Category: Deportation Defense

As Trump Eases Enforcement Priorities, Undocumented Immigrants Feel the Squeeze

If you want to understand what it feels like when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) comes to get an undocumented immigrant, read this article in Newsweek.

As a candidate for President, Donald Trump promised to round up the “bad hombres.”  His Attorney General has routinely called for stricter enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.  John F. Kelly, the head of Homeland Security, has similarly promised that until Congress changes our immigration policies, his agency would enforce the laws on the books to the fullest extent possible.

Enter Jonatan Palacios, an undocumented man from Honduras.  Back in 2008, he was ordered deported by an immigration judge.  ICE recently found Mr. Palacios and took him in to immigration custody.

In an interview with Newsweek, Palacios said “I was so panicked.  I was trying to think through every little detail. Eventually, there was nothing else we could do and I just got out of the car, gave Lillie a hug and went with them.”

Immigration lawyers across the country explain that since Trump came into office, ICE has moved sharply away from the Obama-era policy of deporting criminals first.  Now, all undocumented immigrants are at risk.

Under Obama, agents were required to follow a specified list of priorities. Under Trump, ICE can investigate any undocumented immigrant they deem to be a “risk to public safety or national security” —a deliberately vague mandate, say immigration experts, that gives individuals in the agency a lot of leeway to make their own choices.  For better or worse.

This is contrary to candidate Trump’s promise to focus on “bad hombres.”

It should also spark a debate about what our nation’s immigration process should look like.

Do we really want to deport millions of people who have lived in the U.S. without proper authorization for years and years but who have committed no crimes?

Or, given the limited financial resources that ICE and other law enforcement agencies have, do we want to prioritize those who violate the laws?

In addition, the current approach under Donald Trump appears hostile, mean-spirited and destined to break up thousands of families.

 

 

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.

 

U.S. Army Veteran to be Deported

Miguel Perez is not a U.S. Citizen.

His two children are.

Despite this, he is scheduled to be deported due to a conviction for selling drugs.

Perez served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

He enlisted for not one, but two, tours.  According to his family, Perez “was blown out of his Jeep in Kandahar” and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the blast.

He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He started self-medicating with alcohol and he then turned to drugs.  That led to the selling of drugs.

Sadly, he had the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen after serving in the Army, but he didn’t understand how the process worked.  He thought that simply serving in the military resulted in him automatically becoming a U.S. citizen.

America has done a poor job of taking care of the women and men who fought in George Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/. Problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs are legendary.

We provide little funding for treating the psychological injuries of war.

But when a man or a woman volunteers to pickup a gun and defend this country, we should be there for that soldier when they return.  If they make a mistake and commit a crime, go ahead and punish them.

But in this huge political push to see who can out-tough other politicians when it comes to immigrants, real people get caught up in the system.

We abandoned this man to the streets after he fought for us. This is deplorable what the government is now trying to do.

We believe that if you serve our nation honorably and come back to the United States that you should not be deported. A black letter rule that would prohibit us from deporting women and men who put on our country’s uniform.

Miguel Perez is running out of options. He has already been ordered de-or Ted by the immigration judge.  He is seeking relief in the Board of Immigration Appeals and has asked for members of Congress to assist him.

Will we leave this blood brother behind?  After what we a

Big Win at Immigration for Happily Married Couple

When a US citizen marries a foreign national, they can sponsor their spouse for a green card.

If the couple has been married less than two years when the green card is approved, then the foreign national only receives a two-year, temporary green card.

Before the 2-year green card expires, the couple must submit a form called an I-751 form to the immigration service. They have to demonstrate that they are still married and the marriage is real.

If the couple fails to submit this form, the foreign national can lose their status and even end up in deportation proceedings.

Early last year, our law firm was hired to represent a U.S. citizen and his wife. They are both originally from Kosovo.

They have three children and they have lived together every day since they were married.

This couple did file the I 751 on time, but they failed to respond to a request for additional evidence from USCIS. As a result, USCIS denied their I-751 petition.

This couple happens to be members of the Islamic faith. They dress in traditional Muslim garb. S it is not entirely surprising that USCIS sent the woman to deportation court.

This is a bit upsetting, however, given the fact that we have had many clients who come to see us after having not filed there I 751 on time, but without ever being placed in removal. We had a Canadian client who filed it nine years late and he was not placed into removal.

To the best of our recollection, this is the only couple that we have ever had actually sent to deportation for this failure to follow the rules.

After the deportation proceedings began, the couple hired us to try and help.

We filed a new i-751 and submitted a lot of evidence that the couple is still married. The best evidence, of course, is the fact that they have 3 U.S. citizen children between them.

The immigration judge put the deportation case on hold while USCIS decided what to do with the new submission from our office. Last week, we went to a 10 minute interview at the St.Louis field office of USCIS and the case was approved on the spot by one of the supervisors.

We will now be able to take that approval notice and get the deportation case stopped.

We are very happy for a client, especially the wife who has been afraid to go visit her mother back home because of the pending deportation case. Now, she will be able to go visit her family. Our client is also eligible to apply for citizenship now.

Immigrant Justice – Arbitrary and Capricious

Arbitrary (adj.) – subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion.

Capricious (adj.) – subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change; erratic.

When I attended law school, the professors taught us that justice was supposed to be distributed evenly.  We learned how precedent – prior decisions – was to dictate how judges decide matters in real time.

They also taught us that the law was NOT supposed to be arbitrary or capricious.  The law should not turn on the tendencies of a particular judge, but rather applied uniformly across the country.

The law should not be left to the “individual will” of a judge.  The law should not be “unpredictable” or “erratic.”

I think of these old law school lessons whenever I see statistics regarding the granting or denial of asylum relief in our nation’s immigration courts.

Asylum cases involve a claim by a foreign national that if he or she return to their home country that they will be persecuted for something about them that they can’t or should not have to change – their religion, their nationality, their race, their political opinion or their membership in a particular social group.

One would hope that if we took the same asylum case and presented it to an immigration judge in Cleveland and in Phoenix and in Seattle, the same result would be reached.

But the statistics from our nation’s 58 deportation courts show that this is definitely not the case.

Generally, the approval rate for asylum court cases is about 48 percent.  But after the recent surge of asylum cases stemming from the violence in Central America, the numbers in our nation’s immigration courts are all over the map.

According to a recent piece in The Washington Post, the approval rate for asylum at the New York immigration court is 84 percent.  The approval rate in Chicago is 45 percent.  But in Houston, only 9 percent of asylum seekers obtain relief.  The number in Atlanta is even worse – amazingly, the immigration judges in Atlanta only approve 2 percent of the cases that appear before them.  Two percent!

This is no way to run an immigration system.  Asylum is one of the most important forms of immigration relief that there is.  These judges are literally making life and death choices.  Due to the overworked and overloaded immigration court system, the judges have very little time to review these cases.

How in the world can immigration judges in New York approve 84 percent of the cases, but judges in Atlanta only 2?

The Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Board of Immigration Appeals must make uniformity in the rule of law a guiding principal and reign in these judges with ridiculously low approval rates.

Too much is at stake.

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Immigration Judges Are Overworked, Stressed Out

The United States currently has 277 immigration judges across the nation. This represents the highest number of judges in our nation’s history.

Despite this, immigrants facing deportation face delays of years and years before having their day in court.  Several months ago, the number of pending deportation cases reached their highest number ever – in excess of 500,000 pending cases.

Our office routinely receives individual hearing dates (basically, the trial associated with whether the immigrant stays in the U.S. or is forced to return home) that are set two or three years into the future.

The immigration judges have a union and that union has repeatedly asked Congress for increased funding for more law clerks and resources to help with the backlog.  Most of these requests have not been granted.

The failure of Congress to provide more financial support for our nation’s immigration judges has resulted in judges having to make literal life-or-death decisions in a matter of minutes, simply to keep the deportation machine moving.  A recent New York Times article makes clear that:

the conditions that immigration judges work under — fast paced, high pressure and culturally charged — make some misjudgments all but inevitable.

Immigration judges are experiencing high levels of burnout.  Turnover is the result which only slows cases down even more.

The head of the immigration judges’ union recently spoke about the difficulties in having to make such important decisions with limited information which usually rests on the credibility of the people testifying in front of them.  The judges try to combat their own internal prejudices, but often find that a difficult thing to do in such a fast-paced environment.

More than 40 percent of immigrants come to court without a lawyer, but even when lawyers are involved, experts say that immigrants who are educated, articulate and white have an easier time gaining the court’s sympathy.  That is not fair.

Our system of justice should work better than this.

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New Border Chief to Address Internal Corruption, High Number of Fatal Shootings

There is a new sheriff in town.

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Actually, we are referring to a new chief of the U.S. Border Patrol agency.  Mark Morgan, a former FBI supervisor, recently became the head of the agency charged with securing our nation’s borders.

Morgan is the first “outsider” to ever take the helm of Border Patrol and people are beginning to take notice.

Border Patrol has faced a series of setbacks and public relations black eyes in recent years.  Claims of an overly confrontational approach that has resulted in multiple fatal shootings, a long history of internal corruption and a lack of accountability in investigating misconduct have persisted.

Morgan spoke of the perceived environment at Border Patrol – “it was a culture of not getting out and talking about issues, not being transparent about the process that drove the perception there was a culture problem.”  Morgan toured half of the 20 Border Patrol outposts that cover the 6,000 miles of our Canadian and Mexican borders and spoke with front line agents at each of those locations.

He has also implemented new “use-of-force” policies to train new recruits in de-escalating mechanisms to try and cut down on the number of fatalities along the border.  An improved review system for officer involved shootings is also being implemented.

“The piece we need to get better at when a shooting happens is, what happens now?  I don’t think we were very good at all about making decisions like whether the use of force was within our guidelines.”

Morgan is a civil servant as opposed to a political appointee so it is expected that he will stay in the role no matter the outcome of the November presidential election.  During a recent Congressional hearing, Morgan was asked what he thought of Mr. Trump’s grand plan for a border wall.  He noted that the federal government already spends a tremendous amount of money on the existing border security fences and that a wall “isn’t the answer.”

 

20-Year-Old Immigration Law Signed By President Clinton Continues to Harm Immigrants

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In 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the harshest immigration bill that this nation had seen in decades.  The effects of this bill linger and hang over any efforts for “immigration reform.”

Interestingly, Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act has not been discussed much this election cycle, despite the fact that IIRIRA established the deportation machine that has been humming along for two decades now.

Regular readers of this website know that we have been super-critical of Republican hard-liner Donald Trump and his harsh anti-immigrant, xenophobic presidential campaign.  But this does not mean that Democrats get a pass here.

The truth is that the “centrist” Bill Clinton signed the most draconian immigration bill of our lifetime.  President Barack Obama has deported more people than any President in the nation’s history.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promises immigration reform, but what exactly would that reform look like?

Lost in all of this is IIRIRA.  According to a recent article on Vox:

The ’96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today — where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants.  It was a bundle of provisions with a single goal: to increase penalties on immigrants who had violated US law in some way (whether they were unauthorized immigrants who’d violated immigration law or legal immigrants who’d committed other crimes).

IIRIRA greatly expanded the types of crimes that could result in the deportation of a foreign national.  This included lawful permanent residents.  And the Clinton bill made those changes retroactive, thereby boosting the number of possible (probable) deportations.

The law also made many immigrants subject to mandatory detention while their immigration cases were being decided.  This pre-trial hammer was used to make frustrated, imprisoned immigrants give up their effort to stop deportation and simply go home.  An underfunded deportation judicial system only meant that these immigrants had to wait longer and longer while in lockup for their day in court.

Immigrants convicted of certain crimes or those caught within 100 miles of the border were given summary deportation orders without ever having the chance to see an immigration judge.

Finally, the 1996 law made it almost impossible for undocumented immigrants to receive cancellation of removal.  This is a form of relief for longtime undocumented immigrants who had not committed crimes to stay in the country.  IIRIRA made it almost impossible to obtain such relief.

Proponents of immigration reform and immigration advocates are understandably appalled by the harsh rhetoric coming from the Republican party on this issue.  But it cannot and should not be lost on any one who follows this issue that the Democrats have a lot of blame for our current situation as well.

 

Judge OKs class action for children in deportation hearings

A glimmer of hope for immigrant children has emerged in a relatively dark and messy period for American immigration and deportation policies. This June, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of Seattle has approved a class action lawsuit to determine whether impoverished children are entitled to lawyers during deportation hearings.

Brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration advocates, the case challenges the government’s failure to provide lawyers to children during deportation hearings.

A class action suit, or a representative action as some refer to it as, is a type of lawsuit in which one of the parties is a group of people who are represented collectively by a specific member of that group. In this case, the group of people represented is thousands of children throughout the West.

For years, the United States of America has encountered many cases in which minors are potentially eligible for asylum or citizenship but can’t afford legal representation. Under current policies, the country has run on a system that Matt Adams says “pits unrepresented children against trained federal prosecutors.” Matt Adams, the legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, is highly involved in the lawsuit and has stated that under the ruling, the merits of the practice will be argued in a single case, and the government will have to defend an unjust system.

This lawsuit is coming late in the game, but it is needed now more than ever for the immigrant community. Since 2013, more than 7,000 immigrant children have been deported without appearing in court. What was originally a border crisis for the United States has now become a due process crisis. Wendy Young’s advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense, as well as many other advocacy groups, have been pushing for a system more supportive of minors when it comes to court proceedings.

While it is an alarming thought that America’s fundamental due process right has been repeatedly abused with regards to immigrant children, the class action suit is one of the first steps of many in improving immigration policy that has for a long time been due reformation.

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Supreme Court Kills Off Obama’s Deferred Action Program for Parents of U.S. Citizens

The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked in its review of a lower court’s decision on President Barack Obama’s controversial Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

DAPA would have temporarily halted the deportations of undocumented immigrants and allowed them to work in the U.S. legally.

The 4-4 tie was expressed yesterday in a single sentence “the judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”

Texas and twenty-five other states challenged the DAPA program which would have shielded as many as 5 million undocumented aliens from deportation. Those eligible included the parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders. The states argued that Obama exceeded his jurisdiction in adopting the program.

A federal judge in Texas ruled against Obama and halted the program a week before it was set to begin in 2014. The feds argued that Texas and the other states lacked standing to bring the action and the judge agreed. An appellate court also agreed which meant that when the Supreme Court tied, the lower court ruling stayed binding.

This ruling deals a harsh blow to many mixed-immigration-status families throughout the U.S. It is expected that deportations will increase following this ruling.

The decision also stresses the importance of federal elections. Republicans have refused to allow comprehensive immigration reform to come to the floor of Congress for a vote. President Obama acted only after years of inaction on the part of Congress.

Republicans also refused to allow Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Elections have consequences.

In his comments yesterday, the President said, “If you keep on blocking judges from getting on the bench, then courts can’t issue decisions.  And what that means is then you are going to have the status quo frozen, and we are not able to make progress on some very important issues.”

Hopefully, voters will remember these things in November.

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