Category: General

U.S. Universities Work to Help International Students Stuck by Trump Muslim Ban

U.S. colleges and universities are taking steps to help F-1 international students who fear returning home due to President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

After several attempts at implementing the ban, the current version of Trump’s plan bars citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from receiving visas to enter the U.S.

An exception exists if the foreign national can demonstrate a “bona fide relationship” with a citizen or entity in the U.S.

Most legal scholars and commentators believe that enrollment in a U.S. institution of higher learning would qualify as the necessary type of relationship, but many students are afraid to take the chance and return home.

Their concern is that while it would be very easy to leave the U.S., there is no guarantee that the embassy in their home country would issue them a new visa for re-entry into the U.S.


So instead of taking the risk and leaving the U.S., many students are playing it safe by remaining in the U.S. during summer and holiday breaks.

A recent story in the Washington Post highlighted the efforts of international student services offices as American universities to make life a little easier for their foreign national students.

The fact is that international students pay the highest tuition rates and many colleges have come to rely on the extra income that educating foreign nationals brings to the school’s bottom line.

“With the uncertainty that’s there, I think people have been thinking twice about some of these decisions and wanting to make sure that they don’t put themselves in situations that could complicate their lives,” said Fanta Aw, the interim vice president of campus life at American University in Washington, D.C. 

For now, the safest thing to do is stay in the U.S. as long as possible.  The risk of problems at the embassy is simply too great unless a true emergency requires the international student to return home.

Why You Should Never Send A Letter to USCIS

Is it ever a good idea to send a letter to USCIS?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We had a couple of situations lately where people came to us with screwed up immigration cases.

One of the main reasons their cases were screwed up, it was because they sent a letter to USCIS. Now, obviously, you can send USCIS general letters asking them questions about the status your case and things like that.

But the one time that you don’t want to send a letter to the USCIS is when they’ve asked you for more information or you’ve already had your interview. Generally speaking, if you’re in a situation where you’re having to write a letter to the USCIS to explain something, that tells me, it tells us, that the case is so complicated that you definitely need to have an attorney involved. If you are finding yourself thinking about, even just thinking about sending a letter to USCIS, you really, really, really should go first and talk to an experienced immigration attorney.

Let me tell you what happens. In this situation, a man had filed for an I-130 based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. He had had an arrest for domestic violence. Although the charges were ultimately dropped because his wife decided to not press charges, USCIS found out about it and asked him about during his interview.

He was so distraught and upset after his interview that he thought it would be a good idea to write a letter trying to explain to USCIS why his case wasn’t that serious, why it wasn’t really abuse. When you read the letter, it just … Every paragraph got worse and worse. His English wasn’t fantastic, but more importantly, the substance of the letter was just terrible. He basically tried to justify why it was okay for him to have hit his wife in this one situation.

Now, obviously, if he’d gone to see an attorney, no attorney would ever let him send a letter like that. There’s absolutely no way that he could ever justify hitting a woman, specifically his wife, and there was no way that USCIS was going to say, “Oh! Thanks for the letter. Now we know that we should just go ahead and approve this case.” Now the guy’s in serious trouble, mostly because he went to his interview without an attorney, but more importantly, because he wrote this letter.

If you ever receive a request for evidence or a continuance of your immigration case and you’re being asked to provide additional documentation, that is generally a really good sign that you need help. You’re not going to be able to get this approved on your own. In fact, you’re probably just going to make matters worse.

You know, we’re plenty busy here. If you don’t hire us, that’s just fine. We’re making this video as a service to you to make sure that you reach out to somebody who knows what they’re doing, to somebody who deals with the immigration service every day, knows how to respond to request for evidence, knows how to write a letter that is persuasive and does not damage the case, and basically knows what they’re doing.

You might have gotten your case this far, but you’re now in a different league. You’re really going to have to make sure that you get help, because you can’t do it on your own. It’s a real good sign that things are in trouble when you’re at a point where you feel like you need to send them a letter.

If you have any questions about this, if you’re thinking about sending a letter to USCIS about your case, if you think that you’ve got it all figured out and then you’re going to go ahead and send this letter, we really encourage you not to do that. Instead, give us a call at 314-961-8200. Or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com.

If you liked this video, please click Like below and make sure that you share it with your friends. Be sure to subscribe to all of our social media channels: YouTube, Facebook. We also have an immigration group on Facebook called Immigrant Home. We’d love to have you there. If you have any questions, give us a call.

Thanks a lot and have a good day.

 

2016 American Nobel Prize Winners are Immigrants

At a time when immigration is in the spotlight and under attack by many critics, it is ironic that all but one of the 2016 American Nobel Prize laureates are immigrants. Laureate is the title given to those who have been honored for creative or intellectual achievements, and this is exactly what the Nobel Prize is awarded for.

The intellectual value that immigrants bring to American academics goes relatively unnoticed by critics like Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who throughout his campaign has proposed a crackdown on immigration.

Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, an honoree in chemistry from Scotland, says the United States is what it is today because of open borders. Moreover, he accredits American openness with the bringing of top scientists to the country and says that the scientific establishment in America can only remain strong “as long as we don’t enter an era where we turn our back on immigration.”

Trump has centered his campaign around two things that appeal to a particular segment of the American population: stricter immigration policies and the revocation of free trade deals, both of which would apparently rescind the negative effects globalization has had on the job market.

While Trump wants to strengthen immigration laws and has proposed “extreme vetting” of potential immigrants from countries with a history of terrorism, others have said that the current immigration process is already too strenuous. Duncan Haldane, an English Princeton University research who won the prize in physics, called the process a “bureaucratic nightmare for many people.”

The fact that so many top American scholars are immigrants defies the common consensus that the immigration process only feeds the low-skilled job market. Critics of immigration accuse immigrants of taking low skilled in-demand jobs from Americans, but overlook the fact that they contribute greatly to American research and education.

As the presidential election approaches rapidly and immigration continues to be viewed under a microscope, it is important to acknowledge the plethora of benefits immigrants bring to American society. Hopefully, the large number of immigrant laureates is a gentle reminder to voters of this fact.

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Feds charge immigration attorney with fabricating documents

Immigration attorney Gnoleba Seri was recently arrested on counts of fraud and aggravated identity theft.  Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Timothy Houghton, Acting District Director of the New York District of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced the arrest on Jan 14.  Seri was arrested by HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) in Brooklyn, NY, and was brought before Hon. James C. Francis IV.

“Gnoleba Seri allegedly used his legal knowledge to circumvent the law and forge documents that are critical to obtaining an immigrant visa.  The strength of the United States’ immigration system rests on the integrity of its process, and this office and our law enforcement partners will hold accountable those who undermine that process,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.  

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“We are proud to stand by our partners today to send a message that U.S. immigration fraud will not be tolerated.  We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our nation’s immigration system,” commented Acting District Director Timothy Houghton.  

Acting Special-Agent-in-Charge Glenn Sorge went on to say: “Gnoleba Seri allegedly abused the special trust bestowed upon him as an immigration attorney to commit fraud and identity theft.  When individuals falsify immigration documents, the system is severely undermined and the security of our nation is put at risk.  HSI is committed to working with its law enforcement partners to ensure fraudsters are identified and brought to justice.”

The complaint that was unsealed in federal court stated:

Between October 2012 and April 2015, GNOLEBA SERI, a licensed immigration attorney working in New York, New York, and Brooklyn, New York, engaged in a scheme to use personal information contained in legitimate immigration documents for fraudulent purposes.  In his role as an immigration attorney, SERI submitted falsified and forged I-864 Forms (affidavits of support for those seeking immigrant visas) in support of his clients’ applications for immigration visas and for legal permanent resident status.  Specifically, SERI received legitimate I-864 Forms, tax information, pay stubs, and W-2 forms from individuals sponsoring his clients, and then fraudulently submitted these documents in applications for other clients.  That is, SERI submitted I-846 Forms that listed individuals as financial sponsors who had never met the people they were purportedly agreeing to sponsor.  Those I-846 Forms included the sponsors’ real names, identifying information, and financial information, as well as forged signatures.  These fraudulent and forged I-864 Forms all listed SERI as the preparer, and many of them were notarized by him.

Attorney Gnoleba Seri, of Brooklyn, is charged with one count of aggravated identity theft, which has a mandatory minimum sentence of two years; one count of visa fraud, which has a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and finally one count of mail fraud which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Visa Waiver Program may not be available to certain travelers

The VWP (Visa Waiver Program), which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security with the help of the State Department, is a program that allows citizens from the 38 member nations to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa.  As a part of the arrangement, those countries must allow U.S. citizens to travel to their countries for the same amount of time without the attainment of a visa for business of tourism.  

Adopted in 1986, the VWP has created an international security community among its member nations.  According to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, “ The VWP utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other mala fide actors from traveling to the United States. This approach incorporates regular, national-level risk assessments concerning the impact of each program country’s participation in the VWP on U.S. national security and law enforcement interests.”  The program reviews VWP travelers before they leave for the United States, at American entry points, and during all air travel within the United States.  

With the recent attack in Paris and the incident in San Bernardino, Congress has begun scrutinizing the VWP.  This week, the House of Representatives voted 407 to 19 to overhaul the visa waiver program.  The new rules would bar those from Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan, or those who have visited those countries in the last five years, from traveling to the U.S. without a visa.

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The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Iranian American Council, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee have recently made their opposition known to a proposed change to the VWP, that is backed by the Obama Administration. The groups claim that the House bill, which is reaching across party lines, discriminates against ethnic groups that may even have citizenship in the West.  The European Union has asked lawmakers to look back over the works and consider not going through with it, as it could impact U.S. citizens’ travel in Europe.  

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) released a letter saying, “We urge Congress to exercise caution and to avoid passing legislation that would broadly scapegoat groups based on nationality, and would fan the flames of discriminatory exclusion, both here and abroad.”

Following the November 13 attacks in Paris, the U.S. has been in a frenzy to set more restrictive immigration laws on immigrants and refugees of Syria and Iraq.  The attack was committed by French and Belgian nationals who are believed to have connections to ISIS.  

The ACLU sees a great problem in the broadness of the bill.  The ACLU claims that according to the bill,  a person who was born and raised in France but whose father is a Syrian citizen would be forced to obtain a visa prior to being able to come to the United States.  This is even applicable if that person has a French passport and never been in Syria.  

The NIAC, which lobbies for Iranian Americans said,  “Given that the Visa Waiver Program is reciprocal, participating countries can respond by blocking Iranian-American travelers from traveling without a visa.  Since Iran considers any children whose fathers are Iranian nationals to also be Iranian nationals, a wide swath of the Iranian diaspora may be targeted by this legislation. This is a dangerous, slippery slope.”

What if my B1/B2 visa gets denied?

What if my B2 visit visa gets denied? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law here in St. Louis, Missouri, and throughout the United States. We have a lot of web visitors ask us about, “What can I do if my mom or dad’s or some other relative or friend’s B2 visit visa is denied?”

The B1/B2 visit visa is a very frustrating process. We actually, in our office, don’t handle very many visit visas. The reason for that is that there is just no way to predict with certainty which visas get approved and which visas get denied. The reason for this is because the State Department has a tremendous amount of discretion in deciding who gets to come and who does not get to come. In fact, that discretion is pretty much not even subject to review.

If you have someone who is overseas that applies for a visit visa and they get denied, you’re not going to have a chance to appeal it to some higher authority. You’re not going to have the chance to talk to a supervisor. It’s a very quick process, and it’s pretty much up to the decision of the consular officer. We have talked in other videos about ways that you can improve your chances of getting a visit visa, but what happens when the visit visa gets denied?

The first thing you need to think about is, why was it denied? Many times visit visas are denied because the foreign national does not have sufficient ties to the home country to show that they intend to return. The State Department is concerned about people coming to the United States and never leaving. When you get a B2 visit visa, or a B1 for that matter, you get six months on most of those visas to stay in the United States. The State Department wants to be very sure that at the end of those six months, you have a reason to come back to your home country. So how can we show this?

One way we can show it is by demonstrating a job, family connections, money in your bank account, these kinds of things, to demonstrate that you are sufficiently tied to your home country. That’s one of the reasons why it gets denied. So if it has been denied for that reason, I think you’re going to have a hard time re-establishing that or convincing them otherwise. When you’re denied, you have to reapply. One of the things we tell people, even though we usually don’t get involved with visit visas, is you have to let the dust settle. You have to wait and give the State Department time to process the case and to not just jump right back in and file a whole new application, because when you do that it makes it look worse, not better.

We always tell people that you should take some time in between applications. If your B2 or B1 visit visas have been denied we would suggest waiting at least six months, and preferably a year, before you reapply. Constantly reapplying does you no good. It just digs you a bigger hole. We have people that visit us on the website that say, “Jim, I have applied three times for a visit visa and I’ve never gotten it.” I say, “What is the time frame of those three denials?” They say, “I applied once a month, over and over.” People really do themselves a disservice when they do that. They think they are going to convince the officer of the proof that they really are intending to come back home. That’s just a bad idea. You’re just annoying the State Department. You’re annoying the consular officials.

The other thing you can do if your case has been denied is to think long and hard about why it was denied. You can put together more evidence to show why you intend to come back. If you have a job, you can show that your job requires your presence. If you’re traveling for work, you can show them that you have a short itinerary and that you have every intention of coming back. You can’t just be reactionary and clicking on applications and paying filing fees and thinking, “Oh my gosh. This time it’s going to be different.”

In the case of family members, if the person that is applying for the visit visa has the opportunity to a just status within the United States based on their familial relationship with a U.S. citizen, I think you’re going to have a really hard time getting a visit visa. My advice to you is to stop clicking on the application and applying over and over and over. What do I mean by that? The State Department has procedures for people that want to sponsor their mom or their dad to come to the United States on a permanent basis.

What they are concerned with is that your mom or dad, if you apply for them for a visit visa, are just going to try to get a green card once they get here. It’s sort of an end run around the process by which people sponsor their mom or dads for a visa. Even if your parent is not intending to do that, that’s the view that they look at this through. They think that everybody wants to come to the United States. So it’s important to keep in mind that just because you have good intentions, just because you have no plans to have your mom or dad stay and get their green card, if you are a U.S. citizen it’s going to be really hard to show that that is not the case.

Visit visas are tricky. We don’t really get involved with them very often. We’re trying to send out these videos to show that you really need to be careful in applying for it. You don’t want to just be obnoxious and reapply, reapply, reapply. You want to think through why it was denied. You want to let some time settle and then, if at the end of the day you think you have a strong position, then file again. But make sure that you have addressed the issues raised in the original denial to the extent that you know them. We’re sorry it’s so frustrating. We’re sorry that you can’t get more certainty in the process. It does cost money to apply, and we know that’s frustrating.

If you have any other questions about any part of the immigration process, give us a call: 314-961-8200. Or you can email us: jim@hackinglawpractice.com. Thanks.

International chess players converge on St. Louis to make it chess capital of the world

You may not know this, but St. Louis, Missouri is fast becoming the chess capital of the world.
Local philanthropist Rex Sinquefield is an enormous chess fan.  He bankrolled the St. Louis Chess Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Chess Club.  Mr. Sinquefield also assisted in our local Webster University’s efforts to recruit the number one college chess team in the U.S. from Texas Tech University.
The Webster University chess team is led by Hungarian-born, American Grandmaster Susan Polgar.  Ms. Polgar became the top-ranked female chess player in the world at the age of 15.  She remained in the top three for the following 23 years.  She broke the gender barrier in chess by qualifying for the men’s chess championship in 1986.
We have been lucky to hear several talks given locally by Grandmaster Polgar and she discussed what it took to have her collegiate chess players win the NCAA chess championships for 4 years in a row.  Believe it or not, the chess team exercises regularly and intensely.  In long chess tournaments, endurance and stamina are essential to success.  This is why they exercise so much.
The Webster U chess team has international players from around the world: Israel, Vietnam, Brazil, the Philippines, Germany, Cuba, Mexico and Hungary.
And, luckily for those of us living in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, Ms. Polgar and the chess team believe in giving back to the community.  The team has partnered with the Webster Groves School District to start chess clubs at each of the grade schools.  The teams meet at least once a week before or after school and the University players act as coaches and mentors.
Our family has been lucky enough to be able to participate on these local chess teams.  At our school, Clark Elementary, local Master and friend Jim Voelker and his wife Joan have volunteered countless hours launching the new chess club.  Our sons Ismail, Yusuf and Ibrahim have all participated in the chess club.
Last month, the School District and the Webster U Chess Team hosted the first annual WGSD Chess Championship.  All three boys participated.  In the 4th-6th grade division, Yusuf won 3rd place and won the 5th grade trophy.  In the K-3rd grade division, Ibrahim won 3rd place.  The boys even got their picture taken with GM Polgar.
Ibrahim & Susan
Susan Polgar & Ibrahim Hacking (8).
Chess offers many lessons for life and, for our purposes, dealing with the immigration service.  Ms. Polgar has often said that when playing a game – like chess or trying to get an immigration benefit – you need to think about the end game.  You need to have the end result in mind and work towards that end, diligently and intelligently.  Many players know how to play the game, but they don’t always know how to finish the game.
So too with immigration.  When dealing with immigration, you are facing a worth adversary.  An adversary with all of the resources of the federal government.  When you make a move with immigration, you need to think ahead and think of the end result.  Sometimes, you may outmaneuver the immigration service, sometimes you might get outmaneuvered yourself.  But you always need to be thinking about that end game.
Ms. Polgar and the super immigrant students at Webster University (both those on the chess team and those not on the team) have made huge contributions in our little town in the few short years that they have been with us.  We are so lucky to have them.
Thanks for reading.
Jim Hacking
PS – the Chess Club offers tons of lessons and learning opportunities.  They host Sunday chess clinics for free and informal tournaments for new learners.  You can access their schedule of events right here.
PS # 2 – we continue to add informational YouTube videos on all kinds of immigration issues each week.  You can access these videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel right here.

ICE agent admits guilt in bribery and immigration fraud scheme

Special Agent James Dominguez of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered a guilty plea to making false statements last week in a case which allegedly involved the passage of official immigration documents to an immigration attorney, as well as doctoring immigration computer records and sham marriages of foreign nationals.  The plea occurred on April 17, 2014 in federal court in Los Angeles.

Dominguez faces up to five years in prison, three years of supervised probation and a $250,000 fine.  While the former agent pleaded only to lying to law enforcement, he had also been charged with accepting bribes since 2001 from immigration attorney Kwang Man Lee, himself a former U.S. immigration official.

The U.S. Attorney’s office maintains that Dominguez, Lee and other co-conspirators added and removed documents from the immigration files of Lee’s clients.  Lee allegedly paid Dominguez and others with cash and expensive gifts – including at least three Thailand vacations, computer and television sets and cold, hard cash.

Attorney Lee, a former INS agent, is alleged to have solicited bribes from aliens in exchange for fraudulent admission stamps to citizenship. Lee also supposedly submitted false immigration petitions.  No word yet on a trial date or possible plea deal by Lee.

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Immigration Podcast Homeward Bound Episode 2 Now Available

Episode 2 of the Hacking Law Practice’s immigration podcast, Homeward Bound, has been uploaded.

This week, we cover the Missouri Senate Blue Panel Hearings on immigration in Missouri.  We discuss a new survey out that shows suprising receptiveness to most Americans to expanded immigration.  We explain how an affidavit of support works in immigration and we end the show with our immigration success story.

The podcast can be accessed here:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/homewardbound/Homeward_Bound_Immigration_Podcast_Ep_2.mp3

 

St. Louis Immigration Lawyer: Documents for Citizenship Application

When you and your family made the choice to make the United States your new home, you most likely did not take the situation lightly. You put a lot of thought into the decision, and sacrificed a great deal of time, effort, and money into making the American Dream your own.

That is why St. Louis immigration attorney Jim Hacking urges you to be diligent when obtaining the necessary documents in order for your U.S. citizenship application to be approved. Nothing is more disheartening than seeing members of a strong, honest family not being able to clearly communicate to the American government why they would be a good asset to the country, just because certain information gets left out of their application.

Although there are different ways to obtain citizenship or legal residency in the United States, with each way requiring a different series of government-mandated forms, there is also a list of documents that are generally required no matter what route you take to become a legal immigrant. The Hacking Law Practice has compiled this list for you, in order for you to be better prepared for compiling your application.

It is important to note, however, that this list is just to be used as a guide and that you still must follow the strict rules as dictated by each individual application. Documents that you may need to produce for you and your family members include:

  • Birth certificates for you and your children;
  • Copies of your passport;
  • Marriage certificate or proof that you are no longer married, such as a divorce decree or death certificate;
  • Current and prior year tax returns;
  • Documents relating to your mortgage or lease;
  • Bank statements;
  • Income tax returns;
  • Information relating to time served in the military;
  • Copies of proof of child support;
  • Cancelled checks;
  • Passport photos;
  • Translations of any of these documents;
  • Certified documents relating to any criminal convictions.

These documents are required in addition to the government forms in your application. If gathering this information seems daunting, then contact an experienced St. Louis immigration lawyer to help you.

Attorney Jim Hacking dedicates his practice to helping those who are trying to become come to the U.S. and begin the path to citizenship, which is why he wrote a book, The 10 Biggest Immigration Mistakes People Make. Request your free copy today online or by calling 1-314-961-8200.