Archive for the Recent Posts Category.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional, Bi-national Same-Sex Couples Can Now Receive Immigration Benefits

The decision on June 26, 2013, issued by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, will benefit same-sex married couples in which one spouse is not either a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident. The Defensive of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law that limits the recognition of marriage to only opposite-sex couples.  Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government cannot exclude same-sex couples from federal laws and programs, which include immigration laws.

As of June 26, 2013, following United States v. Windsor, U.S. federal immigration law allows a United States Citizen or Permanent Resident to legally sponsor his or her non-citizen spouse for Permanent Resident Status on the basis of marriage. Permanent Residence allows non-citizens to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Thus, the foreign national in a same-sex marriage can now obtain a “Green Card” as long as his or her marriage was legal where it took place. In the U.S., same-sex marriage is legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision. In this statement, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of DHS, applauds the Court for ruling DOMA unconstitutional, calling DOMA “discriminatory” towards same-sex couples; “Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

As this development is brand new, we anticipate questions yet to be answered. However, under current law, we are able to assist any bi-national same-sex married couple in pursuing and obtaining Lawful Permanent Residence for the foreign national spouse. We will be happy to take such cases and look forward to representing same-sex married couples in the future. In fact, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already granted Permanent Residence in a bi-national same-sex marriage case.

Please call our office to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys who will be able to explain in more detail what your options may be and how our law office can assist you in the process.

For more information on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, read the Court’s opinion released June 26th, 2013: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_6j37.pdf.

Read the full statement by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, released June 26th, 2013: http://www.dhs.gov/news/2013/06/26/statement-secretary-homeland-security-janet-napolitano-supreme-court-ruling-defense

Note: Foreign nationals seeking lawful status in the U.S. are subject to all immigration laws, and even with a lawfully recognized marriage, may be inadmissible or otherwise unable to obtain Permanent Residence in the U.S. on other grounds, such as certain criminal convictions or immigration violations. This is true of anyone seeking immigration benefits from the U.S. Government.

Posted in Announcements, Bills & Laws, Permanent Residence, Recent Posts, Web Links | Comments Off on U.S. Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional, Bi-national Same-Sex Couples Can Now Receive Immigration Benefits

Dear Immigrants: We want your business! Sincerely, Michigan

Much to my delight (and I’m sure to the delight of immigration attorneys across Michigan) Governor Snyder spoke about the positive contributions immigrants make during his State of the State speech in January.  It was a surprise to hear the newly elected Governor speak positively about immigration, an issue that has unfortunately become and increasingly political issue and dogmatic tool. Thankfully, Governor Snyder “gets it.” He understands the tremendous value immigrants contribute directly to our economy. Governor Snyder has publicly stated he opposes Arizona-like (SB-1070) anti-immigration legislation (many thanks to AIR of Michigan for its efforts on this front) and has taken pragmatic steps to increase the appeal of Michigan to foreign business.

Among other actions taken, Governor Snyder has called for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to take an active role in the development of pro-immigration business policy. This is a wonderful step in the right direction. Michigan should be investing its resources not only into bringing tourists here, i.e. the Pure Michigan campaign, but also on attracting and welcoming business investors and employers.

Based on the experience of our clients, the simple step of proactively reaching out to potential and new businesses already committed to Michigan from Square One would be most welcome, and welcoming, to foreign investors. A point of contact should be readily able to guide them through our laws, regulations, cultural norms, and myriad logistical challenges, to anticipate what those challenges may be and equip the business leadership with knowledge and resources that will better enable them to open and oeprate their business successfully, and should be available should an obstacle arise. Of course countless other obstacles and solutions already exist and need to be explored.

Moving beyond the walls of the office, it is imperative that Michigan consider the lives of foreign workers and their families as residents. When an immigrant comes to live and work in the U.S. for a period of a year, or a few years, or several years, it is important to remember that he or she is not just a visa number, or an employee. Rather, he or she is a resident and citizen (small “c”) of Michigan, eager to explore the beauty and culture of our State and Country. This is an aspect of immigration that, I believe, has been overlooked. We should make it as easy as possible not only to get here, but to live here.Yet simple aspects of daily life that Michiganders take for granted are unecessarily challenging for immigrants. Thankfully, solutions are apparent and accessible. For starters, it should be simpler and easier for foreign workers and their families in Michigan to obtain a driver’s license, qualify for in-state college tuition, and understand tax responsibilities.

Currently, the Secretary of State has in place an internal policy to automatically deny any B1/B2 visa holders a license. This is more restrictive than the federal laws and regulations, needlessly. A visitor in this status can be present for up to 18 months – denying him or her the ability to drive, upon paying fees and passing the required tests, makes no sense. How else are they to get around in Michigan, where mass transit is undeniably limited. Assuming he or she can prove legal status, current residence in Michigan, and identity, he or she should be able to obtain a license. This could impact potential foreign investors visiting Michigan for a long period as they explore business investment opportunities and/or family members visiting.

Additionally, for other visa holders, like those in TN, H, E, and L status, the process should be seamless. Yet, the staff at Secretary of State (SOS) branch offices regularly fail to recognize the meaning of documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), improperly questioning the validity of a visa or a person’s status. Any single discrepancy between the SOS and DHS record of names, including an obvious typo cleared up by a passport and other identity documents, results in denial of a driver’s license. SOS staff regularly instruct immigrants they must fix the error with DHS before a license can be issued. Obtaining a new document from DHS for name correction can take months and can be quite expensive. Similarly, immigrants from Latin America and the Middle East treat last names differently from the U.S., in a well-known and predictable manner. For example, an TN visa holder from Mexico will technically have two last names, the last name of her father followed by the last name of her mother. This is simply how it is done in that culture. However, it is extremely common for Latin Americans to use only one of those last names on a regular basis. Despite this widespread, commonplace, predictable practice, SOS branch offices regularly require applicants to provide documentation that matches the SOS system, even if her passport, work authorization card, and birth certificate all evidence her full name. Again, she will be told to rectify the name difference via DHS or Social Security. This is overly restrictive at worst, highly inconvenient at best.

Many foreign workers, their spouses, and children, who are eligible to attend school in Michigan are constructively prevented from doing so due to cost. Although they are residents of Michigan, and are often times home owners, qualifying for “resident” for purposes of receiving in-state tuition rates is burdensome. For those who can even qualify for in-state tuition at all, they must first show payment of Michigan taxes for at least a year. Instead of doing so, or paying extremely high international rates, they simply do not attend at all. Colleges that could be benefitting from their enrollment at any rate, lose out altogether, as does the larger economy to which they could contribute their increased knowledge and skill.

Lastly, foreigners must pay U.S. and Michigan taxes upon residing here for a certain period of time. Generally speaking, foreigners do properly file their taxes, but it is nonetheless a daunting system that may prevent others from paying, or from doing so easily. A section of the State of Michigan Treasury website devoted to immigrants, with simple tools to help determine whether they must file taxes could result in greatly increased tax revenue, and will at least be an attractive resource to foreign workers.

Overall, these are problems that appear minor but that dramatically frustrate the ease with which immigrants move to and integrate into life in Michigan. Yet, the solutions to solve these problems are relatively simple and are certainly easily achievable. Foreign investors are necessarily concerned with the quality of their employees’ lives, and consider the ease of living in a foreign place when selecting locations. Making the lives of investors, business owners, their employees and their families better, will indeed send the signal that not only is Michigan a wonderful place for foreigners to do business, it is a wonderful place for foreigners to live.

With Governor Snyder’s leadership and support, Michigan is poised to lead the 50 States toward an economy that encourages and embraces immigrants, countering the unproductive and misguided anti-immigration trend. Michigan has led the U.S. economy before, and by taking this new course, it will do it again. It is an exciting time to be a proponent of immigration in Michigan and I look forward to witnessing and contributing to the progress.

Posted in Bills & Laws, Recent Posts, Reform, Skilled immigrants, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unjust DREAM Act Deportations Should be Suspended

In recent weeks, several students and student activists have been placed in deportation proceedings, or issued orders of deportation. The case of Ola Kaso, of Sterling Heights, Michigan, represents all that is wrong with the immigration system and should be the last of its kind. The need for passage of the DREAM Act is increasingly urgent. In the meantime, prosecutorial discretion should be exercised immediately to cease deportations of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries, including Ola.

Ola Kaso is about to graduate from high school (at the top of her class!) and start college at the University of Michigan. Strike that, she is about to graduate from high school (at the top of her class!) and be deported to Albania.

President Obama has made immigration enforcement a top priority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, deportations and prosecutions have been occurring at a fast pace, eclipsing the statistics for enforcement under previous presidents. According to a DHS memorandum published last year, ICE is to focus on deporting non-citizens with criminal convictions, and particularly those with convictions for violent or serious crimes. On top of that, President Obama announced in August 2010, in response to pressure from DREAM Act advocates and a request by Senator Durbin, that the deportation of students with no criminal backgrounds would be suspended. In any case, ICE can exercise prosecutorial discretion in determining which cases it pursues. In the case of young adults who did not violate any laws by coming here but who were brought here as infants and children, and who have lived nearly their entire lives here, surely it makes sense to refrain from deporting them given these priorities.

Wait a second . . . Well now I’m confused. ICE just scheduled Ola and her mom, a small business owner, for immediate deportation, on the eve of Ola’s graduation. (Thankfully, it was postponed by a Federal District Judge’s order so she can attend her ceremony.) Why is someone like Ola Kaso, an excellent student with a spotless past and a bright future, being scheduled for deportation now?

Ola entered the U.S. legally with her mother, at the age of four. (Read, she was brought here.) Their asylum case was ultimately denied in 2003, but Ola and her mother had been reporting to authorities in Detroit under ICE Order of Supervision for quite some time.

What can she do? There is no form of relief from deportation available to her. No options exist for her at present to obtain legal status. Although ICE does not have to execute her deportation now, it seems to be pursuing it any way. Her only viable option, and it’s hardly viable for most, is to seek intervention on her behalf by members of Congress. Several U.S. Senators and Representatives have recently urged President Obama to again call for a suspension of deportations of potential DREAM Act beneficiaries, which he is apparently still considering. Perhaps that will persuade ICE to refrain from acting now. After all, its priority is criminals, right?

Well in case ICE does not change its course, some parting words to Ola are in order.

To Ola’s family and friends: I am sorry to say you will have to visit Ola in Albania if you want to see her anytime soon. She will not be able to return to the U.S. for at least 10 years and has little chance of returning sooner. I’m sorry, Cousino High School, you are about to lose one of your celebrated soon-to-be alumna, a role model to younger students. U of M, you are down one brilliant incoming freshman. State of Michigan, you are out an emerging leader and future doctor.

That’s ok, though, Ola. Think about it. If you were to remain in the U.S. and graduate from U of M, likely with excellent grades, you would have to turn down all the offers of employment anyway. Just like the hundreds of thousands of other college students and graduates who have lived here nearly their entire lives. U.S. law does not allow you to obtain lawful employment while out of status and, as already noted, no options exist for you to correct your status at this time. (Too bad Congress still has not passed the DREAM Act, which would fix this oversight.)

So maybe it’s just as well. It should be no problem for you to return to Albania, where you lived for your entire . . . infancy. Well, as long as you speak Albanian fluently, I’m sure you will feel right at home there. The standard of living is probably just like ours here. Ok, so it’s nothing like living in the U.S. and generally has a very low standard of living. And if you don’t speak Albanian, oh boy – you can forget about going to college there, let alone becoming a doctor.

Tough luck, Ola. Well done on striving to reach your full potential and congratulations on achieving that goal. By all accounts, you are a remarkable young woman. The thing is, there simply is not enough room for you and your mother in the U.S. Michigan, in particular, is bursting at the seams with its population. Moreover, the U.S. just is not interested in keeping ambitious, talented students like you, or hard-working small business-owners like your mom for that matter. I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression from complying for so long with all requirements placed on you by ICE.

It’s true, we are a country of immigrants . . . just not immigrants like you. Right?

Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I hope I am. Maybe your case will outrage other Americans, like it has me. Maybe your story will be the one to make people send an email and make a phone call. Maybe because of you, President Obama call for a moratorium on deportations of youth like you, will press in earnest for reform, and Congress will finally pass the DREAM Act. This is the only reasonable course of action, and quite frankly, you deserve it.

Posted in DREAM Act, Immigration, security, and fear, Inadmissibility & Deportation, Recent Posts, Reform, The undocumented | Leave a comment