Question and Answers

Month: May 2011 (Page 2 of 4)

Rules Eased To Expedite Green Card Applications : Immigration Law Answers Blog

The Citizenship and Immigration Services has come up with a means of expediting certain green card applications. While it makes good sense to me, many people are objecting to the new procedure based on national security concerns. In a nutshell, CIS is proposing to approve applications if they have been pending more than six months and are awaiting only the FBI background check. The reason for the change is that some FBI checks are taking literally years to complete. Here are excerpts from an article about this in the New York Times:

Searching for ways to reduce a huge backlog of visa applications, immigration authorities have eased requirements for background checks by the F.B.I. of immigrants seeking to become permanent United States residents, federal officials said Monday.

If an immigrant’s application for a residence visa has been in the system for more than six months and the only missing piece is a name check by the F.B.I., immigration officers will now be allowed to approve the application, according to a memorandum posted Monday on the Web site of the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

The memorandum states that “in the unlikely event” that the F.B.I. name check turns up negative information about an immigrant after a residence visa has been granted, the authorities can cancel the visa and begin deportation proceedings.

Under the new policy, which was first reported by the McClatchy news service, immigrants applying for the permanent visas, which are known as green cards, will still be required to complete two other security checks: an F.B.I. criminal fingerprint check and a search in a federal criminal and anti-terrorist database known as Interagency Border Inspection Services.

The policy is intended to speed processing for tens of thousands of immigrants with no criminal records who are living in the United States and have been waiting for years for green cards because their names turned up matches in the F.B.I’s records. Often an immigrant’s name hits a match, immigration lawyers said, because the F.B.I. files include a vast range of names, including those of people mentioned in criminal investigations, even if they had no role in a crime. F.B.I. agents must investigate each name match by manual searches of voluminous records.

Some critics said the agency would be cutting security corners and bending federal law.

“They are knowingly granting a benefit to a person who may be a national security threat or a serious criminal,” said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, an organization that favors reduced immigration.

“These are people who are asking permission to stay in this country permanently,” Ms. Jenks said, “and we have a right to make sure we know who they are. If it takes a few extra months, so be it.”

New Web Site for Haitian Earthquake News : Immigration Law Answers Blog

Posted on January 26, 2010 by Robert A. Kraft

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has launched a new Web site — 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. This is a useful tool because it allows people to search for information about the location or condition of a person in Haiti. There is a Person Finder link which can be used by anyone to find and share information about foreign citizens in Haiti.

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Hospital Studies Costs Of Treating Illegal Immigrants : Immigration Law Answers Blog

A poor illegal immigrant who goes to the John Peter Smith Hospital emergency room in Fort Worth gets the same care at the same price as any other indigent resident.

The Rev. Sergio Diaz is working to expand health care services available for illegal immigrants in Tarrant County.

But the same person who goes to a JPS clinic for nonemergency treatment is often faced with a hefty bill. Unlike other large urban public hospital systems in Texas, JPS excludes illegal immigrants from its charity program that provides preventive healthcare.

Trying to balance politics, medicine and money, the Tarrant County Hospital Board of Managers will debate and possibly decide Tuesday whether to spend millions to provide free or low-cost nonemergency medical care to thousands of illegal immigrants.

The Rev. Sergio Diaz of Iglesia San Miguel, an Episcopal church in Fort Worth, said he has been fighting for this issue because of the damage caused by inadequate health care. He said members of his church – many of them illegal immigrants – can’t get preventive health care and that some have died from complications from treatable diseases such as diabetes.

“This touches my heart because most of my people are immigrants,” said Mr. Diaz, a member of Allied Communities of Tarrant. “I’ve seen a lot of people suffering.”

Health care has become a major part of the national debate about illegal immigration, and the costs even led Dallas County officials to send bills to Mexico and other countries demanding payment for some of its expenses at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

The debate has also been simmering for more than a year in Tarrant County, where Allied Communities of Tarrant, a coalition of churches and social-justice activists, has pushed for the expansion of charity care. At the same time, a local conservative group favoring a crackdown on illegal immigration has been urging the board to retain the existing policy.

Dennis Killy, a member of the Tarrant Alliance for Responsible Government, said expanding cheap health care to illegal immigrants is an insult to citizens and to those who came to the United States legally. It simply rewards those who ignore federal law, he said.

“Where does it end?” Mr. Killy said. “When do we stop paying our tax money for something we’re getting nothing for?”

Mr. Killy said he believes a significant majority of board members support his group’s position and would not change the JPS policy. Officials with Allied Communities of Tarrant said they think it’s going to be a closer vote.

Three board members, Erma C. Johnson Hadley, Dan Serna and Ronnie W. Coulson, all declined to comment on how they might vote.

“It’s my obligation to leave my mind open,” Mr. Serna said.

Mrs. Johnson Hadley, board chairwoman, said this is a difficult decision that generates strong opinions and mixed emotions among many people. She said she met with Sen. John Cornyn and told him that this is something that needs to be addressed in Washington.

“We feel somewhat put out that we’re having to deal with a federal issue,” she said.

People supporting a tougher stance on illegal immigration see this as a critical financial issue. They worry that a change in policy will cost taxpayers dearly.

The cost of this possible expansion, however, depends on who’s adding the numbers.

The hospital district hired Phase 2 Consulting of Austin to conduct a study, which was released in July.

Estimating the number of illegal immigrants in Tarrant County at 107,000, the study calculated that expanding the charity program would cost the hospital district an additional $41.3 million right now. That number would increase to $114.4 million by 2017, according to the study.

Allied Communities of Tarrant conducted its own study in February that came to a dramatically different conclusion. Quoting 18th-century literary figure Samuel Johnson and a passage from the Bible’s book of Leviticus in the introduction, the alternative study estimated the cost to be between $2 million and $4.2 million added to the hospital district’s $600 million-plus budget.

Parkland officials estimated their cost for nonemergency care for illegal immigrants was $22.4 million in the past year – about halfway between the two Tarrant County estimates.

Patricia Gaffney, a member of Allied Communities of Tarrant who helped research and write the report, challenged some of the basic assumptions of the Phase 2 study. She said that study projects a 56 percent increase in Tarrant County’s illegal immigrant population in the next decade even though federal reports show that illegal immigration is decreasing.

Ms. Gaffney also said the Phase 2 study overestimates the number of illegal immigrants who would use the service. Many are wary of government programs because of their immigration status, she said.

Mr. Killy said he is more likely to believe an independent, third-party report than one created by a group advocating for one side of the issue.

Dave McElwee, another member of Tarrant Alliance for Responsible Government, said that aside from the immediate cost, he also worries about the message that expanded health care would send.

“I think there ought to be programs for the indigent but not for those in the country illegally,” he said. “All this does is act as a magnet for other illegals.” 

If the board votes Tuesday to expand health care, it’s not clear how quickly such a change would be implemented, JPS senior vice president Robert Earley said. He said the board and Tarrant County Commissioners have already approved the 2007-08 budget, and no funds are set aside for additional health care costs for illegal immigrants.

This is the second time this issue has come up for Tarrant County. For part of 2004, the board opened up all its programs to illegal immigrants. JPS officials were uncertain about whether a new state law allowed or mandated them to provide nonemergency charity services to illegal immigrants. Mr. Early said a ruling by the Texas attorney general and statements of intent from the sponsor clarified that the law didn’t require the expansion.

At the time, JPS officials said the expanded program cost them up to $4 million for six months. Mr. Earley said the participation was probably limited three years ago because the program wasn’t actively promoted by the hospital district and there were questions about how long it would last.

The board voted in August 2004 to make immigration status a factor for the JPS charity nonemergency care.

Officials with Allied Communities of Tarrant and the Texas Hospital Association also said most urban public hospitals in the state don’t limit health care service because of immigration status, but neither had conducted a comprehensive study.

Dr. Ron Anderson, chief executive of Parkland Memorial Hospital, which does not exempt illegal immigrants from its charity programs, said the decision by JPS did not affect his system.

But he said that it makes sense to get all low-income residents preventive health care in neighborhood clinics. When he came to Parkland in 1982, the system had no clinics and about 182,000 emergency-room visits annually.

Since then, the system opened neighborhood clinics countywide, and the emergency-room visits fell to 145,000 even though the population has nearly doubled.

“The truth is, if you don’t provide this care in the clinic, you’ll provide this service in the emergency room,” Dr. Anderson said.

AT WHAT PRICE?
Two studies were created this year estimating the cost of expanding nonemergency health care to illegal immigrants in the John Peter Smith Hospital system. One was created by Allied Communities of Tarrant, which supports the expansion, and the other by Phase 2 Consulting on behalf of JPS.
ACT study Phase 2 study
Current cost $2 million to $4.2 million $41.3 million
Estimated number of illegal immigrants 96,800 107,000
Percentage of illegal immigrants projected to use the new service 27 percent 7 percent
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research

Important Reminder for Diversity Visa Lottery (DV-2011) Applicants : Immigration Law Answers Blog

The Diversity Visa lottery (DV) for the fiscal year 2011 must be submitted electronically between noon, October 2, 2009, and noon November 30, 2009. The entry form (E-DV) must be submitted online during the registration period available at www.dvlottery.state.gov.  

The DV program is a random lottery selection with 55,000 diversity visas issued each fiscal year to applicants of countries with low rates of immigration. Natives of the following countries are not allowed to participate in the DV-2011 because the countries sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years: Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependant territories, and Vietnam. Individuals born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible. Detailed information regarding DV lottery requirements is available at www.dvlottery.state.gov.

Common Sense Needed in Immigration Cases : Immigration Law Answers Blog

The Dallas Morning News has an excellent editorial today pointing out the inequities in our current immigration system, particularly deportation. Few people would object to the deportation of criminals or of those who knowingly came here illegally as adults and made no effort to work within the system. But the editorial mentions the plights of other immigrants who, through no real fault of their own, have been placed in terrible situations by seemingly arbitrary decisions by the federal government.

The editorial is important enough to be reprinted in full: 

Justice isn’t always blind when it comes to immigration enforcement. U.S. authorities exercise apparently wide latitude to impose the letter of the law or inject compassion, especially in cases of political expediency. Too often, simple common sense doesn’t seem to factor into the equation. Three recent cases illustrate the point.

Olivera Snyder and her sister, Jelena Boldt, were born in the former Yugoslavia and brought here as children by their parents in 1985. They know little of their Serbian homeland. Both married Americans, and Olivera has three American children. Through one of the stranger twists in U.S. immigration enforcement, the Dallas-area sisters are bracing for deportation, despite having filed all the required paperwork and completed every step of the process.

Their immigrant mother won permission to stay. They have no criminal history. Someone in the bowels of Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided it was time to close their cases and move on. Their lawyer says he can’t get an explanation and describes the case as “one of the most disturbing departures from rational thinking I have ever witnessed.”

Eric Balderas is a Harvard student who grew up in the United States and has virtually no memory of his early childhood before his parents brought him to Texas from Mexico. He lost his passport and wound up in the sights of an ICE official as he boarded a flight from San Antonio to Boston. Now he faces deportation. Harvard dignitaries are trying to help, but the 19-year-old’s future hangs in limbo until a July 6 deportation hearing.

Hervé Fonkou Takoulo is a Cameroonian facing deportation after losing an asylum bid. He and his American wife, Caroline Jamieson, are professionals in Manhattan. Jamieson wrote to President Barack Obama in a desperate attempt to stave off the deportation, and in apparent retaliation, two immigration agents went to the couple’s house, mentioned the Obama letter and then took Takoulo away in handcuffs. An inquiry by The New York Times led to Takoulo’s quick release.

Thousands of such cases never make it into the media spotlight, so there’s no telling how many horror stories are out there. It shouldn’t take a reporter’s inquiry or an embarrassing news article to make immigration authorities recognize that theses are human beings whose lives face irrevocable destruction.

Yes, we want a predictable and consistent system of immigration laws that apply equally to all. But common sense also must come into play. These three cases underscore the real human hardship created by America’s broken immigration system and overburdened immigration courts. Comprehensive immigration reform, with tough but fair measures to help people attain legal status in this country, is the best way to break this chain of tragedy.

LPR : Immigration Law Answers Blog

Today’s Dallas Morning News editorializes in favor of the proposed compromise immigration bill. Here is the editorial:

Good Starting Point

But immigration plan will need some work

The fact that the Senate will return to immigration this week is a political miracle of sorts. Sharply divergent points of view – and we mean really sharp – have stalled the debate for an entire year.

Thanks, however, to brutal negotiations involving the White House and dedicated senators from both parties, the Senate will start with a bipartisan bill. Deserving of Texans’ thanks for renewing the debate are President Bush, who has kept the issue alive in speeches, and lead Senate negotiators Ted Kennedy and Jon Kyl.

As an editorial board that has pushed hard for immigration reform, we think this bill is a good place to begin – but with the understanding that major work is still to be done:

The selling points

Border security: The plan doesn’t wink at ratcheting up border security. The addition of 18,000 border agents and 70 new radar towers will help take the lawlessness out of the southern border. So will the resources to detain 27,500 aliens a day.

We have never been wild about a border fence, but the 370 miles of fencing and 200 miles of road barriers should satisfy those who think a wall will reduce the flow of illegal immigrants. In fact, border hawks should like that many security measures must be in place before a new temporary worker program starts.

Enforcing the worksite: One of the best parts is the new electronic identification system. Employers will know if they are hiring legal workers. There’s too much uncertainty today when it comes to worker IDs. The situation in Cactus, Texas, proved that.

Unlike the current system, all workers must prove they are here legally. Under the new system, employers would run their info through a new national verification database. If those on the job aren’t legal, the employers are fined and the workers are fired.

Pathway to citizenship: Mr. Kyl, a Republican, has reversed course and acknowledged that there’s no way to correct our immigration problems without giving the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living here a chance to earn citizenship. More power to the man for stepping forward, knowing many will scream amnesty.

It’s not.

Illegal immigrants seeking citizenship must pay a $5,000 fine, possess a job, undergo a background check and wait eight to 13 years before becoming a citizen. They don’t jump to the head of any line. In fact, they can’t earn citizenship until all current applications are approved or rejected.

They can eventually earn citizenship, though, and that’s crucial to getting immigrants to come out of the shadows.

What needs work

Temporary workers: 400,000 foreign workers could qualify for employment visas annually. That essentially matches the number of foreign workers who come here illegally each year.

There’s a catch, though, that could make the provision unworkable. Temporary workers could earn three two-year work visas. In between each two-year stint, they would have to return home for one year.

The risk with the return-home requirement is that some workers may go underground and stay here. We would prefer that senators amend the bill to match the House plan, which has no return-home provision for temporary workers.

At the least, senators should amend it so more exceptions can be granted to workers in high-demand industries. That would minimize the temptation for some workers to go underground.

Green cards: Fortunately, temporary workers could earn a green card after their work stints end. But that could become a mirage if the Senate doesn’t include enough cards that let workers stay here legally. (Green cards allow for legal permanent residency, not citizenship.)

The Senate would be foolish to ignore reality. Temporary workers with good jobs probably will stay here, even if they can’t get a green card. So it’s important to have enough cards to go around in order to know who is actually here.

This proposal represents an improvement over the status quo, but it’s not the endgame. We urge Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to address these shortfalls this week.

The next few months will be like crawling through broken glass, as Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum aptly put it Friday. But Washington must grit its teeth and work through the pain if the nation is to finally fix our broken immigration system.STILL NOT SOLD? Why border hawks should like the Senate plan:

* 18,000 new border agents

* Ends “catch and release” of illegal immigrants

* 70 new radar towers

* Resources to detain 27,500 illegal immigrants a day

* An electronic verification system for all employees

* Illegal workers lose their jobs

* Employers face big fines

DNA Testing During Visa Application Process : Immigration Law Answers Blog

Individuals unable to provide documentation to prove a biological relationship may prove the biological relationship through DNA testing. The DNA testing is the only acceptable non-documentary method, and only if no other credible proof of the relationship exists. Thus, all other methods for confirming a biological relationship must be exhausted, and a consular officer will recommend DNA testing only as the last resort.

Once the consular officer recommends the DNA testing, a lab technician employed by the panel physician will take the DNA collection at the U.S. embassy or consulate (off-site testing facilities are not acceptable). The DNA collection is witnessed by the consular officer or another American citizen employee of the consular section possessing national security clearance. Once the DNA collection has been taken, the consular officer will forward the petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since USCIS is authorized to approve petitions supported solely on DNA testing, and consular officers are not authorized. In order to prove a biological relationship, the DNA test results must show 99.5% or greater between a parent and a child to be accepted.  

For more information on other possible methods for confirming existence of a biological relationship or DNA testing, call Kraft & Associates at 214-999-9999.

What is a U.S. Passport Card? : Immigration Law Answers Blog

U.S. Citizens can apply for a passport card that allows re-entry into the U.S. at land border-crossings or sea ports-of–entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean region (which includes 17 nations), and Bermuda.

The 17 Caribbean nations are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica (except for business travel), Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos.

The passport card was designed to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which became effective June 1, 2009, for land and sea requirements). The card is a U.S passport and it attests to an individual’s U.S. citizenship and identity.

There are security features on the card to mitigate the possibility of counterfeiting and forgery. Some of the advantages of the passport card are the convenience of having a wallet-size card, it is less expensive than the passport book ($45 for adults; $35 for minors under age 16), smaller than the book, and U.S. citizens who travel frequently to countries listed above don’t have to take their U.S. passport book every time they seek to re-enter the U.S.

More information is available at www.travel.state.gov.

USCIS Web Site Makeover Improves Services : Immigration Law Answers Blog

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has launched its newly re-designed Web site. Although the Web site update was scheduled to be introduced September 22, 2009, attorney Eugenia Ponce visited the site Monday and has this report:

The updated Web site is organized according to categories.The categories are displayed as Topics, Forms, Resources, Laws, News, and About Us. The topics are categorized as follows: Adoption, Permanent Residence, Humanitarian, Citizenship, Members of the Military and Their Family, Family, Visit the U.S., Working in the U.S, and Genealogy. After clicking on a specific topic, I was provided helpful information and even more additional information was available through the links on the left of the screen.The advantage of categorizing the information by topic is that individuals are now able to familiarize themselves with the process from start to finish. There are other helpful links and tools within each specific topic.   Another key feature to the Web site is that there is a “where to start” link. Before, individuals could navigate throughout the Web site not knowing where to even begin their search on a narrow issue. Now, the “where to start link” will allow individuals to begin their immigration search by narrowing it down to their specific issue. For instance, there is a scroll-down available for individuals under the “where to start” link. It states “I Am,” and one can select from the various choices available and get specific information relating to any issue.  

Given the new era with text messaging (even various airline companies provide flight and gate status information through text messaging), USCIS has upgraded its site by adding a link that allows individuals to receive case status updates via text messages. The newly designed site has provided a one-stop resource center for individuals with specific queries and I am excited in navigating throughout their links. Visit the newly re-designed USCIS Web site and see the improvements for yourself.

Questions We Get : Immigration Law Answers Blog

Attorney Eugenia Ponce recently wrote a blog post here cautioning Lawful Permanent Residents to keep their trips abroad relatively short. Here is the text of that post: Lawful permanent residentsMore…

Lawful permanent residents (LPR) of the United States (green card holders) need to keep their trips abroad to a relatively short period of time. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)More…

At Kraft & Associates, we receive many questions from individuals and employers regarding immigration laws and procedures. Here are some of the most recent questions we’ve received, and our answers.More…

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