New Rules for Life Under the Trump Administration

by W. John Yahya Vandenberg

So, as you know, President Trump is rapidly issuing Executive Orders. Some of these orders are having major impacts on immigrants and other persons who are not (yet) U.S. citizens.

In light of these developments, we have the following recommendations for persons who are not U.S. citizens:

1. If you are undocumented, then you should be sure that at least two trusted individuals know your name, date of birth, country of origin, “A number” (if you have one), and have the contact information for our office.

2. If you are a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (greencard holder), student, visitor, or in other lawful status, carry a copy of your green card, I-94 card, or other proof of legal status with you.

3. If you are here on a student, visitor, exchange, or temporary worker status, CONSULT WITH ME before traveling out of the U.S.  I am NOT telling you to violate or overstay your status.  I’m saying that your legal status today may not be the same as it was on January 25, 2017.  There have, as I’m sure you know, been some changes.

4. If you are from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, or Somalia, it is highly likely you will not be able to return if you leave the U.S. It doesn’t matter if you have a greencard or a refugee travel documents – do not leave the United States.  If you need to go, CONSULT WITH ME.  Otherwise, no one can say with certainly when — or if — you will be allowed back in.

5. If you have DACA, CONSULT WITH ME before traveling on an Advance Parole. There is a chance that in the next week or so there will be no more Advance Parole for DACA’s.  And you could get stuck outside the US without a chance to come back.

6. If you have a pending I-589 asylum application, I-360 application (VAWA/victim of abuse or Widow/Widower petition, or Religious Worker) or I-485 adjustment of status application, carry a copy of the receipt with you AND give a copy to a trusted person.  And do NOT leave the United States if you are from one of the seven countries.

7. If you have a valid social security card, driver’s license, and/or work permit, carry that with you and give a copy to a trusted person.

8. If you are not currently in status (meaning that you do not have a valid non-immigrant or immigrant visa) for any reason, and have been in the U.S. for more than two years, GET PROOF TOGETHER NOW PROVING YOUR PRESENCE. Proof could be bank statements, phone bills, rent receipts, your signature on your children’s report cards, or other documents. Carry a copy of these documents with you (or keep them in your car), and give a copy a trusted person. Do NOT carry with you any document that says where you were born. This is because it is possible that the new Trump Executive Order could mean that undocumented persons who have been in the U.S. for less than two years could be subjected to “Expedited Removal” without the right to see an Immigration Judge and fight your deportation in Immigration Court.  If they can’t prove where you were born, then we may be able to get the deportation thrown out of court.

9. If you are afraid of being persecuted in your home country and have not yet filed for asylum, CONSULT WITH ME as soon as possible to analyze your asylum case.

10. If you have children: first, THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO GO TO SCHOOL.  Do not pull your children from school because they don’t have any status in the United States.  The Supreme Court states they have the right to their education, no matter their status.  And generally, ICE stays away as a policy matter from churches and schools.

Second, your children  should always have the name and contact information of a trusted person, and the trusted person should have your information. To be clear, I do NOT believe that ICE will go to schools. But if you get picked up by ICE while the kids are at school, they are going to need a safe place to go after school.  They may need to call your friend to get there.

11. If you do not have a license, consider carefully whether you really need to drive or not. Right now, Philadelphia seems safe. The counties – Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware… I am not so sure. Trump’s Executive Order appears to give police officers to ask about immigration status. You could be taken in and turned over to ICE.

12. If you are in a car which is stopped, only the driver has to present a license. Any passenger should only give his/her name and not answer any other questions. Ask if you are free to leave; if so, leave calmly.

13. If you are stopped by police on the street, you have to give them your name and where you live. Ask if you are free to leave. If not, consider yourself under arrest.

14. If you are arrested, repeat clearly that you want to remain silent and you want a lawyer. Do not answer ANY questions other than your name and your address. Call me, or someone you trust, and tell them to call me.

15. If someone comes to your door saying “Police, open up” DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Ask the officials if they have a WARRANT, to pass it under the door. Take a photo of the warrant and send it to me or other trusted person. If the warrant is not signed by a JUDGE or MAGISTRATE and does not have your name and address on it, you do not have to open the door. Don’t answer any questions.

These are difficult times we are entering.  If it makes you feel any better, it’s not the first time a government has scapegoated immigrants.  We’re here for you, and will fight for your rights.

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DACA – It’s time to have a talk about Life Under the Trump Administration.

by W. John Yahya Vandenberg

With the election of Donald J. Trump, it is a good time to find out if you or your family member is eligible for something better than Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”).  There are three reasons we should talk.

First, it’s a good idea to find out if you qualify for something new.  For some if you it has been years since we had our initial consultation; perhaps something about you or your trumprelationships has changed.  Also, no one knows exactly what President Trump will do about undocumented immigrants after he is sworn in as President on January 20, 2017.

However, he has told us what changes he wants to make.  President-elect Trump has said he will end Obama’s “Executive Actions” — and DACA is an Executive Action.  But no one knows when, or even if, he’ll do it.  So we are still filing DACA renewals as early as we can.  There doesn’t seem to be much downside.  If your DACA is ending in 6-9 months, TELL ME.  We should give it a shot. If you didn’t file already, we should discuss and see if it is the right choice for you.

Second, it seems inevitable that President Trump will make life harder on the immigrant community once he becomes President.  It would cost billions of dollars to deport all undocumented immigrants, so many don’t foresee mass deportations as a viable option.  But there is a sense that his administration might just try to make it so hard to live life normally that some would decide to leave on their own.  So, for instance, his

Secretary of State Kris Kobach voter fraud
Kris Kobach, Trump Transition Team Member, Potential U.S. Attorney General

Administration, in the words of transition team member Kris Kobach, could crack down on employers of undocumented immigrants, or he could make unlawful employment a serious offense.  Can’t legally work, can’t drive – this would be enough pressure to convince some undocumented immigrants to leave on their own.  Ending DACA, or just letting the program die out by not allowing renewals after he is President, might also accomplish this. So we try should try to find an alternative before he officially becomes President.

 

Third, now is the time to plan, not panic.  DACA’s are already doing so many things right – you don’t have a criminal record, you graduated from high school (or are studying to do so) or college, and you’ve probably got at least one job keeping you busy.  photo-of-dreamers-graduating

If Trump is smart, he’ll figure out a way to keep you here, legally. He has already stated that his first priorities are deporting criminal undocumented immigrants and building a wall.  THEN, Trump has stated, he will decide what to do about the “terrific people” who are in the U.S. without status (he actually said you DREAMERs and DACAs are terrific!).  A number of commentators feel like real Comprehensive Immigration Reform is on the horizon, though it’s probably going to make things tougher for most, rather than easier.  In order to be harsh on some groups (most likely persons with a criminal record), Congress could try to soften and sell it by helping some immigrant groups.  DACA’s and DREAMER’s are probably a group who could finally win big.

Problem is: when?  And what if he doesn’t?  We don’t know when anything will happen.  But we know that if President Trump leaves the system we have in place for the time being, many of you could be able to maintain your current status, or get something better.

So I want to hear from YOU.  To get the conversation started, here are 27 questions:

  1. Have you gotten married?  Even if your spouse has DACA, or even if they don’t have legal status, perhaps they have a way to stay in the United States that would also give you status.
  2. Are you now married to a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card holder”)?
  3. Does a parent, spouse, or child expect to become a US citizen or get a green card soon?
  4.  Do you have a U.S. citizen child?
  5. Do you have a spouse, parent, or child who has severe mental, medical, or emotional disability?
  6. Have you or a family member (parent, spouse, child) been a victim of crime in the United States, and cooperated with the police in any way?
  7. Have you ever in the United States had to call the police for help?
  8. Have you ever been forced to work exceptionally long hours without a break and/or 7 days a week without a break and you were not free to stop, quit, or leave?
  9. Have you ever been forced, coerced, or tricked into having sex or doing sex industry work like stripping or working as an escort?
  10. Did any relative or employer ever file a petition for you, your mother, or your father before April 30, 2001?
  11. Do you have spouse, parent, or child who is in the U.S. Military (including the Reserves), or who is an honorably-discharged veteran of the U.S. Military?
  12. Do you have a spouse, parent, or child who intends to enlist in the U.S. Military, or would do so in order to help you legalize your status?
  13. Has anyone in your family (like a parent, spouse/partner, or child) ever hit, pushed, choked, or otherwise physically or mentally harmed, threatened, insulted, controlled, or otherwise abused you, your parent, or your child?
  14. Before you came to the US, were you, your family, or members of a group you belong to (including LGBTQ) targeted by a government, people, or gangs trying to hurt, scare or recruit you?
  15. Are you afraid to return to your native country because the government, people, or gangs might target you because of your race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or because you belong to a certain group, including your family, clan, or because you are LGBTQ?
  16. If you are under 21, do you live away from your parent or parents, or would you choose to, because they have abused, abandoned, neglected, or similarly mistreated you?
  17. Do you have an employer who is willing to sponsor you for a work visa or a green card?
  18. When you came to the United States, did you come using a visa?
  19. When you came to the United States, did you come using fake papers, or the papers of a family member?
  20. When you came to the United States, were you “waived in” without having to show any papers?
  21. If you came to the U.S. and were not admitted by Customs, and were never caught by Immigration, do you have a reason to return to your country using Humanitarian Parole to visit sick/elderly relatives or participate in an educational or business opportunity?
  22. Were you or your parents born in El Salvador or Guatemala, and did you or your parents enter the US before September 19990?
  23. Was your spouse born in El Salvador or Guatemala and entered the US before September 1990?
  24. Were either of your parents US citizens when you were born?
  25. Were any of your grandparents US citizens when your parents were born?
  26. Have you been here at least 10 years, and were not caught at the border coming in?
  27. Do you have a field of research or a skill in which you are one of the best?

 

If you answer “Yes” or “Maybe,” then we should talk, because you may have an opportunity to obtain lawful status.  If you are already a client of Hogan & Vandenberg, call my office, there is no additional fee to figure out if we can make your situation better.  If you are not already a client, contact the office and schedule a consultation.

Even if none of the above apply to you, be sure to “like” our firm on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/hvlawgroup/  ) so you can get regular updates about immigration law. And if you have a friend or family member who needs our assistance, please have them contact us.

Syrian Asylum Statistics – Who Knew? And What Now?

By W. John Yahya Vandenberg

USCIS has published the most recent asylum statistics, and you can see the Syrian asylum statistics as of May 2015 (thank you, AILA, for publishing this!).  There are some surprises, and we hope this will assist Syrians make the best immigration decisions while they are here.

Good news first…

What do you find in the statistics?  Well, I’m shocked that between 2011 and March 31, 2015, only 4,176 Syrians had applied for asylum!  I thought there would be many more, considering the murderous civil war that has now been raging since Spring 2011. A man at a site recently hit by what activists said was a Scud missile in Aleppo’s Ard al-Hamra neighborhood, February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

But I’m also pleasantly surprised to see the approval rates — 83% so far in 2015, and 81% in 2014.  That’s significant, and a real positive sign for those Syrians seeking safety in the United States.  So long as they tell the truth, and their asylum case meets statutory requirements, it is quite likely they will be approved.

But what does it take to get an asylum case approved?  This is as good a place as any to say what asylum is, and what it isn’t.  Syrians must be aware that just because your country is dangerous and war-torn, USCIS doesn’t care.  Really.  They don’t.  There are a lot of countries in conflict; in fact, as of August 2014, there were only 11 countries in the entire world where there wasn’t conflict.

And don’t believe advice that you’ll qualify for “humanitarian asylum.”  Humanitarian asylum does not mean you get asylum because you are from a war-torn, dangerous country.  It only applies to people who experienced so much terrible personal persecution in the past that it would still be inhumane to send you back even though country conditions are better .  Check out Matter of Chen and Matter of L-S- and read them for yourself.  That’s the law on humanitarian asylum.  Just because a relative was randomly killed by a sniper or an explosion, or there is fighting in your hometown, or your country is in the middle of a terrible civil war, that’s generally not enough.

On the other hand, a person may qualify for asylum if they fear returning to their home country based on a qualifying ground, such as political opinion, religion, or other designated categories.  If you are afraid to return to your country and think you might qualify for asylum, schedule a  consultation with the best, most experienced, and honest immigration attorney you can find.  He or she will analyze your history, fear, family, and other factors, and tell you what they think about your asylum claim.  With this advice, you can decide whether or not you might qualify for asylum, and your chances of success.

Despite the high approval rate, the numbers tell a sadder story –there still remain 2,170 Syrian cases pending and awaiting a decision.  That’s a lot of Syrians — more than half of all applicants since 2011! — without an answer on their applications.  Syrians are wondering why there is such a delay.  And when people wonder, they either ask people who don’t know the answers, or they make up their own reasons out of their past experiences or internet research.

Why the delay?  Is it me?

To my knowledge, there is no conspiracy against Syrian asylum seekers, or any special reason for delaying Syrian cases .  USCIS has confirmed that they are randomly selecting a small number of asylum applications and scheduling them for interviews within 42 days.  But the vast majority are on hold for a year or two.  This causes understandable frustration among the Syrian community (and trust me, every other community as well).  One guy files for application, gets his asylum interview in a month.  Another guy files his, and more than a year later he has no interview.  Is there something wrong with him or his background?  Is it because the other guy has a good lawyer?  No.  It’s just raw numbers.  The Syrian community needs to look at the big picture — they are not alone. In fact, Syrians are only a small percentage of all the asylum cases filed and pending.

USCIS has published its statistics for asylum, most recently from February 2015.  In its “Asylum Office Workload” document, as of February 2015, there were 78,821 asylum applications still pending — meaning no decision had been made, whether because the interview had not yet been scheduled, or because USCIS was still deciding whether to grant asylum or not.  Compare this with July 2014, when there were 55,324 applications still pending.  The number of pending applications is going up, not down, even though USCIS is hiring new officers and bringing in former asylum officers to process this huge surge of cases.

The reason for the backlog is the record number of mothers and children seeking refuge from Mexico and Central and South America.  USCIS, understandably, is using its resources to administer credible fear interviews to the families coming across the border in such huge numbers; if the mother/child meet the credible fear standard, they are eligible to pursue asylum status and remain in the United States.  So long as these refuge seekers keep coming to the border, USCIS is going to continue to see the number of pending asylum cases go up, and wait times are going to get longer and longer for those who have already applied.

Any options?

So, what should Syrians do?  It is of critical importance that Syrians apply for and maintain Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) if they are eligible to do so.  (NOTE: the deadline for new Syrian TPS applications is JULY 6, 2015 – so apply now if you qualify and have not already!)

You can think of TPS as “green card lite.”  TPS gives you the ability to legally work in the USA and travel.  They can study, they can drive, they have many of the rights of green card holders because of TPS.  Essentially, TPS ensures you remain in the USA for a long, long time. A basic touchstone of immigration law is that you take what you can get, when you can get it.  The deal can always get better later, with a new law, a new relationship, a new job, or becoming a victim of crime or spousal abuse — anything.  So long as you are in the United States, you’ll likely be eligible for something new and better, so long as you maintain TPS or some other lawful status.

Some Syrians are skeptical about TPS, and worry that it could end at any time.  I don’t agree with that; Hondurans have had TPS renewed every year since 1999 — that is 17 years and counting!  During these 17 years, many Hondurans have obtained a green card through work, or marriage, or even their children.  Immigration, I always say, is a marathon, not a sprint.

Also, Syrians should keep in mind that the Syrian civil war is likely to drag on for a long time.  It will never be the same country they left, even if the war ended today.  Any doubts?   Ask the Bosnians.

If you are a Syrian and considering whether or not to apply for TPS, my advice is APPLY.  You can always leave it behind, but please take advantage of it now.  As Syrian passports start to expire (with few avenues to extend or renew), it is getting harder, not easier, to come to the United States. And the United States is still a place where Syrians can not only survive, but thrive.  Dubai may be glitzier, but remember that protections for non-nationals are slim, and can be rescinded at any time, for any reason.  In the United States, your civil rights are more protected than in most countries of the world, and with TPS, so long as you work hard and don’t break the law, your stay is assured for years to come.

Can’t we speed up this process?!?!?!

We are often asked by Syrians if we can speed up the asylum process.  Perhaps, but it is on a case-by-case basis, and you should consider carefully whether to do something to try to get a resolution of your case, or not.

Some Syrians ask about filing a Mandamus lawsuit to get their asylum applications heard.  A “Mandamus” is a petition to a District Court Judge requesting that the USCIS adjudicate an application.  The Judge cannot force USCIS to grant your asylum; she can only order them to make a decision on your case.  Some District Courts routinely grant them.  We are hearing accounts of the lawsuit being filed and the interview being granted shortly after.  Other courts are quite hesitant.  It depends on the District Court.  For example, if the government tells the District Court Judge that they have “security concerns” about the asylum applicant, the Judge may not issue the mandamus, allowing the government more time to determine if the person is a threat or not.  Alternatively, the Asylum Office could agree to make a decision, then deny the asylum if the person maintains lawful status, or “refer” the case to the Immigration Judge for removal proceedings if they aren’t.  It’s a personal decision whether or not to pursue this course of action.  And it is generally expensive.  You should also be prepared for an outcome you may not like.

Sometimes, a Congressperson can assist.  You can find the contact information for your Senators and Representatives on-line.  They can inquire through the USCIS Congressional Liaison to learn where your case is.  But in my experience, there is little they can do to speed up the process in most cases.

As in most things law-related, there are exceptions .  For example, we were successful in requesting the Asylum office to expedite an asylum decision for a man whose wife and children remained in Syria, where they were obviously in danger.  This is because asylee’s family members can apply to bring their wife and children to the United States.  Another time, a Senator’s office was helpful in obtaining an asylum interview for a young Syrian who would be denied a college scholarship and financial aid if he didn’t have asylum.  These are cases that had an emotional reason for everyone to get involved, including an asylum officer.  They all wanted to help in these cases.  Other times, where there wasn’t an emotional incentive, we were unsuccessful in expediting the case.

To be fair, the Asylum Office has a strong argument to delay interviewing most asylum cases.  In the case of Syrians, most of have TPS, which means they are here legally, working and traveling.  The Asylum Office understandably feels they should first interview the children and mothers sitting in detention centers without any possibility of being released.  Recently, Associate Attorney Katelyn Hufe represented a child client at the USCIS Newark Asylum Office (which is actually located in Lyndhurst, by the way).  She said that almost everyone in the waiting room was a child!  That is genuinely sad.  And the story behind the statistics is that the Asylum system is flooded.  That is the reason Syrians are not getting scheduled for asylum interviews.  It is not because the Asylum Office or the Department of Homeland Security is against Syrians.  It’s just the crushing weight of 80,000 asylum applications, and only 350 asylum officers in the entire United States to adjudicate them.

In the end, Syrians should apply for all the benefits that they qualify for.  TPS is ideal, and asylum can be a long-term plan. If you fall in love with a US citizen or greencard holder, that’s great, too.  If you are a victim of crime, be sure to cooperate with the police, no matter what your status is, so you may qualify for a U visa.  If your US citizen or green card spouse abuses you — it doesn’t matter if you are male or female — you may qualify for VAWA.  Our advice is for Syrians to consult with a good, honest, experienced immigration attorney — not a translator, not an accountant, not a family friend — to best determine what your options are.  There is no substitute for asking a good immigration attorney for advice; good immigration attorneys not only have years of experience and access to information not generally available to the public, but they also have the benefit of living through the progress of many immigration cases.  If you have questions about your options in asylum, TPS, or even obtaining lawful U.S. Permanent Residence through a green card, contact our office and set a consultation.  We’ll do our best to give you all your options, so that you can make the best decision for you.  If you are in a different part of the United States, we’ll do our best to find you a good local attorney.

Thanks to Nadeen Aljijakli, author of “Syrians Under Fire: Seeking Asylum in America” for her assistance in writing this article!