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If you are just a witness in an immigration case, you may think that you are safe from deportation and criminal prosecution, but under the Trump Administration, that is not the case. Increasingly, Department of Justice and Homeland Security officials have been calling for more criminal prosecutions and deportations in immigration-related matters. Even if you are not the person facing deportation in immigration court and you are only a witness, you could be in jeopardy.

When you testify in immigration court for a friend, family member or employee, you have to swear under oath to your testimony. If you lie during a hearing, you can be prosecuted for perjury or giving false statements to a federal official. If you admit to committing crimes or engaging in acts that can get you deported as a non-citizen, you can be criminally prosecuted, put in prison and even deported.

Under the Trump administration Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Attorneys and even Immigration Judges are becoming much more enforcement oriented and looking for cases where people admit to immigration-related crimes and grounds of removability during other non-citizen’s immigration cases.

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The President recently announced that the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “Dreamers”) program is ending as we know it. The government will not accept any new applications for DACA effective September 5, 2017. If you had a new DACA application pending already, the government will not automatically deny it, they will give you a decision. If you currently have DACA and your Work Permit is set to expire before March 5, 2018, you can apply to renew your DACA and work permit, BUT YOU MUST FILE BEFORE OCTOBER 5, 2017 or your application will be rejected.

It is very, very important for everyone with DACA to look at their work permit immediately. If the expiration date is between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, you should go see an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible for advice on what to do. Do not wait, you must apply to renew your DACA and work permit before October 5, 2017 or you will lose both when the work permit expires.

One important thing to remember about the President’s announcement is that everyone with DACA and a work permit will continue to enjoy the protection of not being deported and being able to work until the documents expire. That is, unless the government terminates your DACA before then for one of many reasons, like you were convicted of a crime or committed some sort of immigration fraud.

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On September 5, 2017, President Trump announced that he was ending DACA . . . sort of.  Its true, DACA, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is ending as we have known it since 2012 when President Obama created the program.  However, its important to remember, the program is not ending immediately for people who already have DACA or who have already applied for DACA for the first time.  If you have already applied for DACA, or applied to renew your DACA, or have DACA, today’s announcement does not effect you immediately.  But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about.

Today’s announcement immediately stops anyone who does not already have DACA from applying for it.  It also stops anyone who has DACA from applying for advanced parole, which is a benefit that allows people without a lawful immigration status to leave the U.S. and return without a visa.  Advanced parole is important for DACA recipients for two important reasons, 1) people without status in the U.S. cannot usually travel abroad and return to the country legally without advanced parole and 2) once a DACA recipient travels outside of the country and returns on advanced parole, they may be eligible to apply for adjustment of status through a family member when they were not eligible previously because they had entered the country without inspection and admission or parole.

If you have DACA, or have already applied for DACA for the first time, it is important to know how today’s announcement affects you and what you can do to protect your immigration status.

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Typically, if the government is going to institute deportation proceedings on the basis of a criminal charge, there must be a conviction.  In immigration court, the term “conviction” is interpreted very loosely.  For example, in the State of Florida, if a person receives a “withhold of adjudication,” they are technically not convicted, even though they have pled no contest or guilty and receive some form of punishment.  However, in immigration court, a withhold of adjudication would serve as a conviction sufficient to form the basis of a removal order.  This has been pretty well established in the immigration law community for some time.  What hasn’t been established is whether a person can be deported when there has been no formal conviction in criminal court, but the non-citizen admits to the elements of the offense before a criminal law judge.

The Fourth Circuit has recently spoken on this issue in Boggala v. Atty Gen’l, No. 16-1558 (4th. Cir. 2017).  Vijaya Boggala, a citizen of India, was arrested for solicitation of a minor.  He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the state.  A deferred prosecution agreement is basically front loaded probation.  It is an agreement to complete certain conditions (i.e. probation, counseling, etc.) and the state agrees to drop the charges upon successful completion of those conditions.  In this case, Mr. Boggala was required to admit to elements of the offense in open court before a judge, which he did.  He then successfully completed all the conditions of his deferred prosecution agreement and the charges against him were dropped.  You wouldn’t think that he would be subject to deportation, right?  After all, the charges were dropped.  Despite not being convicted of the crime, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instituted deportation proceedings against Mr. Boggala. They charged him with being deportable under INA Section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii), as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony, and under INA Section 2237(a)(2)(A)(i), as an alien convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.  The question presented to the Fourth Circuit was whether Mr. Boggala was “convicted” of the offense as that term is interpreted under the Section 237(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 101(a)(48)(A)(i) of the INA defines “conviction” as a “a formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court or, if adjudication of guilt has been withheld, where…the alien… has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt.”  The Fourth Circuit thus analyzed whether Mr. Boggala admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and not whether the court actually made a finding of guilt.  The Court found that because Mr. Boggala stipulated to the facts that were to be used against him, he was convicted within the meaning of Section 101(a)(48)(A)(i), despite not having been convicted in criminal court.

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Recently, memos have surfaced that the Trump administration is working to expand the use of Expedited Removal in an effort to become tougher on immigration enforcement. This is bad news for anyone in the United States who doesn’t carry around their U.S. birth certificate, passport, or green card at all times. This is really bad news for anyone who entered the country without inspection or valid immigration documents less than three months ago.

What is Expedited Removal?

Expedited Removal is a way that immigration officers can detain and order someone removed from the United States without taking them before an Immigration Judge. This is one of many “alternatives to removal proceedings” that the government can use to obtain an order of removal against a non-citizen while trying to keep them out of court.

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The government is deporting people at a record rate.  The current administration has said that it is focused on “bad hombres,” but people who have been here for many years with no criminal convictions are being targeted as well as those with criminal charges.  There are things that can be done to protect yourself or those you love from deportation.  Here is a list of some of the more common ways:

  1. Become A U.S. Citizen – Proud-American-Citizen-really-small-150x150So many lawful permanent residents (greencard holders) put off becoming a United States citizen for a variety of reasons.  Whether they don’t want to pay the fee or go through the administrative process or study for the test or renounce their loyalty to their country of birth, they put off becoming citizens. This is a mistake.  Once you become a United States citizen, you can disregard the Immigration and Nationality Act.  This means that you can come to and go from the United States as any other U.S. citizen does.  This means that if you are ever convicted of a minor crime, you would not be deportable.  This means that you would not have to deal with the hassle and uncertainty of being inspected by Customs and Border Protection agents in the same way as non-citizens, including random secondary inspections.  If you wanted to reside outside the United States with the option of coming back, you could do this as a United States citizen.  You may be able to apply for your non-citizen relative or help keep that relative from being deported, if you are a U.S. citizen.  The naturalization process takes several months and often times it can be too late for people to apply when they need it.  For example, if you are arrested for battery, minor drug possession, theft, criminal mischief, fraud, or any other criminal charge, it could prevent you from applying for citizenship for 5 years, and sometimes forever.  Or even worse, it could be a basis for deportation, no matter how long you have lived in the United States and been a lawful permanent resident.  The immigration laws are complicated.  Do yourself a favor and become a U.S. citizen as quickly as possible.
  2. File a Petition –AdobeStock_37194399-150x150 In some cases, you may be able to file a Petition on behalf of your non-citizen spouse or other family member, even if they are here without authorization.  For example, a spouse of a person who came into the United States without authorization may be able to file a petition and that person may be able to file a provisional waiver to excuse their unlawful presence in the U.S. An approved petition alone could help if the person is placed in removal proceedings or taken into custody by ICE.  The immigration laws are designed to be more forgiving of certain immigration violations if the person is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.  Filing a petition may or may not be beneficial in your case.  Consult with an immigration attorney to see whether it would help or hurt you or your loved one.
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In a recent decision affecting Florida, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a conviction under Florida Statute §893.13(1)(a) for Sale or Delivery of a Controlled Substance is not necessarily an Aggravated Felony for immigration purposes.  In Lannie Gordon v. United States Attorney General, Case 15-13846, the Court held that a conviction under Florida Statute §893.13(1)(a) will serve as an Aggravated Felony only if the conviction included “unlawful trading or dealing,” which in turn requires commercial conduct.  It is irrelevant what the police allege happened or even what did actually happen.  The court can only look to the “record of conviction” to determine whether there was “unlawful trading or dealing.”  Therefore, as in Mr. Gordon’s case, even though he actually sold marijuana in exchange for money, the Eleventh Circuit held that because he pled to “sale or delivery,” the conviction could not serve as an aggravated felony.  Had the record of conviction been more specific and omitted “or delivery,” then the conviction would have served as an Aggravated Felony.

So, when a non-U.S. citizen is convicted under Florida Statute §893.13(1)(a) and an immigration judge is deciding whether that conviction is an Aggravated Felony, the immigration judge should look to determine under which portion of the Florida statute the person was convicted. Florida Statute §893.13(1)(a) makes it illegal to:

  1. Sell
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A little used provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act may be making a lot of noise during the Trump administration.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a memo to Assistant United States Attorneys nationwide asking them to start requesting Judicial Orders of Removal in federal criminal cases involving non-United States citizens.  The effect of these requests would be to place the federal district judge, who may not be familiar with immigration issues, in the seat of an administrative immigration judge.  The federal judge who presides over the criminal case would determine whether the person was deportable and whether there were any forms of relief available to the person.  If the judge determines that the person is deportable and no form of relief is warranted, the district judge would order the removal of that person and there would be no further immigration proceedings.  That means, the non-citizen would never go before an actual immigration judge.

An inherent problem within this process is the lack of statutory or regulatory guidance for the process.  What is the burden of proof?  How strictly are the rules of evidence construed?  Will these hearings (presumably held within the criminal sentencing hearing) look like the immigration individual hearing equivalent?  The Department of Justice has previously issued guidance to its Assistant United States Attorneys suggesting that legislative changes should be made to provide more guidance for how these proceedings should be conducted.

Should the Assistant U.S. Attorneys start to pursue judicial orders of removal on a regular basis, federal criminal defense attorneys will have to make a choice between fully immersing themselves in learning immigration law and deportation defense, or probably more wisely, employing outside immigration counsel experienced in removal/deportation defense.  This is even more important in the federal criminal courtroom context because lawyers will have to educate federal judges who have no experience handling deportation cases.

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File_000-2-683x1024Many potential clients who call our office ask this question:  Why do I need to pay for a consultation with your immigration attorney?  There are two easy answers to that question.  First you get what you pay for.  And second, an attorney’s time and knowledge are what they have to offer to a client.  If an immigration attorney is willing to do a comprehensive telephonic or in-person consultation on every immigration case for free, that may not be the attorney you want to handle your case.

There are exceptions to this rule; low or no-cost organizations, legal aid, Catholic Charities and other places may offer free consultations and they can still provide quality legal services.  There are also certain types of cases that an immigration attorney may provide a free consultation to talk about, but they may charge a fee for other types of cases.

Immigration clients should be very careful when deciding which attorney to trust with their case, their future, and their families’ futures.  All immigration attorneys are not the same.  Some have many years of practice and experience, while others are very new to the law.  Some have expertise in certain areas of immigration law that other immigration attorneys simply don’t have.  Some immigration attorneys are Board Certified by the Florida Bar, which means that they are experts in immigration law.  Florida Bar Board Certified attorneys have to pass very rigorous ethical and educational requirements along with passing a board exam.

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TPS for Haiti has been extended for 6 months.

On May 22, 2017, DHS Secretary John Kelly announced that TPS for Haiti will be extended for another six months, until January 22, 2018.  That is good news for Haitian nationals with TPS and their families, but not great news.  DHS could have extended TPS for a maximum of 18 months, but did not.  DHS could have also terminated TPS as of July 22, 2017, but it did not.

There was a fear that the government would end TPS for Haiti immediately, which would have effectively taken away work permits and TPS status for over 50,000 Haitian nationals currently in the United States.  Thankfully, that did not happen this week.  However, Secretary Kelly was quite clear that this six-month extension of TPS for Haiti would likely be the last and that Haitians with TPS should either find another way to stay legally in the United States, or prepare to return to Haiti early next year.