Public again warned against paying for fraudulent immigration legal services

In the days since President Barack Obama announced his decision to take executive action on certain immigration policies, there will likely be an increase in scams targeting those who are interested in avoiding deportation under the new plan.

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman on Monday, Mexican authorities and Austin-area attorneys are warning the public against using fraudulent notarios and other individuals who act as lawyers but are not licensed. It will take several months before immigrants in the United States can even apply for work permits under Obama’s plan, so people should be cautious when paying for such quick legal assistance.

In August, amid the unaccompanied minor situation along the Texas-Mexico border, the State Bar of Texas similarly warned the public against using notarios and others who falsely represent themselves as lawyers. To read that press release, which has additional information on notario fraud, go to http://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Press_Releases&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=26689. The State Bar’s Web page on immigration legal resources is available at texasbar.com/immigration.

Pro Bono Spotlight: Rocío García

The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support the National Pro Bono Celebration (Oct. 19-25). Pro bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community is doing to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals in the legal community to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system. Today, we are featuring Rocío García for her invaluable work in the Dallas legal community.

Rocío García, an attorney at Perkins Coie, is a pro bono champion and longtime volunteer with Catholic Charities of Dallas, Inc. (CCD).

The Immigration and Legal Services Division of CCD was established in 1975 in response to the growing number of immigrants moving to North Texas. The program provides a broad range of immigration counseling and representation to immigrants and their families.

As a member of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, García offers constant support of CCD’s programs at the bar association meetings, which has been crucial with the recent and continuing arrival of unaccompanied minors.

While García regularly spends countless hours volunteering with CCD on Saturdays, she has been invaluable over the past few months as the humanitarian crisis drove over 52,000 children to flee from extreme, traumatic violence in their home countries.

On Saturday afternoons, CCD offers a legal orientation and screening to unaccompanied children who have been detained and have upcoming court dates. When the number of children in need of screenings became more than CCD staff could handle, García put out a call for volunteers.

She consistently brings volunteer attorneys in to the CCD office on Saturday afternoons, conducts a small training, and guides the new volunteers through screenings. García’s ability to take the bull by the horns, as well as her passion for CCD’s clients, is a blessing to the entire staff.

 

A Texas attorney's perspective on the unaccompanied minor crisis along the South Texas border

Linda A. Brandmiller, chair of the State Bar of Texas Committee on Laws Related to Immigration and Nationality and director of ASI, Asociacion de Servicios Para el Inmigrante, recently answered questions via email from the Texas Bar Journal about the current humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border. Any opinions featured in this article do not represent the position or an official policy of the State Bar of Texas.

 

The State Bar Committee on Immigration and Nationality Issues visited the South Texas border during this past year and toured some of the immigrant facilities and shelters. How would you describe what you experienced?

We observed the system from both the enforcement perspective (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) as well as the unaccompanied minors perspective (the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project receives indirect federal funding to assist the children caught in the immigration system at the border and without parents). Our visit in the fall of 2013 was at a time when border crossings and apprehensions are lower due to weather conditions and other influencing factors. We witnessed firsthand the extensive technology being utilized by CBP officials, including cameras, night vision goggles, and heat sensors, to locate people in the brush along the border. We also saw the detention facility, including the helera (“ice box,” a nickname stemming from its cold temperatures) where detainees are interviewed and processed. We took a tour of the border fence that weaves in and out along the border with vast spaces separating it and at times a significant distance inland from the actual border with Mexico. Lastly, we visited the La Posada Providencia shelter to witness its humanitarian efforts.

How is the current humanitarian crisis in the Rio Grande Valley different from other cases of undocumented immigration in the U.S.?

The Office of Refugee Resettlement is not efficiently moving unaccompanied minors through the system to be reunified with family in the U.S., which is what current law requires the government to do when dealing with non-Mexican children whose court cases are awaiting completion (we have a separate agreement with Mexico that requires turning children over to the Desarollo Integral de la Familia after screening them for being victims of crime and/or human trafficking). Though ORR, in 2012, opened emergency shelters in San Antonio after the number of unaccompanied immigrants doubled that summer from the year before (from about 6,700 to 13,600), ORR processed twice as many children in 2013 as in 2012 without any additional shelters or systems necessary, and this year’s numbers were projected and planned for as early as the winter of 2013—so they are not a surprise. The agency is inconsistent in its “requirements” for reunification, leading to some children being unnecessarily detained months after having determined where the family members are in the U.S.

This has effectively created a funnel that directly impacts the “warehousing” of these minors in emergency facilities. The majority (85 percent) of the unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. have family here to reunify with while their cases are pending so it becomes a question of processing them rather then keeping them in long-term detention. That is not the situation for the adult immigrant—a Congressional directive requires that 34,000 immigrant detention beds be filled every day, despite that many have no criminal history and have equities such as having U.S. citizen children or years living in the U.S. and legitimately could be released to their families until their cases are completed so that there is a final resolution.

What legal options are available to the immigrants for permanently staying in the U.S. under current law?

The most well known relief is asylum, which might be an option if the immigrant is afraid to return to their country for fear of persecution and they fall into one of the “protected” classes of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or another particular social group. A U visa is an option if the immigrant is a victim of crime in the U.S, and a T visa is available for those immigrants who are victims of human trafficking. Children have the additional legal remedy of obtaining status as a special immigrant juvenile, which blends both state and immigration laws for minors who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected and cannot reunify with at least one parent.

What are the legal concerns for these immigrants?

The most pressing concern of the recently arriving immigrant is survival. They are confused by officers that drill them with questions and overwhelmed by a system that they don’t understand. Many are fleeing life-threatening violence and abject poverty. In fighting to remain in the U.S., whether detained or released, the primary concern of the immigrant is finding an affordable, honest, and trustworthy attorney who will listen to their story and assist them to stay in this country if they qualify for a legal remedy.

Many of these children and adult immigrants will eventually go before an immigration judge to make a case to remain in the U.S. Are they entitled to legal representation?

Perhaps “entitled” is the wrong word since they can certainly hire an attorney to represent them—but at no cost to the government. It is particularly disconcerting to see children sitting alone at the table in front of the judge, attempting to defend themselves against a government trial attorney. Although some nonprofit agencies get federal funding to assist with legal orientation programs, they are often severely restricted in their abilities to provide direct representation. To that end, in an effort to provide some assistance but not officially sign on to represent the child, there was a “friend of the court” model created by some, which State Bar Ethics Opinion 628 clarifies does create an attorney-client relationship as a result of the age, language, and likely perception of the child. Recently, House democrats introduced the Vulnerable Immigrant Voice Act of 2014 (HR 4936) to provide the same legal counsel for unaccompanied minors and mentally challenged individuals during immigration proceedings that current laws provide to criminals.

What is the current state of the immigration court system charged with handling this situation? Why is there such a backlog?

The immigration courts have not directly been affected by the increased number of immigrants apprehended at the border and will not be affected for some time due to the number of people already in system along with inefficiencies. The immigration court backlog is influenced by myriad factors, including judge vacancies that have not been filled, inefficiencies in docketing, lack of legal counsel at the start of a case, and length of time to defend various legal remedies.

There is a 90-day delay in issuing the Notice to Appear, which actually initiates the court proceedings with the expectation that the immigration court in the jurisdiction where the immigrant is residing will be the court that will hear the case. In that way, there is no expectation that the immigration courts along the border will be disproportionately impacted by the increased apprehensions. (And the current average length of time between the issuance of the NTA and the first court hearing is approximately 577 days.) Both children and adults are being moved around the country and are not remaining on the border. What you are seeing in these photos of children with silver blankets are at border patrol stations; they are not staying at these facilities. In Texas, immigrants are being detained around the state, including in Houston, Taylor, Waco, Amarillo, San Antonio, as well as some border towns.

Is there a way for Texas attorneys to help the immigrants through volunteering their legal advice or to help the state deal with the crisis?

Yes, even Texas attorneys who do not practice immigration law have a role to play, especially those who practice family law and criminal law—the two areas with the most overlap in immigration cases.There are many immigration attorneys as well as nonprofit agencies willing to mentor attorneys through these cases. Though access to detained children is strictly regulated, once released, they and their families are desperate for legal assistance. Attorneys can check with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review for a list of free and low-cost service providers by state and city to narrow down the search for attorneys and programs already serving this population in their community [justice.gov/eoir/legalrepresentation.htm]. The Laws Related to Immigration and Nationality Committee of the State Bar of Texas stands ready to assist any attorney interested in helping the immigrant population.

Immigration reform discussed during LBJ Civil Rights Summit

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved a law that changed the quota system for immigration, signing the Immigration and Nationality Act on New York’s Liberty Island. During the first day of the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor, discussed immigration reform in the 21st century, touching on the history and current state of immigration in the U.S. and examining opportunities for future updates.

Overall, the two leaders shared the belief that there is a need for realistic modifications in immigration policy, calling on government leaders to set aside politics for change.

“Pure and simple, it is in the best interest of America, economically and for other reasons, that we have immigration reform and that we take the 11 million people that are here and give them the opportunity to be here legally so that they, as the term is, ‘get out of the shadows,’” Barbour said.

The two discussed financial issues of immigration reform, acknowledged border issues and a current challenge of defining “border security,” and tackled the topic of people who overstay their visas.

“I can usually tell the people that are serious about the policy and the folks who are just using it as a political wedge issue because the people who are serious about the policy and actually care about the issue always speak to the issue of overstay or give a full picture of the problem,” Castro said.

Prompted by moderator Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, Barbour and Castro also touched on the GOP’s tone surrounding immigration laws, namely Jeb Bush’s recent comments that some illegal immigration is the result of an “act of love.” Barbour said that more candidates should express how they actually feel about the subject of immigration—not just how they think voters want them to respond. Castro noted that candidates will likely feel more comfortable expressing honest opinions following the primaries and predicted that more 2016 Republican candidates than not will hold views closer to Bush’s position. Additionally, the DREAM Act came into the conversation when a woman in the audience, identified by the AP as a “DREAMer,” shouted to Castro to urge Obama to stop deportations of families.

As the panel came to a close, Castro used the opportunity to remind the audience that throughout history, groups of immigrants that were once seen as bothersome were finally welcomed, and America was strengthened for it. “We need them as much as they need us,” he said.

The three-day summit, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continues today. Visit www.civilrightssummit.org for more information.

 

 

State Bar to honor Dallas nonprofit for legal work assisting immigrant women

The State Bar of Texas Women and the Law Section has chosen the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas as the 2013 winner of the newly named Louise B. Raggio Award.


The Dallas-based nonprofit organization is receiving the award after its all-female team of attorneys helped nearly 200 immigrant women in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last year through its William O. Holston Volunteer Attorney Program. The bar will present the award June 20 during its annual meeting in Dallas.


“We are privileged here at HRI to have three women attorneys who are fierce advocates for women,” Bill Holston, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “Chris Mansour, Melissa Weaver and Martha Gonzalez are the consummate professionals. They are compassionate and fearless advocates for our clients. Whether it is a young woman escaping the bonds of domestic violence or a woman from Africa seeking refuge from female genital mutilation, our lawyers are passionate advocates for our clients’ fight to begin a new life in America.”


The bar’s Women and the Law Section established the Raggio award, formerly called the Ma’at Justice Award, in 1995 to recognize attorneys or groups of attorneys who advance justice and address the needs and issues affecting women in the legal profession and in society.

This month in the Texas Bar Journal

From the economy to technology to cultural practices, international integration is quickly becoming the norm, even in Texas. This issue of the Texas Bar Journal provides several tools to help Texas attorneys practice in an increasingly global atmosphere.

 

 Globalization and International Law:
• Transnational Disputes in a Global Economy. Page 512.
• How to Avoid the Broad Nature of Export Control Violations. Page 520.
• Joint Ventures in Texas: A Primer for International Partners. Page 524.
• Managing U.S. Immigration Risks: Key Concepts for a Global Workforce. Page 530.
• Hiring Foreign Nationals on an H-1B Visa. Page 535.
• Business Entertainment "Texas Style" Here and Abroad: What You Need to Know. Page 536.

Profiles of 2012 Pro Bono and Legal Services Award Winners. Page 540.

February 2012 Bar Exam High Scorer Remarks. Page 544.

State Bar Section Reports (2011-2012). Page 546.

State Bar Committee Reports (2011-2012). Page 556.

Solo/Small Firm: Going Global — Delving into the International Legal Arena. Page 566.

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