Posted in Immigration on August 14, 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court recently came to a unanimous decision to let parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban take effect until the court can decide on the rest of the measure’s legality. In October, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the order and make a final decision. Until then, part of the executive order will effectively stop immigrants from six different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Here’s what you need to know about the current ban.
Facts About the Ban
The President’s order in its entirety aims to ban travel and immigration into the U.S. from six “terror-prone countries,” as the President phrases it. He stated that his “number one responsibility as Commander in Chief is to keep the American people safe.” He believes the ban will act as an “important tool for protecting our nation’s homeland.” As of June 29, 2017, the terms of the partial ban are as follows:
- People from Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen may not travel into the U.S. for 90 days. The text of the order states that the conditions in these countries pose “heightened threats,” due to the states sponsoring terrorism or containing active conflict zones.
- Immigrants from these countries can only enter the U.S. if they have a “credible claim of bona fide relationship.” A relationship can include a spouse or close family member living in the U.S, a job, or as a student in school. Extended family members are not “close,” according to the order.
- Refugees from any country may not travel into the U.S. for 120 days. The ban affects visa applicants as well as any refugees awaiting approval to enter the U.S.
- Exemptions from the ban include U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, visa holders, visa applicants in the U.S. as of June 26, dual nationals, and anyone with asylum.
- Immigrants who currently hold visas will not face visa revocation or deportation. Previously scheduled appointments for visa applications will go on as planned.
There have already been challenges in court regarding what constitutes a “bone fide” relationship to someone in the U.S. This is the second time the executive order came under deliberation by the administration. Two appellate courts blocked the order almost in its entirety before the Supreme Court made this most recent decision. The Court will consider the terms of the ban more completely at a gathering this fall.
Reactions to the Ban
Political reactions to the passing of the partial ban have been varied. Those in the White House remark that the Supreme Court’s decision is a “great victory” and will help improve the safety of U.S. citizens during a volatile time. Those against the executive order assert that it is an “insult to Muslims in this country and around the world” and is “prohibited by our Constitution.” The president of the American Constitution Society says that some justices believe President Trump has gone too far with the new immigration policy. Until the Supreme Court makes a final vote on the order in its entirety, immigrants from the six Muslim-majority countries listed above cannot legally enter the country unless they can prove an accepted relationship.
Posted in Immigration on July 12, 2017
Illegal, or undocumented, immigrants live under the stigma that they work in the United States without paying federal taxes. While this may be true for some, studies show that this is the exception, not the rule. Estimates from the Social Security Administration show that nearly half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. workforce (around 3.4 million out of 8 million in the workforce) paid taxes in 2014. That’s billions of tax dollars from undocumented workers. If this is true, why does the idea that illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes still persist? It’s an unfortunate reality of today’s political climate.
Unclaimed Tax Money in the Earning Suspense File
Every year, billions of dollars come from unidentified taxpayers. When the SSA receives W-2 forms from employees with social security numbers that don’t match any on record, the administration puts it in the “Earnings Suspense File.” The tax documents will remain in this file until someone eventually claims them, with proof of identification. This is the only way the individual will collect retirement benefits from his or her years of work. Since undocumented immigrants have no way of proving that they earned these wages, they will likely never receive the retirement benefits they deserve.
The Earning Suspense File has tax documents that date all the way to 1937. It has record of taxes paid on almost $1.3 trillion in earned wages. While recent efforts by the SSA have matched about 171 million tax forms in the Earning Suspense File to their owners, millions still remain without anyone coming to claim them. The rightful owners of many of these documents are likely illegal immigrants. While these individuals could likely get away with not paying taxes, many obey the law and file tax forms – yet they will never be able to collect retirement funds from their earned wages.
Many undocumented immigrants use fake Social Security cards to work in the United States. Employers may or may not know about the false information upon hiring the immigrant. The employer will then submit a W-2 form to the SSA on behalf of the employee during tax time. The federal government won’t be able to match the Social Security number to anyone on record. The document will then go to the Earning Suspense File, and most of the money that technically belongs to the undocumented immigrant will be allocated to Social Security trust funds – eventually benefiting elderly Americans who are in the system.
The Use of Illegal Immigrant Tax Dollars in America
The half of illegal workers who do pay taxes help pay for public schools, road repairs, and local government services. They pay federal and property taxes like other residents, despite being unable to collect retirement benefits. Even undocumented workers paid “under the table” in cash may still pay taxes thanks to stipulations from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in recent years.
Immigrants can use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to file a tax return on cash payments like other workers. The incentive to pay taxes may be eventual legalization – a history of paying taxes can help an undocumented immigrant receive legal immigration status. Should an illegal immigrant ever stand before an immigration judge, paying taxes can sway the decision in the immigrant’s favor.
Today, many undocumented immigrants are striving to receive tax refunds. If they are due a refund, it’s because they paid more in taxes than the law required. Undocumented or not, these immigrants can apply for an ITIN and apply for a refund. However, an ITIN does not legalize the immigrant’s status or give the person the right to Social Security benefits. For help with your taxes and/or refund as an undocumented immigrant, speak to an attorney in Texas.
Posted in Immigration on June 28, 2017
The new U.S. presidential administration has already led to changes in the ways immigration laws around the country are enforced. In the state of Texas, documented and undocumented immigrants may not understand the current laws or their rights. Understanding Texas’ laws about immigration checks, law enforcement privileges, educational institution rules, and laws within the workplace can help immigrants feel more confident and avoid unnecessary interactions with the law. As the laws continue to change, work with an attorney in Houston regarding any legal questions, recent detainments, or charges against you.
Secure Communities Program
The federal Secure Communities Program from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office requires fingerprinting of all arrested individuals. The fingerprints then go through a federal database that checks the individual’s immigration status. Some cities have refused to comply with provisions of the Secure Communities Program, but the Houston Police Department currently abides by the fingerprinting regulations.
Federal law requires all employers to verify a prospective employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. This involves receiving proof of the person’s documentation as a legal U.S. citizen or immigrant. Employment checks may involve Form 1-9 as well as the E-Verify process to check a person’s immigration status. Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship status, but it is unlawful to employ undocumented immigrants. Fair employment practices protect all work-authorized people from unfair documentary processes.
Educational Institution Requirements
Under federal law, states must provide all children with equal access to public education, regardless of immigration status. Children of all immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, may pay in-state tuition at public universities in Texas. There is no current federal law prohibiting U.S. colleges from admitting undocumented students. There are only three states – Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina – that have passed laws restricting undocumented students from attending public colleges.
Public Benefits Restrictions
Texas’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides cash to low-income families with children ages 18 and younger to help pay for basic needs, such as food. Only U.S. citizens and legal residents may receive TANF benefits. Federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving this public benefit, as well as most other benefits. They can, though, receive health care and emergency services that are necessary to protect their lives and safety.
ID and Voting Laws
To obtain a Texas driver’s license or other form of identification, a resident needs a valid Social Security card or another acceptable form of identification. Valid photo identification is also required to vote in the state of Texas. Identification for voter ID includes a driver’s license, U.S. citizenship certificate, U.S. passport, and U.S. military ID.
Senate Bill 4 – New Potential Immigration Laws
Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) recently passed and will give police departments and governmental immigration agents the power to conduct immigration checks on anyone in detainment. It will also punish jurisdictions that fail to comply with U.S. immigration laws, or that act as sanctuary cities by discouraging law enforcement from conducting immigration status checks on routine stops. SB 4 is set to come into effect on September 1, 2017. However, several cities in Texas have filed lawsuits against the state for passing the bill, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and will create discord between law enforcement and immigrant communities. It is possible that the bill will not make it out of the courtroom.
Know Your Rights as an Immigrant in Texas
Should you and your family encounter an immigration raid in Texas, remain silent and contact a lawyer. If a police officer or immigration agent arrests you, use your phone call to contact an attorney. Do not speak to police about where you were born or how you came into the United States. Do not show the officer any false documents. The sooner you speak with an attorney, the sooner you receive sound legal advice in any given immigration situation.
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.
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.
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.
Research and Policy
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
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.
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.
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.
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.