Articles Posted in Immigration Reform

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Dream ActivistJust over five years ago, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed certain undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children to remain here. The idea behind the program was that people brought here as children, who had no say in the matter, and who have demonstrated commitment to certain ideals deemed particularly American, should be allowed to remain in the country they call home. The creation of DACA occurred after Congress had failed multiple times to pass legislation addressing this issue, known as the DREAM Act. Since DACA began in 2012, around 800,000 people have benefited. In early September 2017, however, the new White House administration announced plans to terminate the program. This would leave hundreds of thousands of people vulnerable to loss of work authorization and possible deportation. Multiple states have filed suit to challenge the termination of the program, and they have been joined by a group of DACA beneficiaries in Garcia, et al. v. United States, et al., No. 3:17-cv-05380, complaint (N.D. Cal., Sep. 18, 2017).

President Obama first announced DACA on June 15, 2012. At that time, Congress had considered but not enacted the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act three times. In order to qualify for DACA protection, applicants had to have entered the U.S. as children and have been present in this country for at least five years. They must not have a felony criminal record, and they must have either attended college or served in the U.S. military. DACA status was initially valid for two years, and it has been subject to renewal several times. DACA beneficiaries are also eligible for work authorization.

On September 5, 2017, the White House announced that it would end the DACA program after a six-month period. The announcement included a request to Congress to enact legislation making DACA protections a formal part of federal immigration law. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) re-introduced the DREAM Act shortly afterwards, but if Congress does not act by March 2018, hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients—often known as “Dreamers”—could face deportation.

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INS SealImmigration law in the United States involves a complicated set of laws and regulations, which are administered and enforced by agencies spread across several Cabinet-level departments of the federal government. The immigration system covers two main areas:  benefits and enforcement. While our law practice focuses on immigration benefits, namely immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions and applications to adjust status to permanent resident, everything in this system is connected, however distantly. The New Jersey immigration system, according to various studies, is particularly beset with problems, including massive case backlogs. It is useful to look at the entire process, from petitions to removals, since careful and thorough preparation during the petition part of the process can help prevent any contact with other parts of the system.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., is the country’s primary immigration statute. Prior to 2003, administration of the “benefits” part of the law was split between the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). People seeking visas outside the U.S. applied at U.S. embassies and consulates operated by the DOS. Petitions and applications filed within the U.S. went through a DOJ agency that no longer exists, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The Homeland Security Act (HSA) of 2002 moved the INS to the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and it divided its responsibilities among several new agencies. It created U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process immigration petitions and applications.

The enforcement side of the INA involved multiple DOJ agencies before 2003. The INS and the Border Patrol handled investigations of suspected immigration violations, and the INS represented the government in court proceedings seeking removal. Another DOJ agency, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), operated a system of courts that heard removal cases and a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to review those courts’ rulings. The HSA kept the the EOIR where it is but moved the enforcement functions of the INS and Border Patrol to two DHS agencies:  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The officers who enforce immigration law and the attorneys who represent the government in immigration court now work for the DHS, while the immigration court judges still work for the DOJ.

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Residency PaperworkThe future of the H-1B specialty worker visa program has been uncertain since the new presidential administration took over in January 2017. The White House formally addressed the program for the first time in an executive order (EO) issued in April. EO 13788 of April 18, 2017, 82 Fed. Reg. 18837 (Apr. 21, 2017). The EO, entitled “Buy American and Hire American,” directs the federal government to purchase products manufactured in the United States and to hire American workers whenever possible. It also directs certain cabinet departments to review immigration regulations, including the H-1B program, and possibly to revise its rules and guidance in order “to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system.” EO 13788 § 5(a), 82 Fed. Reg. 18838. It provides no specific guidelines with regard to the H-1B program, although the language of the EO suggests that the administration does not intend to eliminate the program entirely, as some have feared.

H-1B visas are available to workers in “specialty occupations.” 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b). This refers to an occupation that requires the “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge,” as well as at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in the relevant field of study. Id. at § 1184(i)(1). Additionally, the intended visa holder must have any and all required licensure for the job, if any, and must have either received the academic degree mentioned earlier or obtained enough on-the-job experience to equal the work required for a degree. Id. at § 1184(i)(2).

Both the employer and the prospective visa holder must meet eligibility criteria before the government will issue an H-1B visa. The employer must obtain a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Id. at § 1182(n)(1). This requires certifying to the DOL that the employer will pay a wage to the H-1B worker that is comparable to what it would pay to an American worker and provide the same general working conditions. The goal here is to prevent employers from driving down wages and other conditions of employment. The employer must also certify that the H-1B worker will not immediately “displace a United States worker.” Id. at § 1182(n)(1)(E).

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Federal Courthouse BrooklynThe White House’s 2014 executive actions on immigration have been cause for controversy from the moment President Obama announced them almost two years ago. The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program prompted a lawsuit by 26 state governments. A U.S. district judge in Texas issued an injunction against the program, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) halted the implementation of DAPA nationwide in response. A new lawsuit filed in New York, however, challenges this action by DHS. Batalla Vidal v. Baran et al., No. 1:16-cv-04756, am. complaint (E.D.N.Y., Sep. 29, 2016). The plaintiff claims that the Texas court that granted the injunction lacked the authority to bind the DHS in New York.

The White House announced DAPA on November 20, 2014. The program would be similar to the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and it would cover qualifying undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The program represents an agreement by the federal government not to pursue (to “defer”) immigration enforcement action against a person for a defined period of time. To be eligible, an individual must show that they are a parent of a citizen or permanent resident, that they have been continuously present in the U.S. since 2010, and that they are not an “enforcement priority” under the administration’s immigration enforcement criteria. DAPA recipients may also be eligible for work authorization.

The Texas court granted the temporary injunction in February 2015. Texas, et al., v. United States, 86 F.Supp.3d 591 (S.D. Tex. 2015). The injunction covered DAPA and expansions to DACA included in the 2014 executive actions, but it did not affect the existing DACA program. The Fifth Circuit denied a request to stay the injunction in May 2015, 787 F.3d 733 (5th Cir. 2015), and affirmed it that November, 809 F.3d 134 (5th Cir. 2015). When the case went to the Supreme Court, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia meant that only eight justices were available to hear the case, and they split 4-4. 579 U.S. ___ (2016). The Fifth Circuit’s ruling was therefore allowed to stand, but with no adjudication on a national level.

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The Obama administration announced a program in late 2014 that would allow many undocumented immigrants to remain in the country if they are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs). The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program has never taken effect, due to a lawsuit by multiple state governors challenging the White House’s authority to establish such a program. In late June 2016, DAPA suffered a major setback in the Supreme Court, from which it might not recover. The court’s eight justices split evenly on the case, meaning that the lower court decisions blocking the program are affirmed by default. United States v. Texas, 579 U.S. ___ (2016).immigrants

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, first implemented by the White House in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, and who meet certain other criteria, to remain in the U.S. and obtain work authorization for two years, subject to renewals by the administration. Contrary to much of the opposing rhetoric, DACA does not confer lawful immigrant status on its beneficiaries. Instead, it is an agreement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to defer the enforcement of immigration laws for a specified period of time. Work authorization is certainly a benefit, but it is one that is within the Executive Branch’s authority to grant. DACA is not comparable to the status conferred by a visa or green card.

DAPA would have extended similar deferrals to undocumented parents of citizens and LPRs who meet the program criteria. About 3.6 million people, out of an estimated 11 million total undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., might have been eligible for DAPA. The majority of people believed to be DAPA-eligible have lived in the U.S. for at least 10 years.

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Cuauhtemoc-Hidalgo Villa-Zapata [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrThe White House’s 2012 executive action on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has helped hundreds of thousands of people who arrived in the U.S. as children, many of whom know no other home but here. In November 2014, President Obama announced a new executive action intended to help parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who are in this country without valid immigration status. This program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), prompted a lawsuit by 26 state governments challenging it on constitutional and statutory grounds. A court granted an injunction halting the program, which a federal appellate court upheld in November 2015. A petition for certiorari by the federal government is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

DACA allows people who are in the U.S. without lawful immigration status to remain here if they meet various criteria. They must have been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, arrived in the U.S. as a minor, and remained here continuously since 2009 or earlier. They also must be enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or equivalent, or have an honorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard. Finally, they must not have any felony or significant misdemeanor convictions. DACA status is effective for two years, with possible renewals, and it includes work authorization. It does not confer any other specific immigration benefit or status. It is merely an agreement by the federal government to defer immigration enforcement, including deportation, while the person maintains DACA status.

At the time it was announced by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DAPA would allow certain parents of citizens and LPRs to remain in the country for two-year periods, again without conferring any specific immigrant status. To be eligible, an individual must have been present in the U.S. on January 1, 2010 and resided here continuously since then. As of November 20, 2014, they must have had a son or daughter who is a citizen or LPR. Finally, they cannot be categorized as an “enforcement priority” by DHS.

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By Dabit100 / David Torres Costales  Pictures of Ecuador (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, first announced by President Obama in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, and who have graduated high school or served in the military, to remain in the U.S. and obtain work authorization. The program represents an agreement by immigration officials to defer any enforcement action. One question that seems to have received little public attention is whether a DACA recipient may leave the U.S. temporarily without jeopardizing their deferral. Any DACA recipient wanting to leave the U.S. must first obtain advance parole from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a process that can unfortunately be both cumbersome and uncertain.

An article published by Vox in April 2015 describes the difficulties faced by a DACA recipient, who came to the U.S. from Ecuador at the age of eight, obtaining approval to travel to Ecuador for professional purposes. The woman works as an advocate for undocumented immigrant students, helps administer a $25 million scholarship fund, and frequently receives invitations to give speeches all over the country. When she was asked to speak at two events in Ecuador, she applied to USCIS for advance parole.

Advance parole is essentially an acknowledgment from the federal government that the recipient may leave the country without giving up their “continuous presence” in the U.S. Since DACA recipients are, by definition, potentially subject to deportation, voluntarily leaving the country could mean that they will not be allowed back in. Two immediate problems present themselves for people in the DACA program: USCIS can be very slow to process advance parole requests, and the applicability of advance parole to DACA is not at all settled.

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linux-154544_640.pngU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a final rule in February 2015 extending employment authorization to dependent spouses of certain people who are in the U.S. on H-1B work visas. These dependent spouses are able to come to the U.S. with an H-4 nonimmigrant visa, but are excluded from employment. Completing this rule is part of President Obama’s immigration executive actions, which he announced in November 2014, with the goal of reducing financial burdens on guest workers and their families who are on a track to legal U.S. residence.

Federal immigration law provides H-1B nonimmigrant visas for workers in “speciality occupations” and fashion models. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(B). Spouses and dependent children of H-1B visa holders are permitted to come to the U.S. with an H-4 visa, which has the same duration as the H-1B visa. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(9)(iv). Prior to the new final rule from USCIS, they were not permitted to work unless they obtained their own nonimmigrant visa that included work authorization. This resulted in H-1B workers who brought their spouses and children to the U.S. being limited to one income.

The immigration executive action announced by the White House in November includes directives to USCIS and other agencies to “modernize, improve and clarify immigrant and nonimmigrant programs,” with the goal of “grow[ing] our economy and creat[ing] jobs.” One of the directives, according to a summary provided by USCIS, is to issue a final rule extending work authorization to H-4 visa holders whose H-1B visa holder spouses “are on the path to lawful permanent resident status.”
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0328Jersey_City_Statue_of_Liberty.JPGSeveral recent events and news stories in New Jersey could have a significant effect on immigrants in this area and their families, employers, and advocates. This includes news about increased immigration into New Jersey and its impact on the state’s economy. A recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision affirmed the state government’s decision to limit the availability of Medicaid to certain lawful immigrants. Finally, New Jersey’s governor recently joined a brief supporting a lawsuit by several states against the federal government over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

Immigrants Are Balancing New Jersey’s Population

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of immigrants who have moved into New Jersey in the past few years is almost the same as the number of residents who have left. In 2013 and 2014, approximately 55,000 people moved out of New Jersey. This is reportedly a trend that has continued for decades, with some people leaving to retire and others leaving in search of jobs or lower living costs.

In that same two-year span of time, over 51,000 people moved to New Jersey from abroad, which is apparently a rate of immigration not seen in this state since the early 20th century. Most of the state’s population growth is in urban counties. Middlesex and Hudson Counties, for example, have seen net population growth, reportedly in large part due to immigration.
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White_House_DC.JPGPresident Obama’s executive actions (EAs) on immigration, announced on November 20, 2014, offer relief to millions of undocumented immigrants who have lived here for years and have contributed to American society. Since the President took these actions without Congress, they have been highly controversial in some circles. Several federal agencies have offered support of the White House’s legal authority to take these actions, while numerous states have filed suit seeking an injunction against them.

We described the EAs in detail in an earlier post. The EAs, in part, expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and offer deferred action or waivers of unlawful presence for certain relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. They are essentially a form of prosecutorial discretion, much like DACA. The Executive Branch of the federal government has authority to prioritize certain types of immigration cases for prosecution, typically meaning deportation. A November 19, 2014 memorandum by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Karl R. Thompson (the “DOJ memo”) reviewed the President’s, and by extension, his Cabinet’s legal authority to take executive action on immigration without Congress.

While an estimated 11.3 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., Thompson states that the federal government can handle no more than 400,000 removal cases per year. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the President is not required to pursue every “technical violation of [a] statute” to meet his Constitutional duties. DOJ memo at 4, citing Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821, 831 (1985). Thompson concluded that deferred action is a permissible form of prosecutorial discretion for relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, but not for family members of DACA recipients, who are not themselves lawfully present in the U.S. except through deferred action.
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