Historia de éxito: asilo para Gilberto y Claudia

Gilberto - como todos de su generación - creció en una Venezuela estable. Las cosas empezaron a cambiar cuando Hugo Chávez llegó al poder y empeoraron cuando Nicholas Maduro asumió los poderes de un dictador. Gilberto vio a su país desmoronarse, y luchó por hacer una vida segura y feliz para él y su familia. Comenzó a participar con un alcalde del partido de la oposición. Asistió a manifestaciones. Para 2017, las cosas llegaron a un punto de quiebre.

Nicolás Maduro consolidó su control empaquetando la Corte Suprema de Venezuela y luego estableciendo una "asamblea constituyente" en lugar de la legislatura debidamente elegida. Gilberto y miles de otros venezolanos tomaron las calles, protestando al naciente dictador. En una protesta el 1 de junio de 2017, los oficiales de la guardia nacional bolivariana (GNB) atraparon a los manifestantes, robaron sus pertenencias y amenazaron con matarlos si continuaban las protestas. Cumplieron sus amenazas ese día, matando a una mujer inocente.

Gilberto estaba asustado. Una semana después, el 7 de junio, Gilberto se enteró de que su hijo adolescente iba a protestar, así que Gilberto fue con él. La GNB lanzó gases lacrimógenos contra los manifestantes, y en la confusión, Gilberto y varios otros manifestantes fueron rodeados por milicias armadas - conocidas como colectivos. Gilberto y su hijo fueron entregados a la GNB. La policía primero golpeó a Gilberto y otros manifestantes antes de llevarlos a una estación de policía militar. Allí, los oficiales de la GNB despojaron a Gilberto y otros manifestantes, los rociaron con gas pimienta y los obligaron a gritar consignas a favor del régimen. Más tarde, la GNB llevó a Gilberto solo a una pequeña celda, lo envolvió en una esterilla delgada y lo golpeó nuevamente. Después de más de diez horas, la GNB finalmente liberó a Gilberto y su hijo.

Las cosas siguieron empeorando en Venezuela. El 29 de junio de 2017, la casa del tío de Gilberto se convirtió en un objetivo de la GNB y de la policía nacional bolivariana (PNB). La policía disparó balas de goma y gas lacrimógeno y prendió fuego a los autos del vecindario. El objetivo de la policía era claro: aterrorizar a los residentes y arrestarlos porque eran un hogar en el que vivían los opositores del régimen. Afortunadamente, con la ayuda de los vecinos, Gilberto y su familia lograron impedir que la policía ingresara a la casa esa noche.

Gilberto continuó trabajando con un alcalde de la oposición. El 20 de julio de 2017, pasó el día trabajando con el alcalde y luego comenzó a regresar a casa. Ahí es cuando los colectivos interceptaron a Gilberto. Mostraron sus armas y procedieron a golpear a Gilberto, gritando un epíteto que los funcionarios del régimen usan contra los oponentes (escuálido). Le advirtieron que dejara de trabajar con el alcalde o lo matarían. Gilberto logró meterse en su auto y escapar. Pero no se dio cuenta de que los colectivos lo seguían. En casa, allí estaban de nuevo. Esta vez, un colectivo sacó una pistola, apuntó a Gilberto y disparó. Afortunadamente, Gilberto vio lo que estaba sucediendo y volvió a meterse en el auto para cubrirse. La bala golpeó el auto, y Gilberto estuvo a salvo. Los colectivos se alejaron.

Después de ese día, Gilberto notó que lo seguían y lo observaban. Las cosas se habían vuelto demasiado peligrosas para Gilberto y su familia, así que decidieron irse. Gilberto, su esposa Claudia y su joven hijo decidieron huir a los Estados Unidos. Desafortunadamente, el hijo adolescente de Gilberto no tenía una visa para ingresar a los Estados Unidos, por lo que la familia tuvo que tomar la decisión trágica de separarse. El hijo adolescente de Gilberto se quedó con otra familia, y Gilberto, Claudia y su jove hijo vinieron a los Estados Unidos en noviembre de 2017.

En enero de 2018, Gilberto recibió una llamada telefónica de pánico de su hijo adolescente. Los colectivos lo han rodeado esa noche. Lo golpearon en la cabeza con sus pistolas, lo empujaron al suelo y comenzaron a darle patadas. Le gritaron por apoyar a la oposición y amenazaron con matarlo a él ya su familia. Afortunadamente, la familia pudo hacer planes para que el hijo adolescente de Gilberto huyera a Perú. No era Estados Unidos con su familia, pero al menos era seguro.

Gilberto y Claudia comenzaron el proceso de asilo en los Estados Unidos. Se dirigieron a Keith en Southam Law para ayudarles con este proceso. Tenían un año desde su entrada en los Estados Unidos para presentar su solicitud de asilo. Sin embargo, Keith les advirtió que después de la presentación, la oficina de asilo entrevista rápidamente, por lo que hay poco tiempo para preparar y reunir pruebas. Así que la mejor estrategia era poner todo en orden, incluso si llevaban meses, antes de enviarlo, siempre teniendo en cuenta la fecha límite. Keith ayudó a Gilberto y Claudia a identificar evidencia que respaldaría su caso: una foto del agujero de bala en el auto, un informe médico del día en que Gilberto fue destinado y golpeado, artículos sobre colectivos en Venezuela, etc. Keith también ayudó a Gilberto a escribir una declaración sobre lo que sucedió, alentando más detalles sobre eventos críticos y reduciendo detalles sobre eventos irrelevantes. Para noviembre de 2018, la solicitud de asilo estaba lista para ser presentada. Después de que se presentó, Keith, Gilberto y Claudia se reunieron dos veces para prepararse para la entrevista. Keith explicó el proceso de la entrevista y pasó por una entrevista simulada. Keith ayudó a Gilberto a centrarse en los elementos clave que son importantes para el asilo: los daños físicos que ocurrieron, quién lo hizo y por qué lo hizo.

Los esfuerzos tenían éxito. Los funcionarios de inmigración aprobaron la solicitud de asilo dos semanas después de la entrevista. Gilberto, Claudia y su joven hijo pueden permanecer seguros en los Estados Unidos. Además, ahora que el asilo ha sido aprobado, Gilberto puede presentar una solicitud de visa para que su hijo adolescente venga de Perú a los Estados Unidos. La familia está finalmente libre de los horrores del régimen venezolano.

(Apellidos y nombres de menores omitidos por privacidad.)

Success Story: Pastor Daniel

Pastor Daniel was ordained many years ago. He was then offered a scholarship to study Theology at Wheaton College and moved to the US with his wife. Pastor Daniel studied in the United States, earned a degree, began to work as a pastor, had children in the US, and eventually founded his own church. In short, he built a life in the United States.

During part of this time, Pastor Daniel worked under a religious worker visa, but through an innocent mistake, lost this status. At this time, widespread violence was occurring in Pastor Daniel’s home country. For that reason, citizens of his country were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This allowed Pastor Daniel and his wife to continue to live and work in the US under TPS status. This status was renewed time and again for nearly fifteen years. But in 2017, the US government decided to terminate TPS status, telling everyone with that status to leave the United States. Pastor Daniel was understandably worried and came to Keith at Southam Law.

Pastor Daniel’s situation was serious. The loss of TPS status meant that Pastor Daniel was technically without lawful status, a big problem for almost every immigration application. Still, Pastor Daniel and Keith worked to build a strong application for a religious worker visa. After all, Pastor Daniel had founded a church in the US that he still led. That church was doing good work in the US through its ministry and outreach and in Pastor Daniel’s home country by sending medicine and donations and by digging wells to provide clean drinking water to the community. After submitting two detailed sets of documents about Pastor Daniel’s background and the church, after a visit to the church by immigration officials, and after a heartfelt request to let Pastor Daniel obtain religious worker status in his situation, the application was finally approved!

Pastor Daniel can stay in the US, continuing to support his family, continuing to provide ministry to US congregants, and continuing to make tangible improvements to his home country.

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Joo-Hwan and Eun-Chae

Joo-Hwan and Eun-Chae married in 2013. Because Eun-Chae is a US citizen, she was able to apply for a conditional green card for Joo-Hwan. The couple came to Keith at Southam Law to remove conditions on Joo-Hwan's green card. Keith helped the couple gather proof of the truthful nature of their marriage and to file a timely application.

The application was filed in March 2017, but during 2017, everything at immigration stalled. Joo-Hwan was initially given a receipt that extended his green card for 12 months. But as the 12-month window approached, Joo-Hwan worried about how he could prove his green card status without a new green card itself. Keith advised Joo-Hwan about procedures to visit a local office for a temporary green card stamp. Joo-Hwan was able to get two temporary stamps and to travel to and from South Korea on the stamps.

Finally, after 19 months, immigration approved the application. Joo-Hwan's green card status is unrestricted, and he and Eun-Chae can live permanently in the US and travel freely between the US and South Korea.

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Margarita

Margarita has been coming to the United States regularly for years. Her daughter is now a US citizen, which opened a path for Margarita to obtain permanent residence. She came to Southam Law to prepare for the interview regarding the residency process. Margarita had doubts because immigration officials once gave her problems when she tried to enter the US. Keith helped Margarita to understand what would happen in the interview and helped her to practice a sincere but brief answer to any question about that entry. The goal was to convince the immigration officer of the truth: that the problems of the previous entry would not be a problem in obtaining permanent residency. The strategy worked. Margarita now has a green card and can live permanently in the United States with her daughter and granddaughter!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Yulia

Yulia is from Eastern Europe, but she's been living in Portugal for several years. Yulia provides IT services for a Chicago-based company that invited her to the US for a business meeting. Yulia and her affiliate company in the US contacted Keith at Southam Law to help Yulia get a B1 visa (a business visitor). Yulia was worried that she would have trouble getting a visa to the US since she is not living in her country of citizenship. Keith helped Yulia and her company understand the rules for B1 visas and how to make a smooth application. Yulia gathered documents that Keith suggested, including proof of her residence in Portugal, proof of her income, and a letter from her affiliate company in the US. Keith also reviewed the online visa application and gave Yulia some tips for the interview. The strategy was a success, and Yulia now has a B1 visa to visit the US!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Sana and Jamal

Jamal moved to the United States with his family several years ago. In 2016, Jamal and Sana married, and they began the process of helping Sana move to the US to be with Jamal. At that time, Jamal was a US permanent resident, so it meant that Sana had to spend time on a waiting list before she could move permanently to the US. Sana was still a student in her home country during this time, but she had traveled to the US for a temporary visit to see Jamal and to take an examination in connection with her studies. Then circumstances changed. The waiting list surged forward and Sana had the unexpected opportunity to stay permanently in the US.

That is when Jamal and Sana turned to Keith at Southam Law. They wanted to file the green card application for Sana but they wanted to avoid any red flags with immigration. Their fear was that it would look like Sana had misled officials by entering on a tourist visa and then filing a green card application quickly after that. Keith helped Sana and Jamal put together an application that included an explanation for the application and evidence that described the unexpected opportunity to stay. The application process was slower than anyone wanted: Sana didn't receive permission to work for nearly 10 months; Jamal became a US citizen while waiting. But finally, after repeated inquiries to immigration officials and after getting a Senator's office involved, the final interview for Sana's case was set. Keith helped Jamal and Sana prepare for the interview, reviewing documents and going through a mock interview.

The efforts were worth it. The interview was easy, and Sana's green card was approved right after the interview. Sana now has her green card, and the couple can live permanently together in the United States!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Merjem and Adam

Merjem came to the US for graduate study at a major university. At school, she met Adam, a fellow student in her department. The two started spending more and more time together, and realized that they were a couple in love. They started hanging out with each other's friends and family. Adam even traveled to Merjem's home country to meet her family. Adam eventually accepted a job in Chicago, and the two had to live separately for a while. When Merjem finished her coursework and began to focus on her dissertation, she moved to Chicago to be with Adam. They decided to get married and to apply for a green card for Merjem. Their friend recommended Keith at Southam Law for this process.

Keith met with Adam and Merjem to review their case. The only real concern was a question of timing. Though they had officially married already, they hadn't yet had a big wedding celebration. In fact, they planned to celebrate twice: once in the US and once in Merjem's home country. Keith helped them time their application so that they could keep their various travel commitments without delaying the immigration process. A small hiccup happened with Merjem's medical exam, but in the end, the efforts paid off. Merjem's green card was approved the same day as their immigration interview. Merjem now has a green card, and she and Adam can focus on their two upcoming wedding celebrations!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Natalia and Daniel

Natalia and Daniel grew up in Venezuela. Like many people in their country, they watched in horror as Hugo Chavez and then Nicolas Maduro took step after step to turn the country into a dictatorship. Natalia’s family had always been politically active, and she worked to oppose the Chavez/Maduro regime. Natalia protested in opposition demonstrations and volunteered for an opposition party, encouraging others to vote and monitoring polling places. Pro-regime forces noticed and were not pleased. Natalia was met with intimidation at first, but she persisted. She and other volunteers were once forced into a room and held by pro-regime forces who ultimately “only” robbed and threatened the volunteers.

Things got worse. Natalia and Daniel received a death threat in their mailbox, specifically addressed to Natalia. Then things got even worse. Natalia was going from an opposition demonstration to her office when she was intercepted by pro-regime thugs. These were the notorious ‘colectivos,’ armed gangs that dispense vigilante “justice” for the Chavez/Maduro regime. At gunpoint, they forced Natalia into their car and drove her away. The colectivos forced Natalia to cover her head and eventually took her to an unknown building. Natalia was interrogated and psychologically tortured for some time by the colectivos: they physically assaulted her, held a gun to her head, grabbed her breast, and threatened to rape and kill her and to kill her husband and family. In the end, the colectivos let Natalia go. Understandably traumatized, Natalia found help from a kind stranger and eventually made it home to her husband, Daniel.

Daniel encouraged Natalia to report the abduction, assault, and threats to the police. The two went to Venezuela’s CICPC (like the US’s FBI) to report the crime. The police were not at all interested in helping, but they went through the motions. They asked Natalia to sit in a room to speak with a police officer. That’s when Natalia noticed. She was in the same room where the colectivos had held her. She knew it was the same room because the floor tiles were identical, one was cracked in specific way, and there was a cigarette butt in the crack. She had no doubt, and she froze up. Natalia was able to convince Daniel to go right then.

Natalia and Daniel decided to leave Venezuela. They applied to schools in the US, and obtained student visas to come to an English school in Chicago. They approached Keith Southam as his prior law office to file the asylum application. It was a lot of work to put the story together with evidence to back up the story. The wait for an interview and then the wait for a decision were both long. But finally, US immigration officials granted asylum to Natalia and Daniel. They are safe in the United States now, and no longer need fear the Venezuelan regime!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Valeria

Valeria came to the United States with a tourist visa to improve her English and see the United States. After her arrival, she decided to stay and enroll in English school with the hope of going to graduate school. She contacted Keith Southam at Southam Law to help with a change to student status.

Keith advised her that she would have to send two applications: one to extend tourist status and another to change to student status. This was necessary because immigration officials would take several months to approve the change of status. Valeria's tourist status had to be valid during this time. The extension request was approved without problems. But initially, immigration officials did not want to approve the application to change status. They wanted proof that Valeria would return to her home country and that her family had enough money to pay for school.

Keith helped Valeria and her family collect and translate invoices and recent documents from her country of origin, as well as bank statements from the US. The strategy was successful. Valeria is now in student status and can focus on her studies.

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Victoria's Green Card

Victoria and her family have worked with Keith Southam in the past for immigration needs. This time, Victoria asked Keith to help after immigration denied her application for a green card. The denial reason was ostensibly due only to a missed fingerprint appointment. However, just a few weeks before the denial, immigration itself told Victoria she needn't go to the fingerprint appointment. Clearly, someone at immigration made a mistake. Keith helped Victoria file a motion to reconsider and also informally contacted the local immigration office. The strategy worked, and the local immigration office agreed to reconsider their decision, ultimately approving the application. Victoria is now - finally - a permanent resident of the United States!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Gabriela (Part 2)

This isn't Gabriela's first success story with Southam Law. About a year ago, Southam Law helped Gabriela renew her DACA status. This was helpful in anticipation of what came next: a green card. Gabriela entered the US as a young child and grew up in the US. In short, she's a DREAMer. She married a US citizen, but could not become a lawful permanent resident (that is, get a green card) in the US because she didn't have a lawful entry. Under current policy, she had to go to Mexico to get an immigrant visa. But fortunately, her prior DACA authorizations minimized the risks of this trip. After working through all of the applications in the United States, Gabriela and her husband traveled to Juarez, Mexico. She attended her visa interview, and it was quickly approved. She and her husband then returned to the United States, where she is finally a lawful permanent resident, on the path to becoming a US citizen!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Käthe and Laura

Käthe became a permanent resident several years ago based on her marriage to her US citizen wife, Laura. The two were happily living together in Chicago with their sons when Laura was offered a post-doctoral fellowship in Europe. Laura of course wanted to take the fellowship, but Käthe was worried about losing her green card status in the US. Living in Europe could jeopardize that status. Käthe also wanted to apply to become a US citizen, but for that application, she had to prove that she and Laura had lived together in the US for three years. And on top of all that, Käthe comes from a country that is skeptical of dual citizens, requiring her to get advance permission to become a US citizen or risk losing the citizenship of her country of birth. With all of these constraints in mind, Käthe turned to Keith at Southam Law.

Keith researched immigration policy to ensure that Käthe and Laura only needed to live together in the US up to the point that the application was submitted. Keith also advised Käthe to maintain a US residence and to keep her Chicago job. These steps allowed Käthe to apply for US citizenship within the time frame her home country set and while Laura moved to Europe to take the fellowship. There was a small timing hiccup with the oath ceremony at the end, but otherwise, everything worked perfectly. Immigration accepted the proof that Käthe and Laura were living together in the US at the time of the application and that Käthe kept a US residence even while Laura was working in Europe with their kids. Käthe is now a US citizen. (And she’s also still a citizen of her birth country.) Käthe, Laura, and their two boys can rest assured that they are all US citizens, regardless of where job opportunities might take the family in the future!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Naziha and James

Naziha came to the US several years ago as a student. Naziha was married at that time but things were rocky, and ultimately she decided to divorce her husband. Her husband and his family had previously been gruff with Naziha, and their attitude only worsened after the divorce. Naziha continued to live and study in the US. She eventually also had a falling-out with her own family, and that's when Naziha began to worry for her safety in her home country.

She contacted Keith Southam at his prior office to help her apply for asylum based on the fear of what would happen to her as a divorced woman without strong family support in a conservative country. As she waited through the asylum process, a friend introduced her to James. The two started dating and began to fall in love. Naziha and James married, and they turned to Keith (now at Southam Law) to help them apply for a marriage-based green card. Keith helped them complete the necessary applications, gather strong evidence, and helped prepare them for the marriage interview at immigration.

In the meantime, an asylum interview was scheduled, creating a potential conflict, but with Keith's help, Naziha was able to postpone the asylum interview. The work and delicate timing finally paid off, and Naziha is now a permanent resident. Naziha no longer need worry about her safety in her home country because she and James can live together securely and permanently in the United States!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Weronika's Student Visa

Weronika came to the United States with her parents when she was a young child. Her father was a student, and Weronika went to elementary and then high school in the US. When Weronika graduated from high school, she was thrilled to be admitted to a prestigious university with a scholarship. However, as a dependent on her father's student visa, she could not accept the scholarship as planned. That's when Weronika came to Southam Law. Southam Law helped Weronika change her status from a dependent to her own student visa (which would allow her to accept the scholarship). Though immigration took longer than Weronika wanted, the request was ultimately approved. Weronika can now accept the scholarship and begin her studies in earnest!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Claudia and Marco

Claudia and Marco have know each other for some time. Claudia came to the US with her parents as a child, but after several years returned to her home country. Marco meanwhile is a citizen of the United States. Later in life, Claudia and Marco got married. Based on this marriage, Marco applied for an immigrant visa so that Claudia could move back to the United States to join him. Unfortunately, the US consulate denied Claudia's visa, saying she was ineligible to enter the United States due to her prior trips to the United States. That's when Claudia and Marco reached out. Southam Law reviewed the visa application and Claudia's application, concluding that the consulate had made a mistake. Southam Law submitted a request to the consulate, asking them to reconsider the decision and providing evidence in support. The strategy worked. Claudia is now a permanent resident, starting a new life with her husband in the United States!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Success Story: Marisol, Johnny, and Benjie

Marisol and her son Benjie came to the US over fifteen years ago and have been fighting to stay in the country for almost as long. A few years after she arrived in the US, Marisol met Johnny in an online chat room (this was before the time of Match.com and long before Tinder). Marisol and Johnny went on a date not long after, and they clicked. As they spent more and more time together, Marisol and Johnny fell in love, and they decided to get married. To save money, they moved in with Marisol’s sister and brother-in-law. Johnny worked nights and spent time with his brother, so he wasn’t always at the same home as Marisol. Still, immigration officials concluded the marriage was truthful and gave Marisol a green card. Oddly, immigration let the application for Benjie linger for years. Eventually, Marisol and Johnny applied to renew Marisol’s green card and to check up on the application for Benjie. Immigration then called Benjie for an interview.

Benjie’s green card interview is where everything went wrong. Johnny couldn’t take time off of work, so he worked his usual night shift. Early the next morning – during Benjie’s green card interview – an immigration officer misinterpreted Johnny’s tiredness for nervousness. The officer isolated Johnny, interrogated him, and convinced him to sign a statement saying that his marriage to Marisol was fake. Immigration promptly denied Marisol’s green card renewal, denied Benjie’s green card request, and put Marisol and Benjie into removal proceedings. The setbacks were serious, but Marisol and Johnny did not waiver. They fought their case in immigration court, arguing that they married truthfully for love. Despite their efforts, an immigration judge thought the marriage was fake and ordered Marisol and Benjie removed from the United States.

Marisol and Johnny appealed. The appeals office sent the case back to the immigration court for another trial. That is when Marisol and Johnny turned to Keith Southam, first at a prior law office and then at Southam Law. Marisol and Johnny stayed married through out the ordeal and moved several times. Johnny even legally adopted Benjie. The long and well-documented history indicated that the immigration judge was wrong, so the new trial was welcomed.

But chronic understaffing and errors at the immigration court kept delaying the second trial. The new trial was postponed not once or twice, but four separate times. Finally in early December 2017 – thirteen years after Marisol and Johnny first married – an immigration judge really listed to their story. Marisol and Johnny explained to the judge that they married truthfully for love and that Johnny’s statement was a terrible mistake. The immigration judge agreed. She approved Marisol’s green card renewal and gave Benjie a chance to apply for his very first green card. Marisol is now an unconditional permanent resident and Benjie has only formalities to jump through. After years of struggling, the family finally knows they will not be split up!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

Latest Success Story: Laila's father, Javed

Javed came to the United States over ten years ago. After his daughter, Laila, became a US citizen, they decided to apply for his green card. Javed and Laila came to Southam Law for help through the process. We prepared and filed all of the forms for this application. Immigration officials were quick to approve Javed's work and travel permits, but a decision on the green card lingered. After several inquiries to the appropriate immigration office, they finally approved the application. Officials did not even require Javed to appear for an interview. Now Javed can rest with the security that comes with lawful permanent resident status!

(Names changed for privacy purposes.)

La prohibición de viajar (para Venezuela)

El gobierno de presidente Trump ha decidido de renovar y expandir la prohibición de viajar en los EEUU para personas de unas países: Irán, Libia, Siria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, Corea del Norte, y para la primera vez: Venezuela. Pero la prohibición para Venezuela es limitada. Solo personas conectadas a unos departamentos del gobierno venezolano no pueden viajar a los EEUU. Los departamentos afectados son: Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Interior, Justicia y Paz; el Servicio Administrativo de Identificación, Migración e Inmigración; el Cuerpo de Servicios Científicos, Penales y de Investigación Criminal; el Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional; y el Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Exteriores. Oficiales en estos departamentos y miembros de sus familias inmediatas no pueden obtener ni usar visas de negocios (B1) o visas de turista (B2). Para otros Venezolanos, ellos pueden obtener visas y viajar a los EEUU. Por supuesto, es posible que la cultura de la embajada en Caracas puede ser más estricta en el futuro. Pero para ahora, no creo que la prohibición es una razón de preocuparse.

Success Story: Jack and Nathan

Jack and Nathan first met when Jack was visiting Chicago for work. The two hit it off and stayed in contact even after Jack returned to his home in the UK. When Jack was unexpectedly laid off from work, he and Nathan decided to live together in the US. Nathan and Jack successfully applied for a green card for Jack. After renewing the green card, Jack then came to Southam Law to apply for citizenship. Southam Law helped Jack put together a solid application, including clear proof that he and Nathan had been living together in the US (which allowed him to become a citizen just 3 years after he received his green card). Southam Law also helped Jack prepare for the citizenship exam and went with him to the interview. It was a great success, and Jack is now a citizen of the United States!

(names changed for privacy purposes)

Guardianships for Children of Immigrants

More and more, immigrants are talking about guardianships for their children. But what is a guardianship and do all immigrants need one? The short answers are: 1) a guardianship allows someone to act like a parent for your child if you cannot and 2) only in certain circumstances.

Some background is helpful. Under the prior president, immigration officials used their limited resources to target undocumented immigrants who had committed serious crimes. In contrast, the current administration has a policy of targeting any individual who has violated immigration laws whenever they are encountered. This has led to high-profile cases of families torn apart, individuals with DACA being deported, individuals being targeted at non-criminal court dates etc. The administration has the legal authority to do this – even if it is morally unjust – so it is likely to continue.

All immigrants fear these surprise arrest and possibly quick deportation, but immigrants with children especially worry about who will take care of their children. The idea of a guardianship is appealing for that reason. Three groups of immigrants should seriously consider a guardianship.

First, immigrants subject to reinstatement of a removal order are at high risk of arrest and quick deportation. If an immigration judge has previously ordered an immigrant removed (or deported or excluded), immigration does not need to give another court case, and can simply arrest and deport them.

Second, immigrants who might be subject to “expedited removal” have a similar risk. “Expedited removal” applies to immigrants who have not yet entered the US or who entered the US less than two years ago. Immigration officials are not required to send these individuals to court and can simply arrest and deport them.

Third, some immigrants, are subject to “mandatory detention.” This is a little different than the two other categories. Immigrants subject to “mandatory detention” cannot be released from jail. So even if these immigrants have a right to fight in court, they may have to stay in jail the whole time. Immigrants subject to “mandatory detention” are those with certain criminal convictions.

All immigrants should make a plan about what to do if immigration officials arrest them. But if you fall into any of the three groups above and if you have children in the US, that plan should include what will happen to your children. One solution might be a guardianship. But be careful. Guardianships are serious and sometimes difficult to cancel. If you do not fall into one of the three groups above, a guardianship is probably not necessary. The reason is that even if immigration officials were to arrest you, you would likely have the chance to be released from jail and then to fight your case in immigration court. That fight often takes years, which would leave you plenty of time to plan for the future.

In the end, every case is different. An attorney or a legal aid organization can help you decide if you are at high risk of being arrested, detained, or deported and whether a guardianship is right for you.

Success Story: Gabriela

Gabriela came to the United States as a young child with her parents who hoped to create a better life for their family. As a DREAMer, Gabriela’s path to this better life is complicated. Thankfully, when she was a teenager, Gabriela was granted DACA status. She came to Southam Law just before her DACA was about to expire and just after she married a US citizen. Despite the current attitude of the president toward immigrants, Southam Law recommended that she renew her DACA and that her husband petition for an immigrant visa for Gabriela. The reason: to minimize or eliminate any period of unlawful presence for Gabriela, allowing Gabriela to stay in the US while immigration officials make a decision on the visa petition, and avoiding the need for an unlawful presence waiver. The strategy is working. Gabriela’s DACA was renewed in only 4 weeks, and now she can safely wait for immigration to make a decision on her visa petition.

(Name changed for privacy reasons)

Three Common Pitfalls in the H-1B Process

The start of the new year is a good time to get serious about H-1B applications. An H-1B is a work visa for professional-level employees, such as IT workers, engineers, accountants, and many others. With luck, and in the hands of an experienced immigration attorney, H-1B visas are an effective tool to attract and retain talented workers from outside of the US. However, there are many places where the H-1B application can fall apart. Here are three common pitfalls.

A job that is not professional enough. An H-1B is not appropriate for all jobs. While the word “professional” encompasses many jobs that qualify for H-1Bs, that is not the test that immigration uses. Instead, immigration consults the Department of Labor to see if the job in question requires entry-level workers for the job in question to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific major or in one of a closely-related group of majors. This is known as a “speciality occupation.” The definition is specific because immigration can be picky on this point. The job of ‘architect,’ for example, really does always require at least a bachelor’s degree in architecture. For other jobs, especially jobs in business fields, this is not always true. Where the job does not clearly qualify as a “specialty occupation,” you can expect pushback from immigration. Inexperienced attorneys sometimes confuse the job requirements as explained by the Department of Labor with the employer’s idiosyncratic job requirements or even with the employee’s qualifications for the job. This mistake is understandable, but often fatal. Be sure your immigration attorney knows to watch for this pitfall and how to avoid it.

Showing there is sufficient work. The H-1B program is politically-charged and has been abused in the past. One abuse is know as “benching.” This is the practice of hiring an IT worker for a particular project and, once the project is complete, keeping the worker on standby until a new project opens. This practice violates immigration rules because any H-1B worker must actually be working and not just waiting for work. Smaller or new IT companies can expect immigration to demand proof that there is sufficient work for the H-1B worker to do. Immigration will want to see contracts between the employer and clients/customers along with work orders under these contracts. The contracts and work orders need to show that there is enough professional-level work for the H-1B worker to do. Inexperienced attorneys may rely on employer statements that work will be available or even financial documents showing enough funds to pay for the worker. These items will help allay immigration’s fears, but likely will not be enough for an approval. Be sure your immigration attorney knows if proof of future work will be needed and how to prove it.

An immigration attorney who charges too little. Preparing a thorough and complete H-1B application takes several hours of work, but it is often only part of a longer process. In many cases (especially in those cases noted above), immigration will not make a yes/no decision based on the initial application. Instead, immigration frequently issues a “request for evidence.” Some attorneys will make it clear that their fees for legal services include responding to a request for evidence. Other attorneys leave this as an unpleasant surprise down the road. In fact, responding to a request for evidence can easily take more time and effort than the initial H-1B application, so this surprise fee may be more than double the initially-quoted fee. Be sure you know how your immigration attorney will charge you for this.

Conclusion. Of course, these are just three common pitfalls. Numerous other considerations go into each H-1B application. If you are considering an H-1B, talk with your immigration attorney soon, and remember to discuss the points above. The H-1B application window is the first week of April, but a successful application takes several weeks at a minimum to put together. Don’t delay!

Success Story: Matt and Peter

Matt and Peter met years ago when they wound up at the same house party. Over time, Matt and Peter started spending more time together and began dating. Unfortunately, work and school obligations pushed the two to different states. The long-distance arrangement didn't last, so the two decided to move to Chicago and have been living together ever since. As Peter's graduate program concluded, he began working under his student visa. But the couple wanted a more permanent solution. They asked Southam Law to help apply for a green card for Peter. Southam Law worked with them to obtain documentation from out of state and abroad to put together a complete application packet. Southam Law further prepared Matt and Peter for their green card interview and went with them to this interview. Everything went as smooth as possible, and the green card application was approved the day of the interview. Peter is now a permanent resident of the US, and Peter and Matt can rest easier in the security that comes with that status.

(Please note that each case is different. This story is not a guarantee of future success in any case. Also note that names have been changed for privacy purposes.)

The (impossible) logistics of mass deportation

Could the president-elect actually deport millions of people? Legally, yes. Logistically and politically, the answer is unclear.

Right now, according to the Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), immigration courts throughout the United States have approximately 520,000 active cases in “removal” proceedings, the official name for deportation. The average removal proceeding takes 571 days to process. But that number is misleading. In practice, cases tend to move much more quickly if the immigrant does not contest removal and agrees to leave. In contrast, cases tend to endure for several years if the immigrant contests removal. What would happen if the president-elect added millions of new cases to this system? In a word: paralysis.

The president-elect has promised to remove “criminals,” sometimes citing a figure of 2 or 3 million persons. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 1.9 million immigrants are removable because they have committed crimes. According to the Migration Policy Institute, only 820,000 of this number are immigrants without lawful status; the other 1.1 million already have green cards. It is not clear if the president-elect wants to deport only the 820,000 or the 1.9 million. But even using the lower figure, the docket in immigration courts would balloon to 1.3 million, or 2.5 times what it takes now. That would push the average case processing time to 1428 days (just shy of 4 years). If the president-elect tried to deport 1.9 million persons, the average case processing time would jump to 2657 days (or 7.2 years). And it bears repeating that that figure is for the average processing time, not the processing time in a contested matter. The delays in a contested case would far outlive the term of any president.

One strategy the president-elect could use would be an increase in funding. But the president-elect has promised to institute a hiring freeze in the federal government. Without additional immigration judges, there would be no way to speed this process up. Indeed, even at the current staffing level, the immigration court backlog is estimated to increase to 1 million by 2022. The combination of a steady staffing level plus a deluge of new cases would completely overwhelm the court. Another strategy that some fear is that the president-elect would just skip the immigration court system altogether and simply deport people. Such a move would fly in the face of due process and basic notions of justice and fairness. Politically, such a move would be suicide.

In sum, it is unclear what the president-elect will do. But what is clear is that his campaign promises are now meeting the harsh reality of actual government. The election result will still harm millions of immigrant families, but the worst case scenario of rapid mass deportation is unlikely both logistically and politically.

Thoughts on the 2016 Election

I once read an article that indicated well over ninety percent of immigration lawyers are Democrats. It was unsurprising. When the rhetoric of the two party nominees for President are placed side by side, this choice is understandable. Indeed, this election has painted the Democrats as the party for immigration and the Republicans as the party against immigration. But immigration should not be a partisan issue. Immigration law unites a wide swath of interests across party lines. Business interests want streamlined paths for work visas. Community and charitable groups want to help millions of individuals regularize their immigration status. And everyone agrees that immigration law should work to promote family unity.

None of these goals are strictly partisan. Republican business interests may favor streamlined paths for work visas while “law and order” Republicans might balk at regularizing status for millions. Democrats seem more likely to stand behind a regularization scheme even while pro-Democrat unions worry about the effects of streamlined work visas. And individuals around the country may worry about the effects of immigration on US labor markets and US culture and society. One tragic byproduct of this election is the extent to which politicians have used that last point to foment xenophobia.

But we as a nation are better than that. It is true that the problems of immigration are complex, but they are not insurmountable. Xenophobia is not the answer. The real answer is for both parties to make a system that is fair and efficient. Right now, immigration law is neither. Comprehensive immigration reform is an absolute necessity. Indeed, a comprehensive immigration reform bill has previously been approved by the Republican-led Senate and has been supported by a Democratic President. And while such reform will not solve all partisan woes or create a perfect immigration system, it’s a start.

Whoever wins the Presidential election will inherit a mess. But I hope some real opportunities for change and growth will come from that mess. And I hope that comprehensive immigration reform – a bipartisan wish and need – comes first.

Immigration and Privilege

“If he wins, I’m moving to Canada.” I take this quip as both the joke and the warning it is intended to be. But the quip highlights something else. Picking up and moving to another country is an option for individuals with edcuation, connections, and resources. To that list, I will add citizenship in a developed nation. Not everyone enjoys all of thse things, and this fact highlights something that is easy to overlook: the intersection of immigration and privilege.

The United States, like many of our allies, is a developed nation. And while US society (and societies in every nation) has classes of people with more or less privilege than others, a step back shows just how privilege much US citizenship carries. Do you want to visit Hong Kong, the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Chile, Egypt, the Philippines, Sweden, Mexico, or … ? Well if you are a citizen of the United States, just bring a passport. The same is true if you are a citizen of the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, etc. But if you are a citizen of Chile, Egypt, the Philippines, Mexico, or many others, you better do your research. Some places might let you in, but many will require a visa in advance. And getting that visa is no easy task. Ciku Kimeria, a citizen of Kenya, writes about the barriers many Africans face when traveling abroad. Kimeria describes a night she unexpectedly spent at the Istanbul airport because Kenyan citizens are not eligible for a Turkish visa upon arrival. This freedom of global movement that citizens of developed nations enjoy is a kind of privilege.

Why does this privilege exist? One answer is economics. The United States and other developed economies are afraid that if they let everyone into their countries, many will never leave. Policy makers in developed countries know that simply existing in a developed country is a privilege that billions of people do not have. The visa requirement keeps these billions of people from unfettered access, as Kimeria sadly knows. While a visa-free world would solve this particular issue of privilege, it would have many unintended consequences. And frankly, a visa-free world would is not politically possible. Still, it is important to always keep in mind the privilege that comes with the legal option of quick and easy global travel. This is a luxury of the developed world.

The Judiciary Can't Help Immigrant Minors

In a disappointing decision, the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that it did not have the authority to consider whether minors in immigration court have a right to a government-funded attorney. (Story here.) Unlike criminal courts, immigration courts have no system like public defenders. And while the public defender system has many problems, at least there is a system in place. Not so for thousands of immigrants who cannot afford to hire private attorneys and instead face the immigration court on their own. This system seemed patently unfair, especially considering that minors often wind up in immigration alone. In legal terms, lawyers argued that the lack of government-funded attorneys violated the due process rights. There was hope that minors would present an especially sympathetic case. And indeed, the court took the unusual step of calling on the President and Congress to solve the problem. Judge Margaret McKeown wrote: “I cannot let the occasion pass without highlighting the plight of unrepresented children who find themselves in immigration proceedings … I write to underscore that the Executive and Congress have the power to address this crisis without judicial intervention. What is missing here? Money and resolve—political solutions that fall outside the purview of the courts.” Judge Milan Smith signed onto this opinion, further emphasizing the need for a solution to this problem. So while there was no victory for immigrant minors, there is a strong sign of public pressure to fix the problem.

Immigration Officials Want To See Your Social Media

Customs and Border Protection recently announced an intention to begin collecting social media information about individuals who enter the US under the visa waiver program. (Source Article.) That program allows citizens of trusted countries to enter the US without a visa, merely by registering online a little in advance. The program greatly facilitates international travel with some of the US’s most trusted allies like the UK, Japan, Australia, Germany, etc. The new rule would ask individuals to provide their social media alias when they register online. Immigration officials would then ostensibly review the social media activity of individuals prior to green-lighting their entry into the US. On the one hand, the proposal is not intrusive because individuals who have social media accounts are already putting things into the public realm. But on the other hand, this seems like a solution in search of a problem. Are citizens of trusted countries really likely to be concealing damming information on social media accounts? Will there be any benefit in expending the resources that it will take to program this change into the registration system and then to review the social media accounts in question? It seems highly unlikely. But as with many things related to immigration enforcement, resources seem to be no object. Additionally, as immigration officials blissfully point out at every opportunity, constitutional protections (like the right to privacy) don’t apply to individuals attempting to enter the US. The combination of nearly limitless resources and the lack of constitutional protections ensures that this program, sadly, is quite likely to go into effect.

Immigration Detention is as Horrible as Ever

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recetnly announced that it will phase out the use of private prisons within the federal prison system. This is a great move, but it’s bittersweet. While DOJ is in charge of federal prisons generally, it is not in charge of immigration detention. Instead, immigration detention falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And DHS shows no intention of phasing out its use of private prisons. In fact, DHS just quietly awarded a $1 billion no-bid contract to an existing private prison company. The contract pays a fee that is not tied to the number of detained persons, an arrangment that is unusual in the private prison industry. DHS justifies its use of private prisons as a way to shift the risks/costs of unpredictable needs onto private industry. Assuming that this argument makes sense – an assumption that seems very dubious – DHS is doing nothing to prevent the deplorable conditions of immigraiton detention. Prisoners are kept in squalid conditions, denied access to basic needs, and outinely spend months and months waiting to a judge. DHS recently fought vigorously to prevent the release of photographs showing the inhumane conditions in which immigrants are housed. The photos speak for themselves. DHS also continues to fight for their ability to detain minor children in direct violation of a prior settlement agreement and court order. It seems there is a world of difference between the culture at DOJ and DHS. And tragically, the persons who are suffering the most are people who came to the US looking for refuge. They are asylum seekers who fled their nearly lawless home countries in central america because of very real threats to their lives. The US has treated these people – who have broken no laws in the US – worse than we treat actual criminals. DHS has no moral justification for its use of such prisons. DOJ’s announcement only highlights how unacceptable DHS practices are.

Mam and Quiché in Immigration Courts

A couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Times published this story about language problems that asylum seekers from Guatemala and Honduras can face. While many people think of these countries as Spanish-speaking, that misses a range of linguistic diversity. In fact, two languages from this region have become so frequent that they are now the 10th and 11th most common languages in US immigration court: Mam and Quiché. These languages have surpassed French in US immigration courts. But this raises an difficult problem. Courts have no trouble finding translators for, say, French or Spanish. (In fact, many immigration courts directly employ Spanish-language translators.) But finding speakers of Mam and Quiché are a different story. There simply aren’t so many speakers of these languages. In some contexts, like the asylum office, applicants have the obligation to find their own interpreters. But in immigration court, it’s the court itself that provides translators. This, inevitably, leads to delays in court cases and, unfortunately, errors in translation. The end result could be a denied application and deportation.

There is no clear answer to this problem. The United States does not have an official language, and even if it did, basic concerns of justice demand that everyone have linguistic access to courts. The costs and logistics prevent courts from reaching the ideal of full access, but that is not a reason to excuse courts from trying. No doubt, courts will find ways to address this problem, as more speakers of Mam, Quiché, and other languages gain experience and certification in translating. In the meantime, however, the lack of translators is leading to delayed and denied justice.

Expansion of Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver

On Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a final regulation that expands the provisional unlawful presence waiver. This waiver is necessary for persons who have a qualifying relative in the United States (a spouse or a parent where the spouse or parent is a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident) but who cannot get a green card from within the United States. The most common reason that a green card is not available in the United States is because that person entered without inspection (e.g., by hiring a “coyote” to sneak into the US). However, the previous rule only benefited persons who had citizen family members. The new rule will expand the program to persons who have lawful permanent resident family members. The expansion does not (and by law cannot) eliminate the need for a trip outside of the US to get a valid visa and a valid entry. The expansion also takes away some certainty that was present in the prior program. Still, the expansion of the program to help the largest possible number of immigrants is a welcome change!.

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