* Dramatization
* Dramatization
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driving-691751_640New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that there will be no bill established that gives undocumented immigrants the right to apply for state driver’s licenses. This comes as a blow to hundreds of people who rallied at the statehouse on November 16 in support of the potential bill, which would make their lives considerably easier.

In a statement, Christie revealed he was “disturbed by the Legislature even considering making undocumented individuals eligible for New Jersey driver’s licenses.” According to the Republican presidential hopeful, lawmakers shouldn’t considering the idea because a driver’s license is the most important piece of identification someone can possess for security purposes. Christie also said that if the bill were ever to cross his desk “it would be vetoed immediately. Protecting the security of the people of New Jersey is the governor’s single most important responsibility.”

Christie’s comments come only a few months after his idea to track visitors to the United States using biometric technology, in order to find out if they’re overstaying their visas and intending to immigrate.

One of the organizers of the rally, Juan Pablo Orjuela, said the potential license measure is important because there are many immigrants in New Jersey who require a car to get to work, and it could promote safety by encouraging car owners to buy insurance for their vehicles.

The New Jersey Assembly’s homeland security committee had a lot to say when it considered the measure on November 16, with Democratic Assemblywoman – and author of the intended bill – Annette Quijano declaring “It’s important for these individuals because they want to come out of the shadows.”

However, in opposition to that, a GOP assemblyperson asserted that granting licenses to people without any verification of their identity or status in the United States is just encouragement for criminals. The issuance of a driver’s license allows people to purchase firearms and board airplanes, which some see as an invitation for terrorism or other illegal activities to take place undetected – a fear undoubtedly spurred by the rise of ISIS and the recent attacks on Paris.

A similar measure was proposed back in 2009 by then-Governor Jon Corzine, but much like the present bill, it never went anywhere due to too much opposition.

New Jersey state, according the Pew Research Center, has the fifth highest numbers of undocumented immigrants in the United States – an estimated 520,000 – and is one of the few states to show a marked increase of immigration since numbers started to drop nationally between 2009 and 2012.

If you or someone you know would like legal consultation regarding these matters or any others related to immigration, please get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. You can send an enquiry through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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flag-677901_640Ever since the Cold War, immigrants from Cuba have only had to step on US soil to begin the journey to legal residency here, due to an agreement between the two countries that used to protect refugees fleeing the communist regime.

However, now that Cuba and the United States have started repairing ties, potential Cuban immigrants are worried that they will be treated like every other undocumented person who tries to cross the border, so they’re starting to come in droves in order to avoid the risk of being turned away.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, as the agreement is called, has started to face mounting pressure from Congress, with members like Arizona representative Paul Gosar attempting to introduce bills to repeal it. Said Gosar, “If President Obama has normalized relations with Cuba, why would we treat illegal immigrants from that nation any different than those from other countries?”

The agreement was established in 1966, and has been called the “wet foot, dry foot” policy after Bill Clinton amended it during his term as President to only include those Cuban migrants who set foot on dry land, not just anyone who reached US waters.

Cuban immigrant numbers have almost doubled since 2014, with many choosing to forgo entering the country by boat (usually through the Straits of Florida) and instead making their way into the US through Central America. This has caused upsets in the countries of that region, notably in Costa Rica, where immigrants had started to be detained after an incident earlier this month in which a human trafficking ring smuggling Cubans through the country was broken up. The detainments didn’t last long, however, as a mass protest on a highway caused officials to issue over 1000 humanitarian visas and let Cuban migrants continue their journey north – much to the jubilation of those who had been stranded there.

An estimated 0.5 million Cuban people have become legal US residents through the Cuban Adjustment Act, including the father of presidential candidate Ted Cruz. The decision to repair diplomatic relations between the two countries came in July and was announced by President Obama, who also mentioned there were no plans to alter the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

If you or someone you know would like legal consultation regarding the Cuban-American agreement, or you would like consultation regarding your rights after crossing the US border, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm. You can send an enquiry through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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justice-471888_640Unfortunately for some 4.3 million immigrants in the United States, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program will not be put into action – in fact it’s likely he will not see any progress on it before he leaves office next year.

The Fifth Circuit ruled against the program that was originally proposed back in November 2014, upholding the injunction against it which was imposed in February after US District Judge Andrew Hanen sided with a Texas-led coalition of 26 Republican-controlled states that sued the federal government two months previously.

The ruling cited that the suing states had standing because they would have to bear the cost of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who qualify under DAPA. While the government disagreed, saying that the costs would be offset by vehicle registration fees and work permits for the qualifying immigrants, Judge Jerry E. Smith for the majority argued that “Even if the government is correct, that does not negate Texas’s injury, because we consider only those offsetting benefits that are of the same type and arise from the same transaction as the costs.”

Smith also wrote that because Texas subsidizes its driver’s licenses and doesn’t make applicants pay fees, it would end up paying $130.89 for every license issued to DAPA beneficiaries. That could add up to millions, according to Smith, because an estimated 500,000 people would qualify in Texas alone.

In its lawsuit, Texas officials also claimed that DAPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, under which all “substantive rule changes” are required to be published in the Federal Registrar to let citizens comment on them before they take effect. The government claimed DAPA was exempt from following the Act because it is a policy statement, not a substantive rule, but Smith wrote that to be considered a policy statement “DAPA must give employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with immigration enforcement, the right to exercise discretion on whether to accept applications.”

DAPA is designed to keep “law-abiding” immigrant families together, while prioritizing the deportation of serious or dangerous criminals, meaning that those undocumented immigrants who have US-born children would be much more likely to be able to stay together in the country permanently. The ruling against it really only means one thing: more uncertainty and fear for qualifying immigrants and their families as they wait for the decision to be appealed – likely at the US Supreme Court.

If you would like legal consultation or more information regarding the ruling on DAPA, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm for guidance. You can send an enquiry either through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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prison-553836_640(1)Almost 100 immigrant women are now involved in a hunger strike in a detention center in Hutto, Texas, protesting living conditions, their continued detainment, and a lack of access to medical conditions. The detainees also claim that they face threats and unjustified surveillance by officers in the facility.

The strike was started at the end of October by 27 women, and with the ranks having swelled they are taking it in turns to strike between the separate pavilions in the detention center.

Most of them, according to Grassroots Leadership member Cristina Parker, are being detained as they wait for their asylum cases to be heard. If their requests are denied, they are likely to be deported. Grassroots Leadership is an organization trying to advocate for change in this practice and abolish privately-owned, for-profit prisons and detention centers across America.

These hunger strikes go hand in hand with others started at detention centers in El Paso, Texas; La Salle, Louisiana and Adelanto, California. Unrest amongst detainees in the United States has been growing, with more and more of those who are incarcerated awaiting asylum cases starting to protest their living conditions, which are leading to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rocio Villalobos of Texas United Families, a pro-immigrant rights group, said of the issue: “instead of punishing these women who are seeking asylum in the U.S. and who have been detained for over six months, ICE must release them and allow them to continue with the process from their homes, with their families.” The group has also started a campaign asking for the release of several of the women involved with the strike, who have been removed by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from Hutto to other detention centers in the state.

According to Cristina Parker, most of the immigrant women are from Central America – countries like Mexico and Honduras – which is a direct response to the surge in asylum-seekers from these countries trying to flee their home countries out of fear for their safety. The reaction to this, Parker says, is “putting them in a prison for profit that cuts corners, that serves bad food, that neglects people’s medical care and needs. This is the system that these women are exposing, and they’re doing so, so bravely.”

If you would like legal consultation or know someone who is being detained while waiting for a decision regarding asylum and would like more information, please get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm. You can send an enquiry either through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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2H43Z0W1PSLegislation proposed to create harsher punishments for undocumented immigrants was blocked on Wednesday by Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid.

The legislation was put forward by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who tried to get unanimous consent on its passing, saying that Congress needs “leadership” on the issue. Cruz’s proposed legislation targets immigrants who re-enter the United States after being deported, and it has been referred to as “Kate’s Law” – after Kathryn Steinle, the San Francisco woman who was shot and killed by a man recently released from jail, and who had allegedly re-entered the US five times.

Under the law, undocumented immigrants would face additional prison time if they were caught re-entering the US after deportation, as well as a minimum five-year sentence if they were previously convicted of an aggravated felony or of illegally re-entering the country twice.

Reid called the proposal “another attack on the immigrant community”. He warned that Cruz’s legislation would have a “crippling financial effect”, and that there was no evidence suggesting the bill would prevent further violations of the law. He also added that all the Republican leaders and their caucuses have been responsible for since the Senate passed immigration reform in 2013 is “bills attacking immigrants”.

However, Cruz maintained that his proposal was only targeting “violent illegal criminal aliens”, and that Reid was “sad” for standing with them instead of American citizens, as well as boxing legal immigrants in with undocumented immigrants. Cruz added that he himself is the son of a legal immigrant from Cuba, and that “for the Democratic leader to cynically suggest that somehow immigrants should be lumped into the same bucket with murderers and rapists demonstrates the cynicism of the modern Democratic Party.”

He was backed on the issue by Senator Marco Rubio, who was notably outraged by a broader immigration bill with similar language to Cruz’s proposal also being blocked by Democrats last month.

The refusal to back Cruz’s legislation comes only a day after Democrats – as well as some Republicans, like Senator Lindsey Graham – voiced criticisms about Speaker Paul Ryan, who recently suggested that the House of Representatives wouldn’t move on immigration reform until President Obama is out of office next year. He said that the President is “untrustworthy” on immigration issues, and is standing in the way of legislation passing.

If you would like more information on how this legislation might affect you or someone you know, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm. You can send an enquiry through the website, or you can call us on 215-512-5225.

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barbed-wire-960248_640The Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, came under scrutiny by immigration rights groups this year after allegations of abuse and the deaths of two detainees – Fernando Dominguez and Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos.

Now, two of those groups – Detention Watch Network (DWN) and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) – have released a report titled “Abuse in Adelanto: An Investigation Into A California Town’s Immigration Jail”. The report claims that hundreds of detainees at the facility have been placed on suicide watch, many have tried to commit suicide, and that there have been incidents of abuse.

The top three complaints laid out in the report are prolonged detentions, lack of access to legal representation, and medical neglect and/or abuse, but they are not the only allegations of maltreatment. There have also been cases of religious freedom violations, especially among those detainees who are Muslim.

As a result of these findings, CIVIC and DWN have issued three priority recommendations to the city of Adelanto, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Congress in order to address the problem not only at the Adelanto Detention Facility but all detention facilities across the country.

The first set of recommendations, issued to the city of Adelanto, calls for its representatives to cease all contracts with ICE and the GEO Group (a company providing correctional, detention and community re-entry services) and pass a moratorium on expanding or creating any jails/detention centers in the city.

The recommendations for ICE request they too cease their contract with Adelanto, as well as asking that they offer more transparency when they release the investigation findings regarding the deaths of Dominguez and Morales-Ramos. It has also been requested that a pro-bono phone line be provided at ADF for civil and human rights groups.

Congress has received the recommendation that it prevent ICE from having any more contracts with private prisons, as well as requesting that it perform an in-depth investigation into GEO’s practices within immigration detention centers. These recommendations are similar to some of the legislation that lawmakers in Congress have already passed this year, like the “Justice is Not For Sale Act of 2015” that was enacted by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in September. The Act addresses monitoring and inspections of detention facilities by either the DHS secretary or an independent and third party auditor, and complements another bill passed by Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva.

CIVIC and DWN’s report also states that “Many of the allegations included in this report are not corroborated due to the closed nature of detention facilities and a pervasive lack of transparency by ICE and GEO; however, the sheer number and consistency of complaints of rights violations point to a crisis within the facility that warrants immediate action.”

If you would like legal consultancy, or would like help for someone you know who has experienced abuse at a detention center like the Adelanto Detention Facility, please get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. You can send an enquiry through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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barbed-wire-600471_640A sheriff in Texas is facing a lawsuit today, filed by 16 immigrant plaintiffs who claim they were detained in police custody for unconstitutionally long periods. It addresses Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment issues.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez faced criticism from Governor Greg Abbott on the same day the lawsuit was filed – the Republican Governor warned Valdez that she should back down from her recently changed policy on federal immigration detention requests, saying in a public letter that he would penalize the county over it. Valdez said in her September announcement that the county jail would no longer hold immigrants believed to be in the US illegally and suspected of minor crimes – policies that are generally called “sanctuary city” laws.

This is something Governor Valdez addressed in his letter to Valdez, saying the state of Texas could pass laws against these “sanctuary cities” that shield residents from federal immigration authorities, but also that he could find other ways to penalize Dallas County.

Several hundred cities and counties across America have in recent years adopted these somewhat controversial policies that limit or outright prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with US immigration authorities. The communities who do so, like San Francisco, cite concerns about damaging relationships with immigrants who live there and making them afraid to seek help from law enforcement when it’s need. These cities also live in fear of lawsuits, after a federal judge ruled last year that detaining inmates solely on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s request was unconstitutional (ICE has since narrowed its focus to people convicted of more serious crimes).

ICE has access to all fingerprint data taken when a person is first booked at a county jail, and asks sheriffs to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours after their planned release dates to allow ICE agents to pick them up. But the lawsuit filed alleges that during the past two years – before Valdez’s policy change – Dallas County held 16 immigrants for extended periods even after bond was set. In some cases, the lawsuit says, the unconstitutional detentions lasted months.

A lead lawyer in the case, Anthony Garza, insisted the suit is not seeking to challenge policies on detention holds, it is just trying to prevent the pre-trial holds themselves. Garza cited the claim of one man who said he was held for three months for a misdemeanour – one of which he was later acquitted.

According to a spokesman for the Dallas County sheriff’s office, Valdez would not comment while the suit – which also names Dallas County and is seeking unspecified damages – is pending.

If you would like legal consultation regarding sanctuary city laws, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. You can make an inquiry via the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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crayonsOn October 22, the Justice Department concluded a case involving the discrimination of potential immigrant employees by Miami Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), which was in violation of the anti-discrimination provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The INA states that:

“It is an unfair immigration-related employment practice for a person or other entity to discriminate against any individual (other than an unauthorized alien, as defined in section 1324a(h)(3) of [Title 8]) with respect to the hiring, or recruitment or referral for a fee, of the individual for employment or the discharging of the individual from employment—

(A) because of such individual’s national origin, or

(B) in the case of a protected individual (as defined in paragraph (3)), because of such individual’s citizenship status.”

The only exceptions to this rule are if the company hiring has less than three employees, if the discrimination is covered under the Civil Rights Act, or if the position involves the approval of the Attorney General.

After the Justice Department’s investigation, which was conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), it found that MDCPS required non-US citizens to present specific documents to prove their employment eligibility, something US citizens with similar qualifications were not required to do. This is considered a violation of the INA, as employers are prohibited from asking for specific documents to prove any potential employee’s citizenship status under the anti-discrimination provision.

Under the settlement agreement, MDCPS must pay a $90,000 civil penalty to the United States and must also establish a $125,000 back pay fund to compensate those individuals who lost wages because of the schools’ practices. The settlement also requires MDCPS to undergo compliance monitoring for three years, as well as permitting OSC to train MDCPS students on worker rights and train its human resources employees on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said of the case: “Employers must ensure that their human resources staff understand proper hiring practices.”

Gupta heads the Civil Rights Division, and also noted, “Promoting compliance is especially important to ensure that workers are not excluded due to discriminatory treatment.”

Anyone who would like more information on the INA, or anyone who thinks they might have been discriminated against because of their citizenship status, shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. Inquiries can be made via the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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handcuffs-219261_640The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday October 20 unanimously agreed to reaffirm the city’s sanctuary laws regarding undocumented immigrants.

For 25 years, San Francisco has had a policy that prevents local law enforcement from turning in undocumented immigrants arrested for nonviolent crimes to federal agents, even at agents’ requests. However, four months ago it came under scrutiny when Kathryn Stienle, a San Francisco resident, was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant who had just been released from custody under the sanctuary city law.

This event didn’t deter the Board of Supervisors, though, as they were not ready to let one event change the shape of a policy that had been in place for 25 years.

Board member David Campos – who was a co-sponsor of the resolution – said he was proud of San Francisco for its sanctuary city law. “I’m so proud that notwithstanding the climate at the national level of scapegoating immigrants that San Francisco went against that,” he said, “This will send a very strong message to the rest of the country that we’re not going to have local law enforcement become arms of immigration.”

Campos referenced the story of Maria Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant trapped in an abusive relationship for 10 years, who told him she almost lost her leg when her boyfriend tried to run her over with his car. Campos said Hernandez never went to the police because she was too afraid she would get deported and leave her daughters without a mom.

San Francisco’s mayor also voiced support of the resolution. Ed Lee, who appeared briefly at the board meeting before the motion was passed, thanked President Barack Obama and California senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, for opposing the anti-sanctuary city bill, saying “I firmly believe our city’s sanctuary city law makes us safer and helps support immigrant communities.”

Similarly, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said rescinding the sanctuary city policy and the sheriff’s policy (banning sheriff’s department employees from directly communicating or coordinating with federal immigration officials) would do nothing to improve public safety, because what’s really needed to help with the growing violence in the country is more gun control.

The sanctuary movement is said to have grown out of church efforts in the 1980s, from those providing sanctuary to Central Americans fleeing violence at home amid the federal government’s reluctance to grant them refugee status. Now there are over 340 sanctuary jurisdictions in the United States, and they are said to release an estimated 1000 criminal immigrants per month.

If you would like legal counsel, or more information on sanctuary city laws across the country and how they might affect you, please get in touch with Daniella Lyttle at Lyttle Law Firm. You can get in touch either through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.

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pregnancy-644071_640Yu Min Zhao, a 33-year-old teacher from Saipan, filed suit against the USA this week after Customs and Border Protection agents accused her of ‘birth tourism’ – the practice of giving birth to a child on US soil to pave the way for the mother to immigrate.

Yu was set to go on a week-long vacation with her husband to the Northern Mariana Islands – a US territory that’s only a 4-hour flight from China – when she was detained at the airport by officials claiming a dress Yu packed to wear at the beach was a maternity dress.

In the complaint she filed, Yu says after she was denied entry she was “handcuffed and placed in detention room equipped only with a metal bench for approximately twenty-two (22) hours where she was denied access to communication with anyone, including her husband.”

Federal agents, after putting her into solitary confinement, told her she had no rights because of her alien status and wasn’t allowed to speak to an attorney. Yu allegedly wasn’t allowed to eat or sleep during the process that started on October 18, 2013, and she said officers tried to get her to sign a voluntary departure form but only ask in English, not Chinese, and when she refused they threatened to arrest and deport her husband.

According to Yu, she screamed for help whenever someone opened the door, which annoyed the agents detaining her. To punish her for what they perceived as a lack of cooperation, Yu says the officers tackled her, shoved her face-first against a wall, twisted her hands behind her back and slammed her head against a wall until she agreed to sign the form.

Yu’s husband was not denied access to the country like his wife when he arrived at the airport, he was admitted under the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver program, which allows those with passports from participating countries (of which there are 12) to travel to the United States without a visa.

The Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant group that is a spinoff of another anti-immigrant group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform, claims that more than a third of the Northern Mariana Islands’ births in 2012 were to Chinese women, and the numbers were concerning island politicians and the Commonwealth Healthcare agency.

If you are seeking legal counsel for a similar issue, or would like to know more about birth tourism and how it might affect you, please get in touch with Lyttle Law Firm, either by sending an inquiry through the website or by calling 512-215-5225.