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Another Brick in the (Virtual) Wall: Implications of USCIS’s New Policy Regarding Removal Proceedings Against Denied Applicants Who Are Not “Lawfully Present”

In a November 2017 article, the Washington Post described “How Trump is building a border wall that no one can see”: how the Trump Administration was, “in a systematic and less visible way . . . following a blueprint to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States those who are undocumented and those here legallyand overhaul the U.S. immigration system for generations to come.”  A month later, the New York Times published a similar article on Trump Administration efforts to reduce legal immigration using existing executive authorities.  The latest guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding when USCIS will issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) is another step in that direction, and an even more problematic one than it might appear to be at first glance.

USCIS recently announced in a Policy Memorandum, PM-602-0050.1, that it is changing the way it decides whether to issue an NTA placing someone into removal proceedings in immigration court.  In all cases other than those involving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is the subject of separate NTA guidance, this new memorandum supersedes the previous USCIS NTA guidance that had been in effect since 2011.

The new NTA guidance in PM-602-0050.1 is said to be intended to implement the Trump Administration’s enforcement priorities as set out in the January 2017 Executive Order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  It lists a number of scenarios in which an NTA will generally be issued absent high-level approval to do otherwise, but perhaps the most significant is one buried at the bottom of page 7 of the memorandum, after discussion of various scenarios relating to fraud or criminal cases.  The memorandum states there that “USCIS will issue an NTA where, upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present in the United States.”  This encompasses a wide variety of scenarios.

The new guidance’s apparent conversion of USCIS into an immigration-enforcement entity, contrary to the agency’s originally-intended mission as a benefits-granting entity distinct from the enforcement activities of other Department of Homeland Security components, has drawn criticism from the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, among others.  The criticism has understandably been from a broad, overarching perspective, and the new NTA policy is indeed deeply problematic from that perspective.  Some of the practical implications of the new policy, however, are also worth exploring in more detail.

By indicating that an NTA will be issued when, “upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present,” the new guidance implies that it will not matter if the person issued the NTA was lawfully present until just prior to the unfavorable decision.  That is, if an applicant for extension of nonimmigrant stay, change of nonimmigrant status, or adjustment of status was protected from the accrual of unlawful presence by the pendency of their application, but became unlawfully present the day that the denial was issued and mailed, it would seem that an NTA will follow.

Given the substantial processing times for many applications for change of status or extension of stay, this criterion could capture a great many nonimmigrants who in good faith applied to change to a different status, or extend their stay, well before their initial period of authorized stay expired.  According to the USCIS webpage regarding processing times, for example, an I-539 application for extension of stay or change of status which is processed at the USCIS Vermont Service Center is estimated to take between 9 months and 11.5 months.  So even someone who applies 9 months before the expiration of their initially authorized stay likely will not receive a decision before that period expires, and will thus be unlawfully present upon the issuance of an unfavorable decision on their application and subject to an NTA under the new USCIS policy.  Indeed, if a tourist or business visitor admitted for 6 months wishes to apply for an extension of stay or change of status, it would be mathematically impossible to do so far enough in advance to avoid this consequence in the event of a denial, because the projected processing time is longer than their entire initial period of admission!

Petitions and applications for extension of stay or change of status could also be denied for reasons which the nonimmigrant in question may not have anticipated.  As my partner Cyrus Mehta has pointed out, the new NTA guidance could apply, for example, to an H-1B skilled worker affected by new stricter USCIS policies regarding H-1B approvals, if the denial of an application for extension of stay comes after the expiration of the worker’s prior status.  It could also apply to an F-1 student who is the innocent victim of a mistake by a Designated School Official (DSO), or a B tourist or business visitor whom a USCIS officer decides has not given a sufficiently compelling explanation of why they want to remain for an extended but still temporary period of time.

Even one who has applied in good faith for a change of status or extension of stay, expecting it to be granted, may therefore under the new policy be placed in removal proceedings. Subjecting well-meaning temporary workers, students, tourists and other nonimmigrants to immigration court proceedings, and even potential detention, just because USCIS disagrees with the merits of their application for extension of stay or change or adjustment of status, is indicative of a malicious attitude towards noncitizens that we have also seen in other contexts from this Administration.

Because of what is likely to happen next in many such cases, this new policy is not merely malicious, but counterproductive as well, even when evaluated according to the goals that the Administration is presumably trying to accomplish (unless the Administration is more interested in harassing noncitizens, and generally deterring them from coming to the United States, than in encouraging timely departure following the denial of particular applications).  Initial hearings in removal proceedings often take several months to schedule even with the current backlog at the immigration courts, which will presumably get worse, not better, under the new NTA policy.  So our hypothetical denied applicant for change of status or extension of stay, who may have been planning to depart from the United States shortly after receiving the denial, will now be instructed to await an immigration court hearing in several months.  If he or she chooses to leave the United States in the meantime, and is unable to return for the removal hearing, this could result in a five-year bar to returning to the United States, pursuant to section 212(a)(6)(B) of the INA, which provides that “Any alien who without reasonable cause fails or refuses to attend or remain in attendance at a proceeding to determine the alien’s inadmissibility or deportability and who seeks admission to the United States within 5 years of such alien’s subsequent departure or removal is inadmissible.”  An order of removal issued at such a hearing could also potentially lead to inadmissibility for ten years under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the INA, although the text of the statute (which refers to seeking admission “within 10 years of the date of such alien’s departure or removal”) suggests that this second bar ought not to apply where the person has already left at the time of the removal order (and unlike section 212(a)(6)(B) inadmissibility, 212(a)(9)(A) inadmissibility can at least be overcome by a grant of permission to reapply for admission under section 212(a)(9)(A)(iii) of the INA).  Thus, the statute provides a strong incentive for our hypothetical denied applicant, having been placed in removal proceedings, not to leave the United States before his or her hearing.

As long as the immigration court proceedings take place within one year of the denial of a timely-filed application for change of status or extension of stay by one who has not worked without authorization, our hypothetical denied applicant is likely to be better off staying in the United States to attend his or her hearing, so as to avoid the above-discussed types of inadmissibility, and then seeking voluntary departure under section 240B of the INA.  (The three-year bar for those unlawfully present for more than 180 days but less than one year, under section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the INA, only applies by its terms to those who departed “prior to the commencement of proceedings under  . . . section 240” and so does not apply to someone placed in removal proceedings, though the ten-year bar for one year of unlawful presence under section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) would apply.)  Thus, in this instance, the virtual wall will operate to keep in the United States for a substantial additional period of time someone who may have been perfectly willing to leave on their own shortly after the denial of their application for change of status or extension of stay, had they not been placed in removal proceedings.

In the presence of ever more outrageous immigration policies from the Trump Administration, such as the separation of children from their parents and the recent news that the Administration will likely fail to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunify separated children under 5 with their parents, there is a risk that more subtle anti-immigration measures may be overlooked.  As with other Trump Administration malfeasance, however, it is important not to succumb to such “outrage fatigue”.  The fact that the Administration has done even worse things does not mitigate the callous and counterproductive nature of a decision to place many well-meaning nonimmigrants in removal proceedings, and effectively prevent them from leaving the United States in a timely fashion after denial of an application even if they wish to do so.

More Alternative Facts: The Orwellian Abuse of Language in Connection with Donald Trump’s Recent Executive Orders on Immigration

Following an incident in which White House press secretary Sean Spicer provided false numbers regarding the size of the crowds at the inauguration of Donald Trump as President, Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway memorably stated on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Mr. Spicer had merely been providing “alternative facts.”  This claim has, deservedly, been the subject of much ridicule.  As host Chuck Todd stated during that same interview in response to what one article rightly termed an “Orwellian turn of phrase”: “Alternative facts are not facts.  They’re falsehoods.”  Such disregard for the truth has been a common feature of the early days of the Trump Administration.

The same Orwellian approach to language has been evident in the Trump Administration’s recently issued executive orders regarding immigration.  Both the January 25, 2017, Executive Order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” and the January 27, 2017, Executive Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” involve in different ways a very troubling relationship with the notion of truth.  (The orders also have a number of other deeply objectionable aspects, too many to fully address in one blog post, although many other blog posts, editorials, and op-eds by other authors on the subject are well worth reading.)

The January 25 executive order, among other changes to enforcement policy, creates a list of priorities for removal which, at first glance, is intended to focus in large part on criminals.  As the New York Times explained in an article published the day the order was issued, however, the executive order in effect defines the notion of a criminal for these purposes to include people charged with a criminal offense but never convicted of anything, as well as anyone who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” (or, more precisely, anyone believed by the immigration authorities to have done so).

These priorities thus include people quite far afield from any traditional notion of what it means to be a “criminal”.  It is, or used to be, a tradition of long standing in this country that one charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The mere fact that someone has “been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved,” to quote from Section 5(b) of the January 25 executive order, does not make them a criminal.  They might be innocent of any wrongdoing, and might be acquitted as the criminal case moved forward.  The idea that any technically removable person will become a high priority by virtue of an unresolved charge, of which they may be completely innocent, is therefore very troubling.  While merely being a priority is not itself a basis for removal, the executive order implies that the Administration could pursue removal of someone facing unresolved criminal charges who had overstayed a nonimmigrant admission for a short period of time, or failed to file a change of address and could not sufficiently establish that the failure was non-willful or excusable.

The notion that anyone who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” will be a priority for removal even if not convicted of any charge is also troubling, and has broader implications than may be apparent at first glance.  Entry without inspection is a misdemeanor under 8 U.S.C. 1325, for example, so this priority could be read to apply to anyone who crossed the border without authorization, at least as an adult—even if that entry took place many years ago.

The January 27 executive order, which bars entry by nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya for 90 days subject to possible future extensions, and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, rests even more fully on a disconnect from the truth. It purports to be focused on protecting the U.S. from “Terrorist” entry, and yet it applies to many people who are extremely unlikely to be terrorists.  Besides a distaste for refugee admissions generally, it seems to be based on antagonism towards predominantly Muslim countries, and has thus been referred to as a “Muslim ban”—although it ironically does not apply to the few predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens were responsible for the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 that it invokes, such as Saudi Arabia, the country of citizenship of 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers.  (It has been pointed out that the ban appears to leave out countries where Donald Trump has done business.)  Instead, the entry ban focuses on countries which either Congress or DHS previously deemed worthy of being a basis for exclusion from the Visa Waiver Program in the event that an otherwise VWP-eligible person had dual nationality in them or had visited them—an exclusion which, while it had some perverse effects, simply meant that such people had to apply for visas and thus be subjected to additional scrutiny.  This new order, however, applies to people who already have been granted visas (or documents to travel to the United States as refugees, which are not technically quite the same thing), following intense scrutiny and under circumstances that make it quite unlikely they would actually be terrorists.

Perhaps the first and most obvious example of those who can be deemed potential “terrorists” only by Orwellian abuse of the word are those who were granted permission to immigrate specifically due to their service to the United States, such as the special immigrants issued visas based on their work for the U.S. military in Iraq.  The lead plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit that resulted in the first temporary injunction blocking deportation of those affected by the executive order, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was a former U.S. Army translator in Iraq who had received his special immigrant visa based on that service and had been twice targeted by terrorists in Iraq because of that service.  The Pentagon has now indicated that it will submit to the White House a list of Iraqis who have worked alongside the United States so that they may possibly be exempted from the entry ban.  That there was no exemption of such people from the January 27th executive order, and no promise even now that such people will be exempted, is even more outrageous than the executive order itself. The notion that blocking Mr. Darweesh’s entry would protect the U.S. from “terrorists” is a falsehood much graver than Mr. Spicer’s original alternative facts regarding crowd size.

While perhaps the most obvious example, however, those who served the U.S. military in Iraq are far from the only people affected by the January 27 executive order who cannot reasonably be associated with terrorism.  The executive order at least temporarily bars refugees from all countries of the world, including countries with no connection whatsoever to any past terrorist attack against the United States.  It also bars refugees persecuted by the very same extremist groups which might seek to do us harm, and whose cases have undergone extensive vetting before they reach the stage of applying for admission.  The January 27 executive order seemingly ignores the extensive screening that already exists for all refugees and visa applicants.

Despite all this, the Administration has sought to remove people covered by the January 27 executive order from the United States as soon as they arrive, without taking any time to investigate whether they might conceivably be reasonably suspected of any connection with terrorism.  Fortunately, the courts have stepped in, with both the aforementioned injunction in Mr. Darweesh’s class action and several others.  These injunctions did not come soon enough for all of the innocent victims of the executive order, however.  At least one habeas plaintiff was removed from the United States while an application for a temporary restraining order was pending, although Judge Dolly Gee of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has now ordered that Ali Vayeghan be returned to the United States.  Others, however, were removed or coerced to withdraw their applications for admission under circumstances that make their return less likely.

The Administration even initially sought to apply the entry ban to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) of the United States with citizenship in one of the 7 affected countries—that is, people with “green cards”, who have already been cleared to live here permanently.  That was extremely legally questionable in the view of this author, given that the power relied upon by the January 27 executive order, section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, authorizes the President to suspend the “entry” of certain aliens, and many LPRs returning from brief trips are under section 101(a)(13)(C) of the INA not to “be regarded as seeking an admission into the United States”.  Since section 101(a)(13)(A) of the INA defines “admission” as  “the lawful entry of the alien into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer,” it would appear to follow that one who is inspected, and should not be regarded as seeking admission, also should not be regarded as seeking entry.  That would also be consistent with the purpose of section 101(a)(13)(C) to codify a modified version of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449 (1963), which held under prior law that an LPR did not make an “entry” following an innocent, casual, and brief departure from the United States.   The issue may not need to be resolved in litigation in the near future, however, because the DHS Secretary, General John Kelly, determined Sunday that “the entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest”, and so “absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in [DHS’s] case-by-case determinations.”  That is, LPRs from the affected countries will be allowed to return to the United States in most instances.  It is consistent with the theme of this blog, though, that the Administration initially sought to redefine “entry” as something other than what it ought to mean under immigration law, and still evidently reserves the right to do so if it feels it is in possession of “significant derogatory information.”

Nor are the redefinition of “entry” and the basic disconnect regarding the relevance of this entry ban to “terrorism” the only alternative facts underpinning the January 27 executive order.  The order indicates that when refugee admissions resume, preference is to be given to religious minorities, which has been understood as intended to mean Christians in predominantly Muslim countries (although there are countries where Muslims are in the minority as well).  Mr. Trump’s suggestion that Christian refugees had previously had “no chance” of coming to the United States is, however, also untrue.  As the New York Times has explained, “In 2016, the United States admitted almost as many Christian refugees (37,521) as Muslim refugees (38,901), according to the Pew Research Center.”  Many Christian leaders have denounced the entry ban.

There is also Mr. Trump’s false claim that “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”  In fact, the narrowly focused increase in screening of refugees and applicants for Special Immigrant Visas from one country, during which some Iraqis nonetheless continued to be admitted to the United States each month of the six months in question, is in no way “similar” to a months-long outright ban on entry of nearly all citizens from seven countries.  Moreover, the heightened screening created in 2011 is still in place, so the fact that scrutiny of Iraqi refugees and visa applicants was increased six years ago cannot reasonably be offered as a reason for suspending their entry now.

The fictional Superman was known for defending “truth, justice, and the American way.”  Based on his disregard for the truth, Donald Trump has perpetrated a great injustice, one inconsistent with the American way of hospitality towards immigrants and refugees.  Several Democratic leaders have indicated that they will propose bills in Congress to overturn the January 27 executive order, and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer unsuccessfully attempted Monday to get consent for a vote on such a bill.  Such bills face highly uncertain prospects in the Republican Congress, given that House Speaker Paul Ryan seemed to express support for the executive orders in his statement on the subject, but we can hope—and, for those of us whose representatives are not already on record in favor, can contact them to urge their support.  Donations to the ACLU in connection with its pending lawsuit against the January 27 executive order are another way to show opposition to the entry ban.

Alternative facts are bad enough when they concern something as trivial as crowd size.  That they would be relied upon to harm innocent immigrants is unacceptable.

Is Trump’s Proposed Scrapping of the H-1B Lottery in Favor of the Highest Wage Such A Good Idea?

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese-Halvorson

Employers have already begun preparing for the upcoming H-1B visa lottery season.  The annual H-1B cap is limited to 65,000 visas per year for applicants with bachelor’s degrees, and an additional 20,000 for those with master’s degrees from US universities. The filing period begins on April 1, 2017. H-1B petitions received during the first five business days of April – April 3 to April 7 – will be given consideration under the lottery. Based on last year’s filings, the odds of getting an H-1B visa in the lottery is approximately 33%.

The H-1B lottery has been viewed as benefitting larger employers, mainly Indian IT firms that file a large number of petitions, over smaller employers who wish to focus on employing a single or few employees. A class action lawsuit, Tenrec, Inc. v. USCIS, challenging the annual H-1B lottery as contravening the INA, seeks to disrupt the status quo by allowing all employers to file on a first come first served basis. Under this plan, those who are not among the first 85,000 H-1B petitions received would be placed in a queue or wait list instead of being denied due to the quota having already been met. If this lawsuit is successful, it will certainly produce a long queue for the coveted 85,000 H-1B visas, and so most will still not benefit even after the lottery is dismantled.

Now Trump seeks to also disrupt the H-1B visa lottery, according to an article in Reuters. Specifically, Stephen Miller, senior advisor to the Trump administration, has suggested that the USCIS should abolish the H-1B lottery as we know it and replace it with a system which favors those who file on behalf of prospective employees with the highest wages. This proposal is similar to the one made by IIEE-USA, which, in addition to giving priority to employers who are willing to pay higher wages, suggest that the USCIS should also give lower priority to H-1B dependent employers. Most H-1B dependent employers, who have more than 15% of their workforce on H-1B visas happen to be Indian IT companies. This is also similar to the proposed reordering of access to H-1B visas in the Grassley-Durbin bill, which seeks to curtail the H-1B visa program in many other counterintuitive ways, including imposing mandatory recruitment of US workers before an H-1B petition is filed. Although a preeminent commentator, Vivek Wadhwa,  has praised the proposal on the grounds that Indian IT companies have been abusing the H-1B visa, we have several concerns about the proposed restructuring.

First, this preferential system would exclude entry-level professionals, some of whom have recently graduated from US universities. These entry-level professionals, while full of skill and talent, are not typically afforded higher wages at the beginning of their careers. If the H-1B program were to look unfavorably upon wage-earners commanding Level 1 wages in the DOL wage classification system, then we would be systematically excluding highly skilled, young workers that have the potential to positively impact the US economy and various professional sectors. While employers using the H-1B visa program have been criticized for excessively relying on the Level 1 wage, paying such a wage is not per se unlawful if the individual is being hired for a position with less than 2 years of experience and which requires supervision.

Second, by favoring foreign nationals with the highest wages, we may end up in a situation where a foreign national is making more than his or her American counterpart. Under the H-1B law, the employer must pay the higher of the prevailing or the actual wage. See INA 212(n)(1)(A)(i). If an employer wishes to bid for a worker by offering a higher than market wage, then the employer may have to adjust the wage for all similarly situated workers. This may not necessarily be a bad thing if all wages rise, but if the rise in wages is a result of an H-1B auction due to an artificial limitation in the number of visas, it could also have the effect of artificially distorting wages. It may also result in the inequitable result where American workers may be paid less than foreign H-1B workers, resulting not just in H-1B violations but also in discrimination lawsuits against employers. Therefore, under this proposal, the H-1B program may be criticized for causing imbalances between foreign and American workers.

Third, entrepreneurs who wish to obtain H-1B visas through their own startup companies will also suffer under this proposal. Their startups may not be able to pay them a higher wage than necessary in order to compete for an H-1B visa. Still, these startups hold promise to become successful and create jobs if the founder is able to remain in the US on an H-1B visa. This is why the USCIS provides entrepreneurs to get sponsored through existing visas such as the H-1B in the Entrepreneur Pathways Portal.  Although the USCIS has finalized a special parole rule for entrepreneurs, the final rule’s preamble acknowledges that Entrepreneurs Pathways compliments the parole rule and the two can thus harmoniously exist.  Even Wadhwa has stated that we are not encouraging startups and thus shooting ourselves in the foot, noting that “Google and Facebook can buy all the talent they want — it’s the startups who are struggling… The good thing is we have a powerful innovation system, and there are good things happening in Silicon Valley anyway, but the bad news is there’s a lot happening in other countries that would’ve happened here if we had let people come here. America gave a gift to the world.”

Fourth, while it has become fashionable to throw IT companies under the bus these days, they have to also be part of the solution. The use of IT consulting companies is widespread in America (where even the US government contracts for their services), and was acknowledged by Congress when it passed the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) by creating onerous additional attestations for H-1B dependent employers. The current enforcement regime has sufficient teeth to severely punish bad actors.  IT consulting employers who hire professional workers from India unfortunately seem to be getting more of a rap for indiscriminately using up the H-1B visa even if they abide by H-1B rules regarding wages. However, it is this business model that has provided reliability to companies in the United States and throughout the industrialized world to obtain top-tier talent quickly with flexibility, at affordable prices that benefit end consumers, and promote diversity of product development. This is what the oft-criticized “job shop” or “body shop” readily provides. By making possible a source of expertise that can be modified and redirected in response to changing demand, uncertain budgets, shifting corporate priorities, and unpredictable fluctuations in the business cycle itself, the pejorative reference to them as “job shop” is, in reality, the engine of technological ingenuity on which progress in the global information age largely depends. Such a business model is also consistent with free trade, which the US promotes when it’s in their favor, but seems to restrict when it applies to service industries located in countries such as India that desire to do business in the United States through their skilled personnel.

The solution instead lies in increasing H-1B caps in Congress rather than reordering who can have access to H-1B visas under an artificially small quota. As we have previously blogged, by continuing to limit the H-1B program US employers will remain less competitive in the world markets. By limiting the availability of H-1B visas, employers are missing out on much-needed innovation in US industries, especially in the STEM fields. This failure to innovate within the US domain may encourage employers to look to overseas markets in order to develop and expand their companies. This is bad news for the US economy. H-1B workers have historically helped to improve the US economy, which in turn helps to create more jobs for Americans.

It is also a fact that more H-1B workers are needed in the IT sector as the United States does not produce enough computer professionals of their own. Most American IT workers are self-taught, as opposed to being formally trained at an institution, according to one US-based IT worker who spoke to the authors for this blog. Moreover, the United States has more venture capital investments for new companies than most other countries, but lack the domestic labor force to reap the benefits of such investment, thereby making the need to bring in H-1B workers ever more necessary to grow startup companies.

Lastly, the United States is no longer the only player in the game. The “Silicon Valleys” in China and India are vastly more agile for quick development and production, largely due to the availability of skilled workers. Meanwhile, American innovative companies are hamstrung for lack of them and are thus forced to move more of their research and development facilities overseas. The most talented will go to countries where they are more welcomed, which may no longer be the United States.

Increasing quotas in the employment-based preferences, along with the H-1B visa quota,  is the best way to reform the H-1B visa program, rather than to further shackle it with reordered lotteries, stifling laws and regulations, labor attestations, and quotas. If there is a concern about IT companies displacing US workers, such as what happened at Disney, then increasing the wage of an exempt worker from $60,000 (which was set in the 1990 Act) to something higher might be palatable in exchange for more H-1B visas annually and no further restrictions. If an H-1B dependent employer does not hire an exempt worker, then it needs to undergo an additional recruitment and anti-displacement attestation. This has been proposed in the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act sponsored by Congressman Issa, which increases the wage for an exempt H-1B employee from $60,000 to $100,000. If at all Congress wishes to impose restrictions on the H-1B visa, the Issa bill is preferable to the Grassley-Durbin bill.

Still, artificially raising wages above market wages would hurt the ability of US businesses to use the expertise of IT consulting companies in becoming more efficient, and thus passing on the benefits to consumers and even creating new jobs. Perhaps, the $100,000 wage can be lowered for certain exempt workers, such as those who have been sponsored for permanent residence through the dependent employer or those who have graduated in certain STEM disciplines.

Regardless of how one reorders access under the lottery, there will always be a shortage if the cap is limited to a mere 85,000 visas per year. For FY 2017, the USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions, all vying for one of the 85,000 visas available. This means that some 151,000 or more people – highly qualified individuals with dreams and career aspirations – will likely be denied the ability to work in the US. This is not for lack of skill, this is not for lack of good moral character, but for an arbitrary cap system that limits their upward mobility and stifles US innovation in many fields. A system which seeks to provide preferential treatment to the highest paid foreign workers within the confines of an artificially low quota are unlikely to improve the position of US companies seeking to be competitive in global markets.

[Sophia Genovese-Halvorson, who is pursuing her JD degree at Brooklyn Law School,  is a Legal Intern at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC]

 

 

Extreme Absurdity: A Response to the “Extreme Vetting” Questions Proposed By Potential DHS Secretary Kris Kobach

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, rumored to be a potential Secretary of Homeland Security in a Donald Trump Administration, met with Mr. Trump last Sunday, apparently to discuss some of his plans for the Department.  During a media photo opportunity, Mr. Kobach held a binder and stack of papers in such a way that a page was left partially visible and allowed an Associated Press photographer to capture some of the “Department of Homeland Security Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.”  Although there are many horrifying things about that plan, some of which this author may address further in future blogs, one aspect of Kobach’s plan that particularly caught my attention was the proposal to “Add extreme vetting questions for high-risk aliens: question them regarding support for Sharia law, jihad, equality of men and women, the United States Constitution.”  This blog provides an initial reaction to that proposal.

It appears that by “high-risk aliens”, Kobach was likely referring predominantly to aliens from countries with a large Muslim population, or perhaps just Muslims themselves.  In the immediately prior item of his outline, Kobach describes the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) program he wants to “update and reintroduce” as “track[ing]” “all aliens from high-risk areas.”  In its original form, NSEERS applied to men over the age of 25 from 25 countries, all but one of which was a Muslim-majority country.  (Specifically, NSEERS included nonimmigrants from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the one exception, North Korea.)  Thus, Kobach evidently associates “high-risk areas” predominantly with Muslim countries.  It is not entirely clear whether by “high-risk aliens” he means to describe only those from the so-called “high-risk areas”, or whether he would cast a broader net.

Of the four questions that Kobach proposes to ask the “high-risk aliens”, the question about “support for  . . . the United States Constitution” is comparatively unobjectionable, other than with respect to the discriminatory context in which he apparently proposes to ask it.  Applicants for naturalization as U.S. citizens are already required by law to be “attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States,” INA 316(a).  The Form N-400 Application for Naturalization already asks applicants, “Do you support the Constitution and form of government of the United States?”  One might perhaps take issue with Kobach’s apparent proposal to expand use of this question outside the naturalization context in which it was statutorily authorized, but it is the other three proposed questions that are truly problematic.

To ask Muslim immigrants about their “support for Sharia law” is rather like asking Jewish immigrants about their “support for Halacha”, or Catholic immigrants about their “support for canon law”, or other Christian immigrants about their “support for Biblical principles”.  While the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church has the advantage from an American perspective of having an English common name, many Americans may not realize that Sharia is merely an Arabic word for traditional Muslim religious law, just as Halacha – another word with which many Americans may not be familiar – is merely a Hebrew word for traditional Jewish religious law.  Different Muslims will have different interpretations of what “Sharia law” has to say about a particular subject, just as different Jews will have different interpretations of what “Halacha” has to say about a particular subject.  (Some subgroups of Muslims may entirely dispute the applicability of Sharia as historically understood, just as Reform Judaism differentiates between its approach to one’s relationship with God and the approach suggested by Halacha.)  Some may cite Sharia to justify horrific actions, but then again Yigal Amir claimed that his assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was justified by Jewish religious law; in neither case is it appropriate to charge all followers of the religion or some version of its laws with support for the horrific actions in question.   To ask about “support for Sharia law” sheds only very limited light on what the person being asked actually believes, even if we indulge the questionable assumption that anyone’s religious beliefs are the proper concern of the U.S. government.  Perhaps it would be a different story if Kobach proposed to ask a more nuanced question about whether those seeking to come to the United States believed that any and all religious law should be subordinate to democratically enacted civil law, but it does not appear that this is what he has in mind.

Kobach’s proposed question about “jihad” suffers from a somewhat similar defect.  The word “jihad” literally means “struggle” or “effort”, and the BBC has said that “Many modern writers claim that the main meaning of Jihad is the internal spiritual struggle”, although there is also support for interpreting the word to mean a military struggle.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary recognizes multiple meanings of the word, ranging from “a holy war waged on behalf of Islam” to “a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline” to “a crusade for a principle or belief”.  We do not assume that supporters of Campus Crusade for Christ will use violence in their struggle to spread Christianity, nor do we ask Christian prospective immigrants their opinion of the medieval Crusades.  If Kobach had proposed to ask a more general question about support for the use of violence, or even the use of violence motivated by perceived religious conflict, that would be a different story, but his proposed inquiry only covers this single word.  Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Brevik believed that he was at war with Muslims.  Had we known this, does Kobach believe we should not have excluded Brevik if he had applied to come to the United States, but should have excluded any Muslim victims of his who supported internal spiritual struggle?

Even Kobach’s proposed question about “equality of men and women”, innocuous though it may seem and tied to an important American civic value though it may be, has a problematic dimension in the context of questioning that would apparently be directed towards religious beliefs.  A number of religions that Kobach presumably does not wish to target do not provide for strict equality of men and women, in the sense of the rights of men and women in a specifically religious context.  Less than a month ago, Pope Francis ruled out the possibility of a woman ever serving as a Catholic priestFemale rabbis are extremely rare in Orthodox Judaism, with one first taking the title just this year, and with one main U.S. Orthodox rabbinical group having purported to ban the practice roughly a year ago, although female rabbis have been common in the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements of American Judaism over the past several decades.  In many Orthodox Jewish interpretations of Halacha, ten men, not women, are required to make up a “minyan”, or quorum to say certain prayers, although the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly in the Conservative Movement has ruled that women can count towards a minyan.  Some Christians believe that wives should submit to their husbands.  Could followers of those beliefs truthfully say, under penalty of perjury, that they supported full equality of men and women?  While I vehemently disagree with those who would deny women full religious equality, and I personally favor a more gender-egalitarian approach, it seems to me that it would represent a major break with our own civic traditions for the U.S. government to exclude immigrants who hold the less egalitarian Christian or Orthodox Jewish beliefs discussed above—or the Muslim analogue of those beliefs.

Kris Kobach’s proposed “extreme vetting” questions would not be the first time the U.S. government has utilized a problematically worded question against a minority group.  In the Japanese-American internment camps of the Second World War era, even U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were asked whether they would “forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?”  Many of these citizens “resented being asked to renounce loyalty to the Emperor of Japan when they had never held a loyalty to the Emperor.”  (The question might be compared in this respect to the old example of an unfair yes-or-no question, “have you stopped beating your wife?”)

The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II has been widely recognized as a horrible mistake, and survivors of the camps were awarded restitution in 1988 as well as given a formal apology by the U.S. government.  However, one prominent supporter of Donald Trump recently made news by suggesting that the internment of Japanese-Americans was a “precedent” for a registry of Muslims.  That supporter had, in fact, raised the analogy in support of Mr. Kobach’s proposal to reinstate NSEERS, which is related to his proposed “extreme vetting” questions as discussed above.  The parallels are extremely troubling.  While it may seem that “extreme vetting” questions regarding aspects of religious belief are some distance away from actual internment of a minority group, it is important, as the Supreme Court said in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette of a different attempt to enforce government-sponsored doctrine (regarding a mandatory flag salute), that we “avoid those ends by avoiding those beginnings.”  This is not a road down which the United States should travel.

The Role Of The Immigration Lawyer In The Age Of Trump

Our role as immigration lawyers has never become more important since the morning of November 9, 2016. Notwithstanding his conciliatory speech after his upset win, President elect Donald Trump will have to deliver on some of his campaign promises that got him votes such as building a wall, extreme vetting and cancelling Obama’s executive actions such as the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

We are already getting a glimpse of the people who are being selected to be part of the immigration transition team. Kris Kobach has joined the team. He is avowedly anti-immigrant and was the architect of state enforcement laws, including Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, which includes the notorious “show me your papers” provision. SB 1070 authorizes local law enforcement to ask people for proof of their immigration status when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they might not be in the country legally. Kobach also coined the idea of “self-deportation” through attrition, which assumes that undocumented immigrants will leave on their own if the laws are applied harshly against them.

Another person who has joined the transition team is Danielle Cutrona who is Senator Jeff Sessions’ counsel on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Sessions is opposed to both legal and illegal immigration. He believes that even legal immigrants are bad for the United States.  When you have these sorts of people inducted into the immigration transition team, one can only imagine that they will want to implement as much as Trump’s vision on immigration, which he articulated in a fiery anti-immigration speech in Phoenix, Arizona:

  1. Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.
  2. End catch-and-release. Under a Trump administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country.
  3. Move criminal aliens out day one, in joint operations with local, state, and federal law enforcement. We will terminate the Obama administration’s deadly, non-enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets.
  4. End sanctuary cities.
  5. Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties. All immigration laws will be enforced – we will triple the number of ICE agents. Anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country.
  6. Suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur, until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.
  7. Ensure that other countries take their people back when we order them deported.
  8. Ensure that a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system is fully implemented at all land, air, and sea ports.
  9. Turn off the jobs and benefits magnet. Many immigrants come to the U.S. illegally in search of jobs, even though federal law prohibits the employment of illegal immigrants.
  10. Reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, keeping immigration levels within historic norms.

It may not be possible for Trump to implement his entire vision, as he would also need the cooperation of both houses of Congress. For example, Congress would have to agree to provide funding for Trump’s wall. However, when Kobach was asked about the wall, Kobach answered that there is “no question” that it would be built. “The only question is how quickly will get done and who helps pay for it.” Still, one is hearing that there is hedging on the election promises and the wall may no longer get immediate priority. While it would be nice to hope that all that Trump said was election blather, he has also been advised by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) whose goal and mission is to severely curtail immigration. If you take a look at their talking points to the next President on how to severely restrict immigration through administration actions, you will know what I mean. It is a scary 79-point list that if implemented will totally gut the system the way we know it.   Therefore, it would be a mistake to wait and see rather than taking action right away.

The low hanging fruit  is to cancel DACA (although I would prefer if they rather built the wall but left DACA untouched). There are hundreds of thousands of young people who have received benefits under DACA and have done extremely well in their careers. It would be a tragedy if DACA was rescinded, which is easy to do, since the policy was based on a memo of the Obama administration. Still, it will look bad on the Trump administration and the Republican party if this happens since jeopardizing the lives and careers of DACA recipients will generate much sympathy. Also, DACA recipients are active and know how to mobilize to protect themselves. Indeed, it is because of their effective activism that they were able to convince the Obama administration to implement DACA in the first place. Needless to say, DACA recipients should consider alternatives as soon as possible. If they have a legal basis for permanent residence, they should explore it, such as through marriage to a US citizen spouse or through some some other green card sponsorship basis. Even if they cannot adjust status in the US if they previously entered without inspection, they can leave on advance parole and return without triggering the 3 or 10 year bar, which would provide a basis for eligibility to adjust status as an immediate relative of a US citizen.  Alternatively, they can take advantage of the provisional waiver rule (and since it is a regulation in the federal register, it cannot be cancelled as easily as DACA), which allows one to waive based on extreme hardship to a qualifying relative the 3 or 10 year bars in advance of the departure from the US in order to process the immigrant visa at the US consulate.  And even if DACA is cancelled, the employment authorization document (EAD) is not unless the government specifically revokes it pursuant to 8 CFR 274a.14(b), and only after the EAD recipient has been given an opportunity to respond through a Notice of Intent to Revoke. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive and may not be accomplished by January 20, 2017 when Trump takes office, so DACA recipients must consult with advocacy organizations and attorneys to fully explore all their options.

Vulnerable immigrants need advocates more than ever before to defend and protect them. We have a new and renewed mission, and this should propel us forward and give us a new purpose. Trump’s immigration advisors will likely appoint hostile judges, officers and leaders in charge of immigration policy. He will be harsh in the enforcement of the immigration laws, and is likely to restrict business immigration in favor of an America first policy. There is a possibility that the Obama administration’s prosecutorial discretion policies may also get cancelled and people will be more susceptible to deportation. The proposed extreme vetting can become a nightmare, and for some, it could be a proxy for not being allowed to come into the United States at all. Immigration lawyers need to be strategic regarding advising clients to apply for citizenship and travel out of the US.  We will use our legal acumen and every skill to protect our clients and our client’s businesses. We will be the shield for them against all the hateful anti-immigration rhetoric that is bound to manifest itself even more from his supporters. We will do what we do best with a renewed sense of purpose.

Finally, we sincerely hope that Donald Trump as a President with respect to his immigration policies will be different from Donald Trump as a candidate. A new President elect should herald optimism in everyone rather than cause fear to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable immigrants. There has been no statement from Trump to allay their fear. Why should we think that Trump has changed after all the hateful rhetoric he spewed against immigrants and refugees? Just like a leopard does not change its spots, a bigot will always remain a bigot. The fact that Kobach and Cutrona have joined the team only heightens such fears. After 9/11, although we feared the worst, there were no drastic limits or moratoriums due to the resilience and strength of the immigration movement. 11/9 poses yet another grave challenge, but we are ready to brace for the fight to defend immigrants in the age of Trump and xenophobia. And prevail we must as the cause is righteous and just.

(This blog is for informational purposes, and should not be considered as a substitute for legal advice)

Immigration Perspectives On The Eve Of The 2016 Presidential Election

The United States has always prided itself as a nation of immigrants. Unfortunately, however, there has been disturbing rhetoric against immigrants and refugees in the current presidential election season. This has been exemplified in racist taunts and epithets against Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant of Kurdish descent, who is the founder of the highly successful Chobani business that makes Greek yogurt and employs about 2,000 people, some of whom are refugees. Chobani’s annual yogurt sales are $1.5 billion.   According to a recent New York Time article, false stories have been published by right wing news outlets like Brietbart News and WND claiming that Mr. Ulukaya wants “to drown the United States in Muslims.” Some articles have also drawn a connection, again falsely, between Chobani hiring refugees and a spike in tuberculosis. This has led to unfortunate calls on Facebook and Twitter to boycott Chobani.

The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, better known as ABIL,  of which I am a member, has in a press release rightly condemned such xenophobic attacks against a successful immigrant entrepreneur who has created jobs in the United States. It is already difficult for a foreign entrepreneur to obtain legal status in the United States under the current broken immigration system, and to then be successful and create thousands of jobs. Mr. Ulukaya is a shining example of an immigrant entrepreneur who has overcome these obstacles to benefit the United States. “Foreign born entrepreneurs like Mr. Ulukaya must be welcomed rather than attacked in such a shameful and despicable manner,” ABIL’s President Steve Garfinkel stated.  “These attacks go against the grain of what America represents – a nation that has always welcomed those to its shores who wish to better themselves and contribute to the country.”

The attacks against Chobani’s founder is only one such unfortunate incident. Donald Trump has used hateful rhetoric against immigrants from the start of his campaign. While every prior Republican nominee in recent times has spoken in glowing terms about immigrants being an asset to America, Trump emphasized only on the dark aspects, and hyped up fears of immigrants being a threat to the American people. This is despite the fact that studies have proved that newcomers are less likely to commit crimes than the native population. Trump was also fond of reading the lyrics from Al Wilson’s 1968 R&B hit song “The Snake” in his campaign rallies.  While this is a catchy tune, Trump has now corrupted the song by associating it with his opposition to Muslims. He first called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, including Syrian refugees, and recently modified it by calling for a suspension of immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States or its allies. When Trump kicked off his campaign on June 16, 2015, he gave  a speech in which he called immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals. “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” he said. He has been proudly proclaiming till the very end that he would build a big wall on the Mexico-US border, and that Mexico would eventually pay for it.

It is no small wonder that there has been a surge of early Hispanic voters in states like Nevada and Florida that could potentially lead to Trump’s defeat.  Regardless of one’s party affiliation, it is hoped that the results of this election affirm that all immigrants be respected for the benefits they bring to the United States, whether as entrepreneurs or as hard working employees. The results should also speed up much needed and urgent reform of the immigration system that can tap into the talents of more immigrants like Mr. Ulukaya who bring growth and prosperity to America.  Finally, the recent revelation that Melania Trump was paid for modeling assignments in the United States while she was still on the B visa, and prior to obtaining the H-1B visa, goes to show that the line between legal and illegal immigrants is fuzzy at best. Someone in legal status can fall out of status and someone who is illegal can suddenly become legal. This is not a black and white issue as Trump and his anti-immigrant enablers have seen it.  The following extract from the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe, 457 US 202 (1982), which held that undocumented children could not be deprived of a public education:

To be sure, like all persons who have entered the United States unlawfully, these children are subject to deportation. But there is no assurance that a child subject to deportation will ever be deported. An illegal entrant might be granted federal permission to continue to reside in the country, or even become a citizen.

The lessons from these elections should point lawmakers to recognize that putting up a wall is not a solution; rather the best way to reduce illegal immigration, and reforming the system as a whole, is by providing more pathways to legal immigration into the United States. It would also be a good idea for any future presidential candidate to express compassion towards immigrants and refugees, consistent with America being great because of its immigrants, rather than engage in hateful rhetoric. It does not pay during election time.

Don’t Forget Skilled Workers Who May Have to Wait For A Few Centuries Before Getting the Green Card

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was so warm and embracing of immigrants when compared to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech a week earlier. These were some of her key remarks on immigration:

We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy where everyone who wants a good-paying job can get one. And we’ll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are already contributing to our economy. We will not ban a religion. We will work with all Americans and our allies to fight terrorism.

I believe that when we have millions of hardworking immigrants contributing to our economy, it would be self-defeating and inhumane to kick them out.

Comprehensive immigration reform will grow our economy and keep families together – and it’s the right thing to do.

Compare these words to Trump’s speech when he only spoke about how immigrants would bring doom and gloom, and thundered that “nearly 180,000 people with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

All this is so refreshing and noble when Clinton speaks about building a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants, enacting comprehensive immigration reform and not profiling a group of immigrants solely because of their religion. However, not a word was said about skilled immigrants who are already in the pipeline for a green card, but for the fact that their priority dates have not yet become current. Most of these skilled immigrants were born in India and China who are caught in endless backlogs because of a limited supply of green cards each year set by Congress in 1990, and further stymied by annual caps for each country. We hope that Clinton also would include these immigrants in her forthcoming speeches referencing immigration, who have always been legal and are employed in good paying jobs, as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

David Bier at the Cato Institute has emerged as a fresh and new scholarly voice on immigration. It has always been known that an individual who got sponsored by an employer today in the India employment-based third preference (EB-3) would need to wait for about 60 years before he or she got the green card. In Bier’s new report, No One Knows How Long Legal Immigrants Will Have To Wait, he calculates that there are “somewhere between 230,000 and 2 million workers in the India EB-2 and EB-3 backlogs, so they’ll be waiting somewhere between half a century and three and a half centuries. It is entirely possible that many of these workers will be dead before they receive their green cards.” Ironically, if these workers, by some stroke of luck were able to file I-485 applications in the past, such as the class of 2007 adjustment applicants, their children whose age was artificially frozen below 21 under the Child Status Protection Act will be mature adults before they can immigrate with their parents as “derivative children”. On the other hand, if a child’s age could not be frozen through the filing of an adjustment of status application in past years when the priority date may have become current, they will not be able to remain “derivative children” under the CSPA in the unlikely event that their parents may qualify for green cards in their life time and if the children are still alive.

It is readily obvious that Congress needs to infuse a greater supply of green cards each year in the EB categories, and even lift the country limits, as countries like India and China get more adversely impacted than Lithuania or Finland. While it is desirable that Congress fix this problem immediately, we know that Congress is mostly paralyzed at present. However, one should at least be giving these unfortunate skilled workers top priority in any comprehensive immigration deal if Clinton becomes president and can achieve her stated goal to implement reform within the first 100 days of her presidency. Trump, on the other hand, with his America first policy may be more inclined to curb legal immigration rather than fix it, leave alone expanding it.

While different groups of immigrants justly advocate for expanded immigration benefits, it is important that they all remain united. It may be tempting for skilled legal workers to only seek immigration reform for their group as they have been legal while undocumented immigrants broke the law. However, it is not that undocumented people choose to remain undocumented. They too want to become legal but the current immigration system does not provide adequate pathways for different categories of immigrants to become legal and get onto a pathway to permanent residence. And for those who are here legally and on the pathway to permanent residence, they have to wait impossibly for decades, and now Bier shockingly speculates that it may be centuries. Legal skilled workers, many of whom are on H-1B visas, should not be jettisoned because it has become fashionable to think that they away jobs from US workers. They compliment the US workforce, and most have gone through the labor certification process that required their employers to first test the US labor market before proceeding with their green card applications. Once they get green cards, there will be a surge of entrepreneurial talent in the nation’s economic blood stream.  Finally, immigrants already in the US should not pull up the drawbridge behind them and block new H-1B workers. It is important for fresh and talented immigrants to come to the US to achieve their dreams. All we need is an immigration system that has many more pathways to America and is consistent with the needs of the nation in the 21st century.

The present immigration system is broken and can be likened to a terminally ill patient who is suffering from multiple organ failure. The goal for treating such a patient is not just to repair one organ, such as the heart, and leave the other organs in a state of disrepair. This approach will certainly not nurse the patient back to health. All the vital organs in the patient must be revived at the same time. The same holds true for our immigration system, which is like a terminally ill patient. All its components, like body organs, must be repaired. This includes but is not limited to more visas for skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs, faster pathways for loved ones to unite with their family in the US, more opportunities for investors and essential workers, and also a path for the 11 million undocumented to legalize their status. We must also not forget to reform the system for those seeking refuge in America from persecution and other kinds of crimes such as trafficking and sexual violence, and provide more waivers for those who would otherwise be deportable if they have ties with the US or can demonstrate rehabilitation. While Clinton’s message for immigrants is positive and upbeat, she must remember to include all affected immigrant groups, especially legal skilled workers who have been hopelessly waiting for their green cards.

Deconstructing the Myth of the Criminal Immigrant

Donald Trump began his presidential campaign last year by accusing Mexican immigrants who cross the border as being criminals and rapists, and ended with the same sentiment in his acceptance speech of the Republican nomination by thundering that “nearly 180,000 people with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”

While every prior Republican nominee in recent times has spoken in glowing terms about immigrants being an asset to America, Trump emphasized only on the dark aspects, and hyped up fears of immigrants being a threat to the American people. This is despite the fact that studies have proved that newcomers are less likely to commit crimes than the native population.

Still, even if immigrants commit crimes in lesser proportion to native born Americans, as long as they have not become citizens, they pay a greater penalty than US citizens when they commit the same crime. While both may be punished under the criminal justice system, the immigrant after serving his or her sentence is likely to face deportation.  It would seem fair that once a person has been punished and reformed, there should be no further penalty. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the non-citizen. Even a long term legal immigrant with a green card can get deported from the United States after serving a sentence.  The sentence may be relatively minor or inconsequential under the criminal justice system, but can be consequential for the immigrant. For instance, an immigrant who is convicted of a misdemeanor theft but received a one year sentence that was suspended would still be considered to have been convicted of an aggravated felony. When an immigrant is convicted of an aggravated felony, there are fewer opportunities for defending oneself against removal proceedings,  and often times one is also not eligible for waivers.

So when Trump spoke about immigrants roaming free with criminal backgrounds, he sought to stereotype and dehumanizes all immigrants. Some of these immigrants may have committed minor crimes from years ago, such as driving without a license, and may be the subject of prosecutorial discretion because they have family members who are US citizens. A significant percentage of their so called crimes involve civil immigration violations and nonviolent offenses, and thus it was patently false to suggest that they “threaten peaceful citizens.” Even the U.S.  Supreme Court has recognized that a non-citizen with a removal order cannot be indefinitely detained. In Zadvydas v. Davis, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to indefinitely detain a non-citizen who has been ordered removed beyond a six month period.  Some persons in the group that Trump demonized may have orders of removal that are under judicial review, and ICE has decided  that it doesn’t make sense for them to be locked up indefinitely while the petition for review is pending. Another possibility is that in some cases the “criminal record” is a single nonviolent misdemeanor which does not render the person a removal priority. Trump might also have been counting people whom an IJ has ordered removed, but who have an appeal pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals, and who are out on bond.

When we as a nation accept immigrants, and America’s greatness is because it is a nation of immigrants, it is inevitable that a small group within the immigration population will commit crimes, both major and innocuous. A college student who is an immigrant may be convicted of possession of marijuana joint (outside Colorado of course), and when she travels and returns, she may be found inadmissible and put into removal proceedings. It would be unfair to demonize her by branding her as a “criminal alien” and being a threat to “peaceful citizens.” Immigrants should face the same penalty as a U.S. citizen when they are convicted of crimes. If the purpose of punishment is deterrence or reformation, and that is sufficient for the citizen, there is no need to subject the non-citizen immigrant to the additional draconian penalty of deportation, which can potentially result in the permanent banishment of that individual from America.

Finally, Trump in true demagogic fashion only focused on the anxieties and fears caused by immigrants. There was scant mention of their achievements and how they have benefited America in every sphere. Where was the sunny optimism about America being a welcoming country to people who can only benefit it?  Or America even being kind and forgiving – especially to the immigrant who may have committed a crime, but has long ties and family here, and has completely rehabilitated after serving his sentence?  If Trump may have been successfully in stoking fears in a few people, he also succeeded in galvanizing many more people to vote to throw him out so that America can continue to be this sunny, optimistic and welcoming country.

 

 

 

Trump and the Snake

Donald Trump is fond of reading the lyrics from Al Wilson’s 1968 R&B hit song “The Snake” in his campaign rallies.  While this is a catchy tune, Trump has now corrupted the song by associating it with his opposition to Muslims. He first called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, including Syrian refugees, and recently modified it by calling for a suspension of immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States or its allies.  Trump most recently said that the United States should consider more racial profiling, in response to a question about whether he supported greater law enforcement scrutiny of Muslim Americans after the Orlando mass shooting. If all of these proposals were implemented, it would impede the ability of millions of temporary visa holders and immigrants to legitimately enter the United States.

This video depicting  Trump’s reading of The Snake in his rally in Greensboro, NC on June 14, 2016 is too chilling to watch, as the reading is interspersed with the ejection of a protestor amidst frenzied chants of “USA… USA”. Although the lyrics are inspired by Aesop’s fable of the Farmer and the Viper,   the lyrics appear very sinister when Trump associates them with his war on Muslims. The lyrics revolve around a tender hearted woman who rescues a half frozen snake. After the snake is rescued, he bites the woman, and when she is dying, the snake tells her that she knew very well that she took in a poisonous snake. One view regarding the moral of this fable is to teach the lesson not to expect a reward from the wicked. Another view is that the rescuer realizes that it is his own fault for pitying a scoundrel. Trump first associated these lyrics with Syrian refugees, fully realizing that almost all the refugees have genuinely escaped harm in Syria, and many have been desperate enough to even die, including children, while trying to reach safer shores.

Read the lyrics yourself to see how they have been twisted to suit Trump’s agenda:

On her way to work one morning
Down the path alongside the lake
A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake
His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew
“Oh well,” she cried, “I’ll take you in and I’ll take care of you”
“Take me in oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk
And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk
Now she hurried home from work that night as soon as she arrived
She found that pretty snake she’d taking in had been revived
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

Now she clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful, ” she cried
“But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”
Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight
But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

“I saved you,” cried that woman
“And you’ve bit me even, why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 Trump has even more shamelessly exploited these lyrics after the massacre of innocent LGBT party goers in an Orlando night club by Omar Mateen, who was discovered to be a Muslim and born in the United States. The snake, according to Trump, represents the Muslim immigrant who was let into the country, and who now viciously bites the people who let him in.  Even though Mateen was a US citizen by virtue of his birth in this country, Trump falsely asserted in one of his speeches that he “was born in Afghan, of Afghan parents, who immigrated to the United States.” Trump went on to add that the  “only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here.”  While there was profiling of Muslim immigrants following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Trump’s proposals would far exceed the profiling policies that were put into place following 9/11.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration through Attorney General Ashcroft tweaked the rules to make it easier to detain immigrants. The expanded regulation, which took effect on September 20, 2001, authorized the then INS to hold any non-citizen in custody for 48 hours or an unspecified “additional reasonable time” before charging the person with an offense. In the post 9/11 sweep, immigrants from mainly Muslim countries were detained and deported in secret. Although they were detained because of immigration violations, it was under the pretext of investigating them for suspected links to terrorism. In the end, the 1000+ immigrants who were detained and deported in secret were not charged or convicted of terrorism.

The Bush Administration then implemented Special Registration, which applied to males from 26 countries, 25 of which had significant Islamic populations. Dutifully, 85,000 people lined up to register, thinking that they should cooperate with the government. 13,000 men who were found to have immigration violations, many of whom may have been on the path to getting green cards, were placed in deportation proceedings. Not a single terrorist was discovered under the Special Registration program, which proved to be a colossal waste of tax payer money and was disbanded.

Trump now wishes to take these discredited policies even further. Although there was profiling since 9/11, and every application for an immigration benefit since those attacks is viewed through the prism of national security, immigration did not stop. The basic architecture of our immigration system remained intact, and eligible applicants have been admitted while undergoing more extensive security checks.  If Trump’s proposals are implemented, there will be a complete ban on immigration from countries where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States. Just as finding out who is a Muslim would be unclear, it is equally unclear whether this ban would include people from countries such as Syria or Pakistan, or whether it would also involve certain European countries such as France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Would it also include countries like India or The Philippines, which sends one of the largest numbers of immigrants to the United States? The ban would cover visitors, students and people from these countries, which have all inspired terrorist attacks on its soil, who are legitimately immigrating, including spouses of US citizens. To blame immigrants for the Orlando killings goes beyond the pale, which was perpetrated by a mentally unstable American citizen who may have been inspired by terrorism but also by hate against LGBTs. And where does this stop? Trump said that if the parents were not allowed into the country, this massacre would not have happened. But what about the countless gun deaths caused by other mentally unstable US citizens?  Is Trump blaming these killers’ ancestors who may have at some point in time come from another country? Trump is inappropriately casting doubt on an entire  religion of over 1.2 billion adherents worldwide who are essentially peaceful.

While Trump’s rhetoric is frightening enough, there is ample authority in the law that would allow him to implement his proposed ban if he became President. Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides in part, as follows:

(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President – Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or ay class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

Apart from Congress putting a check on the President’s authority under INA 212(f), and possibly the courts,  the only likely limitations on the exercise of this authority is with respect to lawful permanent residents who have taken brief trips abroad and would be assimilated to the status of a continuously-present resident under Delgadillo v. Carmichael, Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Landon v. Plasencia. Even they would be at some risk of being denied readmission, and would probably be better advised not to travel outside the US under a hypothetical President Trump.

The good news is that despite playing to irrational fear and reciting the lyrics of The Snake, Trump’s poll numbers have slipped. The conventional wisdom used to be that a Republican presidential candidate who was forceful on security issues would gain an advantage prior to an election. It appears that the attack in Orlando has not helped Trump, and fear mongering may have lost its appeal.  This could well change if there was another attack orchestrated by a foreign terrorist organization rather than by an unstable US citizen, but so far Trump’s war on Muslims does not seem to be helping him. After all the senseless racial profiling following 9/11, it should become pretty obvious to the American people that profiling a whole community for the acts of one person is not a good law enforcement tactic. It would only alienate the community whose members are well integrated into the American fabric and contributing to the country, and who would also be willing to cooperate with law enforcement. It is also most un-American to profile a whole community as a substitute for individualized guilt, which goes against the principles upon which this nation was founded and has set an example for scores of countries around the world.

If Trump continues to slip, it is hoped that The Snake again be viewed as a cool R&B song in the soul music genre rather than a hate anthem against Muslims.

Sophie Cruz and Pope Francis: Shattering Myths About Immigrants

How are immigrants currently combating labels and stigmas and what can we do more to promote immigrant pride?

I am participating in #MoreThanALabel: Immigrant Stories, Simmons College’s online MSW Program’s campaign to promote transcending labels. By participating in this campaign, I will be sharing my thoughts and how I believe we can shatter the stigmas often attributed to immigrant communities.

 

As Pope Francis arrived in the United States on September 23, 2015 and was cheered by thousands in Washington DC, Sophie Cruz, a 5 year old US citizen whose parents are undocumented, came forward and handed him a t-shirt and a letter. The t-shirt  read, “Pope: rescue DAPA, so the legalization would be your blessing.”

Sophie then said this later in the day:

“I believe I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to be happy. My dad works very hard in a factory galvanizing pieces of metal. All immigrants just like my dad feed this country. They deserve to live with dignity. They deserve to live with respect.”

President Obama’s executive action announced last November 2014 would have allowed Sophie’s parents to defer their deportations and apply for temporary authorization to remain in the United States so that they could contribute more meaningfully to America. While millions of immigrants and their supporters cheered after Obama’s announcement, not everyone was pleased. Texas, along with 24 more states and governors, sued to block the Deferred Action for Parent Accountability (DAPA) program. Judge Andrew Hanen in a Texas federal district court readily agreed with the plaintiffs that DAPA was not issued in accordance with law and blocked the program. Also blocked was the expansion of another program that was announced in 2012 to allow those who came before 16 and who fell out of status for no fault of their own to defer their deportation. The expansion would have granted work permits for 3 years instead of 2 years, and would have also lifted the age limit of 31. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is about to decide whether to reverse the lower court or not. It is anticipated that the Fifth Circuit will affirm Judge Hanen’s decision, and the battle will move up to the Supreme Court.

Young Sophie’s actions and her interaction with Pope Francis today are powerful and poignant, and perhaps more effective than the current legal team defending the lawsuit. She has shown how mean spirited the efforts have been to block DAPA. Immigrants work very hard and like her dad they “feed this country.”  Pope Francis in turn wants to highlight the lack of access for migrants as one of the most pressing issues of our time.  Sophie and Pope Francis have further shown how wrong Donald Trump has been in falsely claiming that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists.  While Trump and others wish to abolish birthright citizenship protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, Sophie and the Pope have demonstrated that repeal of birthright citizenship will result in absurd and disastrous results. Birthright citizenship renders all born in this country to be treated equally as Americans no matter who their parents are or where they came from, and it also prevents a permanent underclass from taking root that will continue for generations. The demonization of immigrants reached another nadir recently  when Trump did not dissuade anti-Muslim comments in his rally and Dr. Carson categorically stated that he would never support a Muslim to be President of the United States.

In their serendipitous encounter today, Sophie and Pope Francis courageously shattered the false labels and stigmas that are associated with immigrants. It is not that people want to remain undocumented. They are forced to remain undocumented because our immigration system is terribly broken and does not afford meaningful pathways to legally come to America to work like Sophie’s dad or to unite with families. Congressional inaction in not expanding these pathways has contributed to the buildup of 12 million plus undocumented people, who work hard and contribute to the well being of America, and who now according to Trump, should all be deported. We hope that Sophie and Pope Francis reverse this deplorable trend and shine the way towards repairing America’s broken immigration system. America will only be made great again when Sophie can live without fear and succeed!