Now is Not the Time to Be Afraid

by W. John Vandenberg

“Don’t be afraid, John.”  That’s what a friend and client told me recently when she saw I was worried .  And I needed to hear those words.  It’s been a tough couple of weeks.  It’s been a tough few months.  And a tough several years, now that I think about it.  But she was right – now is not the time to be afraid.  Now is the time to be thoughtful, persistent, and bold.    

The “American carnage” spoken of by President Trump in his inauguration speech never described the America I know, I love, I fought for, and I believe in.  But carnage does accurately describe what is happening right now to America’s rich history of welcoming immigrants and benefiting from immigrants’ experience, education, and work ethic.  The Trump Administration is using every means at its disposal to delay, discourage, and deny immigrants a fair shot at making the United States their home. 

The list of changes – real changes – this Administration has made to the immigrant story in America is longer than most of us would believe. Here’s an incomplete list: 

  • Issuing a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 2020 to ban issuance of new immigrant visas for 60 days.  The Proclamation keeps the door open for additional restrictions in 60 days (see below).  Members of Congress are pushing the President to make additional bars, including OPT for foreign students and EB-5 immigrant investors.
  • And now we have the Presidential Proclamation of June 22, 2020, which indeed enlarges the ban to cover H-1B‘s, L-1‘s, and H-2B‘s. These are work visas – work visas that U.S. companies use to innovate and propel the American economy forward.
  • The Muslim ban, which continues to bar legal immigration from several Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Syria.  It was recently expanded to even more immigrants of color, many of them Muslims, including Sudan, Nigeria, and Eritrea.  This blanket ban prevents parents and children from reuniting – breaking families every day.
  • Imposing a “wealth test” on immigrants seeking to become U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents.  The new I-944 form places a major burden on families, increasing the time and expense to apply for a greencard, and discouraging families from even applying for loved ones because the rules are vague and difficult to understand. 
  • Vastly increasing the number of denials of work visas to immigrants already in the United States.  From 2015 to 2017, denial rates of H-1B visas never went above 8%.  And why would they?  These applicants all have at least a bachelors degree or the equivalent, they are sponsored by U.S. companies that need them, and many earned degrees at U.S. universities.  But the Trump Administration has quietly rewritten the rules, giving no deference to previously-approved petitions, issuing Requests for Additional Evidence with little support in the law, thereby raising the denial rate to 32% in early 2019.  These are the workers who power our economy, the workers who create jobs (some good news here – after getting thoroughly trounced in the Federal Courts, USCIS has rescinded the Memorandums it used to reach these denial rates – we’ll see what happens next).
  • Slowing the adjudication of applications for green cards and U.S. citizenship.  The USCIS changed its policy and made interviews mandatory for employment-based immigrants.  This increased USCIS’ greencard backlog more than 35%.  And is actively delaying greencards for families and workers, not to mention delaying citizenship
  • Actively eroding the Immigration Court system’s integrity.  The attack on the Immigration Court system is especially brutal.  Setting case quotas for immigration judges.  Hiring immigration judges with no experience in immigration law.  Hiring Appellate Judges based on their high denial rate for asylum, even when those Judges have a history of formal complaints against them.  Using the Attorney General certification process to erode protections for asylum seekers who are victims of domestic or gang violence.  Removing Immigration Judges from cases where the agency believes they will not make the predetermined decision they want. And raising fees for appeals to rates not even applied by the U.S. appellate courts, thereby seeking to choke off appeals before they are even filed. This attack on Due Process – a right guaranteed by the 5th Amendment – is an attack on justice itself.

And there are more.  Literally, too many to list in this blog post.  It’s easy to feel despair.  But despair is not the answer.

The answer, as long as there have been immigrants seeking to come to America, is “don’t be afraid.”  And Immigration Attorneys’ role in pushing back has never been more important. We must use every ounce of our skill, knowledge, experience, and devotion to keep their clients here and ultimately successful. 

Don’t be afraid to litigate every case.  Immigration attorneys are powerful.  We win cases in courts where judges are weak, the government is strong, and our clients are presumed guilty.  Litigation in immigration court was once described as trying to operate on a patient with an assassin in the room.  To win, we must be agile, resourceful, and persistent, using our knowledge, experience, and wits to find solutions that win cases for our clients.  We have to do so even in these times when Due Process, and the Rule of Law, is being actively corroded from the top.  We, as attorneys, must have the courage to fight the cases.  And to be there by our clients’ side when the judge grants their case, or orders them deported – effectively banished from family, friends, and businesses they have often worked for decades to build.  To litigate these cases makes us stronger.  We must remember that government or immigration judges don’t sit beside a client who broke down in tears preparing for trial, who developed blisters on their face and hands from anxiety over recounting the reason they fled their home country.  We do.  And that makes us better attorneys, because we understand what is at stake, even though over time we are ourselves traumatized by it.  Don’t be afraid.  Be a litigator.

Don’t be afraid to use all the tools at your disposal.  Immigration Law is not fair.  It was never fair.  I draw inspiration from HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.  In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Literacy Act, and this was quickly followed by the Immigration Act of 1924 which set harsh and unfair quotas intended to restrict immigration.  These restrictive measures led to many deportations from Ellis Island.  HIAS didn’t give up.  They went toward the fight, and even set up their own office on Ellis Island.  HIAS provided translation services, guided immigrants through screenings, lent them the $25 landing fee, obtained bond for others guaranteeing employable status, and argued before Boards of Special Enquiry to prevent deportations.  Between 1909 and 1919, HIAS interceded with 28,884 immigrants detained for a Board of Special Enquiry; they won 22,780 and lost 6,104 cases.  That means they lost more than a fifth of their cases.  But because they were not afraid to fight, they ultimately saved 22,780 souls – souls who built families and businesses and lives in the United States. The success of HIAS during a period of time very similar to the one we are living in now shows how valuable attorneys can be to the immigrants we serve.  We know the law – and the regulations, cases, memoranda, and operating instructions that control USCIS and the immigration courts.  We know how to enlist the help of Senators and Representatives for assistance moving a case toward completion.  And we know how to draft, file, and argue for assistance from Federal Courts, including Petitions for Writs of Mandamus, Petitions for Writs of Habeas Corpus, and Complaints for a Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. It is our responsibility to use all the tools we have to defend and advance the interests of our clients.   

Don’t be afraid to file applications.  The Trump Administration has made a concerted effort to kill legal immigration by all the means at its disposal.  An egregious example discussed above is he I-944, which has placed a great burden on families seeking to stay together and reunite.  As noted above, the requirements of the I-944 require extensive documentation, far more than required before, and more than is necessary to demonstrate sufficiency, and has been described as “an administrative strip search.”  The purpose of this form, clearly, is to dishearten, confuse, and intimidate immigrants seeking to file applications for their relatives and loved ones, as well as to make it more difficult for employment-based immigrants to complete the greencard process.  Again, don’t be afraid.  Remember that the adjudication of these forms is complex, and officers must weigh potentially unlimited factors to determine whether the applicant is or is likely to become a public charge.  That means it remains a gray area – the area where attorneys do our best work, because the answer can be what our clients need it to be.  Gray areas invite persuasion, and if that doesn’t work, litigation. Make a good faith effort, follow the law, and file the applications.  If we don’t file, the answer is always “no.”  That’s exactly what this Administration wants.  Don’t be afraid. 

Don’t be afraid to try again.  And again.  And again.  Because keeping our clients here in the United States is more than half the battle.  As immigration lawyers, we understand that Immigration Law changes every day, whether through memoranda, court decisions, or even a tip you learned from a USCIS officer at an interview. A client with an unwaivable ground of inadmissibility on Wednesday may be saved by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision on Thursday (I literally had this happen to several lucky clients when Matter of Arrabally was issued, drastically changing the consequences of traveling on Advance Parole).  A retired Chief of Cardiology at a prestigious hospital once confessed to me that as a young immigrant from Turkey he had been ordered deported.  But he had an excellent immigration attorney who obtained then-available “indefinite voluntary departure.”  The future physician managed to find relief while on indefinite voluntary departure, was granted a greencard, went to medical school, and no doubt saved thousands of American lives during his career.  It took persistence and grit for your client to get to the United States.  We have to show those same qualities as we advocate for our clients, because many of them, even most, they will eventually obtain legal status if they are here long enough.  Don’t be afraid.

Of course, there is a difference between being bold and being reckless. This Administration has made mistakes costly. For example, it moved to refer unsuccessful applicants for benefits to the Immigration Courts for removal (previously known as “deportation”) proceedings. This includes when an applicant for a U visa (victim of crime) and victims of domestic violence seeking VAWA (“Violence Against Women Act”) protection. Careful consideration must be given to weighing benefits against risks. Attorneys know this area well – risk management and mistake avoidance are the cornerstones of a good legal education. And we have an important role to play for our clients, because a good immigration attorney knows how all the parts of immigration work. As one former INS spokeswoman, Karen Kraushaar, stated in 2001, “”Immigration law is a mystery and a mastery of obfuscation, and the lawyers who can figure it out are worth their weight in gold.” There are no perfect lawyers (or perfect physicians, for that matter). But proficiency, passion, persistence, and experience can make all the difference in the decisions that we and our clients take.

In sum, the Trump Administration is far from finished in its crusade to delay, deny, and stop immigrants from making the United States their home. Their plan is well underway, and they are working furiously to implement as many changes as they can under the cover of COVID-19 and unemployment. Immigrants desperately need excellent immigration attorneys. Now, 110 years after HIAS opened its office on Ellis Island, it is time for immigration attorneys to step forward for our clients. Now is the time to push back and advocate for our immigrant clients and their families. Whether an immigrant investor or a victim of gang violence, our clients have already risked their education, their livelihood, and often their lives to join each of us in building America into a unique country that rewards ambition, investment, competition, and risk-taking to constantly improve and re-invent itself. Don’t be afraid.

If you need legal advice, or would like to review your immigration options, please contact our office at (610) 664-6271 or visit our website to schedule a consultation. 

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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 (  ) 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.

The Day After Trump, For Immigrants

by W. John Yahya Vandenberg

November 9, 2016

Trump’s election is likely going to change a lot of things, especially for immigrants, and most certainly for undocumented immigrants. So let’s walk through what happens now and the following days.

First, not much will change until Trump actually is sworn in in January. So there is some time to figure out who should be concerned, and why.

Second, there are some immigrants who have less time than others to take steps to work on their status. I’m especially thinking about DACA recipients. DACA’s – you guys rock. You are working, you are studying, you are making your communities better places. If you are near or close to 180 days til expiration, NOW is the time to file to extend your DACA. If there is more than 6 months, I think it would be worthwhile to file to extend no later than the end of December. This is about getting as much time as possible.

For persons eligible for DACA who didn’t yet make an initial application, you have a choice to make.  If you apply now for the first time, you are giving Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) your address and contact information.  If they want to detain you, they could.  At the same time, if you are granted DACA – well, a Social Security Card is a very handy thing to have, even if it’s only for two years.  So any new DACA’s should carefully consider the potential risks and benefits.

Third, there are some immigrants who don’t have much to worry about. If you have status article-2147783-133851e5000005dc-611_468x302in the United States – I’m thinking immigrants with work visas, or greencards, or you are petitioning for a relative who is overseas – you should be OK.

Finally, there are some immigrants who have a reason to worry. I’m thinking about immigrants who are undocumented. There is a good chance that after Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017, we’ll go back to the days when ICE could arrest anyone who is undocumented, detain them if they want to, and seek to deport them. It is also quite likely that those persons whose cases are Administratively Closed will see their cases reopened.

To those immigrants without status, our lawyers have been here before, and we know what to do: fight for you in the courts. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we saw this: immigrants targeted for detention and removal proceedings. Those who fought often won. Those who gave up, lost, and were either deported or left.

To those immigrants without status, we want you to know that America has been here before. Tonight I am reminded of my law school, the Villanova University School of Law. It is located in Villanova, Pennsylvania, which is a suburb of Philadelphia.

Not many people know that Villanova University is in Villanova because in 1844, “Nativists,” persons who hated immigrants, burned down the St. Augustine Church in South Philadelphia. The Nativists did so because of a rumor that Catholics – then mainly Irish and Italian immigrants – were going to take the Bible out of Philadelphia public schools. The Augustinian Fathers literally were burned out of Philadelphia.



Lithograph of the old St. Augustine Church burning in 1844.

But you should also know that times change for the better. The Augustinian fathers founded Villanova University from that terrible incident, and the University served, and still serves, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those Irish & Italian Catholics who lost their church. The Augustinian fathers sued the city of Philadelphia, and they won compensation for the loss of their church. And they rebuilt St. Augustine’s, which still stands today at 243 N. Lawrence Street in

The children of those Italian and Irish immigrants got jobs that counted. They served as police, as members of the military, and members of the media. They organized themselves politically and they learned how to make their votes count. Now is the time to work, not to falter or become disheartened.

The sun will rise at 6:40am this morning. I’ll be in the office all day. If you’re worried, know that we’re here for you, and we’ll fight for your rights.  We might even sue.