Victory! BIA finds Domestic Violence Victims May Qualify for Asylum

27 Aug

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border

In a major victory for immigrants, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled yesterday that women who are unable to leave domestic violence caused by their husbands may qualify as a particular social group for asylum purposes.  This decision brings to an end a lengthy period of uncertainty regarding the viability of claims to asylum by women fleeing domestic violence.  The Board’s decision in Matter of A-R-C-G-, 26 I.&N. Dec. 388 (BIA 2014), establishing clear and controlling law to the nation’s immigration judge that victims of domestic violence can qualify for asylum.  While the law has been moving in this direction for quite some time, there was still a lack of Board precedent obligating immigration judges nationwide to follow it.  While progressive judges cobbled together legal authority from circuit court cases and unpublished decisions, recalcitrant judges used the lack of directing precedent to deny domestic violence claims.  The Board’s decisions removes any uncertainty that victims of domestic violence can obtain asylum in the U.S. due to the domestic violence they suffered in their home country.  The decision could not be more timely as the influx of women and children on the Southern border being detained in Artesia, New Mexico has shone a spotlight on the ability of victims of domestic violence to seek protection under U.S. asylum law.  The decision gives these applicants a potent new weapon and undermines the administration’s ability to remove them with barely a semblance of due process.

The decision is the result of nearly two decades of litigation on the topic of victims’ of domestic violence eligibility for asylum.  This issue has been pushed for all that time by Karen Musalo of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California at Hastings, who conceived the legal basis for the asylum claim and saw through a terrible BIA precedent called Matter of R-A-, which, in the BIA’s first analysis, denied asylum eligibility to victims of domestic violence.  R-A- eventually got settled with Rodi Alvarado being granted asylum but without a precedent decision.  That precedent decision came down yesterday.

In yesterday’s decision, the BIA squarely held that ” ‘married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship’ can constitute a cognizable particular social group that forms the basis of a claim for asylum or withholding of removal.”  The Board considered a case where a married woman suffered atrocious abuse at the hands of her husband, who tried to leave the relationship, and who was rebuffed by the police when she sought help.  The BIA considered the development of case law on particular social groups, the facts of the case, and the social context in which domestic violence occurs and determined that the social group of “married Guatemalan women who are unable to leave their relationship” can support a claim to asylum.

Of course, the individual facts and social context of the case are extremely important.  However, the decision gives strong support to the thousands of women fleeing domestic violence by coming to the U.S. and provides hope that there is an alternative to the violence and degradation they experienced in their home countries.

What Might Executive Action on Immigration Look Like?

26 Aug

As Facebook is crowded with pictures of kids going back to school, we must face the inevitable end of summer.  However, for immigrants, it is possible that the end of summer will bring long-awaited administrative relief from the Obama administration.  In June, President Obama went to the Rose Garden to state that, in the absence of legislation from Congress, he was going to use his executive power to address the harshness of U.S. immigration laws.  He stated that he instructed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to present recommendations for changes that the administration could make to existing interpretations of immigration law that would ameliorate the inhumane consequences of current immigration policy.  The Secretary was instructed to produce his recommendations and plan by the end of summer.  With the President returning from vacation soon and the traditional end of summer holiday of Labor Day approaching, expectations are sky high that the President will announce meaningful administrative actions in the coming weeks.  Washington is awash in rumors, speculation, leaks, and hopes as to what the nature of immigration relief might look like.  In this blog, we take a look at some of the common possibilities that keep popping up in reports.  We have written in the past about steps that the President could take to make U.S. immigration laws less harsh.  This post is about those measures that have been commonly reported in the media.

  • Parole-in-place.  This would be the most ambitious use of presidential authority.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act gives the administration the ability to parole any immigrant into the U.S. if the administration determines that it would be in the national interest.  Ordinarily, parole is granted to allow someone to enter the U.S. from abroad.  However, parole-in-place is a mechanism to parole those already in the U.S. who have not been admitted, such as those who entered unlawfully.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO:  By paroling those who entered illegally, parole-in-place would have the effect of making them eligible for adjustment of status to permanent residence based upon the petition of an immediate relative, such as a U.S. citizen spouse or a child over 21.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Those who entered unlawfully and have close U.S. citizen family ties.  This could be more expansive than those who can benefit from the provisional waiver as the provisional waiver is not available to those who are inadmissible on criminal grounds or fraud grounds.  Conceivably, parole in place would allow immigrants to seek adjustment of status with the opportunity to apply for all of the waivers that are available to other adjustment applicants.
  • Deferred Action.   Conventional wisdom is that the President will utilize the deferred action method used for young people in 2012 which would provide no stable or durable status, but would provide a reprieve from removal and the ability to obtain employment authorization.
      • WHAT IT IS: in June 2012, the President created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which formalized a policy that the government was not interested in seeking the removal of young people who entered as children, stayed in school, and, generally, avoided trouble.  The President could expand the Deferred Action program to include other favored groups, such as the parents of U.S. citizen or the parents of DACA recipients.
      • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By granting deferred action, the administration would be formally recognizing that the individual is not a priority for removal and would not be sought for removal.  Deferred action comes with work permits, allowing individuals to live without fear of removal, to work legally, obtain social security numbers and driver’s licenses.
      • WHO IT WOULD HELP: This is hard to say.  The administration could create a class of individuals who would qualify for expanded deferred action.  There is general legal consensus that he may not grant deferred action to all undocumented individuals. Commonly discussed potential classes include the parents of U.S. citizens and the parents of DACA grantees.  Another broad class would be deferred action for those immigrants who would benefit under the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013.   It is likely that, like DACA, any deferred action grant would have eligibility requirements relating to length of time in the U.S, work history, an the lack of a criminal record.Deferred Action.  The President could simply expand Deferred Action beyond the DREAMers.  He could identify classes of individuals who the administration identifies as low priorities for removal from the U.S.
  • Recapture of visa numbers.  This is among proposals favored by the business community.  It would not necessarily apply to individuals without status, but would help fix the extraordinary backlog in employment-based visas.  Some individuals do fall out of status waiting for their spot in the backlog to become available to them.
    • WHAT IT IS: The Immigration & Nationality Act makes a limited number of visas (green cards) available every year and divides them among various categories.  Sometimes, because of the way the visas are allocated, many of those visas go unused every year.  This contributes to horrendous backlogs that hurt employers’ ability to retain key personnel.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: By changing the way visas are counted and allocated, this change would shorten lines for visas in the employment-based categories, shortening the time it takes for a foreign employee to obtain residence.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: Employment-based immigrants, their families, and their employers.  Reduction in the amount of time necessary to sponsor an immigrant through work could help many people who could seek residence through employment and fall out of status while waiting in the backlog.
  • Work authorization for H-4 Visa Holders.  This is another of the priorities for the business community.
    • WHAT IT IS: Individuals admitted in H-4 status are the spouses and children under 21 of H-1B visa holders, who may enter the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer in a professional capacity for up to six years.  Under current law, an individual admitted into the U.S. in H-4 status is not allowed to accept employment in the U.S.
    • WHAT IT WOULD DO: Administrative change could make H-4 visa holders eligible to apply for employment authorization.  Since the Immigration & nationality Act does not prohibit such employment authorization, regulatory change could create a category to allow H-4s to work.  There is precedent for this as changes to the law allowed L-2 visa holders, the spouse and children under 21 of L-1 intracompany transferees to obtain employment authorization.
    • WHO IT WOULD HELP: The spouses and children of H-1B visa holders and their families.  Businesses want this change because international candidates sometimes turn down offers to work in the U.S. because their spouse can not work.

Executive action seems all but assured.  The questions is not “if,” but “exactly what” and “when.”  The President has waited far too long to take this actions.  Millions have suffered in a cynical attempt to pacify the House GOP and enforcement-lust.  The President has returned from vacation and it is time for everyone to get back to the important work of addressing the colossal failure of U.S. immigration law and the even more contemptible failure of Congress to deal with it.

GUEST BLOG: Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Maryland Closes Gap with Federal Law to Expand Courts’ Jurisdiction. By Michelle Mendez

25 Aug

This blog post was written by FOBR Michelle Mendez, Senior Managing Attorney at Immigrant Legal Service of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.MM

 

On April 8, 2014, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law Chapter 96, which, through a small, technical fix that closes a gap between state and federal law, expands the jurisdiction of an equity court to include custody or guardianship of an immigrant child pursuant to a motion for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) factual findings. 2014Md. Laws, Chap. 96. The law expands the jurisdiction of the court by defining a child for the purposes of SIJS factual finding determinations in guardianship or custody proceedings as an unmarried individual who is not yet 21 years of age thus aligning the definition of child with the federal definition. The idea for this change in law arose from the experience of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington Immigration Legal Services staff as they continued to encounter youth with harrowing life situations that rendered then SIJS eligible but who were already 18 years old. This law goes into effect October 1, 2014, but some judges have already begun accepting cases of those who have already reached the age of 18.

 

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What is SIJS?

There are few groups more vulnerable than immigrant children who are SIJS-eligible. As we have seen with the recent surge of unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America, many have arrived in the United States fleeing APphoto_Immigration Obamaa combination of violence, threats, natural disasters, human trafficking, child labor, and abuse, neglect, and abandonment from their families. Though SIJS-eligible, without competent counsel to guide them through the complexity of this family law and immigration law hybrid relief, these children face the constant threat of deportation and without legal status, access to student loans and work authorization, they face significant barriers to becoming stable, productive members of society. That is why it is imperative that we as attorneys know and understand SIJS.

A Special Immigrant Juvenile is an immigrant child who has been declared dependent on a juvenile court because a state court judge has determined that (1) his or her reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment and (2) it is not in the best interest of the child to be returned to his or her home country. A juvenile court is defined as “a court located in the United States having jurisdiction under State law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles,” and can include a juvenile court, family court, probate court, county court at law, or child welfare court. SIJS is the only area of immigration law that incorporates the best interest of the child principle to take into account the special needs of abused, abandoned, or neglected immigrant children. When introducing SIJS back in 1990, Congress designated this task to state juvenile court judges because federal immigration authorities are not equipped to determine the best interests of children. State juvenile judges do not make immigration determinations and instead only determine if the facts required for SIJS are present in a case; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sole authority to grant SIJS status via the approval of Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, subject to extensive background and biometrics checks.

SIJS factual findings are issued in state courts in accordance with foster care, guardianship, delinquency, adoption, or sole custody proceedings, meaning that the request for SIJS factual findings must accompany one of these types of filings. Submitting only a motion for factual findings for SIJS will not vest the state court with jurisdiction. Dependency on a juvenile court does not require state intervention; a judge may commit a minor to the care of a private individual through a guardianship or sole custody determination, which was clarified by William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. A finding for SIJS purposes does not require formal termination of parental rights or a determination that reunification will never be possible, but Special Immigrant Juveniles are ineligible from ever sponsoring their parents for immigration status so the “chain migration” arguments do not apply to this relief.

What does Chapter 96 change?

Maryland law already permitted courts to issue SIJS factual findings. However, prior to Chapter 96, juvenile courts in Maryland could only exercise jurisdiction to consider individuals for SIJS up to age 18, which is the age of majority for guardianship and custody matters, even though federal immigration law permits anyone to apply for SIJS who is under age 21. This three-year gap significantly abrogated the federal law and caused undue hardship on the most vulnerable immigrant children. Chapter 96 closes this gap for this discrete class of Marylanders to carry out the will of the federal law on SIJS.

How Does Chapter 96 Benefit Maryland?

By expanding Maryland courts’ jurisdiction when determining whether immigrant youth qualify for SIJS, Maryland will have more stable families and community members. Through guardianship and sole custody proceedings, private individuals who want to take on the full legal and financial responsibilities of youth who have been abused, neglected, and abandoned can do so, providing an adult role model and easing reliance on state resources. At the tender age of 18, adult supervisiMD mapon makes a critical difference – studies show that involvement of surrogate parents is a key factor in educational achievement and avoiding risks such as alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and violence. SIJS youth can gain protection against being forced to return to unstable, life-threatening environments as well as obtain legal status, making it easier to qualify for student loans and attend school, learn English, and work legally. These youth become productive members of society, benefiting Maryland’s economy and increasing tax revenue and consumption. Moreover, SIJS proceedings are fiscally neutral to the state: the Department of Legislative Services determined the changes made by Chapter 96 fit within existing judicial procedures and carry no additional fiscal effect.

With children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala seeking safety in United States and Maryland having received 2,205 of these children from January 1 to July 7, 2014, Maryland will be able to serve the families of these children better than any other state thanks to Chapter 96. Chapter 96 will allow SIJS-eligible children to pursue this relief consistent with the intent of the Congressional framework, and not needlessly close the courthouse door on them on their 18th birthdays. This is crucial because the number of non-profit and private attorneys with SIJS competency do not meet the demand for representation for SIJS-eligible children so the wait lists are long and the cases slow-moving. Thanks to Chapter 96, the abused, abandoned, or neglected undocumented immigrant children who come to Maryland will have better chances and a longer opportunity of becoming documented, fully-contributing members of our society.

To learn more about SIJS, consider taking a case pro bono case from one of the following reputable non-profits with in-house SIJS expertise and a pro bono program offering mentorship and sample materials:

 

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Immigration Legal Services

Pro Bono Coordinator Jim Feroli, James.Feroli@catholiccharitiesdc.org

 

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Washington, DC Office

Christie Turner, cturner@supportkind.org

Baltimore Office

Liz Shields, lshields@supportkind.org

 

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore

Esperanza Center

Managing Attorney Adonia Simpson, asimpson@catholiccharities-md.org

 

Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition

Legal Director Heidi Altman, haltman@caircoalition.org

*Detained cases only

 

To learn more about how this law came to fruition, visit: https://cliniclegal.org/resources/articles-clinic/maryland-law-expands-eligibility-special-immigrant-juvenile-status

La Santa Cecilia Celebrates the Beatles, Migrant Workers and Strawberries.

6 Aug

For the last few years, La Santa Cecilia, a Mexican-American band, based in Los Angeles, California, has not only made excellent music, but has also championed the plight on undocumented immigrants in the U.S.  Their 2013 song “Hielo” told the stories of intertwined lives in the immigrant community.  The video for Hielo included many undocumented immigrant activists including Erika Andiola and her nearly-deported mother.  When La Santa Cecilia won a Grammy, they dedicated it to undocumented workers in the U.S.

Now, they have released a beautiful version of the classic Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” with a video that pays homage to the workers who get the strawberry from farm to table.  Naturally, we would not bother you with a political music video if the music was not superb, so enjoy La Santa Cecilia’s lovely take on this classic.

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Scenes from the Immigration Bar: Wonder Woman, can I borrow your lasso?

5 Aug

Lasso of truth

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Scenes from the Immigration Bar: “I hope this isn’t offensive…”

23 Jul

I hope this isn't offensive

California Drops a Day and Improves the Lives of Immigrants

22 Jul

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In a move that will help thousands of immigrants, California governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1310 into law today.  This law imposes a maximum sentence of 364 days in prison for those convicted of misdemeanors in California.  The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2015.  Under current California law, a person convicted of a misdemeanor may be sentenced up to one year, or 365 days, in prison.  The change of subtracting one day from the maximum sentence can help many people convicted of minor crimes avoid certain detention and removal from the U.S.

U.S. immigration law attaches consequences to many convictions based upon what the potential sentence is or what the sentence imposed is.  Immigration law treats a suspended sentence as the equivalent of a served sentence.  So, an individual convicted of petty larceny who gets a year in prison with a full year suspended is considered to be an aggravated felon because he has been convicted of a theft offense with a sentence of a year.   Even though the sentencing judge s1.reutersmedia.netdid not see fit to incarcerate, the Department of Homeland Security will jail and likely removal such an individual.  The new law goes a long way to preventing this inequitable result.  For example:

  • A noncitizen is deportable for a single conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude committed within five years of admission, if the offense has a potential sentence of one year or more. INA § 237(a)(2)(A), 8 USC § 1227(a)(2)(A).   As of the effective date, a single California misdemeanor conviction will not cause deportability under this ground, because it will carry a maximum possible sentence of 364 days.
  • Conviction of certain offenses becomes an aggravated felony only if a sentence of a year or more is imposed. For example, crimes defined as: crime of violence, theft offense, obstruction of justice, forgery, perjury, receipt of stolen property are only aggravated felonies if the sentence imposed is a year or more.  And, yes, misdemeanors can be aggravated felonies.  However, with the change in California law, misdemeanor versions of these categories of offenses can not be aggravated felonies.  Designation of an offense as an aggravated felony is often very prejudicial to a non-citizen as not only does it establish removability, it causes mandatory detention and serves as exclusion to nearly all forms of relief from removal.

There are myriad other ways that this simple change in the law will aid immigrants and their families.  As Congress remains stuck, inventive advocates are pursuing a variety of creative remedies in a variety of fora to slow down the deportation machine and improve lives for thousands of immigrants, their communities and their families.

 

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