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Posted on: June 28th, 2017
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Minneapolis Metro Transit Officer Asking About Immigration Status

On May 14, one light rail train ride changed a man’s life. Ariel Vences-Lopez, a 23-year-old native of Mexico, was riding the train, when two Metro Transit officers boarded the train to conduct a routine fair check. One of the officers approached Vences-Lopez and asked him if he was in the country illegally, as caught on tape by a bystander. The video quickly went viral, with people questioning the authority of a Metro Transit officer when it comes to questions about immigration status.

As a result of the incident, Vences-Lopez has been issued an order of removal, and the officer who questioned him is no longer employed. Vences-Lopez was arrested the day he was questioned on the train on suspicion of obstructing the legal process, giving an officer a false name, and fare evasion, according to Hennepin County jail records. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued an immigration detainer for him the following day, and he was released from jail and transferred to ICE custody on the 16th. On May 23, a federal immigration judge issued an order of removal.

“The image of a single officer’s questioning immigration status is not reflective of, nor does it represent, the practices and procedures of Metro Transit officers,” a statement from Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington asserted. Harrington also mentioned in his statement that Metro Transit will update its policy to ensure equal enforcement of the law for every passenger, “regardless of immigration status.”

Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck also issued a statement, saying that the officer made “a serious mistake” in questioning the passenger, adding that Met Council takes full responsibility for the incident. “We will be seeking the advice and counsel of community leaders to ensure we keep this from happening again in the future,” he stated. “Frankly, I — and all our council members — expect more from our training and our department.” He also mentioned how tragic it was that something so catastrophic could start out so seemingly innocuous. “It is troubling that something that started as a routine fare check resulted in a pending deportation,” Duininck wrote.

For more information, view the full article.


New Website Feature Allows CBP to Remind Travelers of Departure Date

United States Customs and Border Protection now has an online alert system to remind travelers of their last possible date of departure, according to their terms of admission. The alert system will operate via email and a new feature on the I-94 website which allows eligible Visa Waiver Program travelers to check how much longer they can remain in the United States without violating the terms of their admission. Additional updates to the I-94 website will accommodate additional nonimmigrant travelers. Once on the site, travelers will need to enter their name, birthdate, passport number, and passport country of issuance in order to check their admitted until date. In the event that a traveler overstays the terms of their admission, the I-94 website will provide the traveler with the proper steps to take moving forward. The traveler’s class of admission affects their period of admission; for example, a lawful admission period can be fixed or based on the completion of an activity, such as a college degree.

For more information, view the DHS press release.


USCIS Announces Workload Transfer

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a workload transfer from the Nebraska service center on June 12, 2017. USCIS occasionally transfers cases between its five service centers to more evenly distribute workloads and facilitate timely processing. If cases are transferred, those that are affected will receive a transfer notice. This transfer will neither change the receipt number nor inhibit the processing time. Applicants should continue to file forms in accordance with existing form instructions. Accessing the “Where to File” section on the form’s web page will provide the correct filing address.  If a pending petition or application is eligible for premium processing, and the petitioner would like to exercise this option after it has already been transferred, the petitioner must both file Form I-907 with the service center where the petition or application is currently pending and submit a copy of the form I-797, Receipt Notice, for the pending petition or application. The form I-907 will be rejected if either of these directions are not followed.

The following cases were sent from the Nebraska Service Center to the Lockbox, as of June 12, 2017:

  •    N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322 (Military applications only)
  •    N-400, Application for Naturalization (Military applications only)

For more information, and the latest news on workload transfers, view the USCIS workload transfer page.


The California Legislature Is About to Kick Immigration Agents Out of San Diego Jails

18 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents currently work inside three jails in San Diego County, which gives the federal government hands-on access to individuals arrested in San Diego around the clock. They have had this 24/7 access for the past 10 years. This arrangement is the cornerstone of cooperation between San Diego law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, but Senate Bill 54, the sanctuary state bill, will force the agents out of San Diego jails. Johnathan Underland, a spokesman for State Senator Kevin de León, described in a statement how the new law would work:

Allowing ICE to continue working in state or local law enforcement agencies outside of the stipulations made in the bill would conflict with the finding in 7284.2 (d) of SB 54 that states “Entangling state and local agencies with federal immigration enforcement programs diverts already limited resources and blurs the lines of accountability between local, state, and federal governments.”

The state Senate has already passed the bill, which is now in the Assembly for consideration. If it passes in the form it is in now, it would be the most significant change in local immigration enforcement in a decade, and would, surprisingly, come from the state instead of Donald Trump. Local law enforcement agencies aiding federal government enforcement action would also made illegal by SB 54. Cities like San Diego have already decided they will not deputize local police officers as immigration agents, but the law would clarify that could not happen anyway.Most of the ICE agents are in San Diego Central and Vista jails as part of the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations team, and their presence alongside local law enforcement has been a continual source of friction between the two groups.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has made it a point to assure residents that her officers are not going to try to enforce immigration law. “The San Diego Police Department does not check the immigration status of victims and witnesses of crimes to encourage all people to come forward, confident in the knowledge their report will be investigated thoroughly and professionally,” Zimmerman said.

Bardis Vakili, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU feels, however, that such assurances from law enforcement can ring hollow. “When you hear local law enforcement say we don’t want immigrants to be scared, those are empty words when you have ICE literally stationed in the jails themselves,” Vakili stated.

For more information, view the full article.


Scam artists target immigrant communities, promising legal status for cash

Though the title of “notario publico” holds the meaning of prestigious lawyer in Latin American countries, a “notary public” has an entirely different meaning in the United States. In the U.S., a notary public’s capabilities are limited to witnessing signatures, taking proof of ID, and administering stamps, and some people understand this difference, using it to their benefit at the detriment of misunderstanding immigrants.

Such was the case for Brandelia Nunez, who though living in the country illegally, has contacted police and filed a complaint with the Illinois attorney general’s office after her family was scammed out of more than $10,000 applying for immigration benefits to which she was not entitled. The scam is commonly used by notarios, promising to deliver immigration benefits that are unavailable, offering legal services they are not authorized to provide, and charging excessive upfront fees. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the lawsuit on Nunes’ behalf against Joliet resident Norma Bonilla alleging that she defrauded Nunez and her family out of more than $10,000 for providing unlicensed immigration counseling. According to the suit, Bonilla allegedly, orchestrated a scam to receive $1,000 from the family with the intentions of obtaining immigration records which only cost $35 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She also charged $1,000 for her efforts.

The fact that she fell victim to such a scam is not surprising, individuals who are illegally present make easy targets for the notaries, due to heightened fears of being penalized for their immigration status. The fact that she reported this offense to law enforcement is the anomalous aspect of the case; most living in the country illegally are unlikely to report anything to law enforcement especially an offense which could incriminate themselves. “There are few of us who speak up,” Nunes said. “I’m not scared. I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m not a criminal. I have no reason to hide.” Nunez said that she moved to Chicago in 1996, shortly after crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, with the hopes of obtaining immigration benefits for her parents, who have illegally lived in the country since 1992. She initially reached out to Bonilla in June 2015 on behalf of her parents, who Bonilla advised to apply for legal residency despite their ineligibility. According to the suit, Bonilla also included false information on the application, overcharged for her illegitimate services, and submitted paperwork on behalf of the family. According to state records, Bonilla is not a licensed attorney, nor is she employed by an immigration attorney or any agency permitted to provide immigration services.

Though Nunez’s father received a work permit, her mother was stuck in limbo for months until finally receiving a voluntary deportation order from federal immigration authorities. Nunez persistently tried to reach out to Bonilla, “She kept saying it would come, but then she stopped answering my phone calls.” Seeking aid, she contacted the Frida Kahlo Community Organization, a nonprofit immigration advocacy organization based in Pilsen. She was mortified to hear from them that her parents were ineligible to legally live or work in the United States, and that her mother should immediately halt the application process and skip immigration court, as moving forward would surely end in her deportation. Nunez filed a police report and contacted the attorney general’s office in December 2015, seeking over $50,000 in damages; according to the attorney general’s office, Bonilla has not responded to the lawsuit.

For more information, view the full article.


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