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In May of this year, USCIS proposed fee increases for a multitude of immigration services. The fee increases did not go into effect immediately as the public has to be allowed 60 days to comment on the proposed changes. Those 60 days have come and gone and it appears the fee increases are here to stay. While still not in effect, the fee increases will likely go into effect over the next couple of months. The Department of Homeland Security is required to review its fee structure every so often under federal law. According to the Department, the last time fees were increases was in 2010. USCIS is a fee based agency and says that if fees are not raised, the agency will face a $560 million budget shortfall next fiscal year. A list of the most popular immigration services along with their current fee and proposed fee is listed below:

Fee Increase

Some good news is that the $85 biometric fee for fingerprints will remain the same. Additionally, if you file before the fee increase goes into effect, you can file under the lower fee rate. As of this writing, there is no official date that these fees are expected to go into effect. For a the full list of fee changes, click here: Full List Fee Increase

If you have any questions about immigration fees or have an immigration issue you’d like to discuss, you should be sure to contact an experienced immigration attorney.

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USCISLogoEnglishThe Department of Homeland Security rule to expand provisional waivers goes into effect on August 29, 2016. Currently, DHS only allows immediate relatives of a United States citizen to apply for the I-601A waiver of the 3 or 10-year bars for remittance to the United States. DHS limited the waiver to this subset of individuals to prioritize family members impacted by the bars. In an effort to expand the provisional waiver to all statutorily eligible individuals, the Department has now introduced a rule to make the expansion a reality.

Under the rule, all statutorily eligible immigrants can apply for an I-601A waiver if they are eligible for an immigrant visa and for a waiver of inadmissibility based on unlawful presence. This includes family based immigrants, employment immigrants, and a limited number of Diversity Visa program selectees. The new rule allows any immigrant that is eligible to apply for an I-601 waiver after they leave the country to now apply for the I-601A waiver prior to departing the United States for their immigrant visa interview. Additionally, the rule also would expand who may be considered a qualifying relative for purposes of the extreme hardship determination to include lawful permanent resident spouses and parents.

DHS Secretary Johnson said the expansion of the program is inline with the Department’s efforts to promote “family unity” and that the new rule seeks to encourage “eligible aliens to complete the visa process abroad, promot[e] family unity, and improv[e] administrative efficiency.” The new applications will be available on August 29 at USCIS’s website.

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Backlog Chart

Data from TRAC Immigration

The Immigration Court system in the United States is notorious for its backlog of cases. This story gets attention every not and again from the national press. A little under a year ago, in order to help the chronic backlog facing the Immigration Courts, Congress provided funding for 55 new immigration judges. To put this is perspective, an immigrant rights group estimates that over 200 new immigration judges would be necessary to even make a dent in the chronic backlog of cases before the court. Fortunately, it appears there are plans to boost the number of immigration judges even more, but still short of the number necessary to reduce the persistent backlog of cases.

But despite these new judges, the backlog persists. According to the Hill, over 500,000 cases currently sit waiting to be heard by an immigration judge across the United States, the largest backlog in our nation’s history. In Illinois alone, there are over 20,000 cases waiting to be heard by an immigration judge. The average number of days cases have been pending in the United States is 672 days. Human Rights First also notes that the average number of days between when an immigrant files a case before the court and that case is actually heard is over 1,000 and just under 3 years. While these cases sit, the lives of the immigrants impacted by the case remain in immigration limbo.

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According to a recent article from the Chicago Reporter, several groups are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to enact Chicago_Police_Logoreforms in the way Chicago Police are allowed to interact with the undocumented population in Chicago. Right now it is estimated that nearly 7% of the Chicago population is undocumented. That equates to over 180,000 individuals that these reforms would protect.

Under current city ordinances and executive orders, it is against city policy for city employees to deny benefits based on the immigration status of an individual. Additionally, city employees are prohibited from inquiring about the immigration status of an individual. Mayor Emanuel also limited how Chicago Police can cooperate with federal immigration officials in order to deport individuals detained by Chicago Police. But Reform groups say those protections aren’t enough and would like to strengthen those prohibitions. According to the Chicago Reporter, under a proposal suggested by a collection of immigration reform groups, several more projections would be enacted, such as:

  • “Eliminate exemptions that allow police to work with federal authorities when dealing with undocumented immigrants who are either wanted on a criminal warrant, convicted felons, charged with a felony, or identified gang members,
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handcuffs-308899_640Domestic abuse and violence charges and convictions can have very serious consequences when it comes to immigration proceedings. Pleading guilty or being found guilty of a domestic abuse or violence crime automatically makes any non-U.S. citizen deportable.

Furthermore, a domestic violence conviction can make you ineligible for an adjustment of status in the United States because domestic violence type crimes have been found by U.S. courts to be a “crime involving moral turpitude.”

My experience in immigration law has allowed me to work on cases and remove clients from mandatory detention. A recent case I worked on, I was able to remove my client from mandatory detention because the crime they were originally charged with was a domestic violence type crime, but the actual crime they plead guilty to was simply an ordinance violation. Had this gone unnoticed, the client would still be in detention facing deportation.

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The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has introduced a rule that would add a social media section to I-94W U.S._Customs_and_Border_Protection_logoand Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications. According to a report from the British Broadcast Channel, the CBP plans to add a section to both applications asking applicants for social media platforms they use and for an account identifier, such as a user name.

According to CBP, the social media section would be optional and would be used for vetting purposes and contact information by the agency. A similar proposal was offered in 2014 but later abandoned for Visa applications. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has gone back and forth about vetting immigrant social media posts, particularly after the Department was criticized after the San Bernardino shooting.

The New York Times reports that a pilot social media screening program is already being utilized for fiancé visas and actually just ended its run this past June. Three other pilot programs are also being tested but details about those were not made available. While proponents point to additional information about potential immigrants as an advantage of screening social media, But opponents point to privacy concerns over having immigrants handover their social media information to the federal government.

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EqualJusticeUnderLawLast week, the United State Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case regarding President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court was split 4 to 4. Because the Supreme Court was unable to come up with a majority, the ruling of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is affirmed. The decision, which affects millions of individuals without status in the United States, was just nine words long: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.” As you may recall, the 5th Circuit struck down President Obama’s executive actions on immigration last year. That ruling is effectively still in place because the Supreme Court 4-4 split affirms that judgment.

This decision is a major setback for President Obama as he had hoped to have the new DAPA and expanded DACA in place prior to leaving office in January 2017. Because the 5th Circuit decision struck down the president’s executive actions, President Obama will not be able to implement his much anticipated reforms. After the decision, many politicians and activists criticized the Supreme Court as well as Congress for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Responding to the decision, President Obama said “I think it is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who made their lives here, who’ve raised families here, who hope for the opportunity to work, pay taxes, serve in our military, and fully contribute to this country we all love in an open way.” While the Supreme Court split effectively ends the legal battle regarding the president’s executive actions, attention will now shift to the presidential election as the two major candidates will have to outline their immigration policies for the country as the campaign wages on.

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A growing issue that Legal Permanent Residents are running into comes up when they travel abroad and are returning toth the United States. Typically, LPRs will show their Green Card to a Customs and Border Protection agent, answer a few questions, and be allowed back into the country; however, some LPRs are running into trouble.

An issue that LPRs may face is that during their time in Customs, an arrest or conviction is being reported, which is grounds for inadmissibility, so the CBP Agent wants to investigate further. Typically, the CBP officer will then schedule the LPR for “deferred inspection.” Deferred inspection is a separate appointment that the LPR will have to return to a specified location on a specific date for another interview. Upon checking in, you will meet with a CBP officer that will conduct the interview. If your deferred inspection is because of a past arrest or conviction, that is what the interview will likely center around.

If you are a LPR and are asked to attend a deferred inspection interview, you can bring an attorney with you and in fact, it is advisable to do so because CBP can initiate removal proceedings. Consulting with an attorney prior to the deferred inspection interview will adequately prepare you for the interview as to how what types of questions will be asked, practice answering questions, and what type of documents to bring. If you have a deferred inspection interview coming up, you should contact a skilled immigration attorney to help you prepare for the interview.

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A recent Chicago Tribune article points out an ever growing issue in the United States. Under federal law, immigration 100203houston_lgauthorities are prohibited from arresting and detaining United States citizens and are supposed to investigate the citizenship status of all detainees. But the Tribune articles points out that a growing number of American citizens that are being detained and sometimes even deported by ICE officials.

Since 2010, immigration advocates have represented over 11 United States citizens that have become entangled in legal battles with immigration officials despite being United States citizens. Once such case from New York involved an individual with disabilities that was mistakenly deported to Mexico. The ACLU sued the federal government and settled the case in 2011. Despite the eventual resolution in these cases, the problem still persists.

A Political Science professor that monitors immigration cases says that about 1% of all immigration court cases eventually get dismissed because the case involves a United States citizen. But the question remains as to why U.S. citizens are being detained. An immigration advocate says that the legal standards for ICE to stain someone are so low and woefully inadequate to protect United States citizens. ICE says that determining certain individual’s immigration status can be difficult and complicated at times which explains why some citizens may be detained. Until further protections are enacted, the possibility of U.S. citizens being detained by immigration officials remains a real threat for many citizens.

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1121901_couple_with_engagement_rings_2As a Chicago immigration lawyer focused primarily on the family immigration, one of the questions I am asked most frequently is – “which is better, to bring my overseas fiancé to the United States and marry in my home state, or marry overseas and apply for an immediate relative visa for my spouse?” Although it depends on the facts of your particular case, all things being equal, the Immigrant Visa overseas route may be best for most cases.

A United States citizen can bring a foreign national spouse or fiancé to the United States in one of two ways: K-1 (fiancé) visa, or by applying for an immigrant visa after marriage and green card processing through the Consulate. In most cases, I recommend the Immigrant visa route for the following reasons:

  • Processing time is about the same. Many people are under the misconception that the fiancé visa route is faster. While this was true in the past, currently the processing times are just about equal for the K-1 and the IV.