Home > January 2009

Posted on January 24, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

Here’s a quick follow-up to my last post about the effect on the budget of Farmers Branch of that city’s pursuit of the goal of driving illegal immigrants from the city. These excerpts are from a Dallas Morning News story today:

Farmers Branch officials have opted to put off some street maintenance projects as well as some vehicle and equipment purchases to cover a projected shortfall of nearly $1.2 million this fiscal year.

The city started this fiscal year with $2 million less in its reserve fund than the target, which calls for having 75 days of operating expenses, or $8.6 million. But officials had anticipated bringing the reserves back up to the previous level, plus increasing it by another $350,000.

But with just the first quarter of the fiscal year completed, Finance Director Charles Cox is projecting $1.2 million in losses in property tax revenues, landfill revenue and interest earnings.

In addition, the city budgeted $424,000 for the entire year for legal bills related to lawsuits over the city’s attempts to ban housing rentals to illegal immigrants. But it spent $303,330 in just the first quarter, which ended in December.

That figure is expected to escalate as the trial looms over the third and latest incarnation of the illegal immigration ordinance, Cox said.

Posted on January 24, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

The latest development in the seemingly never-ending saga of Farmers Branch’s battle against illegal immigrants may have the city dipping into its savings to pay for the continuing court costs. I’ve written many times about this ill-advised (in my opinion) attempt by the city to keep illegal immigrants away by forcing landlords to become immigration cops. Here are excerpts from an article in today’s Dallas Morning News:

The city’s court loss in the lawsuit over Ordinance 2903 leaves it with a payment looming of about $900,000 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. That, along with escalating legal bills as the trial over the third incarnation of the housing ban approaches, and the cost of severance packages for nearly two dozen employees laid off last summer, forced the city to dig into its reserve fund for about $2 million.

The financial news has some opponents of the illegal-immigration-related ordinances saying, “I told you so.”

Opponents have long said the ordinances were unconstitutional and would cost millions to defend in court.

From 2006 through the end of 2008, the city spent more than $1.5 million on illegal-immigration-related legal fees. That doesn’t count the $900,000 lawsuit award that hasn’t been paid because the city is contesting the amount.

Posted on January 23, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

Effective June 1, 2009, citizens of certain countries are allowed to seek admission to Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) without a visa, pursuant to the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program. To participate in the program, travelers must posses a valid passport; present a valid and completed form I-94 and Form I-736; must not have previously violated any prior admission to the U.S.; and must be citizens from the following countries: Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Signapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom including Hong Kong. Those seeking admission under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver program are authorized for a 45 day period.

Posted on January 23, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

Employers must complete form I-9 for all employees, citizens, and non-citzens who are hired and working in the United States. The new version must be used on February 2, 2009 and thereafter. It is available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Web site.

Posted on January 22, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have developed a new program that enhances identification and removal of criminal aliens. The program, known as Secure Communities, is administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and provides ICE and other local agencies immigration history information on an individual who is booked into jail. During the booking process, the arrestees’ fingerprints are taken, and checked for criminal history and now also for immigration records maintained by DHS. If the person’s fingerprints match those of a person in the DHS fingerprint system, ICE will be notified and take the appropriate enforcement action.

More information is available at www.ice.gov.

Posted on January 17, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program upgraded its biometric data gathering technology to make the entry process into the United States faster and more accurate. When entering the United States at major U.S. ports of entry, certain non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR’s) should now expect their 10-fingerprints to be collected at the time of inspection.

Posted on January 15, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

There are 35 countries that are authorized to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens or nationals of the authorized countries to travel to the U.S for business or tourism for stays of 90 days or less, without first obtaining a visa.  

Effective January 12, 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires travelers from all VWP countries to obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States. ESTA determines whether a foreign national is eligible to travel under the VWP prior to boarding. If you are traveling under the VWP, it is vital to obtain an approved travel authorization via ESTA. Failure to do so may result in being denied boarding, or denied admission into the United States. Apply for travel authorization at the ESTA Web site to comply with the DHS requirements.

Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Posted on January 13, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, immigration prosecutions in the federal courts more than quadrupled during the eight years of the Bush administration and Texas’ two border districts led the nation in the surge, according to a new report by a Syracuse University research center. The problem with this focus on illegal immigration is that it has taken valuable resources away from prosecution of white-collar crimes and drug violation. Here are excerpts from the article:

Even the Dallas-based Northern Judicial District of Texas was part of the increase, though the number of prosecutions – 357 in the 2008 fiscal year – was a fraction of the 25,061 prosecutions in the Southern district of Texas.

The report by the Syracuse group known as the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, also showed a decline in certain types of prosecutions such as white-collar crime and narcotics filings. 

The TRAC report also reflected the results from a zero-tolerance approach to illegal border-crossers known as Operation Streamline. For example, in the Southern district of Texas, prosecutors acted upon 98 percent of referrals in the last fiscal year.

In North Texas, however, former U.S. Attorney Richard Roper, who stepped down last month to join a private practice, said he didn’t prosecute every immigration case referred to his office. TRAC reports show the Dallas office prosecuted about 63 percent of the referrals.

Roper said he scrutinized cases for those involving illegal re-entry of individuals who already had a significant criminal record, or drug trafficking or firearms convictions.

“There is no question that after 9/11 there was a significant change in priorities on cases,” said Roper, now a partner with Thompson & Knight. “And there was an increased emphasis placed on immigration because of the connection to terrorism activity and in response to Congress’ concern that we weren’t protecting the border.”

“The practical effect is it hurt our ability to prosecute white-collar fraud,” Roper said. “If we don’t do them in the U.S. attorney’s office they won’t get done because they are so labor-intensive. It is difficult for the local district attorney’s office to handle that.”

But according to the TRAC report, white-collar prosecutions are down almost 15 percent nationally from the level in the last year of President Clinton’s administration. There were 8,108 prosecutions in fiscal year 2008, compared with 9,532 prosecutions in fiscal year 2000.

 Individual narcotic filings also slumped, TRAC said. For the entire eight years, prosecutions of drug violators were down by almost 20 percent. There were 26,336 prosecutions in fiscal year 2008, compared with 32,753 in fiscal year 2001.

Last fiscal year, there were nearly 80,000 prosecutions of immigration cases, double the previous year and up from 17,000 in fiscal year 2002. The top four venues for immigration cases were the Southern district of Texas, the Western district of Texas with about 19,000 cases, Arizona with nearly 16,000 cases and New Mexico with about 5,600 cases.

“It is a really quite drastic change in policy, and it clearly has an enormous effect on federal enforcement, especially in Texas and the other border districts,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. “Other kinds of prosecutions appear to be getting less attention.”

Some were critical of the shift to a policy that spawned a fused area of law that some called crimmigration. For years, many offenses had been handled under civil statutes in administrative courts, though laws existed to prosecute some cases using criminal statutes.

Legal triage means resources aren’t deployed against more serious crimes, and that eats into the time of federal public defenders and magistrates, said Austin-based immigration attorney Dan Kowalski.

“I don’t mind my tax dollars being spent on a direct crime,” Kowalski said. “Criminally prosecuting drywallers on re-entry cases rather than high-level arms dealers would be a joke if it were not a travesty.”

Posted on January 10, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

From the Journal of the American Bar Assocition:

Days before a new presidential regime will be in place at the White House, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued a written opinion (PDF) yesterday finding that noncitizens have no constitutional right to counsel in deportation proceedings.

The attorney general’s opinion, which reverses a 15-year precedent established by Matter of Lozada, is also expected to make it more difficult for aliens who retain private attorneys to seek relief for ineffective assistance of counsel, reports the Blog of Legal Times.

The ruling was greeted with dismay by immigrants rights groups, which intend to seek relief in Congress, according to the BLT. But, in the meantime, federal courts are likely to defer to the attorney general’s opinion as far as ineffective assistance claims in immigration cases are concerned, Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, tells the law blog.

The opinion, which must be followed by the nation’s immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals, gives them discretion to reopen cases when major counsel error prejudices a case.

Posted on January 10, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

From The Associated Press:

President George W. Bush told a group of Texas reporters Friday that he regretted immigration policies were not reformed while he was in office.

“I’m very disappointed that it didn’t pass,” he said in an interview with correspondents from his home state. “I’m very worried about the message that said, ‘Republicans are anti-immigrant.'”

Bush said he wanted a comprehensive immigration plan “not for political standing or for Latinos, but because it was best for the country,” the Houston Chronicle reported in its online edition Friday.

The outgoing president said that in hindsight he should have pushed his immigration proposal soon after the 2004 election, rather than after partisan squabbling over Social Security began.

Posted on January 7, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

In an effort to detect and deter fraud in the religious worker program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented significant changes to the special immigrant and non-immigrant (R-1) religious worker rules. The new rule became effective November 26, 2008.   Some of the changes in the new rule requires sponsoring employers to submit the petition on the foreign national’s behalf for R-1 status, provides increased on-site inspection by USCIS, includes compensation requirements, reduces initial period of admission on R-1 status to 30 months, and increases employer’s evidentiary requirements.   One significant change is that an employer must sponsor the nonimmigrant religious worker by submitting the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129). Additionally, the employer must now submit a determination letter by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which will verify the religious organization’s tax-exempt status. In order to obtain a determination letter, the religious organization must pay a one time fee to the IRS. R-1 visa holders will now be admitted for an initial period of up to 30 months and may extend their stay for an additional period of 30 months.  

For further information on the new revisions, please call us at 214-999-9999.

Posted on January 5, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

A recent Associated Press article provides a good summary of the dilemma faced by foreign workers as the U.S. economy deteriorates. These workers are finding themselves less in demand, and are searching for alternative jobs or other means of maintaining their immigration status and stay in the United States. Here are excerpts:

For foreign professionals in the United States, the rising unemployment rate is especially daunting. Laid-off foreign workers are scrambling for temporary visas and seeking advice from immigration attorneys about how long they can legally stay in the country while hunting for jobs. Even some foreigners here on visas or work permits are switching employers, fearing that an unstable job during a recession could lead to a one-way ticket home or end their chance of getting a green card. An undetermined number of foreign workers have been casualties of the recession, which pushed the nationwide jobless rate to 6.7% in November, a 15-year high. Economists expect unemployment to continue to climb through much of 2009 and could surpass 8%. Nearly half a million foreign professionals are working in the country on visas, known as H-1Bs, or have applied for green cards with support from their employers, said Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a research group in Arlington, Va. Many came to the U.S. to pursue graduate degrees and have lived and worked here for years. Those who lose their jobs in the downturn may head home or move to countries that have more lenient immigration rules. That could drive much-needed innovation in technology and engineering overseas in the years ahead, Anderson said. “What you may find is there are people who could be future entrepreneurs in the United States who end up starting these companies in other countries,” he said. Immigration lawyers say they have received an increasing number of calls from foreign professionals who have been terminated — many in the financial services industry as investment banks slash payroll to stay afloat. Following the dot-com bust in 2000, many high-tech workers were laid off and some foreign workers returned overseas. This time, immigration attorneys say the pain began primarily in the financial sector — though manufacturing and technology companies have also started eliminating jobs. One of the biggest challenges for laid-off visa holders is the lack of a grace period to leave. Companies must provide a return ticket home for workers, who may try to switch to another visa, such as a six-month tourist visa, to buy time to pack their belongings or to look for another job. Immigrants seeking green cards — which would let them remain in the country permanently — face different problems. If they are laid off, they can stay and look for a new job but must find one before the government reviews their paperwork, which could take months or years, depending how far along they are in the process. The bottom line: no employer, no green card. During an economic slump, companies may reduce hiring abroad to scale back on legal fees. They also may do so to comply with U.S. laws that ban firms from sponsoring foreigners for green cards to replace laid-off American workers, said Robert Hoffman, president of government and public affairs at software company Oracle Corp. and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition that supports policies that would allow more skilled workers from other countries to be hired in the U.S. A clearer picture of the recession’s effect on foreign workers could emerge in April when companies can request visas for workers they hope to hire in 2009.

For the last six years, the demand for work visas has surpassed a 65,000 annual cap put in place by Congress, with 163,000 applications filed last year.

Posted on January 4, 2009 by Robert A. Kraft

Here’s an interesting debate about last-minute changes to the H-2A agricultural worker program proposed by the Bush administration. As expected, employers who would benefit from the changes are in favor, and American farm workers who might be harmed are opposed. These are excerpts from an article in the Dallas Morning News:

Farm worker advocates and opponents of illegal immigration are blasting one of President George W. Bush’s “midnight regulations” that will make it easier for agricultural employers to hire foreign workers.

They say the changes undermine worker protections, exploit immigrants and set wage levels so low that domestic workers cannot compete with foreign workers for jobs.

The regulation, which makes changes in the U.S. Labor Department’s H-2A Temporary Agriculture Worker Program, allows agricultural employers to hire temporary foreign workers if not enough domestic workers are able or willing to fill farm jobs.

The changes also promise to reduce paperwork and make processing deadlines more efficient.

In fiscal 2008, the U.S. State Department issued more than 64,000 H-2A visas, a 26 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Since 2003, the number of temporary agricultural worker visas has steadily increased, according to a department spokeswoman.

But the number of workers covered by H-2A visas is only a small segment of a larger farm worker contingent that’s close to 1.6 million, more than 80 percent of whom are foreign-born, said Craig Regelbrugge of the American Nursery and Landscape Association. Of those foreign-born workers, nearly three-quarters are unauthorized, he said.

Labor Department officials say the changes are needed to provide agricultural employers with workers in a timely fashion so that crops can be harvested.

But Bruce Goldstein of the Washington, D.C.-based Farmworker Justice Fund said the four-tier wage structure is not a reliable standard because the survey it relies on doesn’t study farms, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a result, he said, it sets farm worker wages too low and makes it hard for the workers to earn a living wage.

Additionally, Goldstein said, the new regulations weaken worker protections because employers can now claim they have fulfilled the program’s requirements instead of having to provide evidence of their compliance before their visa requests are approved.

“These seem typical of the Bush administration policies, where whatever employers want, that’s what we’re going to give them,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonpartisan advocacy group that seeks to reduce illegal immigration.

Mehlman said that by continuously adding foreign workers to their employment rolls and paying them according to the prevailing wage, employers undercut the need for domestic workers by relying on a steady stream of immigrants who can be easily replaced if they complain. Employers’ actions also cap wages at such low rates that Americans can’t compete for agricultural jobs.

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