Author: Jim Hacking

Immigrant Father Separated From His Infant Son

Thirty-year-old, Jose Demar Fuentes, seeking asylum from Central America, has accused immigration officials of threatening and lying to him to separate him from his one-year-old son.

Fuentes came to the United States through Tijuana, Mexico undocumented with three other fathers and requested asylum from immigration authorities.

According to Fuentes, in three different meetings officials told him and the other fathers that their immigration cases would be problem-ridden and take longer if they did not agree to separate themselves from their children.

The fathers all agreed and the agents removed them from the holding cell and separated them from their children.  The fathers received the number for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to check on their children, but Fuentes has no idea where the agents took Mateo, his son.

Customs and Border Protection’s policy regarding keeping families together says, “CBP will maintain family unity to the greatest extent operationally feasible, absent a legal requirement or an articulable safety or security concern that requires separation.”

Two of the other fathers were identified as Carlos Batres Aguilar and Eric Matute Castro.  The whereabouts of Aguilar’s twelve-year-old son and Castro’s three-year-old son are unknown.

A senior policy adviser for migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission points out that White House chief of staff, John Kelly, “considered a policy of separating families in the vein of trying to deter individuals from making the journey.”  “We’ve been really concerned,” she continues, “that immigration officials are separating family members who are seeking protection in the United States.”

Fuentes’s partner, Olivia Caceres, remains in Mexico with their other son.  The couple and their children fled El Salvador with only thirty-five dollars and could not afford to continue to the United States together.  Fuentes and Mateo went ahead in the hopes that Fuentes could get more money to bring Caceres and their other son later.

Caceres is frantic, saying, “I just don’t understand why they would take him away from his father…I’m worried he’s not sleeping because he’ll only fall asleep if we sing him a song.  I’m so scared.”

For more information, click here.

Trump’s Extreme Vetting Initiative Impossible Without Bias

In pursuit of a way to accomplish Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” for immigrants idea, large technology firms like IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Red Hat attempted to take on the task.

Over 100 civil rights and technology groups have come together to claim that code for “extreme vetting” software would promote discrimination.  Letters written by legal scholars dictate the inability to implement such procedures and the catastrophic result of trying to implement them.  One letter was signed by 54 experts in computer science, engineering, and other fields that have “grave concerns” regarding “extreme vetting.”

According to ICE documents, the Extreme Vetting Initiative needs software that can “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests.”  Experts from Google, MIT, and Berkeley are skeptical that “computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.”

The fear of bias that pervades the letters in opposition of the Extreme Vetting Initiative stems from the recognition that a computer system cannot accurately assess a human life’s benefit to society.  Positive contributions are unquantifiable and abstract, therefore an algorithm could simply flag different groups of immigrants arbitrarily.

Some suspect that social media posts regarding American government policies and an applicant’s income would be forms of evidence that an algorithm would respond to.  Many worry that racial and religious bias would inevitably run rampant.

The second letter was signed by many different human and civil rights organizations, including the ACLU.  According to the 56 organizations that signed the letter, the Extreme Vetting Initiative and the software necessary “risks hiding politicized, discriminatory decisions behind a veneer of objectivity—at great cost to freedom of speech, civil liberties, civil rights, and human rights. It will hurt real, decent people and tear apart families.”

For more information, click here.

“No Pets. No Cubans”

By Amany Ragab Hacking

We had the chance last week to go see “On Your Feet!” – a musical at the Fox Theater about Gloria and Emilio Estefan.  Amany grew up listening to Gloria Estefan’s music as a little girl.  In Chicago, it was all the rave.  

Amany and her friends loved to sing along and dance to her upbeat songs like Conga, Get On Your Feet, Rhythm is Gonna Get You and Bad Boy.  Amany loved that they looked alike with her long, dark curly hair, and Amany loved her energy and passion on stage.  

To Amany, she was just another American pop singer. Amany never knew she was an immigrant who struggled to be heard and be taken seriously as a musician in America. Amany had no idea all she had overcome – just so we could share her music.  

The musical follows her and her family as they escape Cuba for a better life in America.  She was the oldest of two girls growing up and she was responsible for a majority of the household work while her mom went back to school.  Her father served in Vietnam and later suffered from Multiple Sclerosis (MS – a disabling disease of the central nervous system.  She cared for him as he aged.  She found joy and an escape in her music.

One day, she met Emilio Estefan who was looking for a singer to join his band – Latin Motion Boys.  Emilio had a vision for his band and his music, and Gloria was a big part of that.  Eventually their band would be known as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.  They began playing in local weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras, but Emilio had big dreams.  They traveled all over Latin America playing their pop Latin music.  They were a big hit!  

But Emilio wanted more – he wanted to break out into the American market. Gloria wrote and sang songs in English, but record labels refused to back them and radio stations did not want to play them.  Some said their music and songs  were “too Latin” – others said the songs were “too White.”  They were missing the point – their music was both – it was intended to be a fusion of the two cultures.  Some weren’t ready for this and did not believe it would succeed, but Emilio and Gloria persisted.  They played their music for free to anyone who would listen – they went door-to-door giving out their American singles.  They wanted Americans to hear and love their music, and they did.  

Emilio recalled his early days in America as a young man, after fleeing Cuba.  He stood up to record labels and naysayers about their lack of acceptance of their Latin-American music and his Latin culture.  He told one record producer that when he was growing up in Miami there were signs in front of apartment complexes that read “No Pets. No Cubans.”  He believed that was not the America he knew and loved, and that he could change that with his music.  He proved that he could be both American and Cuban.  

We owe much thanks to Gloria and Emilio for paving the way for immigrants with their music, dreams and persistence.  

What an inspiring immigrant success story!            

The Immigration Net is Tightening

President Donald Trump ran on a platform of America First.  As a candidate, he promised to Make America Great Again by, in part, making the United States less friendly to immigrants.

Several recent developments have made clear that Trump is following through on his campaign promises.

Employment Based Immigration

At our office, we have seen several signs that one of the Trump Team’s focus is employment based immigration.  The DHS has ramped up scrutiny of work visas and green cards through employer sponsorship.

Earlier this year, USCIS turned off premium processing for most H1b cases.  The agency also announced that it would be cracking down on the use of “computer programmer” as a specialty occupation as the basis of an H1b.

Two months ago, USCIS announced that it would now conduct face-to-face interviews on employment green cards.  USCIS always had this power, but rarely used it before Trump came into office.

We attended a naturalization interview recently with a client who came to America on an H1b, obtained a work based green card and then started his own information technology (IT) consulting company.

The N-400 interview included a whole lot of questions about our client’s work-based immigration history. The officer was extremely interested in whether our client and the companies that he worked for had complied with all of the rules regarding employment based cases.

Jim shot a short video about the interview in Tampa.

These changes represent a significant change in how employment-based visas are handled and it appears that these changes are here to stay.

Non-Immigrant Visas and Crimes

One way that we stay up to date on what’s going on across the immigration landscape is by participating in online forums and Facebook groups with other immigration lawyers.

One of those groups is called Cool Immigration Lawyers.

Earlier this week, one of our colleagues in Memphis reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had placed her H1b client in removal proceedings.

The basis of the removal proceedings was that the client had been charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol.  The Department of State quickly revoked his visa and then when the man pleaded guilty, ICE issued him a Notice to Appear, which is the document that commences deportation proceedings.  ICE also took him into custody and only released him after he paid a $25,000 bond.

We believe that ICE’s aggressive position may ultimately fail.  But that is little consolation for the foreign national who thought he was all set on his immigration status but now finds himself facing deportation from the U.S.

It is not clear whether this new approach is an isolated incident by one ICE office or part of a nationwide policy.  It is also unclear as to whether this approach will apply only to DUI’s or to other crimes committed by immigrants.

The point for now is that ICE and DHS are not playing around.  These are serious times and immigrants are feeling the pressure.

 

Former Liberian Refugee Becomes First Black Mayor in Montana

Wilmot Collins, who immigrated to the United States from Liberia over twenty years ago, was elected the mayor of the capital of Montana, Helena.

Collins left Liberia at the age of thirty-one as a refugee of a Liberian civil war.  He is now known as the first black man elected mayor in the state of Montana.  Collins is new to the political sphere, advocating for affordable housing and solutions for teen homelessness.

When petitioning for US refugee status over twenty years ago, Collins had not planned on a future in politics.  Fleeing Liberia, he wanted to join his wife who moved to Montana two years prior to study.  Collins came to America in the hope of a second chance.

According to Collins, he got that second chance he was looking for.  He says, “That’s all I needed.  This country and this state and this city provided me a second chance.”

During Collins’s mayoral race, the United States has been flooded with misinformation and biases about refugees.  Collins addressed the stringent vetting process that refugees go through during his campaign.  He also tackled the issue of Confederate monuments and the racist history that many citizens were unaware of.

Collins’s won the mayoral election over a four-term incumbent.  From Collins point of view, his win means, “The people of Helena…were looking for a change and I came in at the right time.  I spoke the language they were looking for.”

The words of the former president, Barack Obama, telling Americans to stop complaining and become more involved in the political process, inspired Collins to run for mayor.

Local elections have been bringing positive change and diversity to elected officials.  Many credit these changes as a direct message to Donald Trump, indicating that people aren’t buying the American narrative that he is selling.

For more information, click here.

Collins also gave a great TEDTalk on being a refugee which you can see right here:

Olympic Runner Immigrated to the United States as a Child

Marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, is retiring.  He attained a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and has won the New York City and Boston marathons (as well as multiple other victories).

Keflezighi is from a large family from Eritrea, which was formerly considered a part of Ethiopia.  Russom, Keflezighi’s father, left Eritrea in 1981 when Ethiopian soldiers threatened to kill supporters of the Eritrean independence movement.

Russom immigrated with his family to Sudan, Italy, and finally the United States.  Meb Keflezighi and his family settled in San Diego in 1987.  Keflezighi was twelve-years-old at the time.

Keflezighi is one of twelve children.  Nine of his siblings earned college degrees, four of which obtaining degrees after their bachelor’s.  Russom and his older children would wake up at 4:30 a.m. so that he could teach them English.  They learned by reading and practicing words from the dictionary.

Keflezighi’s family sat at the dining room table after school completing their homework together.  The children were not allowed free time until all of their homework was finished.  Russom worked several late night jobs, such as cleaning office spaces, and Keflezighi would help his father when he was finished with his studies.

According to his children, Russom would say, “Look, the people who have an education work from nine to five and are home with their families right now, but I don’t have a formal education…Get your education because no one can take that away from you.”

When Bob Larsen, the track coach at University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) caught sight of Keflezighi, he offered him a full scholarship.  When speaking of the scholarship award, Larsen said, “Facetiously a little bit, I say I gave the scholarship not to Meb, I gave it to his family.  They have the key on how to motivate sons and daughters.”

Keflezighi obtained his citizenship in 1998 and joined his first Olympic team in 2000.

For more information, click here.

Alleged Rapist’s Membership in Trump’s Resort Saves Him From Being Removed

According to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, deporting rapists and other criminals was one of Trump’s top priorities.  But, an alleged criminal’s membership at the Mar-a-Lago, which is owned by Trump, persuaded the president to allow him to remain in the United States.

Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman, is being investigated by the Chinese government for bribery, kidnapping, fraud, money laundering, and rape.  Wengui has accused multiple Chinese government officials of corruption.

Wengui has applied for asylum in the United States and is currently residing in New York.

Wengui was brought to Trump’s attention during a private dinner at the White House, when the Chinese government gave him “a letter that Steve brought.”  Steve Wynn, the carrier of the letter, is a casino mogul.

Wynn receives the licenses to operate in Chinese territory of Macau from the Chinese Government.  The property in Macau is worth billions of dollars.  Wynn also holds the position of “finance chairman” for the Republican National Committee.

The Wall Street Journal reported that when Trump finished reading the letter, he said, “We need to get this criminal out of the country.”

Trump’s response was altered after finding out that Wengui was a member of the Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort.  The membership initiation fee was at least $100,000 and annual dues are $14,000.  The resort, among other properties Trump owns, are a major generator of money for his personal fortune.

Aides of the president also mentioned to him that Wengui could become a bargaining chip for future discussions with China.

Some argue that how Trump is choosing to handle the Wengui situation reflects Trump’s susceptibility to corruption and how his business relationships affect his presidential decision making.  Considering that Trump has refused to divest from his company is feared to be an easy route for people to trade money for favors.

For more information, click here.

Khizr Khan: “No One Will Deliver You Your Rights. You Need to Fight for Them.”

On July 28, 2016, Pakistani-American lawyer Khizr Khan catapulted onto the American political scene after an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Khizr and his wife, Ghazala, were asked to speak at the DNC about their immigrant son, Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004.  Humayun was a captain in the U.S. Army and he died trying to protect his fellow soldiers from a suspicious looking vehicle which ended up exploding.

Khizr and Ghazala met in Pakistan and lived in the United Arab Emirates before coming to the U.S. as immigrants with their three boys.  Mr. Khan is an attorney and has practiced law in the United States for many years.

The DNC speech was electric.  Mr. Khan famously pulled out his pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution and challenged then-candidate Donald Trump about his plan to ban Muslims from the U.S.

Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing—and no one.

Donald Trump, never one to apologize or back down from a chance to be a bully, went on the attack.  He took the unprecedented step of attacking a Gold Star Family (a family with someone who died in battle).

Mr. Khan did not stop there.  He has been a persistent critic of the President’s attacks on civil liberties. He has been touring the country and has given 164 speeches since the convention in Philadelphia.

An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice is Mr. Khan’s new book.  In it, he tells his family’s story and discusses how his Islamic faith is completely consistent with Western, constitutional democracies.

Recently, Mr. Khan came to St. Louis and spoke on a panel with immigration attorney Jim Hacking of the Hacking Law Practice.  Khizr mentioned how, in America, nobody gives you your civil rights.  He said that we must fight for them.

And he is 100% correct.  We have to fight to protect our rights, especially in times of great upheaval with an autocratic President who lies, vilifies and spreads hate at every opportunity.

May God bless the Khans and may we thank them for their son Humayun, who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Portland ICE Agent Texts Immigrant

A Portland resident received a text on a Wednesday morning that addressed the man by his first name and read, “This is Officer Smith.  My address is as follows: 4310 SW Macadam Ave. Portland, OR 97239. Please feel free to call me with any questions that you have.”  The officers message even included a typo in the phrase, “I will need to heard from you soon,” assumed to mean ‘I will need to hear from you soon.’

The officer, Scott Smith, is an ICE agent.  The address he supplied was the ICE headquarters in Southwest Portland.  The Portland resident, who would like to remain anonymous, was charged with a misdemeanor in Multnomah County and is thought by ICE to be undocumented.

When the officer got the Portland resident to pick up the phone, he convinced him to admit his immigration status and his native country.

It is highly unusual, in Portland and possibly many other places, for ICE agents to send text messages to undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation.  Although, it is common around the country for scammers posing as ICE agents to text immigrants and con them out of money.

Some fear that if ICE is texting immigrants, there is an increased risk of immigrants becoming victims of fraud.  It would also be more likely that people, such as the Portland man, would be manipulated into admitting things over the phone that could get them into trouble.

When the Portland man’s attorney reached out to ICE and Officer Smith to determine the legitimacy of the text message, ICE confirmed that it was.

An ICE spokesperson who was pressed about targets being texted answered with, “Due to operational and safety implications, the agency does not comment on enforcement tactics.”

For more information, click here.

ICE Agents Failing to Substantiate Claims of Public Safety Threats from Undocumented Immigrants

Last February began the first mass raids of the Trump administration against undocumented immigrants.  ICE instructed field offices to highlight the worst cases for the media in an effort to portray that the detained undocumented people were hardened criminals.

An ICE executive sent an “urgent” directive to ICE chiefs of staff across the country on February 10 asking for coverage of “the three most egregious cases” that each location had come across.  The email also said, “If a location has only one egregious case…include an extra egregious case from another city.”

An ICE agent in San Antonio sent an internal email the next day saying that his team was unable to complete the task.

A cache of heavily redacted emails were obtained by students at Vanderbilt University Law School through the Freedom of Information Act.  The emails depict ICE agents in Austin attempting to substantiate the administration’s claims that the raids were motivated by concerns for public safety.  But, the attempts were largely unsuccessful making it clear that the Trump administration’s narrative was false.

The raids, beginning on February 6, consisted of a nationwide sweep of undocumented immigrants.  Immigrant communities were plagued with fear as the raids led to 680 arrests nationwide.  A similar sweep, termed “Operation Safe City,” took place recently with more than 450 arrests.

ICE originally claimed that persons believed to be threats to public safety, including gang members and those with criminal convictions, were being targeted.  It quickly became evident that many of those arrested had minor violations on their record at most.  Further, dozens of those arrested had no criminal record at all.

In Austin, Texas, 51 people were arrested during the February raids, and more than half had no criminal convictions.  ICE’s aggressive tactics in Austin became a focal point for the media.  Residents reported that agents set up checkpoints on the streets, detained a teenager, and mistakenly apprehended a legal resident.

For more information, click here.