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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. New Rule Spells Potential Trouble for Asylees

    There’s a new State Department rule in town about misrepresentation, and it could signal trouble for certain asylum seekers and others who enter the country on non-immigrant visas and then seek to remain here permanently or engage in other behavior inconsistent with their visas.

    The State Department has a long tradition of blocking visas for people facing persecution (if you don't believe me, Google "Breckinridge Long").

    To understand the problem, we first need to talk a bit about non-immigrant visas (“NIV”). To obtain an NIV, you have to promise to comply with the terms of that visa. One common NIV requirement is that you must intend to leave the U.S. at the end of your period of authorized stay (some NIVs are exempt from this requirement, most notably the H1b and the L, which are known as "dual intent" visas). Another common NIV requirement is that the visa-holder should not work in the U.S. without permission. If you breach these requirements, there are often—but not always—immigration consequences.

    For example, up until the rule change, if an alien entered the U.S. on a B or F visa, or on the Visa Waiver Program, and then filed to “adjust status” (i.e., get a green card) within 30 days of arrival, the alien was presumed to have had an “immigration intent” at the time of entry, and thus USCIS would assume that she lied about her intention to leave the U.S. at the end of her authorized stay (in government-speak, this is called a misrepresentation). If she violated her status between 30 and 60 days after arrival, USCIS might still decide that she misrepresented her intentions when she got the visa (this was known as the 30/60 day rule). If she filed for the green card on day 61 or beyond, she would generally be safe. There are exceptions and caveats to all this, but you get the picture.

    Enter the new rule, which appears in the State Department’s Field Adjudications Manual (at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)):

    [If] an alien violates or engages in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status within 90 days of entry… you [the consular officer] may presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in only status-compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention in seeking a visa or entry.

    This change specifically affects people applying for visas at U.S. consulates, but it seems likely that USCIS could adopt the rule as well, which would mean that people who come to the United States on certain NIVs and who engaged in “non-status-compliant activity” within 90 days of arrival will be presumed to have lied in order to obtain their visas. All this means that the 30/60 day rule is dead, at least so far as the State Department is concerned, and probably for USCIS as well.

    This is all pretty boring and confusing, you say. What does it have to do with asylum seekers?

    The issue is, if a person comes to the United States and applies for asylum within 90 days of arrival, he might be considered to have lied about his “immigration intent” in order to obtain a U.S. visa. In other words, requesting asylum (and thus asking to stay permanently in the United States) is not consistent with coming here on most NIVs, which require that you promise to leave the U.S. at the end of your authorized stay.

    This problem is not just academic. I’ve recently heard from a colleague whose client came to the U.S., won asylum, and obtained a green card. But when the client applied for citizenship, USCIS accused him of a “misrepresentation” because he entered the country on an NIV and then sought to remain here permanently through asylum. This example comes amidst several cases—including one of my own—where USCIS seems to have pushed the boundaries of the law in order to deny citizenship to asylees. It also seems part of a larger pattern to "bury lawyers and their clients in requests for more and more documentation, and clarification on points that were already extremely clear in the initial filing."

    I should note that the above examples are not related to the new State Department rule (probably), though if USCIS implements a similar rule, it would potentially expose many more asylees (and other USCIS applicants) to the same fate.

    It’s a little hard to understand what USCIS is trying to do here, or why they are doing it. For one things, there is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit fraud (the waiver forgives fraud and allows the person to remain in the United States). Also, when a person fears persecution in her country and qualifies for asylum, low-grade misrepresentations are routinely forgiven. So the likelihood that any asylee would ultimately be deported for having lied to get a visa is close to zero. In other words, USCIS can delay the process, and cause these asylees a lot of stress and expense, but in the end, they will remain here and most likely become U.S. citizens (eventually).

    Perhaps this is the Trump Administration’s implementation of “extreme vetting.” If so, it’s more appearance than substance. It looks as if something is happening, but really, nothing is happening. Except of course that USCIS is mistreating people who have come to the United States and demonstrated that they have a well-founded fear of harm in their home countries. So—like a Stalinist show trial—such people will admit their “misrepresentations” (in many cases, for the second, third or fourth time), go through the hassle, stress, and expense of the waiver process, and then end up staying here just the same.

    It’s too bad. USCIS can do a lot of good—for immigrants and for our national security. But unfortunately, their current path will not lead to improvements in either realm.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com
    Tags: asylum, fraud, uscis Add / Edit Tags
  2. Advance Parole: Overseas Travel for Asylum Seekers

    When government scientists invented Advance Parole (“AP”), they were not thinking about asylum seekers. Even today, if you look at the instructions to form I-131, the form used to apply for AP, you’ll find nary a word about asylum seekers (though asylees—people already granted asylum—can apply for a Refugee Travel Document using the same form). But fear not: People who have filed affirmatively for asylum and who are waiting for their interview can file for AP in order to travel abroad and return while their case is pending.

    First, a brief word about asylum seekers who are not eligible to travel and return using AP. People who are in removal proceedings (i.e., in Immigration Court) cannot leave the U.S. and return, even if they have AP. If you are in removal proceedings, it means the government is trying to deport you, and if you leave, you are considered to have deported yourself. Thus, even if you apply for AP and receive the travel document, if you leave the United States, you will be deported, and thus barred from return. And yes, I am sure that there is a story about your third cousin’s best friend who was in Immigration Court, and who left and returned using AP. To that, I say: Talk to your cousin’s friend’s lawyer (and if you learn something, let me know!). My opinion is that if you are in removal proceedings and you leave the U.S., either you won’t get back here at all, or you will be detained upon arrival.

    Another group that may be ineligible to travel using AP are J-1 visa holders subject to the pesky two-year home residency requirement. There are more people like this than you might imagine, and for such people, I recommend you talk to a lawyer about AP. Asylum basically “erases” the home residency requirement, but it is unclear (at least to me) whether this will work for purposes of AP while the asylum application is still pending.

    Also, there was a group of people who were ineligible for AP, but who are now eligible. It is people who have six months or more of “unlawful presence.” If a person remains in the U.S. after her period of stay ends, she accrues unlawful presence (you stop accruing unlawful presence once you file for asylum). If she accrues six months of unlawful presence and leaves, she is barred from returning for three years. If she has one year or more of unlawful presence and then leaves, she cannot return for 10 years. Prior to 2012, if a person had six or more months of unlawful presence and left, she could not return to the U.S., even with AP. However, a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals changed the rule, and so now, even if you have unlawful presence, you can leave the U.S. and return using Advance Parole. Thank you BIA!

    There might be other people who are also ineligible to travel--people with criminal convictions or prior removal/deportation orders, for example. If you are not sure, you should certainly talk to a lawyer before applying for AP or traveling.

    Next, let’s talk about what AP is and is not. If you get AP, you will receive a piece of paper with your photo on it. This paper works like a U.S. visa. It allows you to board the plane (or boat, if, like me, you hate flying), and pass through customs once you arrive at the port of entry. AP is not a passport or a Refugee Travel Document. You cannot use it to go to other countries or as a form of ID. If you travel with AP, you also need a passport. Keep in mind that traveling with a passport from a country where you fear persecution can raise questions at the asylum interview about why you would “avail” yourself of the protection of your country by using its passport. You should be prepared to respond to such questions, with evidence, during your interview.

    So how do you apply for AP? Use form I-131. This one magic form can be used for all sorts of different applications: AP, Refugee Travel Document, DACA (at least for the next couple weeks), humanitarian parole. If you are applying for AP, complete only the portions of the form that apply to Advance Parole. You need to include evidence of a pending asylum case (receipts, biometrics notice), two passport-size photos, a copy of your passport or other government-issued photo ID (like an EAD card), and the filing fee (a whopping $575.00 as of this writing).

    Also, you need to demonstrate a humanitarian need for the travel. It is not enough that you simply want to travel. A humanitarian reason might be that you are traveling to receive medical treatment or going to visit a seriously ill relative. It might also be because you are attending a funeral for a close relative. We have sought AP for people who needed to travel for work or education, though that was pre-Trump, and I would not feel particularly optimistic about such an application today.

    To demonstrate a humanitarian need for AP, you need to provide a written explanation for the travel. You also need to provide evidence: A letter from the doctor, in the case of medical travel, or a death certificate if you are traveling for a funeral. If you are trying to travel for work or education, you need a letter from your job or school, plus an explanation of why the travel is "humanitarian." In addition, if you are traveling to visit a sick relative, provide proof of the relationship, such as birth or marriage certificates connecting you to your relative.

    On the form I-131, you need to state the dates of proposed travel. Don't make the date too soon, or USCIS will not be able to process the paperwork before your travel date, and then they will send a request for evidence asking you to explain whether you still plan to travel since your departure date passed before AP was approved.

    Also, it may be possible to expedite a request for AP, or even to get AP on an emergency basis, though you can bet that the bureaucrats at USCIS will not make the process easy. For more information about such requests, see the USCIS Ombudsman webpage.

    Finally, and this is important, if you are an asylum seeker and you use AP to visit your home country, it will very likely cause your asylum case to be denied. Indeed, unless you can demonstrate "compelling reasons" for returning to your country, your asylum application will be deemed abandoned by the return trip. You can learn more about that here.

    So there you have it. Most lawyers--including this one--discourage our clients from traveling with AP. There is always a risk when you leave the U.S. You might have trouble boarding a return flight. You could be detained upon arrival in the United States. Our capricious President might issue a new travel ban. But so far (knock on wood), we have not had any problems for our clients who traveled using AP. I do think it is better to stay in the country while your asylum application is pending, but given the long waits, some people must travel. If so, at least AP gives most people that option.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  3. Translating Documents for Your Asylum Case

    The word "translation" is derived from "trans," meaning "across" two languages, and "elation," meaning "to make your lawyer happy." Or something like that. The point is, if your translations are correct, you are more likely to win your case and so you--and your lawyer--will be happy.

    If you think accurate translations are not important, please stay away from my garden.

    But many asylum seekers are unable (or unwilling) to pay for professional translations, which can be quite costly. Instead, they do the translations themselves, or they use a friend who speaks "good English" (technically, anyone who claims to speak "good English" does not speak English very well). The problem faced by these non-professionals is that translating documents is not as easy as it looks.

    I ran into this problem recently, when a keen-eyed DHS attorney discovered that my client's translations were incorrect. The client had submitted several translated documents when he applied for asylum at the Asylum Office (using a different lawyer). These documents included a newspaper article, a police report, and several witness letters. The quality of the translations was poor, and so we asked the client to obtain better translations. Unfortunately, the new translator embellished some of the translations. Instead of translating the documents literally, he tried to include what the writer meant (or what the translator believed the writer meant). This problem is all too common. Sometimes, I catch it, and other times, I don't. In this particular case, the DHS attorney caught the inconsistency, which--to state the obvious--is not great for our case.

    Poor translations can cause real problems for asylum cases. I have at least one case where an inaccurate translation resulted in the case being denied by the Asylum Office and referred to Immigration Court (where it remains pending 3+ years later--ugh).

    So how do you ensure that your translations are correct? And what happens if you can't afford a professional translator?

    First, any document that is not in English must be translated into English. For each such document, you must submit a copy of the original document (in the foreign language), an English translation, and a certificate of translation (for an example certificate of translation, see the Immigration Court Practice Manual, Appendix H).

    Second, the translation should be accurate. This seems like a no-brainer, but in my experience, it is not. Here, "accurate" means that the translator should--as much as possible--literally change each and every word of the original document into the equivalent English word. Some words are not easy to translate from one language to the next. Other words have symbolic, cultural or idiomatic meanings that may differ from their literal meaning (the word "jihad" is a good example). In that case, translate the word literally, and maybe include a footnote indicating the meaning or cultural significance of the word. The footnote should clearly indicate that it is not part of the translation (for example, it could say, "Translator's note:" and then include the explanation). Other times, the original document is vague or unclear. In that case, the translator should again literally translate the words, but can include an explanatory note. Sometimes, documents contain illegible words. For them, the translator can include a bracketed statement indicating that the text is [illegible].

    Third, while I think it is not required, I strongly prefer that the translated text look similar to the original (or sometime like a mirror image of the original, if it is a right-to-left language like Arabic). So bold or underlined words in the original should be bold or underlined in English. If the original text has different paragraphs, the English should follow a similar format. If some words in the original are centered, or shifted to one side or to a corner of the page, the translation should do the same.

    Fourth, every word of the document should be translated. For documents where that is not possible (like a newspaper where you are only interested in using one article on the page), the translator should clearly indicate what portions of the document are being translated. In this case, I prefer to highlight the original document to make clear which parts are being translated. Also, for news articles, it is important to include (in the original language and in English), the name of the newspaper, the date, the title of the article, and the author, if any. Certain documents contain a lot of unnecessary boilerplate verbiage (I'm thinking of you, Salvadoran birth certificates), and so a summary translation might be more appropriate. If you use a summary translation, you need to clearly indicate that it is a summary, not a literal translation. Whether all Judges and Asylum Officers will accept summary translations, I do not know, but we use them now and again, and we have not had any problems.

    Finally, countries sometimes use different calendars and even different clocks. In this situation, I think the best practice is to translate the date or time literally, and then include an explanatory note (for example, in the Jewish calendar, today is the second day of the month of Elul in the year 5777, and so if a Hebrew document contained that date, the English translation would look like this: "2 Elul 5777 [August 24, 2017]"). Some translators include only the date in our system (and not "2 Elul 5777"), and I have never had a Judge or Asylum Officer reject that, but I still think the better practice is the literal translation + explanatory note.

    A related issue is letters from people who do not speak English, including the asylum applicants themselves. If a person does not speak English, but submits an English letter or affidavit, there must be a "certificate of interpretation stating that the affidavit or declaration has been read to the person in a language that the person understands and that he or she understood it before signing." See Immigration Court Practice Manual, p. 48. "The certificate must also state that the interpreter is competent to translate the language of the document, and that the interpretation was true and accurate to the best of the interpreter’s abilities." Id.

    Lastly, many asylum seekers speak English and can translate documents themselves. This is fine. However, a person should not sign a certificate of translation for her own case. So if you translate your own documents, find a friend who speaks both languages to review the documents and sign the certificate of translation.

    Accurate translations can enhance credibility and help you win your case. So either find (and pay) a competent translator or - if you do it yourself or use a friend - take the time to ensure that the translations are accurate and complete. Otherwise, documents that might help your case could end up doing more harm than good.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  4. In a Time of Hate, My Refugee Clients Give Me Hope

    As an ordinary citizen, it is not easy to decide the best way to confront a Nazi march. Show up to peacefully protest? That might give additional attention to the other side. Protest violently? Not only could that elevate the Nazis, it might also de-legitimize the resistance to the Nazis (even those who peacefully resist). Ignore them? That might be viewed as condoning their views. Reasonable people can differ about what to do, at least as far as the peaceful responses are concerned.


    As a great American philosopher once said, "I hate Nazis."

    But when you are a public figure, especially an elected official, the decision about how to respond is clear: First, ensure safety and free speech. Second, denounce the evils of Nazism and make it plain that Nazis, Klan members, and anyone who might march side-by-side with such people are un-American, illegitimate, and unworthy of a seat at the table of public discourse.

    Fortunately, the vast majority of our country's elected leaders knew what to say in response to the Nazi march last weekend. But unfortunately, there was one important exception--our President, Donald J. Trump. To me, Mr. Trump's contemptible silence, followed by a reluctant "denunciation" of the Nazis, followed by a denunciation of the "denunciation" is an utter disgrace. It is a green light to Nazis. It is yet another attack on common decency and on our shared national values. It is complicity with Nazism. By the President of the United States. (As an aside, one of my lawyer-friends at the Justice Department told me--perhaps half jokingly--that she wanted to post a sign in her office that reads, "Nazis are bad," but she feared it might get her into trouble--that is where we are under Mr. Trump.)

    Frankly, I am not particularly worried about the Nazis themselves. They certainly can do damage--they murdered a young woman and injured many others. But they do not have the power or support to threaten our democracy. This does not mean we should take them for granted (few would have predicted Hitler's rise when he was sitting in prison after the Beerhall Putsch), but we should not be unduly fearful either.

    On the other hand, I am very worried about our President's behavior. His governing philosophy (perhaps we can call it, "trickle down histrionics") is poisoning our public debate, and it weakens us domestically and internationally. Thus far, his incompetence has served as a bulwark against his malevolence, but that can only go on for so long (see, e.g., North Korea). So there is much to be concerned about.

    Here, though, I want to talk about hope. Specifically, the hope that I feel from my clients: Asylum seekers, "illegals," and other immigrants. There are several reasons my clients give me hope.

    One reason is that they still believe in the American Dream. Despite all of the nastiness, mendacity, and bigotry coming from the White House, people still want to come to America. They are voting with their feet. Some endure seemingly endless waits, often times separated from their loved ones, in order to obtain legal status here. Others risk their lives to get here. They don't do this because (as Mr. Trump suggests) they want to harm us. They do it because they want to join us. They want to be part of America. My clients and others like them represent the American ideal far better than those, like our embattled President and his racist friends, who disparage them. When I see my country through my clients' eyes, it gives me hope.

    My clients' stories also give me hope. Most of my clients are asylum seekers. They have escaped repressive regimes or failing states. Where they come from, the government doesn't just tweet nasty comments about its opponents, it tortures and murders them. The terrorist groups operating in my clients' countries regularly harm and kill noncombatants, women, children, and even babies. My clients have stood against this depravity, and many of them continue to fight for democracy, justice, and human rights from our shores. My clients' perseverance in the face of evil gives me hope.

    Finally, I have hope because I see the courage of my clients, who refuse to be cowed by the hateful rhetoric of our Commander-in-Chief. Since the early days of his campaign, Mr. Trump has demonized foreigners and refugees, and after he was sworn in as President, these individuals were the first to come into his cross hairs. If he can defeat people like my clients, he can move on to new targets. But many refugees and asylum seekers have been subject to far worse treatment than Mr. Trump's bluster, and they are ready to stand firm against his bullying. Their fortitude encourages others to stand with them. And stand with them we will. The fact that vulnerable, traumatized people are on the front lines of this fight, and that they will not surrender, gives me hope.

    I have written before about the tangible benefits of our humanitarian immigration system. It demonstrates to the world that our principals--democracy, human rights, freedom, justice--are not empty platitudes. It shows that we support people who work with us and who advance the values we hold dear. When such people know that we have their backs, they will be more willing to work with us going forward. And of course, that system helps bring people to the United States whose talents and energy benefit our entire nation. Add to this list one more benefit that asylees and refugees bring to our nation in this dark time--hope.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  5. President Trump’s 101-Year Deportation Plan

    Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong had their five-year plans. Nikita Khrushchev had his seven-year plan. And now President Trump has a 101-year plan. That’s how long it will take to deport the country’s 11 million undocumented residents if current trends continue.


    Happy Birthday! Now, get the hell out of my country!


    The most recent statistics on case completions in Immigration Court show that the Trump Administration has issued an average of 8,996 removal (deportation) orders per month between February and June 2017 (and 11,000,000 divided by 8,996 cases/month = 1,222.8 months, or 101.9 years). That's up from 6,913 during the same period last year, but still well-below the peak period during the early days of the Obama Administration, when courts were issuing 13,500 removal orders each month.

    Of course, the Trump Administration has indicated that it wants to ramp up deportations, and to that end, the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR--the office that oversees the nation's Immigration Courts--plans to hire more Immigration Judges ("IJs"). Indeed, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the Attorney General (at least for now) announced that EOIR would hire 50 more judges this year and 75 next year.
    Assuming EOIR can find 125 new IJs, and also assuming that no currently-serving judges retire (a big assumption given that something like 50% of our country's IJs are eligible to retire), then EOIR will go from 250 IJs to 375. So instead of 101 years to deport the nation's 11 million undocumented residents, it will only take 68 years (assuming that no new people enter the U.S. illegally or overstay their visas, and assuming my math is correct--more big assumptions).

    But frankly, I'm doubtful that 68 years--or even 101 years--is realistic. It's partly that more people are entering the population of "illegals" all the time, and so even as the government chips away at the 11,000,000 figure, more people are joining that club, so to speak. Worse, from the federal government's point of view, there is not enough of a national consensus to deport so many people, and there is significant legal resistance to Mr. Trump's immigration agenda.

    In addition to all this, there is the Trump Administration's modus operandi, which is best characterized as malevolence tempered by incompetence. One statistic buried in the recent deportation numbers illustrates this point. In March 2017, judges issued 10,110 removal orders. A few months later, in June, judges issued 8,919 removal orders.

    This means that the number of deportation orders dropped by 1,191 or about 11.8%. How can this be? In a word: Incompetence (I suppose if I wanted to be more generous—which I don’t—I could say, Inexperience). The Trump Administration has no idea how to run the government and their failure in the immigration realm is but one example.

    There are at least a couple ways the Administration’s incompetence has manifested itself at EOIR.

    One is in the distribution of judges. It makes sense to send IJs where they are needed. But that’s not exactly what is happening. Maybe it’s just opening night jitters for the new leadership at EOIR. Maybe they’ll find their feet and get organized. But so far, it seems EOIR is sending judges to the border, where they are underutilized. While this may have the appearance of action (which may be good enough for this Administration), the effect—as revealed in the statistical data—is that fewer people are actually being deported.

    As I wrote previously, the new Acting Director of EOIR has essentially no management experience, and it’s still unclear whether he is receiving the support he needs, or whether his leadership team has the institutional memory to navigate the EOIR bureaucracy. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the inefficient use of judicial resources.

    Another reason may be that shifting judges around is not as easy as moving pieces on a chess board. The IJs have families, homes, and ties to their communities. Not to mention a union to protect them (or try to protect them) from management. And it doesn’t help that many Immigration Courts are located in places that you wouldn’t really want to live, if you had a choice. So getting judges to where you need them, and keeping them there for long enough to make a difference, is not so easy.

    A second way the Trump Administration has sabotaged itself is related to prosecutorial discretion or PD. In the pre-Trump era, DHS attorneys (the “prosecutors” in Immigration Court) had discretion to administratively close cases that were not a priority. This allowed DHS to focus on people who they wanted to deport: Criminals, human rights abusers, people perceived as a threat to national security. In other words, “Bad Hombres.” Now, PD is essentially gone. By the end of the Obama Administration, 2,400 cases per month were being closed through PD. Since President Trump came to office, the average is less than 100 PD cases per month. The result was predictable: DHS can’t prioritize cases and IJs are having a harder time managing their dockets. In essence, if everyone is a deportation priority, no one is a deportation priority.

    Perhaps the Trump Administration hopes to “fix” these problems by making it easier to deport people. The Administration has floated the idea of reducing due process protections for non-citizens. Specifically, they are considering expanding the use of expedited removal, which is a way to bypass Immigration Courts for certain aliens who have been in the U.S. for less than 90 days. But most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have been here much longer than that, and so they would not be affected. Also, expansion of expedited removal would presumably trigger legal challenges, which may make it difficult to implement.

    Another “fix” is to prevent people from coming here in the first place. Build the wall. Deny visas to people overseas. Scare potential immigrants so they stay away. Illegally turn away asylum seekers at the border. Certainly, all this will reduce the number of people coming to America. But the cost will be high. Foreign tourists, students, and business people add many billions to our economy. Foreign scholars, scientists, artists, and other immigrants contribute to our country’s strength. Whether the U.S. is willing to forfeit the benefits of the global economy in order to restrict some people from coming or staying here unlawfully, I do not know. But the forces driving migration are powerful, and so I have real doubts that Mr. Trump’s efforts will have more than a marginal impact, especially over the long run. And even if he could stop the flow entirely, it still leaves 11 million people who are already here.

    There is an obvious alternative to Mr. Trump’s plan. Instead of wasting billions of dollars, harming our economy, and ripping millions of families apart, why not move towards a broad legalization for those who are here? Focus on deporting criminals and other “bad hombres,” and leave hard-working immigrants in peace. Sadly, this is not the path we are on. And so, sometime in 2118, perhaps our country will finally say adieu to its last undocumented resident.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
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