Five Things We Have Learned about the I-601A Provisional Waiver Program

12 Jan

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/39267368″>Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright [Bob Dylan 1962]</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user8051179″>Dan Pick</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Last week, we had another I-601A provisional waiver approved.  This makes us 6 for 6, so far, with a few more pending.  We have learned quite a bit in the past 18 months or so that we have done provisional waivers.

  1. Don’t underestimate your own hardship.  We think that people endure a lot of hardship and have grown accustomed to it and accepted it as the normal state of affairs rather than recognizing that things could be better.  We think that many people living with an undocumented spouse have come to accept the anxiety  surrounding the risk of separation, financial ruin and uncertainty.  Of course, this is a common human coping mechanism.  As Bob Dylan sang, “I’ve never gotten used to it, I just learned to turn it off.”  Many people that come into our office states that they can not point to any specific hardship that they would suffer if their spouse were forced to remain in their home country; they just know it would be bad.  We have found that the sense merely scratches the surface and that by digging, speaking, and, most importantly, listening, the details of the hardship can be identified.  Extreme hardship may be financial, emotional or health and safety related.  It can be a combination of these factors or it can be the presence of a single form of hardship.  The bottom line here is that too many people wrongly assume that they do not have the hardship to meet the standard and a honest and open conversation with an attorney can reveal hardship that an individual may have learned to turn off.
  2. The availability of the provisional waiver changes the game in removal proceedings. Many cases where the only relief has been a long-shot cancellation of removal are now strong provisional waiver cases.  We have found that the government is willing to terminate and reopen cases where a good claim to a provisional waiver case can be made to ICE.  These practices change from office to office, in fact, from ICE attorney to ICE attorney, but, as a general rule, we have found tremendous flexibility in removal proceedings for people who qualify for provisional waivers.
  3. The family is alive and well.  Back in 2012, when DACA came out, we were heartened to see all the young people who came to our office with their parents to discuss how DACA could change their lives.  The parents were always apprehensive and elated simultaneously to see the possibility that the dreams they had for their children being realized, if only partially.  we decided then that the family is alive and well in America.  With the provisional waiver, we are meeting all sorts of people who are raising families under the trying circumstances of one of the spouses lacking legal status.  The lives that people have been able to build despite this challenge are impressive.  However, the opportunity of obtaining lawful status opens up so many doors for families and removes the anxiety and stress of uncertainty over immigration.
  4. The National Visa Center remains a hold-up.  The NVC has been good at putting a hold on immigrant visa processing where a provisional waiver has been filed.  However, once the Visaprovisional waiver is approved, the NVC reverts to its standard practice of being an impediment, rather than a facilitator of orderly processing of immigrant visas.  For example, one challenge we have seen relates to police clearances from El Salvador.  According to the State Department, those police certificates must be obtained by the applicant in person in El Salvador.  That’s fine, except for the case of provisional waivers, where the applicant is in the U.S.  Since the NVC will not schedule an appointment until it has all the documents, this issue could force an applicant to return to El Salvador and wait several months for an interview, undermining the benefit of certainty that the provisional waiver is supposed to provide.  We are working on this specific issue and will update this blog as circumstances merit.
  5. There is nothing better than solving this situation.  When an individual goes to the Embassy, gets the visa, and returns to the U.S. as a permanent resident, we are lucky to be the first ones called.  We share the joy and relief of our clients and can immediately see the reduction in tension in their lives.  Getting to be a part of and a witness to that transformation is one of the great things about being an immigration lawyer.

Think you or someone you know may qualify for the provisional waiver? Contact us at consults@benachragland.com or 202-644-8600.

BR Clients of the Month- January 2015

5 Jan

Irma and Kenny

At a time of year when we honor togetherness and fresh starts, we are comforted to know that Benach Ragland clients, Kira and her four-year-old son Ricky, have finally been granted asylum and are reunited with their husband/father, Andre, here in the United States.*  This family of faith was tornapart by targeted and systematic violence at the hands of the M-18 gang, the de facto government in Guatemala, all because they preached about peace and encouraged non-violence in their community – in the eyes of the M-18, a message of disloyalty and dissidence that needed to be eradicated.

In 2010, Kira and Andre, a deacon in the local church and the M-18’s main target, decided that he should flee in an attempt to save the family and protect their unborn son Ricky.  They believed and hoped that Andre was the gang’s only target; they were wrong.  Immediately following Andre’s escape to the United States, the gang began its relentless pursuit and persecution of Kira and their son because the gang believes that families breed disloyalty.  They threatened her with rape and murder, restrained her and beat her face bloody on multiple occasions, threatened to cut her unborn son out of her belly, threatened to kidnap Ricky after he was born, and grabbed and held Ricky at knifepoint on multiple occasions.  The gang made their reasons clear: Andre, a man of faith who preaches his message of peace and non-violence against their way of life, is their enemy who must be targeted and punished for his disloyalty and dissidence.  Since Andre was no longer available to target and punish, Kira and their young son Ricky would be his proxy.  By harming them, the M-18 could continue to harm Andre and punish him for his message of peace and non-violence – his disloyalty and dissidence.  Kira went to the police twice, begging for help, but they turned her away, refusing to provide meaningful protection.  After first escaping to her sister’s home, the gang pursued and found Kira there, held her four-year-old son Ricky at knifepoint, and threatened them again.  With no place to hide, Kira and Ricky fled to the United States in search of safety.

After four years filled with horrific and nearly daily violence, followed by a harrowing journey to the United States, Kira and Ricky sought help from a U.S. immigration ofIMG_1537ficer to beg for protection.  Instead of help, these refugees were among the first to be detained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, a makeshift detention facility in the middle of the desert, hidden out of sight and out of mind as the Obama Administration sanctioned a series of procedures meant to deport them as quickly as possible right back to the danger from which they had fled.  But the arrival of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s pro bono project halted the deportation of Kira, Ricky, and the hundreds of other mothers and children detained in Artesia.  Benach Ragland Partner Dree Collopy spent a week volunteering in Artesia to provide pro bono legal services to women and children.  While there, she met Kira and Ricky and was inspired by their courage and strength.  She took their case pro bono, demanding compliance with U.S. and international law and due process on their behalf.

Ricky's additions to Dree's notes.

Ricky’s additions to Dree’s notes.

After five months of detention in inhumane conditions, two lengthy bond hearings, one status hearing, three hearings on the merits of their asylum claim, generous donations to secure an expert witness, Dree’s several trips to Denver and Artesia, and hundreds of pro bono hours by Benach Ragland and the volunteer AILA attorneys on the ground in Artesia, Kira and Ricky have been granted asylum and released from detention.  They are finally safe and have been reunited with Andre in the United States.  2015 is going to be a good year.

Image

Scenes from the Immigration Bar: An Immigration Reform Carol

24 Dec

Immigration Reform Carol

BR Has a New Lawyer!

17 Dec

Adi

We have waited just over three months for this day, where we can introduce Adi Nuñez as an attorney at Benach Ragland!  Although Adi has been with us since September, Adi was sworn in as a member of the bar of the State of Maryland today and now has all the rights, privileges and obligations of being a licensed attorney.  We welcome Adi into this profession that we love and know that Adi will use her powers to benefit our clients, their families and communities for years to come.IMG_1537

This is not to say that she has not already used those powers.  Behind the scenes, Adi has poured her heart and soul into some of our most significant cases, such as Dree Collopy’s recent victory in a gang-based asylum claim for a woman and her son detained at the federal gulag in Artesia, NM.  She also was there for the great jamon and wine event last week to celebrate the holidays at BR.

A Californian of Mexican heritage, Adi joins an office that represents much of Latin America- Cuba (Andres), Colombia (Sandra), Honduras (Liana), and Peru (Mariela).  If Cubans played soccer (excuse me, futbol), we could have a World Cup.  Adi moved east to attend Catholic University for law school.  While there, she was a Student Attorney aHoliday luncht the Immigration Clinic taught by Dree Collopy.  She made quite an impression on her professor who scooped her right up after her graduation.

While Adi’s academic career included a couple of unfortunate detours working for the government on immigration enforcement issues, we do not believe that it was anything that a few months of winning cases for people won’t fix.  Also, some of her mother’s Mexican food would help too.

Adi has the care, passion and intellect to represent immigrants and their families well.  We expect many more great things from her as she grows into her career and congratulate her on this important milestone.

 

Federal Court Victory for Hospital Staffing Services Company

10 Dec

hospital

Just beforeTKR Thanksgiving, we filed suit in federal district court against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of a hospital staffing services company. Our lawsuit challenged the agency’s denial of an H-1B specialty occupation visa to a foreign physician whom the company sought to employ to care for patients in a low-income, medically underserved area. This is a story of why litigation matters, and why suing the government is sometimes the only way to achieve a just outcome. Last Friday, a mere fourteen days after the lawsuit was filed, USCIS reopened the case, reconsidered its prior denial, and approved the H-1B visa. The company will get its physician, the physician will get to stay in the U.S. and continue his work in internal medicine, and the residents of the medically underserved area will be afforded the quality medical care they so desperately need. But there’s more to the story …

Many communities throughout the U.S. lack sufficient, quality health care services. Their local hospitals are not sufficiently staffed and the specialties and expertise that many patients require are simply unavailable. Thus, certain regions of the country are designated by the federal government as health professional shortage areas, because they struggle to attract qualified doctors and nurses who are willing to live and work in often rural areas where the residents may be poor or low-income. In an effort to meet this need, Congress passed a law whereby foreign physicians who would otherwise have to leave the U.S. upon completion of their residency – and remain outside the country for at least two years – can waive this Physicianrequirement by committing to spend three years in a health professional shortage area. The program makes sense – patients in medically underserved communities get a qualified, committed physician and the foreign doctor avoids a two-year exile from the United States.

The physician whom our client sought to employ is typical of those who benefit from the program. After completing his residency at a U.S. hospital, he was granted a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement in exchange for his agreement to serve in one of the state’s health professional shortage areas. He was offered a position as an internal medicine physician by the hospital staffing services company, which then filed a petition for an H-1B visa on his behalf. Everything appeared to be in order and it seemed only a matter of time before the visa would be issued. But the immigration service had other ideas.

Rather than approve a straightforward petition filed by a company that had never before been denied an H-1B visa, USCIS issued a lengthy request for additional evidence (RFE), questioning the nature of the job of the viability of the petitioner. The company promptly submitted a detailed response. The agency then issued a second RFE, asking for yet more information and documentation – all of which had previously been provided. Once again, the company filed a thorough response and gave the agency everything it asked for. But USCIS was not convinced, and issued a lengthy decision denying the H-1B petition – based on a purported (and insignificant) discrepancy that had not been raised in either of the RFEs. Remarkably, the agency expressed doubt that the company had made a “credible offer of employment as an Internal Medicine Physician.”

At this point, we were contacted by the attorney who represented the company before USCIS. She knew the agency’s decision was wrong and sought our help in overcoming the denial. Once we’d reviewed the decision and the underlying materials, we agreed, and proposed that litigation in federal court – rather than a protracted administrative appeal – was the best course. The company agreed, so we filed suit challenging the agency’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) as arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law and past agency practice, and unsupported by substantial evidence. We described the merits of the petition and detailed the hardships visited upon the company, the physician, and the medically underserved community impacted by the loss of a qualified doctor. To fast-track the case, we also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, asking the Court to enjoin USCIS from its erroneous decision and order the agency to issue the visa.

And it worked. Our litigation forced the agency to reexamine the petition and consider whether its myopic decision could withstand the scrutiny of a federal judge. Just two weeks after the case was filed – and one week before a scheduled court hearing – USCIS reopened the case on its own motion and granted the H-1B petition. Today, instead of packing his bags and preparing his family for an early and unexpected departure from the United States, the physician will go to work in a community in dire need of his services. Suing the government isn’t always the best option, but sometimes it’s the only strategy that works.

EXECUTIVE REFORMS: Public Meetings with Benach Ragland

5 Dec

Schedule

Over the next couple of weeks, Benach Ragland attorneys and staff will be traveling the greater DC area to offer FREE public meetings to discuss the Presidents Executive Reforms to Immigration.  These forums are open to the public and provide an opportunity for people to learn the specifics of the reform programs and get the latest updates.  Our summary of the executive reforms can be found here.

Throughout December, Benach Ragland is offering reduced fee consultations for those who think that they might be covered by these reforms.  You can get the latest news by following this blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.  To schedule time for an individualized consultation, please call us at 202-644-8600 or email msanchez@benachragland.com.

Below is a schedule of our open forums.  We hope to see you at one!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5, 6:00PM-7:30PM        

GMU, FX CAMPUS

Office of Diversity, Inclusion and

Multicultural Education (ODIME)

Fairfax Campus

4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA. 22030

SUB I Suite 2400

 

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6, 12:30PM-2:00PM

ALEXANDRIA, JESUS ES EL KYRIOS CHURCH

5730 General Washington Drive, 2nd Floor

Alexandria, VA. 22312

 

MONDAY, DEC 8, 6PM-8PM

Holy Trinity Church

McKenna Center, 3513 N. St., NW

Washington, DC

 

TUESDAY DECEMBER 9, 6:30PM-8:00PM

SHIRLINGTON BRANCH LIBRARY-CAMPBELL ROOM

4200 Campbell Ave.

Arlington, VA. 22206

 

THURSDAY DECEMBER 11, 7:00PM-8:30

DC SOUTHWEST LIBRARY

900 Wesley Place, S.W.

Washington, D.C.

202-724-4752

 

MONDAY DECEMBER 15, 7:00PM-8:30PM

DC MOUNT PLEASANT LIBRARY

3160 16TH St. N.W

Washington, D.C.

202-671-3121

 

THURSDAY DECEMBER 18, 7:00PM-8:30PM  

ARLINGTON CENTRAL LIBRARY- AUDITORIUM

1015 N. QUINCY ST.

Arlington, VA. 22201

 

FRIDAY DECEMBER 19, 6:30PM-8:30PM

WILLISTON MULTICULTURAL CENTER

6131 WILLISTON DR.

Falls Church, VA. 22044

 

Sunday, January 11, 12:30PM-1:30PM            

Holy Korean Martyrs Catholic Church

5801 Security Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21207

Blue Room

 

More will be added.  See you soon!

EXECUTIVE REFORMS TO IMMIGRATION: Top Six Changes

1 Dec

immigration_reform

The President’s executive reforms to the U.S. immigration system make a number of very positive changes that have the potential to help millions of people.  Although we have written about various components of the reforms individually, we have summarized six major portions here in one place.

Benach Ragland will be offering several free community meetings throughout December and will be offering reduced fee consultations for people who may benefit from these reforms.  To get the latest information about where we will be, please “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter: @benachragland.  To schedule a reduced fee consultation, please email: consult@benachragland.com or call 202-644-8600.

  • Deferred Action for the Parents of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

The centerpiece of the President’s immigration reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of deferred action to cover certain foreign national parents of United States citizens. Here are the details:

The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service will give deferred action and employment authorization to individuals who:

  • As of November 20, 2014, have a son or daughter who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 2010
  • Are not in lawful status as of November 20, 2014
  • Are not an enforcement priority
  • Do not present other factors that weigh against a favorable exercise of discretion

People who fall within the DHS’ new enforcement priorities will be ineligible for deferred action.  With a new memo issued today, Nobama immigration reformovember 20, 2014, the DHS has revised the enforcement priorities for the agency.  The new enforcement priorities are divided into three levels of priority of decreasing priority.  Presumably, those not within the enforcement priorities memo are not enforcement priorities and should qualify for benefits and not be subject to efforts to seek removal. We have summarized the new enforcement priorities memo here.

Applicants will be required to provide fingerprints and undergo national security and criminal background checks.  The filing fee will be $465.  CIS has been directed to begin accepting applications no later than 180 days from the date of the announcement (May 19, 2015).  Work permits will be valid for three years and individuals granted deferred action can also seek advance parole to travel internationally.

  • Expanded eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Another significant development coming out of the Presidential reforms announced yesterday is the expansion of DACA beyond its original parameters established in 2012.  For descriptions of the original DACA requirements, please see here. 

The executive reforms announced yesterday make the following reforms to the DACA program:

  • The date of entry for DACA eligibility has been changed from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.  Individuals who entered the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and prior to January 1, 2010 can qualify for DACA under the revised guidelines.
  • The age cap has been eliminated.  Originally, DACA was limited to individuals under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012.  The upper age limit has been eliminated and those who entered the U.S. before January 1, 2010 and were under the age of 16 will qualify regardless of their current age.
  • DACA work authorization will now be valid for three years as opposed to two.

These reforms will be implemented within 90 days. The other DACA requirements regarding education and criminal issues remain unchanged.  The new parole provisions should also assist DACA grantees.

  • The New Enforcement Priorities Memo

s1.reutersmedia.netAs part of the executive actions reforms announced by the administration yesterday, the administration has redefined the enforcement priorities for Immigration & Customs Enforcement.  Briefly, any law enforcement agency with limited resources can not realistically enforce the law against everyone who may have broken it.  Law enforcement agencies must pick and choose how to allocate their limited resources and where to expend their efforts.  The new enforcement priorities memo provides very clear guidance to ICE as to who their efforts ought to be focused upon.  Groups of people have been classified into three priorities for enforcement, in declining orders of priority.  Individuals not within this memo are, presumably, not priorities, and should be eligible for benefits and not subjected to enforcement actions like detention and removal.  The three classes of priority are as follows:

Priority 1 (Most serious)

  • individuals suspected of terrorism, espionage or who are otherwise a threat to national security
  • individuals apprehended at the border while trying to enter the country illegally
  • individuals involved in gangs or gang activity
  • individuals convicted of a felony unless the essential element of the offense is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of an aggravated felony

Priority 2 (Medium serious)

  • individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors, not including traffic offenses or offenses where an essential element is the individual’s immigration status
  • individuals convicted of a “significant misdemeanor”, which is defined as: an offense of domestic violence, sexual abuse or exploitation, burglary, unlawful possession or use of a firearm, drug trafficking or distribution, driving under the influence, or any offense not included above for which the individual was sentenced to 90 days or more in custody (unlike in most immigration situations, a suspended sentence does not count)
  • those who have entered the U.S. unlawfully after January 1, 2014
  • significant visa or visa waiver abusers

Priority 3 (Less serious)

  • Individuals with a final order of removal entered after January 1, 2014, unless there are other factors that suggest that the individual should not be a priority for enforcement.

Once again, presumably, an individual not on any of these lists should not be considered a priority for removal and ICE is directed not to expend resources of seeking their detention and removal.  We will be watching ICE to see how the agents in the field respond to these revised priorities.

  • Clarifications and increased use of Advance Parole

Another positive change to the immigration laws announced last night is the Secretary of Homeland Security’s instruction that DHS counsel should prepare a legal memorandum forthcoming that departures pursuant to advance parole will not trigger the three and ten year bars.  This memo is to ensure that all departures on advance parole are treated consistently across the country for unlawful presence purposes.

Individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days who then depart the U.S. are subject to a three year bar on returning.  Individuals with a year or more of unlawful presence face a ten year bar after departure.  In Matter of Arrabally and Yerabelly, 25 I.&N. Dec. 771 (BIA 2012), the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that individuals who deAPparted on an advance parole granted due to a pending application for adjustment of status have not made a “departure” for purposes of triggering the three or ten year bars.  while this was a welcome decision, there was confusion and disagreement whether this applied to all departures on advance parole or only to those who departed on advance parole issued to applicants for adjustment of status.  For example, DACA recipients can get advance parole and it was unclear whether their departure would subject them to a bar to return due to unlawful presence they may have accrued prior to DACA’s existence.

The new memo is to clarify that any departure from the U.S. under advance parole no matter why that parole was granted would not be considered a departure for purposes of triggering the three and ten year bars.  This means that people with advance parole, perhaps as a result of DACA, or through the new “DAP” program, for parents of U.S. citizens, will be able travel to visit family abroad without having to lose everything they have achieved in the U.S.

  • Expansion of the Provisional Waiver

Another positive development is the proposed expansion of the provisional waiver program, which the President initiated in 2013.  The provisional waiver, as initially introduced allowed the spouses and children of U.S. citizens to seek a waiver of inadmissibility for the three and ten year bars due to unlawful presence to seek a waiver in the U.S. rather than after proceeding abroad to seek a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.  This program has been successful and we have had several provisional waivers approved and been lucky to witness reunions made possible by the provisional waiver.

The provisional waiver was initially limited only to spouses and children of American citizens.  The new memo instructs CIS to “expand access to the provisional waiver to all statutorily eligible classes of relative for whom an immigrant visa is immediately available.”  This will clearly include the spouses and children of permanent residents, but could also potentially include a larger group of  individuals such as the adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

Also, for tremendous significance, the Secretary of Homeland Security has directed the CIS to “clarify the factors that are considered by adjudicators in determining whether the “extreme hardship” standard has been met.  Most importantly, the Secretary has directed CIS to consider whether a legal presumption of extreme hardship may be determined to exist.  The creation of the presumption of hardship would reduce the burden on applicants seeking to show extreme hardship.  We particularly love this idea, because we suggested it here while pointing out the legal authority for such a move. 

  • Parole in Place for family members of those seeking to enlist in the military

The package of reforms introduced by the President includes new policies on the U.S. of parole-in-place or deferred action for the family members of those seeking to enlist in the military.Military

Parole in place is a function of the Department’s discretionary authority to parole anyone into the U.S.  Parole in place is a mechanism to allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole an individual into the U.S., providing that individual with legal status and the ability to seek adjustment of status.  Recently, the government has used parole in place to allow the undocumented spouses, parents and children of Servicemembers, including Veterans, to adjust status We discussed this process here in August.

The new policy builds on this use of parole in place.  The Secretary of Homeland Security has instructed the CIS to work with the Department of Defense to “address the availability of parole in place and deferred action to the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or resident who seeks to enlist in the armed forces.

The “seeks to enlist” criteria is a major expansion of this authority and may provide residence to the close family members of those who want to join the military.

These reforms present many exciting opportunities for immigrants. In connection with other parts of the law, it may be possible to achieve more than a work permit.  We are excited about the possibilities for so many immigrants and look forward to the chance to serve you.

 

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