Archive for the 'Immigration' Category

A Breakdown of San Francisco’s Sanctuary Policy

san francisco sanctuary citySan Francisco’s sanctuary policy has recently come under scrutiny in light of the recent shooting of a woman named Kathryn Steinle. The 31-year-old woman was walking with her father on Pier 14 along the Embarcadero near the San Francisco waterfront when she was fatally shot by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.

The suspect had been deported five times, and had seven felony convictions. After having served 46 months for the felony of re-entering the U.S., he was sent from a prison in Victorville in San Bernardino County to San Francisco by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. When he returned to San Francisco, federal immigration officials requested that he be held so that he could be deported to his native Mexico. But the sheriff’s department did not honor that request. He was released on April 15th after drug charges against him were dropped.

While many have criticized the sheriff’s department for releasing Mr. Sanchez, the department was merely following San Francisco’s 26-year-old sanctuary law, under which the city does not honor requests for immigration detention. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi stated that his agency released Mr. Sanchez in accordance with an October 2013 city ordinance that was signed by the mayor.

Under that ordinance, law enforcement officials “shall not detain an individual on the basis of a civil immigration detainer after that individual becomes eligible for release” unless there is a very strict exception. According to the exception, the city is allowed to hold an inmate for immigration officials if he or she was convicted of a violent felony within the previous seven years, and is being held on a pending violent felony. There is nothing to suggest that Mr. Sanchez met either provision.
However, the San Francisco Chronicle gained access to city records that indicate Mr. Mirkarimi acted beyond the directions stated in the ordinance. Just two weeks prior to the transfer of Mr. Sanchez to San Francisco, on March 9th, Mr. Mirkarimi issued an order to the members of his staff forbidding all holds of inmates requested by federal immigration officials. His memo stated that the detainer policy of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is that Immigration Detainers from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) are not to be honored or booked. This represented a change from his previous policy, which permitted detainers in specific critical cases.

According to SFGate, an attorney named Freya Horne, who works with the Sheriff’s Department, stated that federal authorities should have acquired a court order if they wished Mr. Sanchez to be detained. Without a court order, he was to be released based on the city’s ordinance. Immigration holds are not perceived as orders that are legally binding; they are considered to be requests. In response to Ms. Horne’s statement, Virginia Kice, a representative from ICE, said that acquiring such orders would not be feasible.

Nevertheless, there must have been something that the authorities could have done to prevent this tragedy from occurring. While neither the sheriff’s department nor ICE seems willing to accept responsibility for the release of Mr. Sanchez, both must take steps to ensure that tougher measures are in place. Perhaps San Francisco’s sanctuary policy needs to be revised so that it does not protect individuals who repeatedly commit crimes, even if they are not violent crimes. Mr. Sanchez was first arrested in Arizona, where he was charged with “inhaling toxic vapors.” He was later arrested because of drug charges in Arizona, California, Washington, and Oregon.

Mr. Sanchez claims that the shooting was an accident because the gun, which he alleges he discovered wrapped in a shirt, fired, and he did not intend to shoot Ms. Steinle. Some have described what happened as an isolated incident, and that any change to San Francisco’s sanctuary policy will only serve to foster distrust on the part of undocumented immigrants toward authorities. And as a result, undocumented immigrants will be less likely to come forward in the event that they are victims of, or witness, a crime.

However, according to Jeff Stone, a Republican state senator who represents Riverside, there have been many other cases in California, Texas, and other states in which undocumented felons were not deported, and went on to commit egregious crimes. Mr. Stone has submitted a proposal for a bill to amend the 2013 California Trust Act, which currently restricts cooperation between local authorities and federal officials. If the proposed bill were to become law, such cooperation would be required in cases where undocumented immigrants who are being held are felons, particularly if they have been arrested on drug charges.

Human Rights Violations by the U.S. Border Patrol Must Stop

Jesus Castro Romo, has been awarded $497,000 to supplement for damages caused by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, Abel Canales. Canales shot Romo in the back when doing a routine 2010 immigration stop. On February 5th, Judge James Soto demanded the payment of $553,000 awarded to Romo, but reduced it by 10% since Romo was illegally trying to cross the border and therefore semi-responsible for his injury.

U.S. Border PatrolCanales was later sent to prison after his involvement with a drug cartel was discovered, deeming his defense untrustworthy. Castro is not only one of the only survivors of such CBP shootings, but federal courts have almost always rejected claims made by immigrants against single agents or the federal government. The ruling is one of the first to protect a Mexican citizen’s civil rights and deem the U.S. border agents and the federal government to be guilty.

More often than not, non-U.S. citizens are not awarded the same civil rights as U.S. citizens. Even more disheartening, 67 cases of border shootings from January 2010-October 2012 demonstrate a clear issue with CBP use of force. James F. Tomsheck, who used to head the CBP internal affairs, was removed and placed to a senior Border Patrol post, after he disclosed the indiscretions of the CBP.

Tomsheck divulged a less than flattering indictment of the CBP’s integrity:

  • “CBP has a culture of impunity, seeing itself as above reproach and ‘constitutional constraints,’ and aims to shield agents’ misconduct and a massive corruption problem from outside scrutiny.”
  • “Border Patrol officials have consistently tried to change or distort facts to make fatal shootings by agents appear to be ‘a good shoot’ and cover up any wrongdoing.”
  • He also believes that “thousands of employees hired during an unprecedented expansion of the agency in the post-9/11 era are potentially unfit to carry a badge and gun.”

Although crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico is illegal, the United States is still responsible for upholding international human rights with every person it encounters. Enforcement policies are largely ignored, and the use of force upon immigrants is inhuman and in violation of basic civil rights. A CBP reform needs to occur to end the fatal killings of Mexican citizens.

Obama’s Influence on the Battle over Immigration Reform

The battle over immigration reform has reached a boiling point.

Obama Immigration ReformDuring his presidency, Barack Obama has promised to act on his long-term efforts to reform the country’s immigration policies, and did so by announcing a controversial executive order on November 20, 2014. Obama has been quoted as saying, “I believe that America is a nation of immigrants. Everybody agrees that the system is broken; there has been ample opportunity for Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would strengthen our borders, improve the legal immigration system and lift millions of people out of the shadows, so that they are paying taxes and getting right by the law.” However, despite America’s “200 year history” of welcoming immigrants, the system has broken down in the last couple of decades.

The debate, now dominating the media, began during his presidency on June 15, 2012, when President Obama created a new policy calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people, who came to the U.S. as children. The “Dream Act”, also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) was implemented on August 15, 2012, and those affected are appropriately called the “Dreamers”

Although the Dream Act did not create legalization and citizenship, it did, at the very least, initiate important opportunities for some the country’s young undocumented immigrants. Some of the concessions granted include allowing young people to remain in the country without fear of deportation and obtain work permits, which inevitably increases their chances for economic and social incorporation. Many are now afforded the same rights as other aspiring young people such as opening their first bank account, obtaining their first credit card and landing their first professional job.

However, there are many restrictions which exclude the country’s youth from possible deportation including the requirement of entering the U.S. before the age of 16, being under the age of 31 before June 15, 2012, being present in the U.S. for 5 years, graduating from high school or obtaining a GED, being accepted to college and having good “moral character.” Finally, it in no way addressed the constant threat of deportation of their immediate family.

Critics of immigration reform are often quoted as saying, “But who will pay for all these people to stay in our country.” However, they fail to recognize that undocumented immigrants have long contributed to the success of state economies.

Some of the highlights of Obama’s recent historic executive order are as follows:

  • There has been massive exploitation of undocumented immigrants by low pay, but because of the risk of being torn apart from their families, they comply. Additionally, the companies who are paying living wages, are strained by the competition, and will inevitably succumb to these unethical practices.
  • Since his presidency, Obama has worked extensively to secure the southern border with more agents and security than ever in history. For example, in the past 6 years, illegal border crossings has been cut down by more than half.
  • Instead of resorting to an executive action, Obama attempted to work with Congress. In fact, 68 democrats, republicans and independents came together to pass a bipartisan act which would have doubled security agents and allowed undocumented immigrants to stay if they paid a fine, paid taxes and went to back of the line This would have help grow the economy and decrease the deficit. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives refused to allow the bill to pass, despite the constant criticism from the far right on Obama’s efforts to fix the economic disaster, which almost placed the country into a recession before he was even elected.

As Obama explained, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants is not good for the country and far from realistic.  He pointed out that they work hard, support their families with significantly lower wages than equally qualified citizens, worship in community churches, are largely patriotic and most of their children already live in the U.S., many of which are citizens.  In fact, former President Bush, who is very conservative, was quoted as saying immigrants are “part of American lives.” However, there are restrictions to Obama’s order which, contrary to public opinion, actually satisfy most of the concerns from the conservative opposition. The following are the main provisions of the order:

  • Increased resources at the border, with more security.
  • Implementation of a process to make it easier and faster for high skilled immigrants and business entrepreneurs to stay in the country (which big business leaders support.)
  • Immigration laws that are broken, which result in those responsible being held accountable, including the deportation of felons, criminals and gang members, as opposed to families, children and single mothers.
  • The requirements to avoid deportation are an immigrant must be in the country for 5 year, have children who are American citizens or legal residents, register, pass a criminal check and pay taxes.
  • Undocumented immigrants must not enter illegally from this point forward.

In my opinion, the executive order is far from perfect. It gives too many concessions to those who oppose equality. Nonetheless, legal challenges to the order will no doubt be brought by republican controlled Congress, including threats of impeachment constantly looming over the president (especially by the House Speaker John Boehner). Therefore, many of the details of any executive order will be vulnerable to court action. Additionally, Congress will inevitably threaten a government shutdown, mirroring the one that rocked the nation in 2013, which focused on the republicans desire to defund the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. However, Obama remains defiant in the face of such threats and was steadfast in his promise to take action. Hopefully, the opposition will see the light and allow the country to grow and prosper, while staying true to equality for all.

You Can Have a 90 Day Fiancé Too!

TLC’s latest television show, 90 Day Fiancé, explores the trials and tribulations of Americans being engaged to foreigners. The premise of the show is that couples who met abroad must legally get marry within a 90 day period where the foreign significant others visit the United States.

90 day fianceThroughout this time, the couples must evaluate their compatibility. If they don’t  walk down the aisle by the end of the 90 days, then heartbreak occurs and the foreigner must pack his or her bags and leave the United States.

How Is This Possible?

Although America may have some strict immigration laws, America does not want to prevent its citizens from finding true love outside of the motherland. As a result, US citizens who find love abroad may sponsor K-1 visas (i.e. fiancé visas) to allow their foreign counterparts to visit America. In order to qualify for this visa, the American citizen must intend to marry their foreign counterpart at the time of the application.

What Happens When the Visa Is Approved?

Once the K-1 visa is approved, your fiancé has 6 months to come to the United States and may stay here for 90 days. The fiancé may only use this visa once to enter onto U.S. soils. This does not mean the foreign counterpart gets a green card; she merely gets to visit United States.

After this 90 day period, the visa will expire. The couple must wed in order for the foreign counterpart to stay in the United States. If not, the foreign counterpart must leave.

Seeking Legal Help with a 90 Day Fiancé

An immigration lawyer can help you with all the paperwork. A lawyer may be necessary to ensure that all documents are properly prepared. Note that your application will become more complex if either you or your fiancé has gone through the K-1 visa process previously.

Why American Citizens Should Be Concerned about Deportation Hearings

The Obama administration predicts that 90,000 illegal immigrants may be apprehended this year. Most of the new illegal immigrants are either unaccompanied minors or mothers with small children. Public reaction to the problem has ranged from sympathy for the illegal immigrants to open hostility. Most concerns about surge are focused on economic or humanitarian issues.

Deportation HearingHowever, the illegal immigration question has opened up questions about other areas of the law:

  • Refugee and Asylums – Most of the minors coming from Central and Southern American could qualify for refugee status, although it is unknown how many of the stories are actually authentic. Deportation proponents might try to change the law regarding refugees and political asylum in an effect to keep the newcomers out. However, that could have ramifications for people who are actually fleeing from political oppression or natural disasters.
  • Immigration Court Backlogs – Immigration courts are notoriously slow. Between the mountains of paperwork and low budgets, getting through the immigration system is slower than a glacial moving downstream. The recent influx of cases could mean that your petition for your relative’s entry into the country could be backlogged.
  • Erosion of Due Process – Proponents of deportation might question why illegal immigrants should have rights like due process. The reason is that the Constitution confers rights onto persons, regardless of immigration status. If Homeland Security is willing to deport immigrants without trial, the federal government could ignore due process for citizens as well.
  • Erosion of Equal Protection – The government should stop illegal immigration, but it should not make the mistake of confusing ethnicity or race with immigration status. Ferguson exposed the fact that racial tensions still exist, but we shouldn’t assume that racial profiling is limited to African Americans.

If you are involved in or are facing immigration proceedings, you should seek the advice and representation of an immigration attorney. Having an attorney represent you is critical since your immigration status could be at stake.