This month, I am celebrating the five year anniversary of my immigration law firm, as well as my third consecutive year of being selected to the Super Lawyers’ California Rising Stars lists, which includes no more than 2.5 percent of the attorneys in the state.

More than fifteen years ago — just after 9/11 and before the announcement of the “Special Registration” program — I declined an offer of admission to a PhD program to focus my time and energy on working with immigrants. It is a decision I have never regretted. As an immigrant myself — who regularly contemplates the distance of 7,315 miles from my homeland — the strength and resilience of my clients motivates me to continue this work. Whether applying for asylum, citizenship or immigrating a family member, every day, I am honored to spend my time with individuals who are willing to share with me their most personal accounts of love, joy, fear, pain, persecution and torture.

This anniversary would not have been possible without the confidence of my clients, and the support of my family, friends and colleagues who trust me by either making referrals to me or by hiring me to represent them in their own legal matters. Thank you to everyone who made the last five years possible. I look forward to continuing in the years to come.

As an immigration attorney, I spend a lot of time with people who have experienced significant hardships in their lives – anything from heartbreak to abuse to torture. But I want to draw attention to the misfortune of those immigrants who select an unscrupulous attorney. I’m not talking about attorneys who make minor mistakes or misjudgments — we are human, after all — but those shameless individuals who take money from desperate people, misadvise them, and put them on a guaranteed track towards deportation.

I spent the morning with someone who paid thousands of dollars to an immigration attorney to apply for a form of relief for which they were clearly ineligible. After many years in the U.S., with several U.S. citizen children, this person is now facing removal proceedings — an uphill battle in the best of circumstances. Sometimes there is a strategic reason to get someone in front of an immigration judge — with the knowledge and consent of the client — but imagine this person’s surprise when they found out just today that: (1) they were never, and will never be, eligible for the relief filed on their behalf and (2) the attorney they had hired has been suspended from the practice of law for the past couple of years! 

For this particular situation, after getting through the shock and tears, we are exploring the relief for which this person may be eligible in immigration court. But, especially in this time when immigrants are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the U.S., here are some takeaways and reminders:

  • All attorneys in the U.S. are licensed by at least one State Bar, meaning that they had to pass a bar exam, go through the licensing process, renew their license annually, and remain in good standing with their bar association (i.e., not be subject to disciplinary actions or a court order restricting their license). 
  • Because immigration law is federal law (versus state law), an immigration attorney can be licensed in any U.S. state — and they are not necessarily licensed in the state in which they practice. 
  • All State Bar associations allow you to look up an attorney to find their contact information and check if they are, or have been, subject to any disciplinary proceedings. For example, in California: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/MemberSearch/QuickSearch. Not sure in which state an attorney is licensed? Ask them (most attorneys proudly display their degrees, court admissions, and certificates all over the place!). Or search the internet — usually, this information is readily available.
  • While not attorneys, “BIA accredited representatives” are individuals approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to advise and represent clients before USCIS and, sometimes, the immigration courts and the BIA, in their capacity as an employee of a specific nonprofit or similar organization. Immigration consultants, paralegals, notaries and notarios do not fall into this category – they cannot give legal advice or represent clients. The status of a BIA accredited representative can be checked here: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/942311/download.

Finally, trust your gut! I can’t emphasize this last point enough — there is no one specific indicator, but I often hear clients say that “something just felt off.” For example, if an attorney guarantees success in your case (there are no guarantees in immigration law!), refuses to accept any form of payment besides cash, refuses to provide receipts or a fee agreement, doesn’t want you to write their name on a check, or encourages you to lie about facts in your case, I would recommend consulting with another attorney. In fact, it’s rarely a bad idea to get a second opinion in any immigration case.

 

 

 

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

This morning, the new Executive Order relating to refugees and individuals from Muslim-majority countries was signed. Here are the basics of that Order: 

1. The Order is effective at 12:01 A.M., Eastern Standard Time, on March 16, 2017 and the previous order will be rescinded on that date.

2. Individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (Iraq is no longer part of the entry ban) will not be allowed to enter the U.S. for 90 days if: they are outside of the U.S. and did not have a valid visa at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 27, 2017 and do not have a valid visa on the effective date of the Order. Stated another way, any individual who had a valid visa either on January 27, 2017 (prior to 5:00 p.m.) or holds a valid visa on the effective date of the Order may seek entry to the U.S. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “no visas will be revoked solely based on” the Order. Individuals whose visas were previously canceled or revoked solely because of the prior Executive Order will be entitled to a travel document confirming that they may seek entry. Remember: even with a valid visa, individuals must demonstrate that they are admissible to the U.S. — the final decision on whether someone is granted entry to the U.S. is made upon arrival at a port of entry by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. 

3. The Order does not apply to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, green card holders) from the six countries, nor does it apply to certain nonimmigrant visas (diplomatic, NATO, etc.). It also does not apply to students and exchange visitors (F, J, M visas) currently in the U.S. or those seeking to enter with valid visas. However, it does apply to dual nationals who attempt to enter the U.S. with a passport from one of the six countries. Thus, an Iranian citizen with dual Canadian citizenship should use a Canadian passport to attempt to enter the U.S.

4. The Order does not apply to returning refugees and asylees, meaning those individuals who were previously granted asylum or refugee status in the U.S., and are returning to the U.S. on approved travel documents (e.g., refugee travel documents). It also does not apply to individuals granted advance parole, withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture (under no circumstances should these individuals be traveling outside of the U.S. prior to consulting with an immigration attorney!).

5. According to DHS, the Order applies to “nationals and citizens” of the six countries, but does not clarify whether it applies to individuals born in one of the six countries who are not considered a national or citizen by that country. Presumably, the Order will apply to a Palestinian traveling with a Syrian travel document.

6. Some individuals from these countries may be granted waivers to enter the U.S. or to obtain a visa, during the suspension, on a case-by-case basis if the individual demonstrates that the denial of entry would cause undue hardship to them during this suspension period, and that the individual’s entry would not pose a threat to national security, and would be in the national interest of the U.S. As of today, the process for applying for this waiver is not yet known.

7. DHS will continue to adjudicate applications for adjustment of status (green cards) and naturalization (citizenship) filed by individuals from the six countries.

8. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) will be suspended for 120 days while the U.S. examines how to increase its already extreme vetting procedures. The Order does not apply to refugees who have already been scheduled to travel to the U.S. prior to the effective date of the Order. Similar to the waiver authority mentioned above for visas, individual refugees may be allowed into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis so long as their entry is in the national interest and would not pose a threat to the “security or welfare” of the U.S. The language regarding the categorical ban of Syrian refugees and prioritization of religious minority refugees has been removed from the new Order. 

9. Once the USRAP program resumes, refugee admissions will not exceed 50,000 for fiscal year 2017. So far, about 37,000 refugees have already been resettled in the U.S. 

10. Within 20 days of the effective date of the Order, the DHS will create a list of countries which “do not provide accurate information” for proper vetting of its nationals to the U.S., and the Department of State (DOS) will request that those countries begin to do so within 50 days of notification. At the end of the 50 days, if those countries do not comply with sharing information about their nationals, or have an adequate plan to do so, the U.S. may prohibit entry of individuals from those countries.

11. Although Iraq is no longer part of the 90 day entry suspension, “an application by an Iraqi national for a visa, admission, or other immigration benefit should be subjected to thorough review,” including consideration of whether the individual “has connections with ISIS or other terrorist organizations.” Iraqis should expect possible delays in their applications.

12. Multiple federal agencies will implement a program increasing security checks to identify individuals  “who seek to enter the U.S. on a fraudulent basis, who support terrorism, violent extremism, acts of violence towards any group or class of people within the United States, or who present a risk of harm subsequent to their entry.”

13. With exceptions, the Visa Waiver Interview Program (IWP), which allowed some individuals to renew their visas without an interview, will be suspended. This means that most individuals renewing their nonimmigrant visa must attend an in-person interview.

 

 

 

 

 

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

The Executive Order relating to refugees and individuals from Muslim-majority countries was signed on Friday afternoon. While there are still many unanswered questions (and more raised every hour), some of the major points are as follows:

  1. Effective upon the signing of the Order, entry to the U.S. by most immigrants and nonimmigrants from the seven targeted countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) has been suspended for a minimum of 90 days. The Order does not apply to U.S. citizens, but it does include Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, green card holders) from the seven countries. However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that allowing LPRs to return to the U.S. is, generally, in the national interest of the country and they will be evaluated for entry on a case-by-case. There are still mixed reports of how LPRs are actually being treated at individual airports.
  2. The Order includes individuals from the seven countries who also hold dual nationality with another country (for example, Iraqi with Canadian citizenship). However, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP): “[T]ravelers are being treated according to the travel document they present. For example, if they present a Canadian passport, that is how they are processed for entry.” 
  3. The Order does not define what it means to be “from” a country. If an individual is already in the U.S. and is “from” one of the above countries (including, for example, Palestinians from Syria), the best option is to consult with an immigration attorney before traveling outside of the U.S. However, again, according to CBP: “Travelers are being treated according to the travel document they present.”
  4. It seems that the Order is also being applied to some applications and petitions filed by individuals from the seven targeted countries which are pending in the U.S., as well as most cases pending in embassies and consulates abroad. The Department of State has stated that all valid immigrant and nonimmigrant visas issued to individuals from the seven countries have been “provisionally” revoked, although some may not be, on a case-by-case basisAccording to CBP, naturalization applications and oath ceremonies will not be affected.
  5. Within 30 days of the Order, the DHS will create a list of countries which “do not provide accurate information” for proper vetting of its nationals to the U.S., and the Department of State (DOS) will request that those countries begin to do so within 60 days of notification. At the end of the 60 days, if those countries do not comply, it is likely that most of their nationals will be prohibited from entering the U.S., maybe permanently.
  6. Some individuals from these countries may still be allowed into the U.S., or obtain immigration benefits, during these periods, on a case-by-case basis.
  7. Multiple federal agencies will implement a program increasing security checks and a values test for individuals seeking U.S. immigration benefits (including an evaluation of the individual’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest” of the U.S.).
  8. Refugees from Syria will no longer be allowed into the U.S. until further notice, on the basis that their entry “is detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
  9. In addition, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) will be suspended for 120 days while the U.S. examines how to increase its already extreme vetting procedures. This means refugees from any country, and includes individuals who have already been approved for refugee resettlement in the U.S. Once the program resumes, refugees will only be allowed into the U.S. if multiple federal agencies have decided that extreme vetting has been sufficient.
  10. Once the USRAP program resumes, priority will be given to individuals seeking refugee status on the basis of religious-based persecution, if they are a member of a minority religion in their country. 
  11. During the 120 temporary suspension, individual refugees may still be allowed in the U.S. on a case-by-case basis. In addition, individuals seeking refugee status based on minority religion-based persecution may still continue to be processed.
  12. The Visa Waiver Interview Program (IWP), which allowed some individuals to renew their visas without an interview, is suspended. This means that anyone applying for a nonimmigrant visa must attend an in-person interview.
  13. Lawsuits challenging the Executive Order, and how it is being implemented, have been filed all over the U.S., and the situation is changing day by day, hour by hour. The above information may change tomorrow, so individuals should consult with an experienced immigration attorney before making any decisions which may affect their legal status.

 

 

 

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

Please refer to the updated version of this blog post!

 

The Executive Order relating to refugees and individuals from Muslim-majority countries was signed yesterday afternoon. While there are still many unanswered questions, some of the major points are as follows:

  1. Effective immediately, entry to the U.S. by most immigrants and nonimmigrants from the seven targeted countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) has been suspended for a minimum of 90 days. As of this morning, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson has confirmed that the ban includes Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, green card holders), but there have been mixed reports of how LPRs are actually being treated at individual airports. Although it does not apply to U.S. citizens, the ban does include individuals from the seven countries who also hold dual nationality with another country (for example, Iraqi with Canadian citizenship).
  2. The Order does not define what it means to be “from” a country. If an individual is already in the U.S. and is “from” one of the above countries (including, for example, Palestinians from Syria), the best option is to consult with an immigration attorney before traveling outside of the U.S. 
  3. It is not clear whether this suspension will also apply to applications and petitions filed by individuals from the seven targeted countries which are pending in the U.S.
  4. During the next 30 days, the DHS will create a list of countries which “do not provide accurate information” for proper vetting of its nationals to the U.S., and the Department of State (DOS) will request that those countries begin to do so within 60 days of notification. At the end of the 60 days, if those countries do not comply, it is likely that most of their nationals will be prohibited from entering the U.S., maybe permanently.
  5. Some individuals from these countries may still be allowed into the U.S., or obtain immigration benefits, during these periods, on a case-by-case basis.
  6. Multiple federal agencies will implement a program increasing security checks and a values test for individuals seeking U.S. immigration benefits (including an evaluation of the individual’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest” of the U.S.).
  7. Refugees from Syria will no longer be allowed into the U.S. until further notice, on the basis that their entry “is detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
  8. In addition, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) will be suspended for 120 days while the U.S. examines how to increase its already extreme vetting procedures. This means refugees from any country, and includes individuals who have already been approved for refugee resettlement in the U.S. Once the program resumes, refugees will only be allowed into the U.S. if multiple federal agencies have decided that extreme vetting has been sufficient.
  9. Once the USRAP program resumes, priority will be given to individuals seeking refugee status on the basis of religious-based persecution, if they are a member of a minority religion in their country. 
  10. During the 120 temporary suspension, individual refugees may still be allowed in the U.S. on a case-by-case basis. In addition, individuals seeking refugee status based on minority religion-based persecution may still continue to be processed.
  11. The Visa Waiver Interview Program (IWP), which allowed some individuals to renew their visas without an interview, is suspended. This means that anyone applying for a nonimmigrant visa must attend an in-person interview.

 

 

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

As U.S. immigration law once again goes from bad to worse, here are some very general guidelines (not legal advice for your specific situation; please don’t ask me questions about your case on a public website):

  • Everyone’s legal situation is different – if you are not a U.S. citizen, speak to an experienced immigration attorney about your particular situation. Please do not consult Google, Facebook, or your friend’s cousin, who you think had the same exact situation.
  • Do not follow general legal advice being circulated by well-intentioned people – the suggestions given may not work for your situation and, in fact, may end up harming your legal status or ability to return to the U.S. in the future.
  • If you want to travel outside of the U.S., and you are not a U.S. citizen: don’t. Speak to an experienced immigration attorney first. If you are from one of the targeted countries, and have a U.S. nonimmigrant or immigrant visa, you may not be able to return.
  • If you are already outside of the U.S. and are planning to re-enter with your green card or a visa, contact an experienced immigration attorney from abroad to prepare for any potential risks at the airport.
  • Visas can be cancelled at any time, whether you are inside or outside of the U.S. – if you are a vulnerable person (Arab, from a Muslim-majority country, have any arrests or interactions with law enforcement, etc.), consult with an experienced immigration attorney to clarify backup plan possibilities.
  • Do not go to USCIS/ICE/DHS, etc. to ask about your legal status/case/visa, or if you have been summoned for an “interview,” if you have not consulted with an experienced immigration attorney first – these are federal government agencies, not your attorneys. 
  • Remember: there is no certainty around what is happening and will continue to happen in the next few days, weeks, or years ahead. However, we have been through really hard times before in U.S. immigration law, and one of the lessons was: before you make any decisions, know your specific options.

 

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.