Tag Archives: immigration reform

White House-Backed Bill Proposing Protections for Dreamers/DACA Holders, Restrictions on Family-Based Immigration, and End to Diversity Visa Lottery Fails to Pass in the Senate; Worries Prevail

Of the four immigration bills that were recently considered by the Senate, three offered a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. when they were children. But the White House’s calls to end “chain migration” by limiting family-based immigration to only spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens (and possibly permanent residents), as well as scrap the Diversity Visa Lottery program, have made it harder for a divided Congress to address the nation’s immigration problems with a legislative fix.

Comprehensive immigration reform remains a divisive issue in Congress, as reflected in the Senate’s failure to advance any of the four immigration bills up for a vote on Thursday, February 15. On immigration, a supermajority of 60 out of 100 senators must agree to end debate and force an up or down vote on a bill. The Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) immigration bill, which was backed by President Trump and mirrored the White House “four pillars” immigration framework, received the least number of votes to move forward.

Dreamers and DACA Holders in Limbo

There seems to be bipartisan support for protecting “Dreamers” or young undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was introduced by the Obama Administration on June 15, 2007, and rescinded by the Trump Administration on September 5, 2017.

DACA is a temporary immigration relief for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors before age 16, lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, are currently in school or have graduated from high school, have no serious criminal history, and meet other eligibility requirements.

Although DACA provides authorized stay and work authorization on a temporary basis, it does not provide a path to permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S.

When the Trump Administration announced the ending of DACA, and left it up to gridlocked Congress to address the ramifications, it set an expiration date of March 5, 2018. But with federal courts in New York and San Francisco issuing temporary injunctions on February 13 and January 9, respectively, which block the Administration’s September order rescinding the DACA program, USCIS issued a statement noting it will, for now, continue accepting requests for DACA renewals under pre-existing terms.

The end of DACA does not mean there will be mass deportations of young, undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has to issue a Notice to Appear and file it with the Immigration Court to initiate removal proceedings against an applicant, who may seek available relief  (e.g. asylum, cancellation of removal) from the Immigration Judge. The DHS may also set enforcement priorities so that Dreamers or DACA holders are low priorities for removal.

White House Calls for Limits on Family-Based Immigration and an End to Diversity Visa Lottery Program

In his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, Trump expressed concerns with family-based immigration, which he referred to as “chain migration.”  He claimed, “under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

He stated his immigration plan “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration” and would “focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”

Trump also called for an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery, which he said is “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.” He previously noted in a December 15, 2017 speech, “they give us their worst people, they put them in a bin,” and “the worst of the worst” are selected in the Diversity Lottery.

Using anecdotal cases, the President has linked family-based immigration and the Diversity Visa Lottery program to terrorist attacks and threats to the national security of the United States.

In a December 11, 2017 statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote, “The President is exactly correct about the changes we need to our immigration system. We have now seen two terrorist attacks in New York City in less than two months that were carried out by people who came here as the result of our failed immigration policies that do not serve the national interest —the diversity lottery and chain migration.”

Of the two examples, the first is Sayfullo Saipov, from Uzbekistan, who entered the United States in 2010 on a diversity immigrant visa. Saipov is accused of killing eight people and injuring a dozen others when he drove a rented truck through a Manhattan, New York City bike lane in October 2017.

The second example is Akayed Ullah, a permanent resident from Bangladesh, who is suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack in New York City in December 2017. Ullah is accused of attempting to bomb a subway station with a low-tech explosive device, but only he was injured when the device failed. He came to the United States in 2011 as the minor child of a parent who was petitioned by an adult U.S. citizen sibling (in fourth preference, family sponsored category).

Family-Based Immigration, As It Stands

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents/green card holders may sponsor only certain relatives for immigrant visas. Except for the immediate relative category (spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, and parents of adult U.S. citizens), there is a limited number of visas available and lengthy waiting lists (some lasting more than a decade) in family-based, preference categories.

The preference categories include unmarried sons and daughter of U.S. citizens and their minor children (if any);  spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters 21 or older of permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (if any); and siblings of adult U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (if any).

The beneficiary (immigrant visa/green card applicant) also must not be inadmissible to the United States based on likelihood of becoming a public charge, certain criminal offenses, immigration violations, or other grounds defined by statutory law.

For more information on the existing family-based immigration system, read Immigrant Visa Process: Delays and Setbacks; Changes to the Visa Bulletin: Understanding the Two Filing Charts; and Priority Date Recapture and Retention in Family-Based Immigration.

Current Diversity Visa Lottery Program

Contrary to Trump’s claims, countries do not choose which of their citizens to put in the Diversity Visa Lottery.  Rather, the program issues up to 50,000 diversity visas each year to qualified applicants from U.S.-designated countries with low rates of immigration to enter the U.S. as permanent residents – if they win the DV lottery and successfully complete the immigrant visa or green card process.

To be eligible, applicants must be born in an eligible country. Natives of countries with relatively high rates of immigration – such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam – do not qualify.

Applicants must also have at least a high school education or its equivalent (successful completion of a 12-year course of formal elementary and secondary education); or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform the job.

After being selected in the lottery, applicants must clear a background check and demonstrate they have no health problems, criminal records, national security concerns, or other inadmissibility grounds barring them from the United States.

For more information on the current Diversity Lottery program, read Diversity Immigrant Visa – November Entry Deadline (Plus Other Things to Consider.

White House “Four Pillars” Immigration Framework and Its Influence on Congress

In some respects, the White House’s immigration framework takes a harder line on legal immigration than on young, undocumented immigrants – many of whom came to the United States as children without proper travel authorization or lawful admission.

Immigration Bills in the Senate

On Wednesday, February 14,  before the Senate voted on the four immigration bills, Trump issued a statement calling on Congress to support the Grassley proposal. He wrote, “The Grassley bill accomplishes the four pillars of the White House Framework: a lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes.”  He also asked all senators to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars.

Each bill needed at least 60 votes to advance in the Senate. The four proposals included:

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ) Bill: provided path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included no funding for Trump’s border wall, but did include measures to improve border security.

Failed 52 to 47. Democrats were almost united in favor and Republicans mostly voted against it.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) Bill: withheld federal funding for municipalities (dubbed “sanctuary cities”) that refuse to enforce federal immigration policy through their local police officers and other state law enforcement agencies.

Failed 54 to 45. Republicans and a few Democrats backed it, but most Democrats voted against it.

Sen. Susan Collins  (R-ME), endorsed by Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY), Bill: provided path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included $25 billion in funding for border security; prevented DACA recipients from sponsoring parents for legal status.

Failed 54 to 45. Democrats almost unanimously supported it, along with eight Republicans.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), based on proposal backed by White House, Bill: provided path for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included $25 billion in funding for border wall; severely restricted legal immigration by limiting family-based immigration to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and ending diversity visa lottery program.

Failed 39 to 60. Democrats opposed the bill en masse, joined by a notable number of Republicans, while most of the GOP conference and a couple Democrats supported it.

Immigration Bill in the House

Immigration reform will be even harder for the more conservative House to tackle. Republican leaders are scrambling for sufficient votes on an immigration proposal in the House that is more restrictive than the Trump-backed Grassley bill in the Senate.

The immigration bill by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) offers a temporary, renewable legal status — rather than a path citizenship — to DACA holders in exchange for funding Trump’s border wall, cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, requiring U.S. employers to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of job applicants, restricting family-based immigration, and scrapping the diversity visa lottery program.

Although Trump has expressed support for this bill, it is expected to meet its demise in the divided Senate, even if it passes through the House.

Worries Prevail With No Clear Path to Immigration Reform

If limiting family-based immigration and ending the Diversity Visa Lottery program are non-negotiable components of a White House-backed immigration plan, Congress faces steep obstacles in creating a legislative solution for Dreamers or DACA holders.

Worries prevail as the immigration fate of Dreamers and DACA holders hang in the balance, and some family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery program are potentially on the chopping block.

In the meantime, eligible DACA holders may file renewal applications according to the latest USCIS policy, while federal court litigation ensues. U.S. citizens and permanent residents may also continue to file family-based petitions for certain relatives, and applicants from eligible countries may seek diversity immigrant visas under existing programs. Any change to U.S. immigration law is expected to apply prospectively and have no retroactive effect.

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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DREAMers Face Uncertainty as Trump Administration Ends DACA and Leaves the Fight Up to a Divided Congress

On his campaign trail,  President Trump said he would “immediately terminate” DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program introduced by the Obama Administration in June 2012.  Although it took several months to make a decision, the Trump Administration issued a memorandum on September 5, 2017, to end the program.

As of this date, no new, initial DACA applications will be accepted. Current DACA holders whose benefits expire on or before March 5, 2018, may file for a renewal, valid for 2 years, by October 5, 2017.

Almost 800,000 eligible, undocumented immigrants have received DACA as a temporary relief from removal, which includes work authorization valid for two years. Commonly known as “DREAMERs,” DACA holders include undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors before age 16, have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, are currently in school or have graduated from high school, have no serious criminal history, and meet other eligibility requirements.

DACA, however, has always been a temporary relief subject to rescission by a new Administration and which provided no path to lawful nonimmigrant status, permanent residence, or citizenship.

The DACA program was introduced by the Obama Administration in a  June 15, 2012 memorandum from then DHS-Secretary Janet Napolitano, titled Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion With Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children. Critics viewed it as an unconstitutional use of power by the Executive Branch. Supporters saw it as an extension of prosecutorial discretion related to immigration enforcement priorities and necessary protection for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and grew up in the country.

Federal court litigation ensued, in which a Texas-led coalition of 26 states  — including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin — filed a lawsuit to stop the expansion of DACA and the introduction of a similar relief, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.

In January 2017, after taking office, President Trump stated in an interview with ABC’s David Muir that a new policy would be issued within weeks, but that DACA recipients “shouldn’t be very worried.” He further commented: “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody…But I will tell you, we’re looking at this, the whole immigration situation, we’re looking at it with great heart.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to hold a hardline, calling DACA an “unconstitutional” act by Obama that has “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.” Sessions made the announcement in a September 5th news conference that the Trump Administration will phase out the DACA program.

On Twitter, following Sessions’ remarks, President Trump wrote, “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama administration was unable to do.) If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!”

In a written statement issued after Sessions’ announcement, Trump said, “I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”

“We will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve,” Trump added.

There are at least four bills being discussed in Congress that provides protection to DREAMErs. They include the Dream Act, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C; Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.; American Hope Act, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; and BRIDGE Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. The first three creates a path for citizenship or permanent resident status if applicants meet certain requirements. The fourth seeks to codify the current DACA program into law and extend it for three years (but offers no path to permanent residence or citizenship), giving Congress more time to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Trump gave Congress six months to fix the broken immigration system, but there are diametrically opposed viewpoints within the Senate and House: some call for tougher border security and immigration enforcement, while others seek protection from removal and a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.

Congress has struggled for several years to resolve big legislative issues like immigration. As such, six months make a very short period to tackle the monumental problem of DACA holders losing protection from removal and authorization to work in the United States.

With a divided Congress, the fate of DREAMers is uncertain. In addition to filing for DACA renewal, if eligible, and tracking legislative action in Congress, DACA holders should consult an immigration attorney to discuss other more concrete, existing immigration options.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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5 ways Obama’s executive actions benefit immigrants

President Obama announced, on November 20, executive actions aiming to grant temporary stay to millions of undocumented immigrants, prioritize the deportation of felons, streamline the employment-based immigrant visa system, expand the provisional waiver program, and promote naturalization.

In response, congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government, impeach Obama, sue the president, and not pass any immigration reform through Congress. Meanwhile, some immigrant rights groups say Obama’s executive actions don’t go far enough.

The most contentious executive action is the grant of temporary relief from deportation to certain undocumented immigrants.

Amid the political hoopla, many who are in the U.S. unlawfully or without immigrant status — and would like to stay long-term — are wondering, how do the executive actions affect me? 

Here are 5 ways Obama’s executive actions are expected to benefit immigrants: 

1) Grant deferred action to more undocumented immigrant children by expanding DACA 

Deferred action grants a temporary stay in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. But it does not create a path to lawful permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S.

Obama is expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (which was first introduced on June 15, 2012) to cover a broader class of children.

First,  DACA will cover all undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16, and not just those born after June 15, 1981, provided they meet the other guidelines.  DACA will no longer be limited to those under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.

Second, DACA will cover those who have continuous presence in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, instead of the earlier date of June 15, 2007.

Third, DACA grants and renewals, including the work permits that come with DACA, will be valid for three years instead of two years.

The expanded DACA program is expected to begin 90 days from the November 20 announcement (i.e. February 18, 2015).  Those who have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor crime (including burglary, DUI, domestic violence, or drug distribution) still do not qualify.

2) Grant deferred action to undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents

Obama is creating a new deferral program – Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA) – for undocumented immigrant parents who have a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident son or daughter on the date of the November 20 announcement.

To qualify, the parents must also (i) not be enforcement priorities for removal from the U.S., (ii) have continuous presence in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010, and (iii) present no other factors that would make a grant of deferred action inappropriate.

USCIS will consider DAPA requests on a case-by-case basis, and applicants may apply for work authorization provided they pay the filing fee. DAPA grants and renewals, including the work permits that come with DAPA, will be valid for three years.

The new DAPA program is expected to begin 180 days from the November 20 announcement (i.e. May 19, 2015).

Each applicant must pass a background check of all relevant national security and criminal databases, including DHS and FBI databases, that would show they have not been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors.

3)  Streamline the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application process to support high-skilled businesses and workers

In a November 20 memorandum titled Policies Supporting U.S. High-Skilled Businesses and Workers, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security called for new regulations and administrative steps to:

(i) Modernize the employment-based immigrant visa system (and make it easier for U.S. businesses to hire and retain highly-skilled foreign-born workers).

(ii) Reform “Optional Practical Training” for foreign students and graduates from U.S. universities (and make it easier for those on student visas studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to remain after graduation for training and work opportunities).

(iii) Promote research and development in the U.S. (and make it easier for foreign investors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises to conduct research and development and create jobs in the U.S.).

(iv) Bring greater consistency to the L-1B “intracompany transferee” visa program (and make it easier for companies to manage their global workforce).

(v) Clarify guidelines for worker portability (and make it easier for adjustment of status applicants to accept promotions and change jobs without affecting their employment-based green card process).

4) Expand the Form I-601A, provisional waiver program 

The provisional waiver program for the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar, which USCIS introduced in 2013, will expand to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents, as well as adult children of U.S. citizens. It will no longer be just for U.S. citizens’ spouses, parents, and children (unmarried and under 21).

To obtain the waiver, applicants must still prove their absence from the U.S. will create “extreme hardships” for their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent (qualifying relative).

DHA plans to further clarify the “extreme hardship” standard that must be met to obtain the waiver. New guidelines and regulations will need to be issued for this to go into effect.

5) Promote the naturalization process

Lawful permanent residents who wish to naturalize will see some improvements in 2015. USCIS is expected to:

(i) Promote citizenship education and public awareness for lawful permanent resident;

(ii) Allow naturalization applicants to use credit cards to pay the application fee; and,

(iii) Assess potential for partial fee waivers.

A November 20 memorandum, titled Policies to Promote and Increase Access to U.S. Citizenship, states there are more than 8 million lawful permanent residents who are eligible, but who have not applied to become U.S. citizens. While the executive actions are meant to promote citizenship, they do not lower the eligibility requirements to become a U.S. citizen.

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To subscribe for email updates from USCIS on these executive actions, go to the Executive Actions on Immigration page on USCIS’ website.

This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Obama pledges immigration fix by executive order

Now that Republicans control the U.S. Senate in the wake of Tuesday’s midterm elections, President Obama promised to use executive orders to implement immigration reform.

In an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, Obama said he had waited long enough for Congress to act. “I’m going to do what I can do through executive action,” Obama said. “It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place.”

The U.S. government does not have the capacity to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.  This year’s upsurge in apprehension of unaccompanied children from Central America at the Southwestern border put further strain on the immigration system.

Th U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that 68,541  unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Honduras, and other Central American countries have been apprehended this year, compared to 38,759 last year.

Although the numbers have since declined, the crisis sparked growing public concern over illegal immigration and weakened support for legalization of undocumented immigrants, according to some polls.

Immigration reform

 

 

 

“Everybody agrees the immigration system’s broken. And we’ve been talking about it for years now in terms of fixing it,” Obama said.

“I’d prefer and still prefer to see it done through Congress,” Obama added. “But every day that I wait, we’re misallocating resources, we’re deporting people that shouldn’t be deported, we’re not deporting folks that are dangerous and need to be deported.”

For national policy change to occur,  Congress must usually approve a bill before the president signs it into law. An executive order allows the president to bypass the legislative process to meet limited policy objectives.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in July 2013, but it was not taken up by the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner.

In his first press conference since Tuesday’s midterm elections, Boehner said Obama will “poison the well” and “there will be no chance for immigration reform” if he pursues unilateral, executive action.

Executive orders provide only a temporary, short-term fix.  They can also be revoked by Congress, a federal appeals court, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, Congress has to decide whether it will pass a bill to deal with permanent immigration reform.

Obama said that if a bill gets passed, “nobody’s going to be happier than me to sign it, because that means it will be permanent rather than temporary.” He noted, “the minute they pass a bill that addresses the problems of immigration reform, I will sign it and it supersedes whatever actions I take.”

Watch the full interview on CBS’ Face the Nation here.

This article provides general information only. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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