Friday, April 19, 2013

The Boston Bombings Should Not Prompt Us to React out of Xenophobia

Now that this chapter of the Boston Marathon bombings has come to a close, and a new chapter about to open, I'd like to start this blog entry with a prayer.  Dear Lord, thank you for the wisdom and skill of the FBI, and the Boston area police and rescue departments.  Thank you for allowing the authorities to apprehend this man alive.  Be with the family of all the victims and grant them your strength as they learn how to recover from this horrible chain of events. Watch over the souls of all of those who lost their lives this week.  Guide us with your wisdom and your sense of justice as we as a society respond to these events.  Amen.

As I sit here, watching the coverage on CNN and Fox News, I cannot help but feel a certain sense of apprehension.  I am apprehensive that we will allow fear and xenophobia guide our response.

The xenophobia was certainly present in the media coverage during the week.  Thursday, as I was listening to Sean Hannity (yes, I am a fan), he kept harping on the 20 year old Saudi student who was a victim of the bombing but was questioned earlier in the week by the authorities.  Hannity kept insisting that certain unnamed sources, whom he did not identify, had told him that the student was scheduled to be deported on Tuesday, that there was a secret meeting between the President and Saudi officials that afternoon, that because of that meeting the deportation might be placed on hold, and that this was all being kept quiet.

I was immediately struck by the complete ignorance and irresponsibility Hannity had shown.  First of all, having gone through a number of deportations and voluntary departures with my clients, I know that ICE will not divulge when an alien is being deported.  It is considered a security risk, and they just won't do it.  I can't imagine how someone in the know would break that rule by informing Sean Hannity, even if it was off the record, knowing that Hannity would then go on the air and publicize that information.

The second problem is that people are not just simply deported.  We have a legal system.  Even aliens present in the United States illegally may have certain forms of relief available under the law.  A person with a student visa cannot be deported without going to Immigration Court, and being found in violation of that status.  Hannity's statements seemed to betray an ignorance of how the system works.

Finally, I was deeply disturbed by this focus on the student's nationality.  It played upon the fear and distrust many have for Arabs in this country.  Never mind that the Sa'ud family itself is a close ally with the United States.  Never mind that painting with such a broad brush has the effect of perpetuating fear and bigotry against Arabs, when only a very small minority want to do us harm.

In the end, Hannity's focus on the Saudi student proved misguided, as we later learned that the suspects were ethnic Chechens, not Saudis.

But even then, the reaction I heard from some continued to disturb me.  When tuning in to the Rush Limbaugh Show on Friday, I heard Mark Steyn railing against the immigration system, and how the Government could have let these two live in our country.  I saw some of my "friends" in social media have similar reactions, complaining of how we could let people from these areas of the world come to our country.  Even Senator Grassley has used these chain of events in debating immigration reform.

Has the immigration system failed us?  From what is being reported now, these two men were granted refugee status almost twelve years ago.  They spent their teenage years in the United States.  One became a citizen of the United States.  We are not talking about someone who snuck across our borders illegally.  We are not talking about someone who misused a temporary visa to gain entry to the United States to perpetrate these attacks.  We are talking about a family who escaped violence and persecution overseas, and who has been present here for over a decade.  Whatever hate entered these two men's hearts, entered after they had come to this country.  Overhauls in the immigration system would have not likely prevented the Boston attack.

If there was a failure in the immigration system, it was a failure in enforcement.  Specifically, the older suspect apparently had a conviction for some sort of domestic violence.  Yes, certain crimes of domestic violence make a person, even a permanent resident, deportable.  But, at this point, the only information available on that is vague at best.  Domestic violence encompasses a wide array of crimes, not all of which would necessarily be deportable offenses.  Without more information, I cannot criticize immigration enforcement as it applies to these two individuals.

What I do know is that knee jerk reactions, especially when it comes to the immigration system, are unwise and unwarranted.  We can't simply ban a whole class of nationalities from entering the United States because we think that they are unfriendly to us.  Perhaps those who propose such a thing forgot our shameful past of detaining Japanese families during the Second World War for no reason other than ethnicity.  No.  We are the United States, and we are supposed to rise above such bigotry (a sentiment reinforced in me tonight, after having taken my children to see that fabulous movie about Jackie Robins, 42).

Plus, the politics of the Middle East and the Russian interior have very little to do with one of the main issues to be addressed in immigration reform: the millions of undocumented aliens already present in the United States.  The overwhelming majority of those aliens are Latinos who came to this country simply looking to work hard and send money home to their families.

No, the evil perpetrated upon Boston this week had very little to do with immigration policy.  Putting the brakes on immigration reform now, in reaction to the Boston bombings, would simply be a reaction out of xenophobia and bigotry.  We are better than that.

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Details of the Proposed Immigration Reform

The Gang of Eight introduced its proposal for immigration reform in the Senate today.  The bill is 844 pages long, and will take time to read, digest and analyze.  However, one organization, the Migration Policy Institute, has published a detailed comparison of the proposals introduced in this bill, and the proposals made in 2006 and 2007.

The heart of the proposal appears to be to require the Department of Homeland Security to create strategies to provide greater border security, and to implement those strategies, in exchange for permitting those who are present in the United States without legal status to be given provisional status, which could eventually lead to citizenship.

First, Homeland Security must submit strategies for protecting the southern border within six months of the passage of the bill.  Once the strategies have been submitted to Congress, then a new status, Registered Provisional Immigrant ("RPI"), is created.  The Secretary of Homeland Security must then certify to Congress and the President that the plans have been submitted, implemented and substantially operational or complete.  A mandatory employer verification system (E-Verify) and an electronic exit system at air and sea ports must also be implemented.  Once all of these conditions have been met, then those with RPI status may apply for permanent residency.

RPI status must be renewed every six months.  Eligible aliens must have been continually present in the United States from December 31, 2011.  Those with RPI status must learn English, and pay all taxess before they can adjust to permanent residency.  However, certain deportees who were present before December 31, 2011 may apply for re-entry under RPI status, if they were not deported for criminal reasons and other criteria are met.

To received RPI status, there will be a $500 fee at filing, and a $500 fee upon renewal.  To adjust to permanent residency, there will be a $1,000 fine, plus a processing fee ($400 fine for agricultural workers). 

It should be stressed that this is just a proposal.  It is subject to mark-up and amendment in the Senate.  It must also pass the House of Representatives and be signed by the President before it becomes law.  Thus, changes should be expected.  More details on the proposal shall follow.

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

Want to Help a Brother or Sister Come to the U.S.? You May Need to Act Soon!

The so-called "Gang of Eight" unveiled its immigration reform proposal in the Senate today.  The proposal contained a lot of changes; too many to detail in a blog entry such as this.  It does appear that that in order to account for the undocumented aliens who may be permitted to stay in the United States, other visa categories may be restricted or eliminated altogether.  The full text of the 844 page immigration reform bill, titled the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," can be found at this link.

One of the more surprising proposals is the elimination of permanent residency visas for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.  Currently, a U.S. citizen can petition for a visa for a foreign-born brother or sister.  A very limited number of such visas are available on an annual basis, meaning that there is currently a backlog of approved visa petitions waiting for a visa to become available.  Dubbed category F4, for most countries visas for brothers or sisters of U.S. citizens are just becoming available for petitions which were filed on or before May 1, 2001.  For brothers and sisters from the Philippines, visas are just becoming available where the visa petition was filed on or before October 1, 1989.

The bill will now be introduced in the Senate, and will go through debate and "mark-up."  Mark-up is where amendments to the bill can be considered.  Even if the bill passes the Senate, it must pass the House of Representatives as well.  This means that it is likely that the bill which was introduced today will undergo numerous changes should it become law.

Nonetheless, the proposal to eliminate the brothers and sisters of U.S citizens category should cause some degree of urgency for those who wish to assist their sibling in coming to the United States.  If a citizen wants to help a sibling, that citizen should not delay in filing the visa petition.  Waiting to file could mean that the citizen and the sibling have lost their opportunity to obtain a permanent residency visa.

If you want to consult with an immigration attorney about filing a sibling petition, or for any other immigration matter, call me at (703) 837-8832 for an appointment.

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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beware of Overreacting to the Boston Attack Based on Fear and Speculation; Justice Shall Prevail

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, as well as to all of the people of Boston.  Words cannot describe the sorrow, and even the anger I feel right now.  I can only hope that the full force of justice is brought down on the cowards who perpetrated such an evil and horrific act.

At the same time, I cannot adequately express the admiration I have for the people of Boston and how they have responded; from the police and emergency workers who responded in the face of danger, to the every day people giving a hand to the injured.

But we are now entering a very dangerous time.  I am not talking about the potential for follow-up attacks.  I am talking about the urge to speculate and overreact after such a horrific act of evil has been committed.

As I write these thoughts, there is very little that we know.  We don't know who did this.  We don't know why.  But as in any senseless act, we seek answers.  And at time, when we look for answers and try to make sense of the senseless, our fears lead us to dangerous speculation.

This is a time when yellow journalism flourishes.  Unconfirmed rumors abound, which tend to play upon our biases and our fears.  And sometimes, it is the unconfirmed rumors and the speculation that pushes us to overreact and blame the wrong people.

As an example, one of the headlines on the Drudge Report says, "Young Person Here on Student Visa."  Yet, when you click the link, you see that there is no suspect in custody.  There is just a vague reference to a person in whom the authorities have some interest, stating that he is here on a student visa.  Another link on the Drudge Report highlights an allegation that a "Saudi was acting suspiciously."  Yet, when you click on the link, there is no reference in the article of the nationality of any individual involved.

Likewise, I have been watching Sean Hannity's coverage on Fox News.  Mind you, I am a fan of Hannity and am sympathetic to many of his views.  But, I can describe his coverage of this event as nothing but irresponsible.  Indeed, one of his so-called experts was Mark Furhman, a notorious former Los Angeles police officer who not only was discredited twenty years ago in connection with the Nicole Brown Simpson case, but who has been convicted of perjury.  With no information whatsoever, Furhman continually referred to a "Middle East" style explosive devise, insinuating that this was an act of Middle Eastern terrorism.

Indeed, even former Pennsylvania Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (a man whom I respect), while noting that much of the information on the explosive devices will be protected by investigators, could not help but speculate publicly about Middle Eastern terrorism.

The danger of such irresponsible speculation at this stage in the development of the story is that it is designed to play on our emotions.  It is designed to manipulate our fears.  You put out there concepts like a suspicious Saudi, Middle Eastern terrorism and a student visa holder, and suddenly you will have people blaming Arabs and the immigration system, all without concrete information.

There is a danger that such a reaction of emotional speculation will derail the push for much needed immigration reform.  There is a danger of blaming an entire group of people, namely Arabs, when we just do not know enough yet.

It is at times like this that we must remember that we are the United States of America.  We built our Constitution on individual freedoms and due process of law.  The Federalist Papers speak of the need to temper the passions of the masses, so that we can approach governance in a deliberative fashion.  We cannot let passions, fear and speculation shape our response to this evil and senseless act now.  We must let justice take its course, based on facts and evidence.

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

H-1B Specialty Workers Cap Season Open

April 1rst marks the beginning of the H-1B cap season.  The H-1B visa is a temporary visa available for U.S. companies seeking to hire a foreign worker for a position that qualifies as a specialty worker.  In general, specialty workers are those positions which require a bachelor's degree or higher.

Every year, 65,000 visas are available for specialty workers.  An additional 20,000 visas are available for specialty workers who hold a masters degree or higher from a U.S. institution.

Applications for the H-1B visas can be filed up to six months before the beginning of the fiscal year.  That means that the first day that H-1B visa petitions can be filed is April 1 for visas that will be valid starting on October 1.

A few years ago, there were more petitions filed during the first week of April than there were visas available.  However, for the past few years, visas have remained available for a few months after April 1.  With the economy showing signs of bouncing back, there is a possibility that all of the available visas will be taken in a short period of time.

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