New York Immigration Lawyers Blog

ice-raidThere is an interesting policy that is not commonly know about. This policy states that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents may not arrest an undocumented individual or a person with an order of removal or deportation, while they physically remain on property owned by a religious entity. Recently, such property has served as a safe haven to several families in Tuscon, Arizona.   The only caveat to this policy that would allow ICE agents to proceed and take an individual into custody, is when it is believed the arrest is based on an imminent harm or threat.

Recently, a Mexican immigrant, Francisco Cordova has remained safely inside of an Arizona church where has been seeking protection for over a week now. With the help and support of the religious leaders in his community, he remains inside the church, in direct disregard for the order of removal or deportation that the government has filed against him.   The community refuses to surrender Mr. Cordova to the government officials, so that the Department of Homeland Security ICE officers can deport him back to his home country of Mexico.  Mr. Cordova has children who are born in the United States and are thereby citizens of this country by virtue of their birthright. He has refused to comply with the order of removal on account of those children. He stated earlier in the week, that he desired a better opportunity and life for his children. His wish and hope is that his children will have more opportunities than he had been given, being born into an impoverished family in Mexico.

All across the country, many religious organization have come together to help their members who have a similar order of removal or deportation from the United States, by offering them a safe haven from the long arm of the Department of Homeland Security. By utilizing this policy, they are legally able to allow members at risk of deportation, shelter within the walls of the church building.  In North Texas a group calling themselves, the Coalition of Faiths, is vigorously attempting to recruit additional religious organizations of all denominations to help in their cause by offering places of shelter and sanctuary to individuals in need.  One of the areas the Coalition is targeting next is the large city of Dallas. The group feels that when the larger cities are reached and begin to participate, their presence and cause will be heard and felt with greater veracity.

The group’s mission is to keep families together. There thousands of many families who have United States citizen children, born here, whose parents may be undocumented and under current orders of removal and deportation.   This goal of family unity is a measure to provide safe haven while the nation awaits with hopeful expectation, the possibility of Comprehensive Immigration Reform becoming a reality. These brave religious leaders who are standing up for what they believe is the right thing to do, are heeding the laws of human kind and not necessarily those of the United States government.

law and orderIn recent months, the United States has seen a surge in the immigrant population crossing over the border from Mexico in the Southwest United States. This large increase stems from the increased gang violence and ever growing poverty in Central America.  Because of the increased influx of these impoverished and largely unrepresented immigrants, a group called the New York Immigration Coalition, held a two day seminar at the New York Law School that helped individuals, both attorneys and laypersons, learn how to represent these unaccompanied minors in Federal Immigration Court.   The training also helped these people, most whom are volunteers, become eligible to appear before the New York City Immigration Court in removal proceedings, which is located near City Hall, in the Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza. The New York City immigration court is one of the largest and courts with the most immigration judges and largest dockets in the entire country.

It is estimated that there are currently more than 50,000 cases pending at the New York City immigration court. The United States Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review is limited in budgeting and therefore the number of immigration judges employed within that agency are not sufficient to cover the current case load. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) employ the trial attorneys or Assistant Chief Counsels. The number of these attorneys has diminished due to attrition and there have not been any new attorneys hired in the past several years due to a lack in funding, resulting in a hiring freeze.  The delay in having their cases heard, are often a benefit for new immigrants who wish to remain in the United States for safety and economic reasons. The wait time is also an advantage for the minor children, who will have the opportunity of remaining in the United States for an extended period of time.

This training is very essential to this immigration population. These immigrants need guidance to navigate them through the process of the Immigration Court and its procedures, where the Court’s objective is to deport or remove them from the United States. Most of these children, if counseled correctly, will have an avenue of relief that they may apply for in order to remain safely in the United States. Without this help, these children will have no idea of what to do to protect themselves.  Some of the laypersons who took this training went through their own immigration horrors and now want to give back by helping those who have recently arrived.   Others see it as their civic obligation or their human rights and duty. One of the trainees, an advocate for HIV-positive clients, took the training to help her clients avoid deportation. Keeping these individuals in the United States is often literally a matter of life or death, as many countries cannot provide the medication to help combat the virus.

Whatever reason that people are reaching out and helping this ever increasing immigrant population, it is certainly a sign of good will. It is also something that will continue to be needed as the stream of newly arrived immigrants cross the border into the United States and are processed through the United States immigration system.

thZRQORDPJOne of the major obstacles for individuals who are present in the United States without immigration benefits is the inability to drive lawfully. Having a driver’s license, for most Americans is a freedom enjoyed by the majority adults that is hardly contemplated. In order to drive to work, transport children to and from school and get to the grocery, in most areas of the United States, people need to drive.

At the present time, there are 11 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and the District of Colombia, who do not discriminate or require immigration status in the United States in order to obtain a state driver’s license. These states are; Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont.  According to a recent poll conducted in the State of New Jersey, there are approximately 525,000 undocumented individuals living there. The study also showed that nearly 464,000 of these individuals would be at a great advantage if they were permitted to drive lawfully in the state. The survey estimated that between 153,000 and 278,000 of the undocumented individuals would take advantage of this proposed policy and apply for their driver’s license within the first three years.

That number is significant as it would bring additional and much needed revenue to the state of New Jersey. The change would also benefit the American population by increasing the number of insured and lawfully licensed drivers on the road. A major issue from the standpoint of an American citizen, residing there, would be the added safety factor on the road, as the requirements for licensing mandate written as well as roadside testing.  The benefit for the undocumented individuals is even greater. The flexibility of having the option to drive to their place of employment, rather than taking public transportation is enormous. The quality of live for these individuals could increase tremendously as they could seek employment in areas previously unavailable to them. Their quality of life for these adults and their children could improve with additional options in employment opportunities.

The ACLU of New Jersey fully supports the proposed change to allow undocumented individuals to obtain their driver’s license. The executive director, Udi Offer added that undocumented immigrants can suffer greatly by making decisions daily that may fail to meet their basic needs such as buying food or taking their child to the doctor. Presently, doing so, they run the risk of arrest and possible deportation.   He also added that the state of New Jersey relies on these workers for the continued “functioning and vitality of New Jersey.”

Annette Quijano, Assemblywoman for the State of New Jersey recently introduced a bill for the 2014-2015 legislative session that would offer driving privilege cards to undocumented New Jersey residents. She contends that this would be a great step forward for the state. She also relied on the argument that the added benefit to the public would be the safety issues on the road, having regulated drivers, in addition to the added insurance, these drivers would be obligated to maintain.   Proposed policies such as these continue to serve the undocumented community, while the nation awaits a Comprehensive Immigration Policy that would serve the entire nation.

Immigration-09357President Obama stands on the precipice of making history not unlike President Lincoln did when he considered the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. Like the slaves, the undocumented living in the United States are treated like second hand citizens. Of course, the undocumented arrived here on their own seeking a better life while the slaves were forced against their will.

Still, both are similar in the long standing debate over the fundamental rights of human beings. Will President Obama be compared to Lincoln as a liberator? Obama is considering giving the parents of U.S. citizens and others who arrived here and were later granted Deferred Action under DACA, a deferred action of their own. This deferred action would include work permits and the ability to obtain state driver’s licenses.

Clearly, President Obama cannot convey citizenship to anyone as Congress controls naturalization, but he can extend prosecutorial discretion and expand deferred action. Although opponents of immigration reform plan to challenge any executive action Obama takes on immigration, there is probably little they can do to stop it.

Most likely those who have committed crimes in the United States will be unable to take advantage of the programs President Obama comes up with. Still, millions of people who have been living in the shadows will be able to come out and contribute to our economy without fear of being arrested by the immigration authorities.

To read the article this blog is based on, click HERE.

childrenThe immigration debate of whether Congress will act on comprehensive immigration reform or whether President Obama will take executive action to change immigration law has taken a dramatic turn with the sudden surge of undocumented children crossing the southern border into the United States.

Now, a President who once wished to take action to provide a path to legalization to the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, has now promised to quickly deport the people who are crossing our borders in great numbers from Central America.

Before this surge, illegal border crossings had actually been dropping. The lower numbers were the result of stricter enforcement and more border patrol agents along the border. An interesting point regarding the children crossing the border is that they are taking advantage of an immigration law that Congress passed in 2008, when George Bush was President. The law provides protection for children to ensure that they are not victims of trafficking. These children are permitted to have their case heard before an Immigration Judge, many of them asking for political asylum.

The sudden surge in children and families from countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is due, largely in part, to poverty, gang violence, and parents’ desire to send their children to a safe haven. Children are being recruited by gangs, killed, and raped and worse in these Central American countries.

Opponents of President Obama, however, blame him for this surge in border crossings based on his executive action that created legal status for some early childhood arrivals in the form of deferred action known as DACA. What these opponents fail to recognize or admit is that the children currently crossing the border do not qualify for DACA because one of the requirements are that they were present in the United States in 2007 before they were 16 years old.

President Obama has asked Congress to authorize 3.7 billion in spending to help with this immigration crisis. Part of the money would be used to help deport people back to their countries. There is also a call to change the 2008 law to deal with minors from these Central American countries like those from Mexico who are sent back to their country much quicker. Part of the change called for is to add more immigration judges and to allow more applications for refugee status to be processed in the Central American countries. As it stands now, the Department of Homeland Security is processing these recent arrivals ahead of an otherwise overwhelmed immigration court system so that it may show others thinking of making the dangerous border crossing that their efforts will be futile.

Of course, any change in the 2008 law would have to result from an agreement of members of Congress which is unlikely since they have not to date shown that they can come to consensus when it comes to immigration.

imagesThe city council of the state of New York has decided to vote this month on two plans which would essentially aid immigrants. The first plan includes providing all New York residents with a municipal identification card, regardless of their legal status. This plan is in great debate since this identification card would technically allow undocumented immigrants to use the cards as proof of residence to open bank accounts, sign leases, as well as other perks that come to those who are legal residents.

Supporters of the bill are determined to make sure the card would be identifiable by New York police officials in order to avoid a problem if someone is stopped by law enforcement. Another concern is the increased risk for potential documentation fraud. The council plans to find a viable way to alleviate these concerns and implement the program in 2015.

The city council will also be discussing a separate plan, which includes financial assistance for immigrants who are in need of legal representation by providing them with an immigration attorney. If approved, this plan would provide “pro bono” legal assistance to all undocumented immigrants residing in New York, aiding them in their fight against detainment, deportation or removal proceedings.

It has been recorded that these public defenders would be representing approximately 1,380 detained, and/or poor New Yorkers who are facing deportation. This would make New York the first and only area in the United States to have a fully covered public defender system in order to specifically assist poor immigrants in removal proceedings.

If both of these plans are approved, New York will continue to be the most accommodating state in the U.S. for immigrants. City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, has stated that he hopes these measures will inspire other cities and states to help their residents. As a result, Los Angeles, New Haven, and San Francisco are also taking measures to assist immigrants within their vicinities as well.

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immigration-detention-transfersAlthough President Obama has made it clear that he will use his executive powers to fashion some sort of immigration reform should Congress refuse to put a Bill to a vote, the fact is that deportations are at the highest point in years, much higher than before he took office for his first term.  Defending one’s self in what is called, Removal Proceedings, can be confusing at best.  There are terms that amount to a legal maze complicated by the fact that everything is in English.  Immigrants often do not understand that they have some legal rights to relief from removal in the forms of various waivers, adjustment of status, political asylum, cancellation of removal to mention a few.  Each of these forms of relief have distinct requirements to qualify to apply and further requirements to prove that the immigrant deserves a favorable act of discretion.  Complicating matters more is the various personalities and views of the Immigration Judges that hear cases in removal proceedings.

Last month, lawmakers in New York approved a 4.9 million dollar appropriation to fund a Public Defender system for immigrants facing deportation.  Many of these immigrants are poor and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  It is called the New York Family Immigrant Project and is a pilot program being run by the Vera Institute of Justice.  The immigrants who qualify cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them and, as a result, they are representing themselves against highly trained government lawyers.  These immigrants need attorneys to not only defend against removal but, in cases where removal is certain, to expedite the process to avoid the immigrant being detained for long periods of time.

The Vera Institute hopes to expand the Public Defender program to other cities.

As more illegal immigrant children continue to cross the U.S. border into Texas, the U.S. government has begun to send children back to their home countries. In fact, it has been reported that in 2011 approximately 13,525 children crossed the border, but then in 2012 that number rose to nearly 25,000. Since October of last year the number of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the U.S. border has risen to 47,000.

The Foreign Ministry had recorded that from January to April of this year, the Mexican Consular assisted approximately 6,233 unaccompanied minors back to Mexico in a process referred to as repatriation. Many of these children had in fact been detained while crossing the U.S. border. However 77% of them had been captured at least once prior to their repatriation this year, and 21% had been recorded in attempting to cross the border up to 5 times.

Marc Rosenblum, Migration Policy Institute Specialist, believes this increase could be the result of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act passed in 2008 by former President, George W Bush.  This Act provides protection for unaccompanied minors that are not from Mexico or Canada.  According to research, Mexican children come to the United States in search for protection against poverty, violence, and drug cartels and in some cases to be reunited with family. However, throughout the first few months of 2014 the Mexican government has reported that over 6,000 Mexican children were returned to Mexico.

The Obama administration has requested 2.3 million USD from Congress in order to help fund the Health and Human Services organization that caters to the needs of these illegal immigrant minors. However, the government claims that the lack of preparedness is due to an unexpected surpass of their estimations of children entering the country illegally. Either way, the U.S. government does not appear to have all the resources necessary to care for this large intake of children. As a result, the President Barack Obama, has not only arranged for facilities in Texas, Arizona, and Miami, but also in Oklahoma, to receive these children and help with the process of either giving them U.S. residency or returning them home.

imagesCAC60DRDAfter months of convening, the Supreme Court has finally come to a decision regarding the extensive debate on “aged-out” immigrant children. Lawmakers questioned whether the current immigration law could, in fact, be altered to allow immigrant children who entered the United States with their parents to keep their place in the system if they turned 21 prior to receiving residential status.

The Supreme Court was divided on the subject, throughout the trial. However, in early June, the Court agreed on one principal factor and concluded that the children of immigrant parents will not be given priority even if they turn 21 before the slow immigration system grants them a permanent resident status. This decision is presumed to affect a countless number of young adults, including those children who came with their parents to New York during the years 1990-2000, so their parents could teach.

During the Supreme Courts convening, the law signed by George W Bush in 2002, which was introduced after the Scialabba vs. Cuellar de Osori et al case, was challenged. It appeared as though the law protected ‘aged-out’ children by allowing them to hold their status, or at least their original priority date, ensuring that the process of applying for a new status would not pull the children completely out of the system, or make them start from the beginning. The Supreme Court, however, found that after analysis, parts of the law were unclear.

In conclusion, despite the law introduced in 2002, these children will not be given priority, despite the fact that essentially they are American, culturally and socially. This means that these children will need to follow the immigration law as is in order to receive their residential status. There will be no exceptions, regardless of how slow or backed up the immigration system is, or will be in the future.