Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Asylum Granted to Honduran Victim of Domestic Abuse

Today, Arlington Immigration Court Judge Thomas Snow granted asylum to a woman from Honduras who was a victim of domestic abuse.  For a little over two years, the woman suffered physical, mental and economic abuse at the hands of her common law husband, who threatened to find her and kill her if she ever attempted to leave.  The woman was only able to escape when a neighbor intervened to pull the husband off of the woman as the husband was attempting to choke her after an argument over the husband’s mistress.  Taking the neighbor’s advice, the woman made the treacherous journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States.  Once in the United States, the woman was taken into custody by Border Patrol, and placed in removal proceedings.

As counsel to the woman, we submitted evidence demonstrating that Honduras is a deeply-rooted patriarchal society, where women get their identities first from their fathers and then from their husbands.  For a single woman living alone, access to credit and good jobs is virtually impossible.  As a result, women become dependent on their husbands, and are often treated like property and abused.  The State Department, in its annual human rights reports on Honduras, reports that rape and domestic abuse are significant problems in Honduras, as is femicide, or the murder of a woman by her significant other.  In 2008, the State Department cited statistics showing that 90% of femicides in Honduras went unpunished.

Victims of domestic abuse receive little help from governmental authorities.  According to Claudia Herrmansdorfer of the Center for Women’s Rights in Tegucigalpa, the police tend to treat domestic violence as an issue that should be resolved by the couple, and do not intervene.  Likewise, prosecutors tend not to bring cases of domestic violence to court.  This means that women in an abusive relationship in Honduras receive little, if any, protection from the government.

Asylum can be granted where an applicant can show that she fears that she will be persecuted if returned to her home country because of one of five protected categories:  (1) political opinion; (2) race; (3) religion; (4) nationality or (5) membership in a particular social group.  For victims of domestic abuse, the difficulty had been to fit the reason for the abuse into one of these five categories.  In 1999, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected an asylum application where the applicant claimed to be part of a particular social group defined as “Guatemalan women intimately involved with abusive Guatemalan male companions who believe that women are to live under male dominance.”  In 2001, the Attorney General exercised his discretion to reverse the BIA’s decision, and remand it back to Board for reconsideration.  No published opinion has resulted from that remand.

The recent trend, however, has been to grant asylum to victims of domestic abuse.  In this case, both the Immigration Judge and the attorney for the Department with Homeland Security agreed with us that the woman was part of a particular social group defined as “Honduran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationship.”  Indeed, the DHS attorney did not oppose the asylum application, allowing the Immigration Court proceedings to run smoothly.  The woman was not required to recount her emotional tale of abuse in court, but was asked only to affirm the truthfulness of her asylum application under oath.  The DHS attorney also asked questions of the woman to make sure that no statutory bars to asylum, such as criminal and terrorist activities, applied in her case.

Having been granted asylum the woman may now live and work in the United States legally.  In one year, she may apply for permanent residency status, which could eventually lead to U.S. citizenship.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Congress to Increase H-1B Caps?

A bill, called the Immigration Innovation Act or I2, (I-Squared) has been introduced in Congress in an effort to expand the number of foreign workers who can obtain temporary visas to work for U.S. companies.  The bill would expand the number of H-1B visas available each year on a sliding scale, depending on the demand by U.S. empoyers for such workers.

The H-1B visa is open to workers to be employed in specialty occupations.  A specialty occupation is defined as an occupation that requires a bachelor's degree, or its equivalent, or higher as the normal entry requirement for the position.

Each year, there are 65,000 temporary visas available for specialty workers.  Another 20,000 visas are set aside specifically for workers who hold a U.S. master's degree.  The temporary visas can eventually lead to permanent residency.  They are often used for U.S. companies seeking to fill high-tech positions, although any job which requires a bachelor's degree may be able to qualify for the basis of an H-1B visa.

U.S. employers may apply for the H-1B visas up to six months before the visas are to take effect.  The visas become available at the beginning of the fiscal year, or October 1.  This means that an employer may submit an application as early as April 1.  In times of an expanding economy, it is not uncommon for the cap of all 85,000 visas to to be met on the first day of filing.

If passed, I2 would raise the number of H-1B visas available each year from 65,000 to 115,000. More H-1B visas could be made available, depending on the demand.  If the cap is met within the first 45 days of when petitions can be filed, another 20,000 wold be made available.  If the cap is met within the first 60 days, then another 15,000 would be made available.  If the cap is met within the first 90 days, then another 10,000 visas would be made available.  If the cap is met again by the 275th day on which petitions can be filed, another 5,000 visas would be made available.  Under the proposed legislation, the cap on foreign workers holding U.S. master's degrees would be eliminated.

This bill has received bi-partisan support, as it is co-sponsored by such Republicans as Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio, and such Democrats as Bill Nelson and Mark Warner.

However, passage of the bill is not assured.  Senators Dick Durbin and Charles Grassley, for example, have been critical of the H-1B program, arguing that it permits U.S. employers to bypass hiring available U.S. workers.  U.S. technology companies, by contrast, have been pushing for the expansion of available H-1B visas.

The President has promised to press for comprehensive immigration reform this year.  The Obama Administration's strategy has been to push through a single bill addressing various immigration issues.  By contrast, the Republicans, many of whom believe it critical to press for reform in the aftermath of the 2012 election defeat, wish to press forward with many bills, each addressing a discrete immigration issue.  The goal for Republicans appears to be to avoid a show-down within the party over anything perceived by the far-right to be amnesty.  Whether this bill passes, or is absorbed by a larger, more comprehensive bill, remains to be seen.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

Friday, February 15, 2013

Is ICE Ginning up the Numbers of "Criminal" Deportations?

The Obama Administration has stated publicly that it's deportation policy is to concentrate enforcement resources on high priority cases, such as criminal aliens.  An article in USA Today suggests that the Administration may have been ginning up the numbers to make it appear as though deportation of criminals has been on the rise.

At issue is what the definition of a "criminal alien" is.  The easy cases are those convicted of crimes such as assault and battery and larceny.  The article suggests, however, that the Administration has included in its definition of a "criminal alien" those who have convictions for minor traffic offenses, such as driving without a license.

To be clear, in Virginia, driving without a license is a misdemeanor, and can carry a jail sentence of no more than one year.  However, undocumented aliens cannot obtain a driver's license in Virginia.  This raises the question of whether driving without a license is on par with other crimes, such as larceny.

In the past, ICE has estimated that up to a quarter of its criminal deportations included aliens who had only traffic violations.  ICE has not released information of how many of the criminal deportations of the most current year were due to minor traffic convictions.

While the article hints that ICE has been trolling DMV records, and deporting aliens who have nothing more than a traffic violation, the article also points out that there have been instances where ICE has refused to initiate deportation proceedings against aliens who were cited for driving without a license.  The article mentions as an example an incident near Asheville, North Carolina where 15 individuals were arrested at a police checkpoint mostly for minor traffic violations, immigration officials ordered many of them released.

The article implies that there are quotas within the agency to maintain high numbers of criminal deportations, and that in orderto meet these goals there is pressure to initiate removal proceedings against those convicted of minor traffic offense.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Now Accepting Credit and Debit Cards!

The law firm of William J. Kovatch, Jr., Attorney at Law, PLLC is pleased to announce that we are now accepting credit and debit cards for payment.  A small convenience fee of 3% will be applied to credit and debit card payments.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Update

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published the most recent statistics on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  As of January 17, 2013, USCIS had received 407,899 applications.  Of those applications, 13,366 were initially rejected.  This means that there was a problem with the application itself, such as missing documents or missing fees.  Of the remaining 394,533 applications, 154,404 have been approved.  USCIS does not release statistics on how many applications are denied.  Therefore, it is not known whether the remaining 240,000 applications are still pending or have been denied.

USCIS also does not publish statistics on how long it takes to process the deferred action applications.  From my experience, I can say that I have made applications in October which remain pending.  y advice with respect to visa petitions has been to expect about six to eight months before receiving a decision.  At this point, the applications I have made have not reached the six to eight month mark.

Applications peaked in September and October of 2012, and have steadily dropped off since then.  However, applications for deferred action are still being accepted.  More information about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals can be found on my web page.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832