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Immigration law in the United States is perpetually changing. This blog is meant to serve as a resource for current updates in law and policy that affect immigrants and immigrants' rights. This blog should not be construed as legal advice; it is the author's opinion on relevant news in the immigration context. If you have any questions about how the changing law and policy may affect you, please contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.

Thursday
Jun272013

Senate Passes Monumental Immigration Reform Bill

The Senate approved a massive overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies today in an historic vote, 68-32 (including 14 Republicans) on S. 744. This vote reflects how far the country has come in understanding the significance of immigration reform to the health and well-being of the nation as a whole. 

The legislation sets up an earned path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, expands the employment visas available for those who want to work in the U.S., and includes due process protections for those in deportation proceedings. Additionally, after senators voted 69-29 to approve the Corker-Hoeven border security amendment yesterday, the bill has an enormous border enforcement expansion. While the border surge may not be good public policy, the amendment package reached critical compromises on issues that threatened the legalization program and the future of other immigrant visas.

Although this is a large step, our biggest hurdle remains in the Republican-led House of Representatives. According to Speaker Boehner, “The House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We’re going to do our own bill — through regular order — and move the legislation that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people." 

The House Judiciary Committee is currently considering smaller, piecemeal bills that do not include legalization. Meanwhile, a group in the House continues to work on a comprehensive immigration bill. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) told reporters today that they have drafted a bill and are reviewing it now.

While the measure is the result of compromise and is far from perfect, the Senate has passed a strong bill that fixes flaws in the U.S. immigration system while providing aspiring citizens a roadmap to earned citizenship.  It is time for the House to also move forward.  

Wednesday
Jun262013

Historic Supreme Court Decision Affecting Many Same Sex Couples

According to Immigration Equality, a well-known and reputable LGBT advocacy organization, lesbian and gay Americans should now be eligible to apply for green cards on behalf of their foreign national spouses, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling striking down a core provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The court ruled today, in United States v. Windsor, that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from conferring benefits to married same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. That provision of the law made it impossible for lesbian and gay couples to receive immigration benefits, including green cards.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion. Today’s ruling is literally a life-changing one for those who have suffered under DOMA and our discriminatory immigration laws.”

Today’s 5-to-4 ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, noted that, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality...cannot justify disparate treatment of” lesbian and gay couples. Under the law, the Court found, “same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound.” By “treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others,” the Court ruled, “the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

“Today’s decision closes a discriminatory chapter in American immigration law.  For 40 years, LGBT individuals were turned away at our borders; Congress called us unfit to be Americans.  For LGBT couples, that exclusion continued until today,” Tiven said. “The Court did what Congress would not, and recognized that all loving couples are the same under the Constitution.”

- See more at: http://immigrationequality.org/2013/06/lesbian-gay-couples-eligible-for-green-cards-following-supreme-court-decision-on-defense-of-marriage-act/#sthash.3PfzNn4i.dpuf

Thursday
May232013

Expanding Domestic Violence Deportation Grounds Does No Favors to Survivors

By Paromita Shah of the National Immigration Project

What's at stake in the immigration reform bill is whether or not we continue to perpetuate the harsh and short-sighted policies of our current immigration laws. As the bill and proposed amendments stand today, we are headed down a path that will continue to criminalize immigrants and mandate wholesale lock up and deportation. We cannot afford to squander this moment; the outcome must be a set of fair and humane policies that consider the individual circumstances of the millions of undocumented and green card holders who live on American soil.

Of the hundreds of amendments introduced, the majority creates additional hurdles and obstacles designed to obstruct the path to citizenship and eliminate mechanisms that would allow the consideration of individual circumstances in all cases. Several provisions, including Senator Grassley's Amendment #46 and Senator Cornyn's #3 and #4, specifically target individuals involved in domestic violence disputes. 

Current immigration law already metes out harsh consequences to those who commit serious crimes, including domestic violence offenses. By introducing these amendments, Senators Grassley, Cornyn, and Sessions ignore the best interests of survivors and their children.

When we hear the terms domestic violence, we make certain assumptions about the perpetrator and victim, but the situations are far more nuanced and call for a measured, sensitive response that takes into consideration the wellbeing and security of everyone involved. Amendments offered by Senators Grassley, Sessions and Cornyn threaten survivors, in particular, because they unnecessarily increase the likelihood of victims' deportation in domestic violence cases, expand grounds of deportability, make victims more vulnerable to detention, and limit mechanisms to consider each individual case.

If a survivor fears that in reporting abuse, he or she will be deported, they are much less likely to seek help from law enforcement. And domestic violence survivors often reject policies that would remove their spouse or partner, an outcome that would be disastrous for families that rely on them for financial support. Lastly, victims often face challenges with regard to language, misinformation, uncertainty about their legal rights and limited access to immigration attorneys, which leaves them all the more vulnerable to punitive policies that do not take these facts into consideration.

Consider the case of Cindy, a Taiwanese student, who was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence changes for fighting off her attacker and biting his ear while she was being raped. After she was released pending trial, she spent time in a battered women's shelter, but still ended up being convicted. The jury determined that she had acted to defend herself, but the force that she used was greater than the assault. The jury found her guilty of felony domestic violence. In this particular state, felony domestic violence has an automatic sentencing of time in state prison. Not a U.S. citizen, Cindy could be subject to deportation after serving her prison time. Under our current proposals, she would be vulnerable to mandatory detention.

For these reasons, domestic violence and survivor groups have overwhelmingly opposed these so-called solutions and continue to oppose the reckless expansion of deportation grounds for domestic violence offenses.

Instead of these unfair approaches, we must support attempts to expand mechanisms that will allow judges and immigration agents to review and assess all the circumstances in someone's case; this is the only real way to ensure that wrongly accused victims who may have pled to or been unfairly convicted of domestic violence will not be mistakenly deported.

A description of the amendments below:

Grassley #46: Grassley #46 compounds the problems in the existing Senate bill by eliminating critical limitations on the new DV-related ground of inadmissibility, which will apply to all applicants for admission and lawful status (including VAWA self-petitioners, VAWA cancellation applicants and RPI applicants). Specifically, this amendment would eliminate the minimum sentence requirement in the current bill and makes any violation of a protection order a trigger for inadmissibility, instead of requiring a finding of criminal contempt by a court.

Cornyn #4: In the current bill, people with old deportation orders are allowed to apply. This amendment allows DHS to contact a victim if a waiver is granted. This amendment will have the opposite effect of reassuring victims that their public safety is the highest priority.

Cornyn #3: This amendment automatically excludes from legalization, with no possibility of discretion, several single misdemeanor convictions. This amendment will have the effect of excluding victims of domestic violence, someone whose only brush with the law was a bar fight, and a person with one DUI.

 

Friday
Mar082013

President Obama Signs the Reauthorization of VAWA

Yesterday, President Obama signed a bill that both strengthened and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. The new law will provide resources for thousands of victims of domestic violence, sexual assualt, and stalking -- and better equip law enforcement officials to stop violence before it starts. 

It builds on a law the Vice President Biden first wrote 18 years ago-  which has helped to decrease the rates of domestic violence across the country. It includes provisions aimed at reducing dating violence and strenghtening protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims. It also seeks to bring justice to Native American communities where rates of domestic violence are among the highest in the country. 

Thursday
Feb282013

VAWA Passes the House!

Today, the House of Representatives passed, with broad bipartisan support, Senate bill 47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. First, the House had to vote down the bad House substitute bill, which they did on a vote of 257 ayes to 166 nays before moving onto the original Senate bill.

The bipartisan nature of support for the Senate version of the bill, which includes important protections for immigrants that the House bill lacked, may be a good sign for any potential upcoming votes on immigration reform. Buzzfeed reports that “in a House led by a Republican conference at odds with itself, which includes a sizable ideologically motivated bloc inclined to oppose almost any major legislation, this dynamic might be the new normal.” That still remains to be seen, but today we saw an important step forward in protecting all victims of violence.

Congratulations to all the advocates that fought so hard for this great victory!

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