April 1, 2014 & April 3, 2014
Baylor Law School will offer free assistance to immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
When? April 1, 2014 and April 3, 2014 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
What are some of DACA’s benefits?
Who qualifies? Immigrants who:
When you contact us, our law students will help you determine if you qualify for DACA and our services. While our services are completely free, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services charges an application fee of $465. Translators will be available. Baylor Law School will not provide additional services after the scheduled clinics.
For an appointment, call or email us at:
My SA by Jason Buch
With immigration courts still backlogged more than a year after the Obama administration launched a controversial policy to close certain deportation cases, the nation's top immigration judge has encouraged colleagues to take matters into their own hands.
In a memo issued this month, Chief Immigration Judge Brian O'Leary wrote that judges are “encouraged to consider” a landmark ruling from last year that allows them to close deportation cases over the objection of prosecutors.
The decision was hailed by immigration lawyers, who said it will help relieve heavy dockets of languishing cases. San Antonio had the second-largest backlog in the state with 10,000 cases pending last year.
But a former immigration judge criticized the guidelines as sending the message that immigration laws won't be enforced, adding that administrative closure, which puts deportation proceedings on the shelf, leaves immigrants in legal limbo.
The recommendation to consider closing cases despite the government's objection came in a memo in which O'Leary lamented the backlog in the nation's immigration courts.
More than a year after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton issued a memo, widely criticized by conservatives, directing prosecutors to use discretion in deportation proceedings, the problem is at an all-time high.
“The backlogs in the courts are still way out there,” San Antonio immigration attorney Lance Curtright said. “If you go into court today, you're not going back until 2014.”
Morton's prosecutorial discretion guidelines, which encouraged ICE's attorneys to focus on immigrants who committed serious crimes and shelve the cases of those who meet certain guidelines, such as serving in the military or having U.S. citizen families, haven't made much of an impact, Curtright said.
Of the more than 16,000 cases closed since the so-called Morton Memo was issued in 2011, only about 200 were in San Antonio courts, according to TRAC.
Administratively closing a case means a judge sets it aside and takes it off the docket, but it can be reopened at any time.
To deal with the backlog, O'Leary wrote, judges can administratively close cases even when ICE prosecutors object. In the past, he wrote, judges couldn't close a case unless the government recommended it. An appeals case decided last year changed that.
In the Matter of Bavakan Avetisyan, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that immigration judges can administratively close cases even if one side objects.
“Requests for administrative closure ... should be granted in appropriate circumstances. Since our resources are limited, those resources must be applied to situations where there is an actual dispute between the parties,” O'Leary wrote. “However, administrative closure cannot be used simply to remove a case from the court docket.”
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.
KWBU by Rebecca Fogel
Great story about Raul Ortiz and the social media efforts to prevent his deportation.
Please sign the END Petition for Raul Ortiz-Garcia who will be deported on January 9, 2013, unless ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion.
Waco Tribune-Herald by Cindy V. Culp
A Central Texas teen whose deportation battle rallied local immigration advocates learned Friday he can stay in the United States.
Daniel Perez, who graduated from high school in nearby Coolidge in May, might be the first person in the area to benefit from an executive order President Barack Obama signed in June.
The order creates a way for certain teens and young adults in the country illegally to receive permission to stay here.
Waco immigration attorney Susan Nelson, who represents Perez, said she has not heard of any other local residents who have received relief from the program yet.
Most eligible immigrants couldn't submit an application to the "deferred action" program until Wednesday, when it was officially launched.
But because Perez was already in deportation proceedings, Nelson was able to make a plea on his behalf shortly after Obama signed the order.
"I was really excited when I opened the letter from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and saw it was something positive," Nelson said Friday. "I've been running around kind of goofy all afternoon."
Perez, 19, was not available for comment Friday afternoon. But he previously told the Tribune-Herald he dreaded the idea of being sent to Mexico. He has lived in the United States since he was 5 years old and has not been to Mexico since then, he said.
Perez planned to attend Navarro College to study automotive mechanics. But his life dropped into limbo in July 2010 when he was arrested with a group of friends who got into a fight. Although he was a bystander and charges were never filed against him, the incident put him on ICE's radar.
This spring, the Waco DREAM Alliance began advocacy work to help Perez and a Waco high school student in a similar situation. The group, which formed in 2010 to advocate for a law that would have created a path to citizenship for certain young immigrants, held a petition drive for the boys and were poised to initiate other efforts to try to stop their deportation.
But the strategy changed when Obama signed the executive order. Nelson quickly submitted applications for both Perez and the other teen, 19-year old Luis Ortiz, who also graduated from high school in May.
Ortiz came to the attention of authorities after being arrested for drag racing, a Class B misdemeanor. Under the program rules, young immigrants may still qualify even if they have a few misdemeanor convictions.
"I'm hoping we'll hear back on his (application) soon," Nelson said.
Those accepted into the new program get permission to live and work here for a two-year period, with the possibility of ongoing renewal. Perez must still apply for a work permit, Nelson said, but she expects that process to go smoothly because he has been granted the right to live here.
To qualify, immigrants must be younger than age 31 and have been brought to the United States as a child. They must also be in school or have graduated from high school, obtained a GED or been honorably discharged from the U.S. military. They must be generally free of criminal convictions.
The Immigration Policy Center estimates 1.4 million immigrants nation-wide meet that criteria. That includes 4,110 people in U.S. Congressional District 17, which includes McLennan County.
Daniel's dad is still in removal proceedings because he picked Daniel up at the ICE office (Daniel was 17 at the time). Please sign the petition asking DHS to dismiss Daniel's dad's case.
Texas Tribune by Julian Aguilar
A year after the Obama administration announced it would prioritize the government’s resources on criminals when selecting which illegal immigrants to deport, the backlog in immigration courts has swelled to new highs for Texas and the nation as a whole.
Immigration lawyers say the numbers show that the government is not following through on its directive and becoming more efficient with deportation proceedings, but federal officials say that the figures aren’t telling the whole story.
Federal data compiled from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a data research and distribution organization at the University of Syracuse, shows that through June, more than 314,000 cases awaited a resolution nationally, a 5.6 percent increase from 2011 and a 20 percent increase from 2010. Immigration courts in Houston and San Antonio represent Texas’ largest dockets, with 11,390 and 9,220 cases pending, respectively. That is followed by courts in El Paso and Dallas, which have 6,380 and 4,915 cases pending, respectively.
The data shows that Texas ranks third nationally — with about 36,840 cases awaiting a resolution — rising from its fourth-place standing two years ago. The state trails California and New York, whose courts have 77,200 and 47,200 cases pending, respectively. In Texas, about 32,840 immigrants are being detained solely on immigration-related charges, and about 3,470 — or 9.4 percent of those with pending cases — have some other criminal violation or have been deemed a threat to national security, according to the data.
That is above the national average of 8 percent but still stands contrary with what the Morton memo was supposed to do, immigration lawyers argue. The memo, issued in June 2011, asked federal prosecutors to take into consideration the illegal immigrant’s education in the U.S. and whether he or she has graduated from high school and attended college before placing that person in deportation proceedings.
Officials were also directed to consider whether the illegal immigrant is the child or spouse of a U.S. citizen, has an immediate relative who has served in the military or is a primary caretaker of someone who is ill, in addition to the conditions in the person’s home country and the circumstances upon that person’s arrival in the U.S. — specifically if the person came as a young child. The illegal immigrant’s criminal history and whether he or she poses a risk to the country’s national security is also to be considered, as is any history of prior removal.
Attorneys say the memo has had little — if any — effect on the immigrants they represent before immigration judges. They say that some of their clients — who fall under the criteria outlined in the memo — are still being placed in deportation proceedings. The federal government, however, defends it practices and said instead that TRAC handpicked its data to suit its agenda.
* * *
Despite ICE data not being included in the assessments, attorneys still argue that the Morton memo guidelines, which irked conservative leaders and led some to accuse the Obama administration of championing “backdoor” amnesty, have had little positive effect on illegal immigrants who they say fall under the memo’s guidelines for prosecutorial discretion.
“I think it would be fair to say that the immigration bar is not seeing the results of the Morton memo on pending court cases,” said Laura Lichter, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “We believe that the cases that are remaining in immigration proceedings still do not accurately reflect what should be priority cases.”
Lichter acknowledged ICE has increased its criminal immigrant deportations, but she said that it has also expanded its pool of who falls into that category.
An example, she said, is the immigrant who lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, returned home briefly for a funeral or family emergency, then was detained upon his or her return.
“They will classify that person as a recent entrant,” Lichter said. “I appreciate the fact that they are trying to make sure that their actual removals reflect their true priorities, but they have made the bucket so big it’s hard to fall in to the bucket.”
Jacqueline Watson, an immigration attorney in Austin, said she has had one case out of an active 117 dismissed since the memo was issued, but even that action she could not credit to the guidelines.
“I have had the case closed because the trial attorney didn’t oppose my motion but not affirmatively because of deferred action,” she said. The memo, she concludes, hasn’t helped her clients, which include a mother of five children, who are U.S. citizens, a couple with no criminal history and two American children.
“I can’t say where the lack of communication is, but I can say for sure that at the trial attorney level, we’ve been met with this [explanation]: 'This case doesn’t fit; this case doesn’t deserve deferred action,’ when it’s clear that the Morton memo was made for these kind of people,” she said.
[On June 19, 2012], DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before the House Judiciary Committee and, as expected, defended the administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion and recently announced deferred action policies for qualified DREAMers—fielding questions and accusations from those who would rather take Napolitano to task than focus on creating smart, humane, and effective immigration policies.
* * *
Once again, Secretary Napolitano clarified that deferred action for DREAMers is not “amnesty,” and does not provide green cards or any other legal status that would put them on a path to citizenship. President Obama did not issue an “executive order,” and Napolitano’s memo was completely in line with the Constitution and decades of precedent. She again explained that, like all law enforcement agencies, DHS exercises prosecutorial discretion, of which deferred action is a subset, to be able to focus resources on its priorities—serious criminals, threats to national security, recent border crossers, and repeat immigration violators.
Napolitano also mentioned that additional guidelines on the deferred action program would be available on August 1, and applications would be available beginning on August 15. There will be an application fee, but the amount of the fee is yet unknown.
Please sign the petition for Raul Ortiz, father of Luis Ortiz, who is in removal proceedings because his son was arrested for Racing on the Highway at age 17. When Raul went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Waco, Texas, to pick up Luis, he was placed in removal proceedings. See my earlier post on Raul's case.
On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Raul Ortiz appeared in immigration court and admitted the charges against him -- he is present in the U.S. without authorization. His son, Luis, should be eligible to have his removal deferred for 2 years and gain a work authorization through the Deferred Action policy announced on June 15th. Unfortunately, for the father who picked him up at the ICE office, there will be no choice but to leave the country next year if ICE cannot be persuaded to exercise prosecutorial discretion and close his case. The San Antonio Office of Chief Counsel has rejected our request (twice).
Deferred action for Luis will be bittersweet if his actions result in separation from his father. Luis has applied to Texas State Technical College in the fall and hopes to be able to study mechanics. Without Raul's financial and emotional support Luis will be working to survive and not to educate himself.
Raul has not been in Mexico since 1998. His life and family are here in Waco, Texas.
Please help us appeal to a higher authority and petition DHS and ICE to close Raul's case.