as a good sign, because I figured if they wanted to deny the case, they wouldn’t call us back in for another interview, but that’s in fact what they did. This week, we went up to Chicago and had a third interview on the asylum case. It was relatively quick, but it was about an hour long.

One thing the attorney had told me when he called was that he was willing to promise that we would leave the asylum office that day with a decision. It was a very stressful day for my client and for me. We went through that hour-long third interview, and then they asked us to wait so they could talk to the supervisor. They had a few more questions after that, and then we had to wait a few hours while they issued their decision. We spent that time pacing back and forth in the asylum office. It was back like when I had trial work, and I was waiting on a jury. I really wasn’t sure which way it was going to go. The officer didn’t want to come out and see us herself. She had the lady at the front window give us the decision, so we’re sitting there waiting for the decision. It was very suspenseful. I was very worried.

The decision was sitting across from us. I couldn’t tell what it said. I was pretty sure that it was going to be a denial, but the agent happily told us that our client had been approved. His long four-and-a-half year wait for asylum had been granted, that he’d been granted a parole into the United States, and that he was going to be treated as an asylee, that a year from now, he can apply for a green card, and then five years after that, he can apply for citizenship. This happened on a day that there was a horrible gas attack in Syria, so it only led more importance and significance to the victory. We were very, very excited for our client and his wife and his two lovely US citizen daughters. They’re not going to have to go back to Syria or to leave the United States. It was quite a victory, and we’re really happy for our clients.

Lesson learned. If an asylum case has been pending for a really, really long time … It’s not going to work in every case, and I would say a delay of two or three or four years is sort of the minimum before we file a lawsuit, but to know that the immigration service, the asylum office, and the US attorneys will work with us on asylum cases is a very valuable lesson.

If you have experienced delay in any kind of immigration case, whether it’s citizenship, green cards, visas, anything, make sure to give us a call at the Hacking Law Practice, 314-961-8200. You can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com. If you like this video, be sure to click the subscribe button below. Give us a like and a shout out on social media. We’d really appreciate it. It’s a big help. If you have questions that you want us to cover, just feel free to email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com, and we’ll try to shoot a video for you. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

 

Trump Administration Shakes Up the H-1b System

Over the past several weeks, the nation has seen some revisions to the interpretation of our country’s immigration laws related to the system that allows foreign nationals to work in the United States.

Generally, foreign nationals are not allowed to work in the U.S. without authorization.  The name of the visa that most foreigners use to work is the H-1b visa.

Federal law allows for the issuance of 65,000 H-1b visas to foreign nationals with a college degree in a “specialty occupation.”  Another 20,000 such H-1bs are set aside for foreign workers with a master’s degree from a U.S. institution of higher learning.

The H-1b system is based on federal law, as passed by Congress many years ago.

The President’s role in the H-1b system is to enforce laws passed by Congress, including the H-1b system.  The new Trump administration has made several recent and important changes to the H-1b program.

These changes will affect immigrants working in the St. Louis area and throughout the United States.

Premium Processing Suspended

The first change occurred in late March of 2017, shortly before the filing deadline for the next fiscal year of H-1b visas.  The Department of Homeland Security issued an announcement on the USCIS website that premium processing for H-1b visas had been temporarily suspended.

Premium processing allows an employer seeking to hire a foreign worker to obtain an answer in a few short weeks as opposed to waiting for five or six months.  Under the Trump administration, foreign workers and the U.S. companies that wish to hire them will have to wait much longer for an answer.

Mr. Trump made it clear during the presidential campaign that his number one priority was helping American workers and it appears that this change is designed to make it harder and more cumbersome to hire foreign nationals.

Computer Programmer Job May No Longer Qualify

On March 31, 2017, the day before next year’s H-1b applications were due, USCIS changed the rules regarding the availability of H-1b visas for the position of “computer programmer.”

The agency rescinded a 2000 memorandum that said that the role of a computer programmer would usually qualify as a specialty occupation and therefore be eligible for an H-1b visa.

USCIS issued a new memorandum that makes clear that foreign nationals employed as computer programmers, especially those in entry-level positions, may no longer be treated as working in a “specialty occupation.”  Because many computer programmers work without a specific college degree in computer programming, the job may not always be considered a specialty occupation.  Therefore, the H-1b visa may not be available for these foreign workers.

From the memo:

Based on the current version of the [Occupational Outlook] Handbook, the fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his or her job is not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation. Thus, a petitioner may not rely solely on the Handbook to meet its burden when seeking to sponsor a beneficiary for a computer programmer position. Instead, a petitioner must provide other evidence to establish that the particular position is one in a specialty occupation as defined by 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(ii) that also meets one of the criteria at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii). Section 214(i)(1) of the INA; see also Royal Siam Corp. v. Chertoff, 484 F.3d 139, 147 (1st Cir. 2007).

This is an important change.

Any employer looking to hire a foreign national is required to pay the prevailing wage.  The prevailing wage is calculated by looking at the average wages paid in a particular geographic area for that occupation type.

Computer programmers make significantly less than software developers.  The thought is that employers have been saving money and undercutting the American worker by paying foreign nationals as computer programmers instead of as software developers.

This change will require companies, especially foreign staffing companies, to pay a lot more to their employees or risk having their H-1b applications denied.

It is interesting, to say the least, that the Trump administration decided to make this announcement on the day that immigration lawyers and employers were shipping thousands of H-1b applications to the USCIS service centers for processing.  It appears that this was designed to harm employers who were relying on their ability to hire foreign nationals in this role.

H-1B Abuse Enforcement Announced

On April 3, 2017, USCIS issued a press release to announce “multiple measures to further deter and detect H1B visa fraud and abuse.”

The release is entitled Putting American Workers First: USCIS Announces Further Measures to Detect H-1B Visa Fraud and Abuse.

USCIS has adopted new criteria to determine which H1B employers and worksites are to be targeted for site visits. An updated website and email address have been implemented to purportedly make it easier to notify USCIS that H-1b abuse has occurred.

Site Visits and Enforcement

Since 2009, USCIS has routinely conducted random site visits of H-1b employers and work sites. Starting with the issuance of the press release, USCIS will ramp up the number of site visits conducted and The USCIS has been conducting random site visits to the offices of H1B petitioners and work locations since 2009. Effective immediately, however, the USCIS will increase the number of site visits it conducts and “take a more targeted approach when making site visits across the country.”

The memo takes aim at the following situations: employers whose basic information cannot be verified through commercial databases; employers deemed “dependent” on H-1B workers; and, employers such as consulting companies whose employees will work off-site at another organization’s location.

USCIS also announced the use of a new email address (ReportH1BAbuse@uscis.dhs.gov) to allow American workers to report suspected H-1b fraud or abuse.  The agency also published an online reference page that lists other available ways that suspected H1B fraud or abuse may be reported.  The website also lists examples of the types of behavior that may indicate H-1b fraud.  The protections available to U.S. workers are also provided on that site.

On the same day that USCIS issued its press release, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice sent out a separate release that makes it clear that U.S. employers are not supposed to discriminate against the American worker.

From the release:

The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally prohibits employers from discriminating against U.S. workers because of their citizenship or national origin in hiring, firing and recruiting. Employers violate the INA if they have a discriminatory hiring preference that favors H-1B visa holders over U.S. workers.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate employers misusing the H-1B visa process to discriminate against U.S. workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division. “U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims.”

These recent changes suggest that Mr. Trump intends to make it more difficult for foreign nationals to work in the U.S.  As a candidate, Trump consistently portrayed immigrants as outsiders coming to take “our jobs.”  These changes to the law may make it significantly harder for employers to hire and retain foreign nationals.

We will keep you apprised of any additional changes to the law.

Indian Doctors Face Deportation Due to Paperwork Error

Two Indian physicians who reside in Houston, Texas, face imminent deportation from the United States due to a paperwork error.

Dr. Pankaj Satija is a neurologist who helped found the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas.  His wife, Dr. Monnika Ummat, have resided in the U.S. for many, many years.  Dr. Ummat is also a neurologist.  She specializes in treating epilepsy at Texas Children’s Hospital.  They are the parents of 2 U.S. citizens, 7-year-old Ralph and 4-year-old Zoeey.

The pair faced removal last week after immigration officials refused to extend Dr. Satija’s and Dr. Ummat’s temporary permission to stay in the U.S.  The decision by Homeland Security may cause dozens of Texans who suffer from neurological disorders to be without their doctors.

“I have 50 patients today and 40 patients tomorrow,” said Dr. Satija. “I’m just concerned they’ll be left in a lurch. They could land up in the emergency room.”

The Houston Methodist Hospital System sponsored Dr. Satija for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) in 2008.  Dr. Ummat would be eligible to adjust status as his spouse.  But because the couple are from India and because USCIS has a nearly decade-long backlog for Indian professionals to adjust status, they have not yet received their LPR status.

The couple regularly renewed their travel documents and work authorizations.  But last year, their permission to travel abroad was extended for only one year instead of two years, which had typically been what they received.  Later snafus by Customs and Border Patrol contributed to the confusion.

The couple never noticed the problem.  Then Dr. Satija’s brother called from India to tell him that their father had been admitted into intensive care and was gravely ill.  The entire family flew to India.

When they returned to the U.S., they learned that they had left the U.S. on expired advance parole documents (the formal name for the travel documents).

CBP allowed the couple to enter the U.S. on deferred inspection, which means they were allowed in but would have to explain how they believed they were entitled to stay at a later date.

When they brought their paperwork back to CBP, they were initially told that everything would be okay.  But the next day, they were told “[s]omebody up there has decided you have to leave the country in the next 24 hours.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, in two expansive immigration memos the Trump administration issued in February, it directed the nation’s three main immigration agencies to “sparingly” use the practice of parole, though it hasn’t yet detailed the new regulations.

At the end of last week, DHS did agree to give the couple another 90 days to try and sort out the situation.

This story demonstrates a few themes we talk about at the Hacking Law Practice on a regular basis.

First, it is absolutely ridiculous that we have an immigration system that takes nine years for a pair of super-qualified doctors from India to get lawful resident status.

Second, it is absurd that we are even talking about the possibility of deporting these people who serve sick Americans every day of their lives.

Third, immigrants are awesome and help this country every day.