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Texas Cities to Sue Over Sanctuary City Ban – SB 4

Posted in Immigration on June 21, 2017

Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the Sanctuary City Ban, is a newly passed bill that aims to crack down on state immigration laws. It bans sanctuary cities, or those cities that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement agents. The bill, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, also imposes hefty fines on jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration agents’ requests. The bill has far-reaching immigration implications. San Antonio, El Paso, and Austin have filed lawsuits against the state of Texas to stop the new law. Houston may be next to join the fight against SB 4.

What Does the Bill Entail?

Immigration agents and officers will have much more power in terms of law enforcement once SB 4 goes into effect (September 1, 2017). The law will allow them to make requests for inmates in custody without exceptions. Officers will also have the power to inquire about an individual’s immigration status, even during traffic stops. Anyone suspected of breaking the law will now face questions about his or her immigration status, regardless of the nature of the alleged crime.

Jurisdictions that do not comply with the new rules will face consequences, such as $25,000 in fines. Elected officials found guilty of going against the bill could face removal from office and criminal charges, such as a Class A misdemeanor. Officials in every Texas city will be required to turn over immigrants who are potentially undocumented, and to make requests for immigration status during detainments – or the officials could face legal consequences of their own.

Who is Fighting the Bill?

The first lawsuit in reaction to SB 4 came from the small border city of El Cenizo, which claimed that the bill did not clearly define “sanctuary city,” and that it will tie up important law enforcement resources. San Antonio and Austin soon followed with their own lawsuits. City attorneys argue against every provision of the new senate bill and claim that it violates the First, Fourth, and 14th amendments. These amendments involve the rights of citizens to live free from unfounded searches and seizures, and free from questions about citizenship.

The cities involved in the lawsuit claim that empowering every law enforcement officer and city official, without restrictions, is a waste of resources that could lead to racial profiling. Several police departments throughout the state believe that SB 4 will create an atmosphere of distrust between officers and immigrant communities, leading to a rise in crime and resulting in the loss of assistance from immigrants in preventing and solving crime. The Austin Police Department has already met with immigrant communities to avoid discord.

Houston may be the next Texas city to join the lawsuits against the state. Mayor Sylvester Turner stated that the city is working on its own strategies to fight the bill. The mayor has spoken publicly against the bill and wrote a letter in opposition to its provisions. He said that now that the bill has passed into law, the city of Houston will look at its constitutionality and determine the next step. City officials may opt for litigation to fight the bill and keep it from dividing communities.

The Future of SB 4

It is unclear whether SB 4 will come into effect in September as scheduled, considering the ongoing lawsuits against the state of Texas for passing it. The law may not leave the courtroom. Claims of the bill encouraging racial profiling, leading to distrust between the community and law enforcement, and violating at least three constitutional rights puts the bill on shaky ground in Texas. As more cities and districts speak up against SB 4 and join the litigation, its fate and its new immigration laws remain unknown.

What Are Sanctuary Cities?

Posted in Immigration on June 2, 2017

Immigration has been at the forefront of political debate. From either side of the aisle, both critics and proponents of stronger immigration laws have been debating the issue of “sanctuary cities.” But what are these sanctuary cities, and what kind of legal protections do they offer immigrants who fear deportation?

Sanctuary, from a Legal Standpoint

First, it’s important to understand that the term “sanctuary city” is largely symbolic. From a legal standpoint, no city official has the power to prevent the federal government from deporting members of their communities. On the other hand, we are a nation of immigrants, so sanctuary cities offer a protective shield to those who would try to pinpoint and deport undocumented workers or immigrants at random. The protections afforded by sanctuary cities come from the court of public opinion.

A Highly Politicized Debate

Sanctuary cities have become one of the defining topics of the political debate surrounding immigration. On the right side of the aisle, politicians blame sanctuary cities like San Francisco for providing a safe haven for criminals. They repeatedly cite the shooting of Kate Steinle, who was killed on a tourist promenade by an undocumented worker with a long criminal history.

President Donald J. Trump has been trying to restrict federal funding to sanctuary cities by issuing a series of executive orders. These orders have been shot down by judges in the U.S. district court in San Francisco.

What Makes for a Sanctuary City?

As part of the “Sanctuary Movement,” four states, 364 counties, and 39 cities have adopted pro-immigration policies, citing their areas as refuges from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). But what makes a city (or county or state) a sanctuary is a matter of interpretation. Some of the largest sanctuary cities – New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and our fair city of Houston – limit their cooperation with ICE forces. They also refuse to turn over unauthorized immigrants from jails unless they meet certain conditions.

Origins of Sanctuary

The idea of a sanctuary city is actually not new. In the early 1980s, the “sanctuary movement” began in faith-based communities, as an extension of the medieval practice in which churches offered refuge for all. But historical practice was focused on providing shelter to those who committed crimes – for churches in the southwestern United States, they weren’t providing shelter to outlaws. They were protecting refugees.

The 1980s were a period of tumult and bloody civil war in Central America. Thousands fled north from Guatemala and El Salvador, seeking refuge near Tucson, Arizona. Church leaders were appalled when they saw immigration officials turning away men, women, and children, so they decided to intervene.

They believed that their moral obligation to help the vulnerable superseded federal law, so they began to smuggle in refugees at night, guiding them across the border to safety. In this sense, the term “sanctuary” was literal, because many immigrant families lived within the churches themselves. At night, they slept in the pews. Then, a quiet movement was born.

Sanctuary Cities Today

The sanctuary cities of today have turned into a politicized act. The current administration is committed to ending sanctuary cities and some state governments have taken that hard line as well. In particular, Texas has sought to pass a law that would ban cities and counties throughout the state from adopting sanctuary policies. Many officials, including the mayor of Houston, have shrugged off the efforts, stating that they will always be committed to protecting the foundation of American democracy.

Though still restricted by federal laws, sanctuary cities offer important protections to those who wish to remain in the United States. The administration may try to dismantle them, but they don’t appear to be going anywhere in the near future.

Houston Immigration Resources and Organizations

Posted in Immigration on March 30, 2017

The United States is a country that is comprised of immigrants from all around the world. According to the most current data, there are approximately 43.3 million immigrants living in the United States today with many more Americans who descend from immigrants themselves. However, throughout the history of this country, immigration policy has always been a point of debate. As the political discussion regarding immigration has become more hostile today, we wanted to provide a list of links and resources to assist immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees who are seeking legal or social aid in their communities. This list is separated into different categories, including a list of local organizations here in Houston at the bottom. If you feel there are any organizations or resources that we missed or would be helpful, please contact our firm and let us know.

Immigration Resources

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ACLU Factsheet: Know Your Rights When Stopped By Police | English and Spanish versions

State Bar of Texas | Immigration

Research and Policy

Brookings Institute

Urban Institute

Migration Policy Institute

National Organizations

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Immigration Advocates Resource Center

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project

American Immigration Lawyers Association

American Civil Liberties Union

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

Vera Institute of Justice

Citizenship Works

Houston Organizations

Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program – Get answers to immigration and other legal questions from a volunteer network of attorneys in Houston

African Law Center – Organization in Houston that assists low income African immigrants with immigration and tax services

Boat People SOS | Houston Office – Non-profit organization that provides legal services and advocates on behalf of immigrant communities and refugee families

St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigration Legal Assistance – Catholic Charity that offers legal services and citizen workshops for immigrants and refugees

Human Rights First | Houston Office – Non-profit advocacy organization that fights for human rights and policy reform

IEDA Relief – Organization that offers citizenship, ESL classes, driver’s education courses, and computer literacy courses to help immigrants and refugees in the Greater Houston area

Justice For Our Neighbors – Network of legal clinics within UMC churches that provide various services to low income immigrants

Kids in Need of Defense – Organization that focuses on assisting children who arrive to the United States alone and without legal aid

Immigration For Good – Support for DACA, citizenship, and other immigration processes that prepares individuals for their citizenship exam

Somali Bantu Community of Greater Houston – Group that offers a number of services and educational classes for refugees and immigrants in the Great Houston area

United We Dream | Houston Office – Non-profit organization that connects undocumented immigrants to resources that will help them excel in their respective communities

YMCA Houston International Services – Provides services that include applying for citizenship, legal advice, and employment searches

Tahirih Justice Center | Houston – Office that provides free legal and social services to immigrant women and girls who are fleeing violence in the Greater Houston area

What to Do When A Loved One is Facing Deportation

Posted in Immigration on March 10, 2017

President Trump has been very clear on his stance against illegal immigration. Officials have already increased deportation activity. Many expect more raids targeting undocumented immigrants with criminal records to follow soon.

Presumably, the new President means for his deportation activity to encourage legal naturalization among immigrants, reduce the strain undocumented immigration places on American taxpayers, and remove potentially dangerous undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, many immigrants – both documented and undocumented – fear the government may wrongfully deport them. It’s vital to understand what to do if you or a loved one is facing deportation.

Orders of Deportation

When immigration officials deem an individual is living in the United States illegally, they issue an order of deportation for that person. Anyone who has crossed the border into the U.S. illegally, overstayed a legal travel visa, or used a falsified passport, may face deportation. Additionally, some individuals applying for legal immigration status may not have the necessary paperwork to defend against deportation.

A past criminal conviction may also lead to an order of deportation. Even minor convictions from years ago may lead to an order of deportation, even for green card holders. If you are unsure whether an order of deportation exists for you, use your Alien Registration Number on your work permit, green card, or passport to find out by calling the Executive Office for Immigration Review. If your number is in the system, you may have an order of deportation on file.

Steps to Take to Protect Yourself

If you or a loved one has an order of deportation, there are a few vital documents that could help improve your situation. First, contact a reliable immigration attorney if possible. Having legal counsel will be tremendously helpful for the coming proceedings, and a good attorney will help you sort through the necessary paperwork and file it properly.

Some of the key information you should gather includes:

  • The deportation target’s full name and all known aliases.
  • His or her immigration status and the documents proving that status.
  • His or her Alien Registration Number.
  • A copy of the Notice to Appear (Form I-862). This is what the U.S. government uses to issue deportation charges. It is very important to fully understand the charges against you or your loved one.
  • Your immigration court date.

These documents will help you and your immigration lawyer navigate your case. However, should you face a deportation raid or arrest by immigration police, remember even undocumented immigrants have Constitutional protection. Similar to any other arrest, you have the right to counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to humane treatment. Any violation of these rights is a serious offense.

An arrest by immigration police does not necessarily mean the government will deport or even detain you. If the police are going to detain you, provide loved ones with your attorney’s contact information. You may also want to arrange for child care if you have children, reach out to your employer and let him or her know what is happening, and give your family your bank account information. If the government deports you, you will most likely not be able to retrieve your personal belongings.

One final consideration: immigration police do not leave a note for your family after they arrest you. Family members can find out if you’ve been detained by using the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Online Detainee Locator tool. If immigration authorities have detained a loved one, reach out to a qualified immigration attorney to help you navigate your case.

App Provides Warning of Immigration Raids

Posted in Immigration on March 7, 2017

Newly elected President Trump made several promises during his campaign to crack down on illegal immigration. This is a multifaceted endeavor, including hiring over 10,000 more immigration police officers, toughening immigration requirements, constructing a Southern border wall between the United States and Mexico, and placing flight restrictions from countries whose governments have ties or suspected ties to extremist and terrorist activities. These new measures have sparked public controversy, and many documented immigrants fear being wrongfully deported.

Raid Alerts

In the first few months of this new Presidency, the government has ramped up immigration raids. People expect more deportation raids in the coming months. In response to this, an Arizona web developer named Celso Mireles created an app named “Redadalertas,” or “Raid Alerts.” This app functions like an opt-in service. People who wish to receive raid alerts simply opt in with their phone number and zip code.

If verified members witness any deportation raid activity, they may report it through the app, and, if the report is verified by other members, subscribers in the area receive an alert. Currently, Raid Alerts only exists as an SMS messaging service, but Mireles reports the full app should be live by May of 2017.

There are several immigration apps available to help potential immigrants complete their applications for legal immigration, such as BorderWise. Critics of Trump’s stance on illegal immigration view it as inhumane or even racist. Trump has repeatedly stated that the deportation raids are targeting undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, however, reports of officials detaining and questioning legal immigrants are becoming common.

Because many people who would be deported under Trump’s plan have young children who are in the U.S. legally, the laws protecting these children will become further complicated.

The Legal Immigration Process

For people who want to enter the United States and become citizens legally, the process is very complicated. Applications are usually more than 40 pages long, and the government strongly advises applicants have their completed applications reviewed by an immigration attorney prior to submitting them for approval. Apps such as BorderWise offer users guidance for completing their applications as well as low-cost attorney reviews. Expect similar services to appear in the near future as deportation raids increase along with requests for entry into the U.S.

These apps may be viable options for potential immigrants with very straightforward cases. However, more complicated applications, especially for individuals with any type of criminal record, will necessitate more comprehensive legal assistance. The application process is extensive, time-consuming and often confusing. Additionally, potential immigrants may encounter delays while dealing with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. An immigration attorney is a tremendous asset for the paperwork involved in legal immigration.

Retaining Legal Counsel

If you have questions about your immigration status or the immigration status of a loved one, meet with a reliable immigration attorney as soon as possible. This is especially true if your case is headed for immigration court deportation proceedings. Additionally, if you or a loved one is classified as “inadmissible” for any reason, an immigration attorney can help you appeal the decision.

There are several things that may qualify you as “inadmissible,” such as previous recorded incidents of lying to the U.S. government or criminal history. In some cases, an immigration attorney can help contest inadmissibility.

The new President’s immigration plan is still in its early stages, so it’s difficult to determine how on-message the efforts have been so far. Apps such as Raid Alerts and BorderWise are sure to provide some assistance to individuals fearing wrongful deportation, but an immigration attorney can help undocumented residents enter the immigration process legally and with greater peace of mind.

What Is the Texas DREAM Act?

Posted in Immigration on August 11, 2016

Immigration law is a prominent area of litigation in Texas. Texas was the very first state to adopt the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in 2001 – a law allowing undocumented immigrant students to attend public universities at in-state tuition rates. If an undocumented student received a high school degree or GED in the state of Texas and lived in the state for at least three years, he or she can attend public school without paying out-of-state tuition.

DREAM Act Provisions

Undocumented immigrants who meet the qualifications for the DREAM Act are called DREAMers, and they must be at least 15 years old to apply. DREAMers reside in every state and can be any nationality. However, the majority of DREAMers are from Mexico, residing in the largest immigrant-receiving states with undocumented immigrants – California and Texas. Texas was one of the first states to pass the act into law, due to the high number of undocumented students facing deportation.

The DREAM Act follows a multiphase process to grant conditional residency for undocumented immigrant students. If the student meets further qualifications, he or she can eventually attain permanent U.S. residency. The DREAM Act has failed to pass as a federal law, and Texas is one of few states that embrace it today. For an undocumented student to qualify under the DREAM Act, he or she must have a conditional resident status. To achieve this status, an immigrant must:

  • Prove they entered the United States before turning 16 years old
  • Have lived in the country for five or more years
  • Be a graduate of a state high school or received a GED in the state
  • Demonstrate good moral standing
  • Pass criminal background checks

The DREAM Act enables thousands of students who have graduated from American high schools to embark on further education legally and eventually legal work. It allows students whose parents brought them to the country as undocumented immigrants the chance to stay in the country they know, instead of facing deportation to a country of which they know little. The DREAM Act is not a guaranteed safeguard against deportation, but it does significantly help students achieve a legal immigration status.

Issues Surrounding the DREAM Act

Since Texas passed the DREAM Act, 17 other states have followed suit, despite long-standing debates about it. Many lawmakers and politicians believe the act may encourage fraud, as some American-born citizens can say they are undocumented immigrants and receive in-state tuition rates. Others against the act state that the bill is an educational initiative in disguise and a way to offer citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

Prior efforts to repeal the act in Texas have all failed, and currently no 2016 political contenders have spoken about repealing it. Understanding your rights as a legal or undocumented immigrant is important to protect yourself from unfair deportation. If you currently qualify as a DREAMer in Texas, but officers detained you without saying why, contact a deportation lawyer immediately.

An Immigration Attorneys Can Help

As an immigration law firm in the state of Texas, David A. Breston Attorney at Law and his team of lawyers are highly experienced when it comes to handling immigration and deportation cases. Immigrants need the right lawyers standing by their sides. If you need a qualified and competent group of attorneys, we’re your answer. We know all there is to know about the Texas DREAM Act and can protect you if you qualify for the act’s provisions. Contact us today for a free consultation about your situation and discover the hope that comes with following the American dream. Se habla español.