Here is a copy of the Q&A article that ran in Tiempo this week:
Tiempo: Tell us about your experience with clients and immigration issues.
Nelson: My first encounter
with immigration law was when my husband and I adopted our daughter from Russia.
Although we are both lawyers, we needed help to navigate the complex
immigration process. After our experience with the adoption, I started
receiving calls from other attorneys and individuals who knew of my experience.
I began practicing immigration law beyond pro bono cases in 2003, and it is now
where I spend the majority of my time.
I like immigration law because it allows me to help people keep their families together. Many lawyers help pick up the pieces when families fall apart, but I work to help families who want to be together stay together. I am often frustrated by the current state of the law when I see deserving people whose families are being torn apart without remedy or recourse.
Tiempo: What is the difference between the Texas DREAM Act and the one that is being discussed in Washington?
Nelson: The Texas DREAM Act was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in 2001 and provides that all students, regardless of immigration status, may qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges or universities provided they have lived in Texas the three years leading up to high school graduation and resided in Texas the year prior to their enrollment in higher education.
The Texas Dream Act has succeeded by providing access to higher education for students who otherwise are unable to afford the increasing cost of attending college and by providing needed money to Texas colleges and universities. In the present legislature a bill has been filed that would repeal the Texas DREAM Act. Governor Perry hinted that he would veto such an attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students, but I hope that this bill will never reach his desk.
The federal DREAM Act (The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2001 with bipartisan support but never became the law. If enacted, it would provide a path to permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, who graduated from high school or obtained a G.E.D. in the U.S. and who have good moral character if they complete two (2) years of college or in the military.
Tiempo: What can be expected with the political climate on immigration now that President Obama has been re-elected?
Nelson: In recent years, attempts to fix our nation’s broken immigration laws have been hijacked by the anti-immigrant, anti-“amnesty” movement. I am hopeful there will be a change in the dynamics and an opportunity for Congress to make changes in our laws that will place the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. on a path to earning legal permanent residence.
Tiempo: Could you explain in a few words the Deferred Action decision from last year?
Nelson: In June of 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would accept requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This initiative is designed to temporarily suspend the deportation of young people residing unlawfully in the U.S who were brought to the United States as children, are attending or have graduated from U.S. schools and who have good moral character. Young people who are approved for DACA receive an Employment Authorization for 2 years that can be renewed as long as the DACA program continues, but it does not provide a path to permanent residence for these young people.
Tiempo: What cases have you dealt with recently regarding Deferred Action?
Nelson: I represent a number of clients with DACA cases. In addition, I provide direction to the Baylor Law School Immigration Clinic. We assisted 120 young people to complete applications in the Fall, and plan to have another DACA Clinic this Spring. Most DACA applicants receive approvals in about 3 months.
Tiempo: What is the current status of applications for immigrants who have been victims of a crime in McLennan County?
Nelson: In 2000, Congress created the U-Visa for victims of certain crimes in order to encourage undocumented victims to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
In order to apply for the U-Visa, a crime victim must first obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency, prosecutor or judge stating that they were the victim of a qualifying crime and that they cooperated with law enforcement.
There has been a problem in McLennan County in recent years. The Waco Police Department does not sign the required certifications but refers all requests to the District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Abel Reyna has declined to sign all of the requests for certification that I submitted on behalf of crime victims, including one for a minor sexual abuse victim whose abuser is serving 35 years in prison because she and her mother came forward.
Fortunately, judges can also sign the certifications. Judge Ralph Strother recently signed the certification so that this brave young girl can apply for a U-Visa.
However, our judges cannot shoulder the entire burden. There is a need for the DA’s office and police departments to also sign the certifications, and I hope that they will reconsider their policies.
Tiempo: What can the community do to support the DREAM Act Alliance locally?
Nelson: The Waco DREAM Act Alliance is a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the DREAM act and immigrant rights. They meet regularly and support local DREAMers and their families. You can find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/groups/WacoDREAM/ or on-line at www.wacodream.org.
You can also express your support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform by contacting your congressional representatives and Senators. You can find your representative’s contact information at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. Your Senators’ contact information can be found at http://www.senate.gov/.
The Waco DREAM Act Alliance and national organization United We Dream are working to stop the deportations of family members of DACA eligible young people and U.S. Citizens. If you know of someone in deportation proceedings who fits into this category, they should complete a Case Questionnaire at http://unitedwedream.org/end/ and contact the Waco DREAM Act Alliance.
Tiempo: What is the new rule that effects the way that spouses of U.S. Citizens obtain their permanent residence?
Nelson: The Obama Administration is attempting to lift the burden of our broken immigration laws by making rules that change the process but not the law.
Under current law, many immigrants who enter the country without inspection cannot apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) in the U.S., and instead must finish the immigration process abroad. Unfortunately, for most people, just leaving the country—even to pick up a visa sponsored by a family member—automatically makes the intending immigrant subject to a penalty for their “unlawful presence,” potentially separating them from their family for up to ten years.
For some, but not all, the penalty can be waived. To be successful, applicants must show that denying the case would be an extreme hardship to their qualifying relative(s); the impact on the immigrant doesn’t count. Hardship factors can include family separation, economic hardship, medical issues, country conditions abroad, and any other difficulty or harm faced by the qualifying relative(s), if the waiver isn’t granted.
Under the old rule (which will continue to be the process for spouses of permanent residents), the applicant can not apply for the waiver until after they leave the U.S. and have their consular interview. They are required to wait in their home country while the waiver application is decided.
Immigrants can be stranded outside the U.S. for months or even years while waiting for a decision on whether they can return to their family. Many families endure the emotional strain, financial hardship and dangerous conditions of this waiver process. Others simply are unwilling to take the risk.
The new rule allows spouses of U.S. Citizens to apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence before they leave the U.S. for their consular interview. If they receive the provisional waiver, they will leave the U.S. to apply for their immigrant visa knowing in advance that their case will probably be approved, and they could be back with their families—as a legal resident—in a matter of weeks.
The new rule takes effect on March 4, 2013.
Susan I. Nelson is a Waco attorney and practices with her husband, Alan Nelson, in The Nelson Law Firm, P.C. She represents individuals and businesses in immigration cases and writes the Texas Immigration Lawyer Blog (www.centeximmigration.com) in which she provides news and opinions on immigration law and policy. Susan came to Waco in 1976 to attend Baylor University, and has been here since that time. She has practiced law in Waco since she graduated from Baylor Law School in 1990.