Category: Department of Homeland Security


Immigration and the Executive

December 19th, 2011 — 11:16am

While the Justice Department efforts to protect individual rights and to preserve the right of the federal government to enforce immigration law have been laudatory, a number of other significant policies of the current Administration have angered pro-immigration supporters, not the least of which has been the record number of deportations that have transpired in the last three years. Some 1.2 million undocumented foreign nationals have been deported since President Obama took up office, compared to almost 1.6 million deported during the eight-year Presidency of George Bush. In FY2011 alone, an unprecedented 400,000 people were deported. However, just last month the Administration took real action to provide relief for the undocumented who pose no threat to the country and who commit no crime.

Prosecutorial Discretion

 A new DHS-ICE policy encouraging the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in appropriate cases was launched in mid-November – complete with fairly comprehensive guidelines and procedures – and is being piloted in Baltimore and Denver, December 4 through January 13, 2012. DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) had announced in June its intent to eliminate low priority cases from the immigration court dockets and instead focus its enforcement priorities on the removal of those who have broken criminal laws, threats to national security, recent border crossers, repeat violators of immigration law, and immigration court fugitives. In August, DHS and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issued a directive to ICE attorneys to review pending court cases as well as cases where a charging document had not yet been filed to determine if the agency should decide not to prosecute the case. DHS also announced the establishment of a joint DHS-DOJ working group to review the approximately 300,000 pending cases and identify cases for administrative closure. The pilot program just launched was designed to identify cases most clearly eligible and ineligible for a favorable exercise of discretion. During a six-week period, USCIS, ICE, and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) attorneys are to review cases according to the agency’s general prosecutorial discretion guidance as well as by a set of more focused criteria. Ultimately, DHS expects to implement “best practices” on an ongoing basis nationwide.

While it is still too soon to judge the results of the pilot program and the impact of the agency’s new policy, in Baltimore, at least, removal cases normally set in December and January have been scheduled well into the future.  Stay tuned.

Other DHS guidance issued in November on when immigration charging documents should be issued dove-tails with its prosecutorial discretion policy.

Adjudications, Entrepreneurs, Small Business

More informally, the Administration has engaged the public and immigration stakeholders on a variety of issues and has done so more directly that ever before. Recently, the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office held an Annual Conference attended by 300 to discuss improving the delivery of immigration benefits and services. USCIS also has hosted a number of teleconferences with the public. A teleconference was held on USCIS’s then-changed policy on where and to whom I-797 approval notices are sent. (Feedback from the call contributed to USCIS changing its policy.) Another teleconference was held on small and start-up business immigration issues and involved not only immigration officials but those from the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies. On a related note, USCIS just launched an “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative and hopes to bring business experts in-house to work alongside USCIS staff to ensure that its policies are reflective of industry realities. This could be a valuable opportunity for business experts and immigrant entrepreneurs, especially those who have engaged in the U.S. immigration system through immigrant visa applications, to join USCIS’s tactical team and affect how the agency adjudicates cases. Business members, however, must be U.S. citizens. To apply for the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, see http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/careers/loaned-executive-business-expert-uscis.shtm

It’s anyone’s guess whether the Administration’s formal policy changes (prosecutorial discretion) or its informal meetings and public engagements will result is administrative fixes that have real teeth. At the end of the day, however, these changes represent only modest remedies to a system that cries out for wholesale reform.

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Immigration reform, Worksite enforcement policies

Immigration and the Courts

December 19th, 2011 — 11:11am

Supreme Court Enters Arizona Fray

On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether Arizona may impose its tough anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070, including a requirement that state-law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if the officials have reason to believe that the individual might be an undocumented immigrant. The Ninth Circuit blocked the provision and others in this Draconian, controversial law, which was enacted in 2010 and spawned copycat legislation in a number of other states.  By taking on the case, the Court has thrust itself into the center of American political life and will weigh in on what has been called one of the most combustible issues in American politics. The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in the case, however, may not have precedential value. Justice Elena Kagan will not take part in the decision of the high court – she worked on the issue previously while solicitor general – which raises the prospect of a 4 to 4 vote. If that were to happen, the Court’s decision would carry no precedential significance for the other state laws being challenged. The Court is expected to hear the case in April.

 Federal Court Challenges to Utah and South Carolina State Immigration Laws

In the wake of congressional inaction on immigration, state legislatures continue to attempt to reform the law and the federal government continues to wrestle with the states to maintain its control or preemptive rights over the issue. As these battles persist and are played out in the federal courts, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been center stage.  In addition to suits in Arizona and Alabama, DOJ recently filed a lawsuit in federal district court against a South Carolina law, Act No. 69, parts of which go into effect, on January 1.  Filed on behalf of the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security, the lawsuit argues that certain provisions of the South Carolina law are unconstitutional and interfere with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy. Then, on November 23, DOJ filed another suit, this time against Utah, to block implementation of HB 497, which mandates that local police enforce immigration laws. These laws are similar to those in Arizona (SB 1070) and Alabama. (The same day the Supreme Court accepted review of Arizona’s SB 1070, a federal court blocked a provision of Alabama’s immigration law that would have forced undocumented immigrants to leave their mobile homes. The ruling means that people paying for their annual mobile home registration tags required for residence will not have to prove their legal residency for now.)  DOJ is also reviewing laws in Georgia and Indiana that already have been challenged by private groups and individuals.

In its press releases announcing these lawsuits, DOJ cited the irreparable harm caused by the laws, including “the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens, who cannot readily prove their lawful status.” The reality of this concern was borne out recently when a German Mercedes Benz executive was arrested under Alabama’s anti-immigrant law while in town visiting the automaker’s facilities, followed by the arrest of a Japanese Honda employee also in Alabama.

Clearly, DOJ’s efforts in these cases reflect a commitment to protecting constitutional principles and individual rights, which we applaud.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, Worksite enforcement policies

Certain Provisions of Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law Blocked by Court; Others Go into Effect

November 2nd, 2011 — 2:11pm

In late September, a federal district court blocked certain portions of Alabama’s controversial immigration law, HB 56, from taking effect, ruling that there is a substantial likelihood that the U.S. government can establish that the provisions are preempted by federal law. The provisions upheld, however, include those that authorize local police to inquire about a driver’s immigration status during routine traffic stops or arrests if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the United States illegally; and requires public schools to verify students’ immigration status. The law also provides that undocumented foreign nationals can be charged criminally for willful failure to carry federal immigration papers, and any contracts entered into by an individual who is undocumented as well as transactions between any division of the state and an undocumented immigrant are legally nullifiable. The Department of Justice  (DOJ) sought an emergency stay of the decision at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on October 7th.

While the status of the law remains uncertain, its effects are already being felt.  Many undocumented immigrants are fleeing the state, workers are no longer reporting to their jobs, and undocumented children (and children of undocumented parents) are no longer attending classes. In requesting the emergency stay, the DOJ claimed that the new law was highly likely to expose persons lawfully here, including schoolchildren, to new difficulties in their daily affairs, and that the legislation could impact diplomatic relations with foreign countries. DOJ set up a hot line to report potential civil rights concerns related to the impact of Alabama’s immigration law.  Call 1‐855‐353‐1010 or email hb56@usdoj.gov.

While clearly one of the most draconian new state laws, the National Conference of State Legislature reports that from January 1 to June 30, 2011, 40 state legislatures have passed 151 immigration-related laws and 95 resolutions.

Zulkie Partners is nationally recognized for its command of immigration law. We offer services that cover all aspects of corporate immigration law, including nonimmigrant work visas, permanent residence sponsorship and more.

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you further your hiring goals.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, E-Verify, I-9, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Worksite enforcement policies

Administration Announces Initiatives to Promote Foreign Entrepreneurial Talent

August 22nd, 2011 — 10:28am

For years, America has sought the best and the brightest from business, academia, science, and the arts.  And, U.S. companies have sought to attract key, highly skilled professionals needed to manage, expand, and re-invigorate their operations here. But visa backlogs, limited visa availability, restrictive agency interpretations, and rigid adjudications all have had a chilling effect on those companies who seek to expand and create jobs in the U.S. through the petitioning of foreign personnel. Entrepreneurs, self-styled capitalists, and other self-employed self-starters, large and small, have experienced particular difficulty and uncertainty when applying for nonimmigrant or immigrant visa eligibility, never knowing whether their cases would be approved.  In many instances, the evidentiary burden as applied to them has been disproportionately onerous; in other instances, the documentary evidence required has been misconstrued and disconnected from real business practices.

It is against this backdrop and a tanking economy that USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently outlined – with much fanfare – “a series of new policy, operational, and outreach efforts” designed to help invigorate the economy and stimulate investment by making it easier for highly-skilled immigrants to start and grow companies and create jobs in the United States. Citing the need to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent of all kinds, immigration officials announced plans that could positively affect immigration visa eligibility in several categories if their plans are more than mere fantasy and hype.

National Interest Waivers (NIWs) for Entrepreneurs

First, the government announced that it “will clarify,” presumably with field adjudicators, that immigrant entrepreneurs may obtain employment-based second preference (EB-2) immigrant visas if they satisfy the existing requirements.  The law has always provided for such eligibility and perhaps USCIS is instructing adjudicators to merely apply the law. More notably, USCIS makes clear that entrepreneurs can qualify for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW), and sheds light on how such individuals can demonstrate that their business endeavors will be in the interest of the United States. Significantly, an individual seeking an EB-2 national interest waiver can self-petition; he does not need an employer to hire him.

Historically, the first step in proving EB-2 NIW eligibility, even for entrepreneurs, has been relatively easy. It requires that an individual is a professional holding an advanced degree or possesses “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered,” or exceptional ability. The second step, proving that the entrepreneur’s investment in a business venture will substantially serve the national interest, has been more challenging. To do so – to qualify for a national interest waiver – the entrepreneur must demonstrate that (1) the proposed employment or work has substantial intrinsic merit; (2) that the benefit to be provided will be national in scope; and (3) that the national benefit is so great that it exempts the individual from undergoing the lengthy and costly process of testing the labor market for U.S. workers through the labor certification process.

In its August announcement, USCIS provides some examples on how an entrepreneur can meet the NIW, or second-step requirements.  To establish the national scope of the proposed benefit of the work, for instance, an entrepreneur could, describes USCIS, show a linkage between job creation in a locality and the spinoff of related jobs in other parts of the country. Alternatively, he could show that local job creation will have a positive national impact. USCIS also opines that an individual entrepreneur might be eligible for exemption from the labor certification process if he establishes that the enterprise is creating new job opportunities for U.S. workers or that it otherwise enhances the welfare of the United States. Through these examples and its broader pronouncement, USCIS seems to be signaling a break from current constructions of what is required and setting out new expectations for these kinds of cases.

Immigrant Investor (EB-5) Program

USCIS plans to enhance and streamline the Immigrant Investor (EB-5) Program. Some components of the streamlined program include a fast-track for applications of enterprises that are fully developed and ready to be implemented, premium processing for certain cases, and the implementation of direct communication between the applicant and USCIS to, among other things, resolve issues without the need for formal requests for additional evidence (RFEs). USCIS is developing a rollout of these changes with the first to be implemented in early September.

Expansion of Premium Processing for Immigrant Multinational Executives and Managers

USCIS also announced that it will expand premium processing service to multinational executives and managers immigrant visa petitions (EB-1-3). Premium processing, which guarantees adjudication in 15 days, is currently available for many other employment-based immigrant visa petitioners, including extraordinary ability foreign nationals and outstanding professors and researchers. However, EB-2 National Interest Waiver petitions remain conspicuously still absent from the premium processing list, an anomaly that is hard to explain. Surely, the certainty of a decision in 15 calendar days through premium processing would encourage a reluctant entrepreneur-petitioner to go forward and invest.  We hope USCIS will rethink this and add EB-2 NIW petitions to the list.

Nonimmigrant Visas

On the nonimmigrant side of the ledger, USCIS unfortunately provides little new guidance. It does, however, state that an H-1B beneficiary who is the sole owner (an employee-entrepreneur) of the petitioning company may establish a valid employer-employee relationship for the purposes of qualifying for an H-1B visa. This has long been a gray area and fraught with tremendous uncertainty in adjudication.

USCIS also announced plans to undertake extensive outreach efforts, including a series of engagement opportunities with stakeholders to seek input and feedback on how to address the unique circumstances of entrepreneurs, new businesses, and startup companies.  Certainly, other nonimmigrant work visas that are suitable for those in business – Es, Ls, and Os – will be the subject of such efforts and must be addressed. And, given the fanfare associated with the recent announcement, USCIS must be prepared to lay out its implementation plan in real and concrete terms.

Will New Policy Translate into Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Approvals?

Long advocated for by immigrant practitioners, economists, business, and others, the ideas outlined by Secretary Napolitano and Director Mayorkas are welcome news, even if symbolic. The United States needs capital and talent to jump-start the economy, and foreign investors and entrepreneurs — natural risk takers – have long sought status in the United States to conduct business here. Moreover, these initiatives require no new visa category to be enacted and no expansion of visa numbers. What these initiatives do require, however, is flexibility and a common sense application of the law by USCIS and State Department adjudicators. Such decision-makers must be instructed and trained to adapt the specific particularities of everyday business practice to immigration visa criteria, and abandon their more widespread rigid, checklist approach to adjudication.

So, will foreign companies that operate and expand operations in the U.S. see fewer hurdles when seeking to transfer their executive and managerial employees? Will self-starters with big ideas, some capital, and job creation prospects secure green cards? Will EB-5 immigrant investors have greater assurance that the conditions on their residence will be removed? Will foreign E-1 traders and E-2 investors – while not specifically addressed – have more confidence in their renewal applications? Most importantly, will these initiatives trickle down to the field?  Or, is the Emperor wearing no clothes.  Stay tuned….

Zulkie Partners is nationally recognized for its command of immigration law. We offer services that cover all aspects of corporate immigration law, including nonimmigrant work visas, permanent residence sponsorship and more.

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you further your hiring goals.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, H-1B, I-140, Lawful permanent resident

Controversial Secure Communities Initiative Continues But Without Agreements with States

August 22nd, 2011 — 10:18am

In an abrupt change of approach to a key immigration enforcement program, ICE declared in early August that it would continue its “Secure Communities” program but without memoranda of agreements (MOA) with state or local law enforcement agencies because ICE deemed them unnecessary. MOAs already in place were unilaterally terminated.  Under the three-year-old Secure Communities program, the FBI shares fingerprint data of people arrested by local (or state) law enforcement authorities with DHS so that it, in turn, can check for immigration law violations. Procedurally, the program has been criticized by some state and local governments for lack of uniformity, inconsistency, and confusion. For example, local authorities have been led to believe that the program is “voluntary” when in fact there is no mechanism for them to opt out. More substantively, the program has been criticized for netting low-level or non-criminal immigration violators – 60% of those arrested are not serious criminals according to ICE statistics – at the expense of local community policing efforts. Indeed, as reported in the Washington Post, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino assessed the program more bluntly, and wrote to ICE Director Morton that “Secure Communities is negatively impacting public safety.” Despite the criticisms, ICE plans to have the program in place nationwide by 2013.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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