USCIS Travel Document (I-131)

The importance and understanding of a USCIS Travel Document (Form I-131)

What is a Travel Document? (I-131)

Depending on what your immigration status in the USA a form I-131 Travel Document may or may not apply to you. However, for certain immigrants who are in this country under certain status such as DACA or a Temporary Protected Stay (TPS), a travel Document is extremely important if you intend to leave the country and return. The way the law is written right now, people with DACA or TPS are not allowed to reenter the country if they leave. So, let’s pretend you have DACA or TPS and you leave the USA to go on vacation. Upon your entry back into the USA it’s very possible that the Department of Homeland Security does not let you enter the country. That is why you need to apply for a Travel Document before you leave.

Applying for a Travel Document (I-131)

To apply for a travel document, you must fill out application with USCIS on form I-131. The purpose of the document is to acquire USCIS approval so that you can leave and then return into the country. You can only get a travel document for the reasons listed by law. The most common one is for humanitarian reasons such as a sick family member or a special event that USCIS deems worthy. Once your travel permit is granted you can leave the country and then upon entry show them your travel permit and they will let you back into the country. If you leave the country without it, you risk not being allowed to enter the country again.

Using the Travel Document as a Legal Entry

However, the travel document also has another function. People who are here under DACA or TPS and have an immediate relative who can petition for their green card, the travel document can be a game changer. Currently the rules state that if you entered the USA legally you can apply to get your green card while being in the USA. However, in the 5th Circuit (Houston), the law doesn’t recognize DACA or TPS as a legal entry. Therefore, if they want to get a green card they must leave the USA. However, now that we know about the travel document it is possible to apply for one and if granted use it as your legal entry. Let’s pretend someone gets a travel document, leaves to Japan and comes back in. The government will allow them entry because of their travel document and now they have a LEGAL entry into the country and can now apply for their green card in the USA.

Therefore, applying for a travel Document for people who have DACA or TPS can be a game-changer when it comes to getting a green card.

Contact Zavala Texas Law

Feel free to contact us to discuss whether you’re eligible for a travel permit and how it can help you get your green card.

Criminal Convictions and Green Cards aka Legal Permanent Residents

Criminal Convictions and Green Cards aka Legal Permanent Residents

Even if you have a green card aka Legal Permanent Residence, the US government can still deny you the residence in the USA if you have certain criminal convictions. There are two sets of rules that apply when it comes to criminal convictions and legal permanent residents. One is called inadmissibility and the other deportation/removability.

Inadmissibility

Admissibility only comes into play if a permanent resident left the USA for whatever reason and upon entry back into the USA was stopped by immigration services. At this point the government will determine if you deserve to be admitted into the United States. They will ask you for your immigrant visa and will look at any criminal convictions you have. The reason they will look at your criminal history is to determine if you have been convicted of any crimes that make you inadmissible. If you are found to have a crime that makes you inadmissible, the immigration officer has the discretion to not let you into the country and will place you in court proceedings.

Deportation or Removability

Now let’s pretend the green card holder never left the USA but instead got arrested and convicted here in the USA. Depending on what the crime was he may or may not have immigration consequences. Let’s assume it’s a crime that carries immigration consequences and the green card holder is placed in immigration proceedings. At this point Immigration Judge has the right to remove his green card and deport them from the country.

Relief for Green Card Holders (Cancellation of Removal)

If a green card holder finds themselves inadmissible at an airport or deportable inside the USA, there is still something that maybe done. Depending on the certain facts of the green card holder, they may be eligible for Cancellation of Removal 42A. If the green card holder can prove everything needed by law the judge could grant their application and they would be allowed to remain within the country.

It is very important to consult with an experienced immigration and criminal attorney to see if they are eligible for Cancellation of Removal. This is a very important application that if granted by the judge can only be done once in a lifetime. Therefore, it’s very important you put a very strong case together and make sure that you will be able to win the case in front of the immigration judge.

Factors to consider before applying with Immigration

Applying for a Green Card or Visa

If you’re trying to obtain a non-immigrant Visa or legal permanent resident status AKA green card, there are two major things you should consider before applying for your visa.

Eligibility

The first step to come to United States is to see if you are eligible for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. There are multiple visas one can apply for ranging from tourism all the way to employment-based. Each type of visa has eligibility standards and if you don’t qualify they will deny your application. Let’s take a very common B2 Visa, this also known as a tourism Visa. Let’s pretend foreign national wants to apply for a B2 tourist visa. However, at his interview, he claims that he wants to go to USA so that he can work and make money. This would be a violation of the visa guidelines because you are not allowed to work on a tourist visa. Therefore, if he intends to work, he will not be eligible for a tourist visa because he has an ulterior motive. On the employment side there are other visas such as an E2 investor visa which requires a foreign national to open and operate a business in the United States. You must prove your eligibility through business plans and documents. It’s important to determine your eligibility for the intended visa you are applying for. Consult with us at Zavala Texas Law, to help you determine your eligibility.

Inadmissibility

When the United States reviews your current visa or green card application, they will also decide whether you are inadmissible.  The term inadmissible means based on the rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act, you are a person who the USA cannot admit into the country. In my experience most all inadmissibility ground usually come from criminal backgrounds, prior illegal entries, being associated with a criminal organization.

A common example would be if you entered the country illegally or if you overstayed a visa. Both of those examples could find you inadmissible. Depending on the inadmissibility reason, you may be eligible for a discretionary waiver. A waiver is essentially a pardon by immigration. Therefore, if you get your waiver approved cancels out your inadmissibility and you are now admissible into the country.

If you have more questions regarding obtaining a Visa or green card, please feel free to contact us we are here at your disposal.

USCIS: I-797C Explained

What is an I-797C Receipt?

Anytime you file applications with USCIS they will send you what’s called an I-797C receipt. This is a confirmation that USCIS received your application and it is currently being processed . I-797C  receipt is called that because on the upper right hand corner it says I-797C. No matter what application you submitted you will receive an I-797C receipt once USCIS receives your application.

Receiving a receipt does not mean that your application has been approved nor has been denied, all it means is that USCIS has received it and it’s currently processing. Each I-797C document will give you current case updates or will notify you if you were approved or denied.

On the  I-797C receipt it is customary to have a receipt number so that you can track your case with USCIS. When you hire an experienced immigration lawyer, they will receive the majority of the paperwork USCIS sends you. They will keep you informed on your case status and let you know of anything that is needed.

Travel Considerations for Immigrants

Travel considerations for immigrants

If you are here on an immigrant visa or green card, there are a few things you should consider before traveling out of the United States. If you plan on entering the USA again you will be inspected by Department of Homeland Security upon your entrance. They will check if you have a valid immigrant visa and if you have a criminal record that would make you inadmissible.

Valid Immigrant Visa

Make sure you have a valid immigrant visa that will not expire while you are out of the country. When you enter the country, DHS will look to make sure you have a valid visa that allows you to be in the country and hasn’t expired.

If you have an immigrant visa that will it be expiring soon please consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure there will be no complications upon your arrival back into the country.

Criminal Background

If you have been convicted of a crime or have pending criminal charges, it is very important you consult with an immigration lawyer before you travel outside the country. The reason why is because when you try to enter USA they will look at your criminal background. If you have a criminal record they may not let you back in the country. There are many crimes that can make you inadmissible and ultimately will result in your denial into the country.

The criminal consequences vary depending whether you have a green card or an immigrant visa.

Pending USCIS application

If you are currently in the process of getting an immigrant visa or getting your green card, you should speak with an immigration attorney before you leave the country. The reason why is you don’t want to cause any delays in your green card or visa if you leave the country. They may also schedule interviews while you are out of the country. There are some instances where if you leave the country during your application they will deem it abandoned. Therefore you may have to ask for a travel document to let you leave the country and come back in.

What happens during a criminal case?

Criminal Case Process

Ever wondered what happens in a criminal case after someone gets arrested? We decided to explain to you the steps and the outcomes of a criminal case. If you have any questions please feel free to ask or just check out the following info-graph.

Criminal Case Process
How a criminal case is handled

Termination of DACA

DACA Memo – September 4, 2017

Earlier this month, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, terminated an executive order known as the Dream Act. The Dream Act (aka DACA) was created by the Obama Administration back in June 15, 2012. DACA protected people from deportation who were brought here illegally as children. A person had to apply and if granted they would get a work permit and permission to remain within the United States. The policy reason was to protect children from deportation due to the actions of the parents bringing them illegally.

After many months of debate whether Trump would terminate or prolong DACA, the answer finally came on September 4, 2017. In an official memo released by Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General and administration put an end to the 2012 Dreamers Act. The termination isn’t immediate but will be phased out over a 6 month period. This leaves approximately over 800,000 people at risk of deportation unless Congress is able to enact a law within 6 months. Many activists are urging Congress to pass a law to protect these people from deportation.

In the memo by DHS they also set out guidelines on how they will address applications moving forward.

  • Any DACA application submitted before September 4, 2017 will go under the usual review process and maybe approved
  • DACA applications submitted or received after September 4, 2017 will be rejected
  • Current DACA holders whose DACA status terminates between 9/4/2017 and 3/5/2018 will have a chance to renew their status as long as they apply by October 5, 2017.

As of now Congress has proposed some ideas such as the SUCCEED Act which can help protect the people who qualified as Dreamers. Congress has until 3/5/2018 to pass a law or else many people who have lived here most of their lives will be forced to go to a foreign country of birth.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us and we will love to talk you through it.

ICE Hold under the Trump Administration

I recently wrote explaining how an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Hold affects undocumented people who are in criminal proceedings. It is a simple concept, if an undocumented (politically correct way of saying illegal) person is booked into jail for a crime, ICE can place a hold on that person. A hold is a detainer that gives ICE 48 hours to pick up the individual and transfer them into ICE custody and be placed in deportation proceedings. In the past, if an undocumented person was arrested for a crime, they had the right to post bond and could be free while their case is pending. If they were then found guilty, ICE then had the choice to place an ICE hold on them and take them into deportation proceedings. Since the new Presidential Administration has taken over there has been a big shift in policy regarding ICE holds that place undocumented people at a huge disadvantage.

I would say that 90% of my clientele are Hispanic and majority of them undocumented. What use to be a straightforward process of bonding out your family member has now turned into a lengthy nightmare with in my opinion various constitutional rights being violated. For the sake of my example let’s say my client is called “Alex” and he is undocumented. Let’s say Alex gets pulled over for DWI and goes in front of a judge and is given a $500 bond. Prior to the Trump Administration, Alex’s family or friends could pay that bond and he would be processed out no problem. However, recently due to new leadership in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and in the White House, ICE has been a lot more involved with criminal cases.

Under the new policy, Alex’s family can still pay that $500 bond, however instead of being released and handed over to his family he would be released into ICE custody. ICE would then transfer him to a Federal Detention Center and begin deportation proceedings against him. So not only does the family lose their money they paid for bond, Alex now has two cases against him! The original DWI and the Immigration case. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an undocumented person is eligible for Immigration bond if they qualify. An Immigration Bond hearing is very similar to a Criminal Bond hearing in that the Judge listens to the pro’s and con’s of releasing Alex out on bond. Where it gets extremely unfair and prejudicial in my opinion is that the Immigration Judge can consider the pending DWI charge and is free to ask Alex about the incident, which is a HUGE constitutional violation of the 5th amendment, the right to not self-incriminate and the idea of innocent until proven guilty. So not only does DHS use the pending DWI against you even though you haven’t been found guilty of it yet, the Judge is free to ask questions concerning the DWI that can later be used against you in the criminal case.

So let’s believe that Alex had a good lawyer and despite the unfair Immigration Bond hearing he still gets a bond in the amount of $10,000. Alex’s family now must pay $10,000 bond however, in the famous words of Billy Mays, “wait, it gets better!”. After Alex’s family pays the bond, ICE instead of releasing him to the family, ICE now takes him back to the original jail to finish out his criminal case and places ANOTHER ICE hold on him. Therefore, Alex is back in jail and cannot bond out because ICE has a hold on him. This gives Alex the only option of fighting his criminal case while being stuck in jail. The reason ICE takes him back to Criminal jail is because they claim he still has a case pending therefore they have jurisdiction to take him. So, after spending $10,500 and still technically being innocent, Alex is stuck in jail until his criminal case is over. This unfortunately causes many people frustration of being in jail for many months so they plead guilty just to get it all over with. Once they plead guilty, ICE is right there to take them back to Immigration detention.

It used to be that ICE wouldn’t get involved unless it was a serious offense and you were convicted and found guilty. Now due to the new policy by DHS, ICE is exercising their power much more which is leading to unfair court proceedings for undocumented people and an extreme overcrowding of jails.

So, we are left with the question… What should we do? As I tell everyone you should absolutely consult with an experienced lawyer so they can explain the process and the solutions to you. Nothing is more important than your freedom so it’s worth to talk to an experienced immigration and criminal defense attorney to help you.

 

 

 

 

Sanctuary Cities: End Times?

Sanctuary Cities

On May 7, 2017, the governor of Texas Greg Abbott, signed a new document that would go into law September of this year. This new law addressed the controversy around “ Sanctuary cities ” and now requires police to ask about a person’s legal status. In simple terms this new law would require local police to question a person’s legal status and arrest them if they are undocumented. If they do not, the police can face criminal charges as well as fines. This new law is being met with extreme resistance from Pro-Immigration groups and the American Civil Liberties Union but also applauded by many. I will try to highlight the viewpoints from both sides to help easily paint the picture.

The easiest way to explain the idea of a sanctuary city is to first understand the difference between Federal and State law. Immigration is Federal law and handled by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice. In the past, it was the duty of DHS to find and catch undocumented people, not state/local  law enforcement. However, once an undocumented person was arrested and convicted by a State Judge they are SUPPOSED to be reported to Immigration for deportation. This is where the term Sanctuary Cities comes into play. There are certain cities/counties that even after conviction they do not report the undocumented person to DHS and let them leave jail after completing their sentence. With the new President, he vowed to put an end to “sanctuary cities” and Texas quickly followed. The catalyst for this action occurred in San Francisco (which is a Sanctuary city) in 2015, when a girl was killed by an undocumented individual despite him having been in jail multiple times. The argument is if San Francisco complied and notified Immigration officials, the individual would have been deported and this murder never would have happened. By implementing this new law, Texas hopes to facilitate the deportation of undocumented individuals.

However, the opposition of this new law argues many different points. One complaint of many local law enforcement is that they would be spread too thin. They do not have the manpower nor would that be a good use of local law enforcement.  Their view is that our police have bigger issues to deal with than doing the work for DHS. They can’t do the work of DHS and still keep up with their local duties. Others say that we can’t hold all the undocumented people in jail because there just isn’t enough room. A similar law had been tried in Arizona a few years back which gave the police the power to ask for an individual’s legal status. Ultimately this law was removed but many people argue that this new Texas law is the same wolf in different sheep’s clothing.

Even though this new law is supposed to come into effect on September 1, 2017, it will be met with much opposition and legal challenges. It will be interesting to see if other states follow Texas’s example and implement similar laws. Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press regarding the new bill.
The Associated Press reports:

“The new Texas law was blasted by opponents as the nation’s toughest on immigrants since Arizona’s crackdown in 2010, disparagingly known as the ‘papers, please’ provision. They are now vowing a court challenge in Texas similar to what unfolded in Arizona.

“Every major police chief in Texas, which includes some of the largest cities in the U.S., opposed the measure that allows police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they detain, a situation that can range from arrest for a crime to being stopped for a traffic violation.

“It also requires police chiefs and sheriffs — under the threat of jail and removal of office — to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation. Republicans have a strong majority in the Legislature and shoved aside Democratic objections, even as President Donald Trump’s efforts to withhold federal funding for sanctuary cities have hit roadblocks in federal courts.”

If you have any questions please Contact Us!

Immigration Hold

The Criminal Justice System and Immigration Courts are two entirely different judicial proceedings, though they ultimately can be tied in together for certain defendants. When a person is in this country illegally, they are by default “removable” (the politically correct term for deportable).

The truth is that the number of undocumented people in this country far exceeds the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) capacity to deport. So, in 2014, the DHS created a “Removal Priority System,” a ranking system for people who are to be deported based on the country’s priority to deport them. At the top of the list are people with criminal convictions and they will have an Immigration hold placed on them.

I frequently see clients who either already have or fear an immigration hold. An immigration hold is a form of detention placed by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), the immigration police arm of DHS. ICE will instruct the local jail housing the inmate not to allow them out under any circumstances until ICE comes and gets them. Remember, DHS is trying to remove people with criminal convictions.

At this point, the defendant is at the mercy of DHS. Even if the defendant bonds out of jail, the jail will notify ICE who will take him or her into custody. If the defendant pleads guilty, the same will happen. The only way to remove an ICE hold is if a defendant’s case is dismissed or if he is determined not guilty. At that point, since the defendant no longer has criminal proceedings against him or her, the defendant drops to DHS’ second priority, dramatically reducing the likelihood for deportation.

I have found that in Harris County, due to the immense amount of criminal proceedings occurring daily, ICE will only apply an immigration hold if the charge is a felony or a serious misdemeanor. The reason being that serious criminals should be the highest priority of removal from this country.

If ICE does detain and transfer a defendant to immigration jail, the defendant may or may not be eligible for a bond under Immigration Nationality Act 236, depending on the criminal conviction. The Immigration Nationality Act sets the rules governing immigration proceedings, while the Texas Penal Code is what governs criminal proceedings.

Sometimes serving undocumented clients means an attorney has to face both criminal and immigration issues. Criminal convictions can have serious consequences in the immigration realm, and it’s important to have a lawyer who knows that.

Always consult with an immigration attorney if the defendant is undocumented because after the criminal case, there may be an immigration case following.