Alleged terror suspect of Dallas bomb plot highlights visitor-visa tracking problem

The alleged plot to blow up a Dallas office tower highlights a major weakness of the US government- keeping track of overstaying visitors.
Just like the millions of others classified by the government as illegal immigrants, the Jordanian teen accused of plotting to blow up a Dallas office tower recently, arrived in the United States legally and stayed long after his visa expired.
Federal immigration officials said that Hosam Smadi, 19, arrived on a visitor visa, not a student visa as initially believed, in spring 2007.
The difference is crucial: For foreign students, dropping out of school triggers a report to a central database and, often, a follow-up by the immigration authorities. For those who arrive as tourists or workers, it's almost certain authorities won't take notice unless they apply for a driver's license, get pulled over or arrested or call attention to themselves.
Officials in several federal agencies were reluctant to say much more about Smadi, citing the ongoing investigation. It's unclear when Smadi or his parents obtained the visa - Jordanians can receive visas that expire in five years, so he could have been as young as 11 or 12.
Once a visa-holder arrives with a "B2" visitor visa - the type that Smadi apparently received - he has six months to seek an extension or leave the United States.
Jordanian authorities say he spent time in detention when he was 14 or so, for a theft his father says he had reported to teach his son a lesson. It's unclear if the U.S. authorities knew about that case, nor whether it would have held up his visa if they did.
However he got into the US, and however long he stayed, Smadi came under scrutiny because, the FBI alleges, he expressed jihadist views on a monitored Web site.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people are coming in for the wrong reasons - to harm Americans or kill Americans, rather than as an innocent tourist," said Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. "Once you come into the country on a tourist visa, you've passed 'Go.' People know they're home free and there's no effort made to keep track of them."
In 1996, Smith wrote a bill - signed into law by President Bill Clinton - requiring the federal government to create a system to track both the entry and exit of foreign visitors. Thirteen years later, it's still a work in progress.
The Homeland Security Department has been building a system called U.S.-VISIT for several years.
The system compares biometric data with security databases, mostly to ensure that a foreigner arriving at a U.S. airport or land crossing isn't using someone else's passport. The data is stored. But, since most ports of entry don't identify departing foreigners, it's almost useless for tracking how many people - let alone which individuals - stayed longer than they were supposed to.
Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, don't dispute that.
Four of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had overstayed their visas, and that issue has vexed policymakers and informed the nation's immigration debate for years.
Immigrant advocates agree that relatively little effort is expended to track down people who overstay their visas - though, unlike Smith and others, they say that's fine.
"The government doesn't monitor computers and say: 'Aha.' Quite honestly, we don't have the resources for that," said Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Mostly what you'll pick up are people who are just trying to earn a living. I would rather see those resources spent on people who really mean us harm."
The immigration department has a National Fugitive Operations Program that tracks down foreigners who arrived without permission, and also those who arrived legally but stayed longer than their visas allowed. The top priority is to find people who pose a threat to public safety - people with known terrorist links or criminal records, or active arrest warrants.
A teenager with no known criminal record would not rise to the top of such a list.
The immigration agency posts a list of 15 "most-wanted criminal aliens." Not one is wanted for an act of terrorism. Most are accused of human smuggling or lewd acts involving children.
After Sept. 11, the government required males age between 16 and 70 from a number of countries, most of them predominantly Muslim, to report their whereabouts. The backlash was intense, and the program was largely abandoned.
Washington is spending about $300 million per year implementing US-VISIT (the acronym stands for Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology).
"We are at the same place we were before 9/11," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates immigration restriction. "There's been some but not much progress."


New website launched by US Immigration

In an effort to help people with issues related to citizenship and immigration, and provide more transparency, the Obama administration launched a new Web site on Tuesday that officials hope will make citizenship and other immigration services more accessible.
The new Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site was unveiled on September 22nd at an event with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, as well as White House and Homeland Security staff.
Napolitano said USCIS' Web site gets 230,000 visits a day, therefore it's important that it be easy to use and provides "the kind of information that people seek."
The site was revised in 90 days using in-house resources, officials said. CIS officials could not immediately provide a total cost for the revisions. Parts of the service, including its Spanish-language sections, were still under construction.
Citizenship and Immigration Services is responsible for processing millions of applications for citizenship, immigration to the U.S. and legal residency as well as claims for asylum and refugee status.
One of the highlights of the new site is a tool allowing users to get e-mail updates or text alerts about the status of their cases, as well as to check them online with their case number.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the Citizenship and Immigration Services director, planned to travel to Los Angeles, as well as New Mexico and Nevada this week to "capture the issues of importance" on making his agency more responsive to the public.
Last week, Mayorkas announced the creation of an office to focus on gathering feedback from the community.


Former immigration official sentenced to three years for bribery

A former U.S. Department of Homeland Security worker was sentenced Monday to federal prison for three years and four months on a dozen counts related to a fraud and bribery scheme and a conspiracy to bring illegal aliens from India into the United States.
HASMUKH PATEL, 53, of McDonough, Georgia, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Clarence Cooper on charges of accepting a $100,000 bribe, bringing aliens into the United States illegally, and unauthorized access of a law enforcement computer.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the case, 'While employed with Citizenship and Immigration Services in a position to assist aliens seeking to come to the United States lawfully, Hasmukh Patel abused the public trust by accepting a bribe to bring aliens to this country illegally. His corruption has now landed him in prison.'
In Washington D.C., Special Agent in Charge Wayne H. Salzgaber, Special Investigations Division, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Inspector General, said, ’Today's sentence demonstrates there is no place among the dedicated professionals of the Department of Homeland Security for anyone who engages in corrupt activities.’
PATEL was sentenced to 3 years, 4 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. PATEL was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. PATEL was convicted of these charges on April 13, 2009, after a two week trial.
According to Acting United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: PATEL petitioned for a woman and her husband to come to the United States from India, purportedly to care for PATEL’s ailing wife. The visa application claimed the couple would live in the PATEL’s home and provide said care, when, as the witnesses testified, they never lived in the home or provided care as required by their visa. Witnesses from the United States Consulate in Mumbai, India testified that PATEL used his position with Immigration to vouch for the veracity of the couple’s application informing a consular official he was employed by the Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Service. Consular officials later alerted investigators that the defendant was attempting to bring in another couple on the same type of temporary work visa. The evidence showed that PATEL also accessed his DHS computer to see if he or a visa recipient were under investigation.
PATEL was paid $100,000 by the husband’s brother who was already in the United States to bring his brother and sister-in-law to the United States illegally. Evidence at trial included an undercover recording of PATEL giving a tour of his home to the husband in order for the couple to be able to answer questions from investigators about the layout of the home and the work purportedly performed. The husband was in fact cooperating with the government and wearing a camera, which caught PATEL as he tried to cover up the crime. During the recorded conversation, PATEL acknowledged the payment of the bribe by the husband’s brother. In another effort to cover-up his crime, PATEL wrote a series of checks to the visa recipient to make it appear that the woman worked in his home, when she did not. This supposed salary was, in fact, returned to PATEL. 
PATEL was convicted on the conspiracy charge of encouraging aliens to illegally reside in the United States, and on substantive counts of taking a bribe in return for being influenced to commit a fraud on the United States, encouraging and inducing two aliens to enter and reside in the United States for his own private financial gain, making false statements to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, and exceeding his authorized access on his government computer
This case was investigated by Special Agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security


Mexican American astronaut "takes a giant leap" into the immigration debate

He might have soared into outer space, but back on Earth, US astronaut José Hernández has stepped knee-deep in controversy by expressing his view on the immigration of undocumented Mexicans. Astronaut Jose Hernandez has said that the United States needs to legalize its undocumented immigrants — a rare, public stand for a US astronaut on a political, hot issue.
Mexicans have hung on every word of NASA's first astronaut to tweet in Spanish — as Astro_Jose — since the son of migrants embarked on his two week, 5.7-million-mile mission to the international space station that ended Friday.
And they're still listening to him now that he is back on Earth.
During a telephone interview with Mexico's Televisa network, Hernandez pushed for U.S. immigration reform — a key issue for Mexico that has been stalled in Washington amid fierce debate.
"The American economy needs them," said Hernandez, 47, a California native who toiled in the cucumber, sugar beet and tomato fields alongside his Mexican-born parents. "I believe it's only fair to find a way to legalize them and give them an opportunity to work openly, so they can also retire in a traditional U.S. system."
NASA has distanced itself from Jose's views and NASA spokesman James Hartsfield told The Associated Press that Hernandez was expressing his personal views, "not representing NASA, the astronaut office or any NASA organization in his responses."
Hernandez said he wished all world leaders and politicians could see the Earth as he has, "so they could see our world, that really we are one, that we should work together."
"What surprised me is when I saw the world as one. There were no borders. You couldn't distinguish between the United States and Mexico," he told Televisa.
Hernandez's success shows why Mexican migrants have risked their lives to cross the U.S. border illegally to work their way out of poverty.
Millions in Mexico watched Hernandez's mission daily on Televisa, as well as following it on Twitter, where his dispatches appeared in English and Spanish. Hernandez also danced salsa, munched burritos and discussed Mexico's World Cup aspirations while floating in space aboard the shuttle Discovery.
Past NASA space missions barely got a mention on Mexican newscasts.
Hernandez's trip into orbit came at a time when the American dream for Mexicans and their families is fading. Deportations of illegal immigrants are at record levels, while tightened border security and the recession have caused a historic drop in the number of migrants heading north.
The rookie astronaut was one of two Mexican-Americans aboard, marking the first time two Hispanics have flown in space together. Astronaut Danny Olivas was making his second space flight. Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist, was the first Mexican citizen to make it to space, flying aboard the shuttle Atlantis in 1985.
Hernandez learned English at age 12, and applied for 12 straight years to become an astronaut before getting picked in 2004.
President Felipe Calderon has invited him to dinner at the presidential residence to talk about a future Mexican space agency. Hernandez's parents are from Calderon's home state of Michoacan, which has one of Mexico's largest populations of migrants in the United States.
The Michoacan town of Ticuitaco, meanwhile, wants to build a science museum in his name to inspire others to follow in Hernandez's footsteps.
"Jose Hernandez sets an example for our youth," said the town's mayor, Ricardo Guzm.


US pressures Honduran leader by revoking his diplomatic and tourist visas

The Honduran interim President, Roberto Micheletti, has said that the US has revoked his diplomatic and tourist visas.
Mr Micheletti, who came to power in June through a military coup, said the move was a "sign of the pressure the US government was exerting" on Honduras.
The US has condemned the coup and demanded the return to power of the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya.
Mr Micheletti said he was not pleased that the US Consulate addressed him as president of Congress - his prior role.
Left-leaning President Zelaya was ousted from power and forced to leave the country on 28 June.
Last week, the US halted all non-humanitarian aid to Honduras - about $30m (£18.4m) - in the wake of the coup.
The State Department said the US needed to take strong action given the failure of the replacement regime to restore "democratic, constitutional rule".
In July it had stripped four other officials associated with the coup of their US visas.


US-Canada border separates a married couple

When the strain of separation becomes too much and they need to see and hold one another, David Williams and his wife, Janeane Ardiel, meet in a sort of no man's land here just feet from a concrete boundary marker separating Canada from the U.S.
Married for five months, the couple - he American, she Canadian - are stranded on either side of the border, unable to cross into the other's country.
Canadian national Janeane Ardiel says being separated from her husband, U.S. national David Williams, by border officials has been an emotional torture.

The 45-year-old resident of Canada said she cannot travel into the United States anymore since the border authorities grew suspicious of her regular visits, accusing her of planning to reside in the United States and not simply visit.

Meanwhile, Williams has been unable to travel to Canada from Bellingham, Wash., because of a driving under the influence conviction that makes him inadmissible.

"It is like being severed from my lifeline," said Ardiel, who was blocked from entering the United States in July.

While Ardiel has begun the legal journey to gain legal U.S. status, she and her 45-year-old husband are stuck making due with daily phone conversations and regular meetings in Peace Arch International Park that straddles the two countries' borders.

"I can tell her I love her 100 times on the phone," Williams told the Times. "It's far different when I can do it looking into her eyes."

Healthcare for illegal immigrants in the US?

Will illegal immigrants in the US be able to get healthcare ?

Illegal immigrants in the U.S. won’t gain insurance benefits under the proposed health-care overhaul that President Barack Obama described yesterday to Congress.

That may not stop some uninsured and undocumented U.S. residents from getting government help paying for their health care, Republican critics said. Current proposals lack enforcement provisions to ensure that ineligible applicants are kept from programs, causing a gap between law and practice, according to a group seeking curbs on immigration.

Benefits for immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally have been among the most contentious issues in Congress during debates on immigration policy. The dispute spilled into health care during Obama’s address when U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, shouted “You lie!” after the president said his proposed changes “would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

“President Obama is correct that the legislation that has been proposed in Congress, the legislation that he’s considering, would not provide federal subsidies for the undocumented,” said Leighton Ku, a professor of health policy at George Washington University in Washington, in a telephone interview. “Can some people cheat? Some people can cheat at virtually anything.”

How many ineligible residents may get U.S. help paying for health care is in contention. The Center for Immigration Studies, the Washington-based policy group that advocates for greater immigration controls, estimates that as many as 6.6 million uninsured illegal immigrants could get federal subsidies for health insurance under legislation in the House, at a cost of as much as $30.5 billion a year.

‘Unenforced’ Ban

“As it now stands, the bill has a ban on illegal immigrants, but Congress has chosen to leave that ban unenforced,” Steven Camarota, director of research for the Washington-based group, wrote in the report issued this month.

Ku says the number that may cheat the system is likely to be much lower.

“I doubt it would be anywhere in that range,” he said. Providing coverage to illegal immigrants “is not the intent of the legislation.”

While methods of checking eligibility may not have been specified in the proposal, “there are relatively straightforward ways to monitor it that the federal government” has used before, such as requiring and confirming Social Security numbers, Ku said.

There are 11.9 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center in Washington. Fifty-nine percent of adults illegally in the U.S. had no health insurance in 2007, double the proportion of legal immigrants, and four times that of U.S.-born adults, the organization said in an April report.

Imposter attorney indicted- Provided immigration services and a sold a false Social Security card

An imposter attorney from Queens has been indicted for fraud, by posing as an attorney and providing immigration services and advice, and selling a forged Social Security card

The defendant, Robert Mangieri, 68, of Richmond Hill and Kunkletown, Pa., has been indicted on charges of scheme to defraud, grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument and practicing or appearing as an attorney-at-law without being admitted and registered.
The crimes charged in the indictment occurred between December 2003 and September 2008.
The investigation leading to the indictment and arrest revealed that Mangieri operated Mangieri & Associates, with offices at 3001 Broadway in Astoria and 8260 116th Street in Richmond Hill. Mangieri purported to offer assistance with applications and petitions pending with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
The investigation further revealed that a victim sought help from Mangieri to file appropriate paperwork to remain and work legally in the United States. After charging the victim several hundred dollars and assuring her his fee was lower than one she could expect from other attorneys, Mangieri allegedly guided her through the filing of several applications with USCIS, including an application for employment authorization.
Prosecutors said Mangieri sent USCIS the victim’s employment authorization application directly, along with a letter written on paper bearing the letterhead Hon. Robert P. Mangieri and signed the Hon. Robert P. Mangieri. USCIS denied the victim’s application for work authorization. The victim, who was in the United States on a visitor’s visa, did not qualify for employment authorization, as she did not have an application for a green card pending with USCIS.
After the victim’s application for employment authorization was denied, Mangieri offered to and ultimately did procure a forged Social Security card with the victim’s Tax Identification Number on it. During the process of applying to USCIS and after several applications had been denied, Mangieri asked for more money, and the victim doubted him. To win back her trust, Mangieri allegedly showed the victim what appeared to be a badge, thereby adding to the impression Mangieri had already created that he was a retired judge or a law enforcement official. In total, the victim paid Mangieri approximately $1,300 for his services and for fees he claimed were required for filing applications with USCIS.
Mangieri allegedly gave the victim a business card bearing the name “Robert P. Mangieri” above the words “Juris Doctor.” It also says “Mangieri & Associates,” provides a P.O. Box and a telephone number, and bears an image of the scales of justice.
When Mangieri offered to procure the Social Security card, the victim contacted Emerald Isle Immigration Center in the Bronx, which referred her to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Immigrant Affairs Program.
Mangieri is not a licensed attorney. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) confirmed that Mangieri is not an accredited representative authorized to represent clients before USCIS or the immigration courts.
USCIS confirmed that Mangieri was involved in filing other applications or the representation of other victims before USCIS. Those applications were also denied.

Financial aid not easy to come by for international students

For international students, government funding is not easy to come by.
As tuition fees rise at universities around the country, obtaining federal loans is more important than ever for college students.

But not all students are eligible to rely on help from the U.S. government.

"If you are not a U.S. citizen, you cannot receive federal financial aid," said Kristi Campbell, international student and scholar adviser. "Graduate students not receiving aid pay $23,587 (per year), and undergraduate students pay $27,000 (per year)."

International students must show proof they can cover the costs of education. The amount includes tuition, food, housing, medical insurance, books and supplies. Medical insurance is included in the projected costs for international students, but it isn't required.

Campbell said health insurance, however, is highly recommended for international students.

U.S. immigration laws also prohibit most international students from getting jobs off campus.

"It all depends on the type of student visa that is issued," said David Di Maria, director of international student recruitment, admissions and advising. "Most international students at Kent State have F1 student visas, and their primary job is to study. We do have some J1 students, and they are sponsored by another entity."

An F1 student visa is issued only for degree-seeking students. They must pay their own way and are not here on an exchange; they are here to earn a degree. F1 students are eligible to work on campus but are limited to a 20-hour workweek.

A J1 student visa is different. The student is sponsored by another entity, such as their government or organization.

"A J1 student is part of citizen diplomacy," Di Maria said. "They came to the United States to study, teach or do research. Then they travel back home and share with their country the knowledge and culture they learned in America. They are unofficial ambassadors for their country and for the United States when they go back home."

There are other options for international students struggling to pay for their education.

"If the student is in a Ph.D. or master's program, they can apply for a grad assistant position," Campbell said. "There are scholarships, such as the J scholarships, and if the student is a Fulbright or Muskie student, they have to apply for aid."

Masha Brussevich, a senior economics major from Kazakhstan, has found many routes to pay for college.

"I got scholarships when I applied to Kent (State)," Brussevich said. "I used to be a (resident assistant). I thought it was a good opportunity, a great way to apply social skills, and I got to be hall enforcer. It was a lot of work. It was fun. But it was also kind of boring at times."

Brussevich said she chose Kent State because she felt it was a good choice for her future.

"I always wanted to do something in business, and I like math," Brussevich said. "I chose Kent State because it has a good College of Business and Administration, and I was familiar with the area."

Tian Zhuang, freshman zoology major from China, was attracted to Kent State because of the environment.

"I liked this environment because it is smaller and better for studying," Zhuang said. "Also, it was easy to be accepted here."

"In high school, I was an exchange student in Chicago for 10 months," Zhuang said. "Chicago is a big, loud city - not good for studying."

Zhuang has an F1 student visa and is currently looking for a job on campus.

Why hire H-1B workers ? A letter to Mr. Fritz Henderson

An open letter to Mr. Fritz Henderson (a group of unemployed technology workers).........

This is an open letter to Mr. Fritz Henderson:

General Motors continues to retain H1B Employees while US Citizens are getting laid off. H1B employees are those who are here on a temporary work visa.

Approximately 4000 white-collared employees will lose their jobs by October 2009.

We are a group of technology workers who are also US citizens and are all unemployed due to issues faced by US automakers.

In spite of years of experience working in the information technology field, we are unable to find suitable positions. It is unfair then for GM and other companies to retain H1B workers when US citizens cannot find jobs.

There is no job out there today that a US citizen cannot be trained to do. Mr. Fritz Henderson, we request you to review your employee files and determine why an H1B employee is currently employed at GM when similarly or more experienced US Citizen workers are available in the market place.

We urge you to do the morally right thing for America and to replace your H1B employees with US citizens or Green Card holders. This is an appeal that is being sent out to all the media so that appropriate attention is received.

European Union not too pleased with US travel charge plans

The European Union is not too pleased with US plans to introduce a travel charge for visitors.
Plans by the authorities in the United States to charge US-bound travellers who qualify for visa-free travel a $10 fee have been attacked by the European Union (EU).
The Travel Promotion Act, which is currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress, would see the introduction of a $10 fee to be levied on visitors - including travellers from the UK - to sign up to use the ESTA pre-registration system currently required for all visitors from visa waiver countries.
Money raised from the fee would be used to fund a world-wide tourism campaign to boost visitor numbers, a cost which U.S. congress believes visitors should bear.

The EU has threatened to introduce retaliatory measures if US goes ahead with the scheme.
"Only in 'Alice in Wonderland' could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed," the European Commission's Ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, said in a statement Friday.
One of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Rep. William Delahunt, said the EU was getting too worked up over what he called 'a nominal fee'.
But Europeans see the issue as yet another potential hassle that the United States is preparing to burden travellers with. Visitors from most European countries have long enjoyed the privilege of visa-free travel to the United States.
Earlier this year, however, the United States introduced regulations that require people travelling to the United States under the visa waiver program to register online at least 72 hours before travel and renew their registration every two years.
If the new proposal is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, it would require all visitors to pay the $10 fee when they register.
The travel promotion campaign aims to help educate foreign visitors on U.S. entry procedures, including the online registration for visa-free travel.
John Bruton added that the EU would have to reconsider whether the U.S. registration system with the new fee would amount to a visa. The EU may then have to consider visas for U.S. travellers.

Grave consequences of filing an ineligible application with USCIC

The consequences of filing an ineligible application with the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) can be very serious.
Over the past couple of years, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) has stepped up the enforcement and political prosecution of immigrants. Individuals and families need to be prepared and well represented whenever they apply for an immigration benefit or attend an interview with the USCIS.

Aliens whose application for adjustment of status is denied may be facing much more than just a disappointment; they now face possible deportation.

Immigration law is one of the most complicated areas of law and even minor mistakes can result in severe consequences to the immigrant and their family. Very often an alien will file an application for adjustment of status for which the alien is either not eligible or the application was not filed correctly. For example, they may not have entered lawfully, may be out of status, or may be a crewman and not qualify under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (a provision that allows certain aliens to apply for adjustment of status if they pay a penalty.) They may have a criminal bar or may have a previous order of removal that they do not know about. They may have filed the application on their own, or they may have even filed the application with the assistance of an attorney unfamiliar with the complexities of immigration law. In the past, USCIS would simply deny the application and the alien would leave the United States on their own or continue to remain with their family in hopes of future relief or file a new application when qualified.

Now, not only will USCIS deny the alien’s application, but it will also issue the alien a Notice to Appear (NTA), placing him or her in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge. Sometimes, the alien may even be detained at the adjustment of status interview.

This stepped up enforcement policy of USCIS can leave the applicants with a few, albeit limited, options once the application has been filed. The first option an individual would want to consider is the possibility of renewing his adjustment of status application in the Immigration Court. Sometimes USCIS wrongly denies an application. Fortunately, federal regulations provide an opportunity for the Immigration Court to review USCIS’ decision. However, this option will require the assistance of an immigration attorney to fully brief the Court and can often involve novel legal issues or challenges to the immigration service’s policies.

Unfortunately, some persons are simply ineligible for adjustment of status and should never have filed an application in the first place. In this case, the alien still has options before the Court and should think twice before accepting voluntary departure. Although accepting voluntary departure avoids the consequences of a removal order (a 10-year bar from returning to the United States), many immigrants still face other grounds of inadmissibility when they seek to reunite with their families. A common ground of inadmissibility that is not solved by voluntary departure is the 10-year bar for unlawful presence. For example, an immigrant who was unlawfully present in the United Sates for over 1 year and voluntarily departs still faces a 10-year bar from returning to the United States. Although the immigrant would not need to waive any bar resulting from a voluntary departure order, he or she will need to file a waiver for the unlawful presence bar. Because the consequences of failing to depart are so severe, and the benefits of returning are so limited, the privilege of voluntary departure is not for everyone.

New test for citizenship applicants becomes mandatory

The new test for would-be-citizens becomes mandatory from October 1st.
A revised citizenship exam that initially sparked fears among some immigration-rights advocates will become mandatory Oct. 1.

The civics exam mostly tests broad concepts rather than the easy-to-memorize facts that were the staple of the old exam. Some believed that the new test which was first unveiled in 2006, was so difficult that it was deliberately designed to reduce the number of new citizens.

But the 91-percent pass rate for the new test is higher than the 84-percent rate for the old exam, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the test.

To better familiarize citizenship applicants with the new exam and the rest of the naturalization process, the agency is holding meetings across the country that will feature free study materials, informational CDs, application forms and a question-and-answer session, said spokeswoman Mariana Gitomer.

The Sept. 19 meeting at the agency's San Bernardino location will also serve to spread the word about the Inland field office, which opened in 2001 but is still unknown to many would-be citizens, said office Director Irene Martin. Many people travel from the Inland area to the Los Angeles location, she said.

The exam debuted in 2008. Applicants initially were given a choice between the old and new exams, but those submitting an application on or after Oct. 1, 2008, are required to take the new test.

The average wait time to take the test after submitting an application is less than six months, but some people who applied before October 2008 are still on a wait-list because of background security checks, documentation problems or other reasons, Gitomer said.

Most students at Riverside Adult School who have the choice between the old and new exams select the old one, said Kathy Bywater, who until recently was a citizenship coordinator at the school. They thought it was easier to memorize facts than study concepts, she said.

Some of the questions are the same on both exams, such as asking for the word for changes to the Constitution, amendments.

But most of the questions do not lend themselves to one-word answers. One asks "What does the Constitution do?" More than one answer is acceptable.

All 100 questions and sample answers for the civics test are available ahead-of-time. Applicants are asked up to 10 of the questions and must get at least six correct.

Bywater prefers the new exam because it requires test-takers to think more carefully.

"It's checking for knowledge instead of memorization skills," she said. "It's checking whether people know something about this country. It's far more relevant."

Nineteen illegal aliens arrested by US Border Patrol agents

US Border Patrol agents have arrested 19 illegal immigrants in Kingman.
U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to Yuma Sector’s Blythe station apprehended 19 illegal aliens and seized seven vehicles during an early morning raid on Wednesday.

Border Patrol agents conducted an enforcement operation in Kingman that focused on halting illegal immigration and narcotic loads traveling through the area. As a part of the U.S. Border Patrol’s “Defense in Depth” strategy, agents have been focusing on reducing the illegal trafficking on Interstate 40, U.S. Highway 93 and Highway 68. These highways connect the metropolitan areas of Phoenix, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All three cities are transportation hubs to the United States interior and are very well-known destinations for illegal immigration and narcotics traffickers.

During the operation, which lasted about five hours, a total of 19 illegal aliens were arrested and seven vehicles were seized. Those who were arrested are subject to prosecution or removal from the U.S.A.

Interestingly, the agents found two live chickens in the trunk of a seized vehicle. The chickens were turned over to the Kingman Animal Control.

Since October 1, 2008, agents from the Blythe Border Patrol Station have apprehended 1,574 illegal immigrants and seized more than 200 vehicles.

Advantages and disadvantages of TN and H-1B visas

The two major visa types used by Canadian professionals to work in the US are the TN visa and the H-1B visa.
Canadian citizen professionals often find themselves in a bit of a quandary when initially researching the various U.S. immigration work visa options available to them. Assuming that they are not transferring from a Canadian company to its U.S. office, and therefore the L-1 visa is not available to them, Canadian professionals generally find themselves contemplating the TN visa and H1B visa and the differences or similarities between the two.

TN Visa

The TN visa is a non-immigrant work visa for professional workers who are citizens of Canada and Mexico and whose specific occupations appear on the schedule created by NAFTA (Appendix 1603.D.1 of NAFTA). The TN visa is particularly beneficial for Canadian citizens as they can process their applications directly at a port of entry without obtaining prior USCIS approval or without going to a consulate for a visa stamp.

H1B visa

The H1B visa is a non-immigrant work visa under the Immigration & Nationality Act, for professional workers from all over the world that allows foreign nationals to be temporarily employed in the US in a specialty occupation. A specialty occupation is defined as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of "human endeavor." Some common occupation categories are as follows: computer and internet technology, marketing, law, accounting, finance, mathematics, architecture, engineering, sciences, medicine, education, business, arts, public relations, various technology fields, fashion, etc. With the exception of fashion models.
The H1B visa requires at a minimum, the attainment of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and state licensure if required.

TN visa aginst the H1B visa

Visa Duration: H1B visa is granted in three year increments for a max period of six years (unless a labor certification has been pending for at least one year or he/she has an approved I-140). Thereafter, an H1B visa holder must leave the US for at least one year in order to avail himself or herself of more time on the H1B. In addition, any time spent on the L-1 Visa is also counted towards the six year period. The TN visa is granted in three year increments for an unlimited period of time.

Ease of Obtaining: The H1B visa can only be obtained after an employer files a Labor Certification Application and submits a lengthy I-129 application to the USCIS regarding the details of employment. The TN Visa can be obtained directly at a port of entry with a detailed letter from the employer concerning the position and evidence from the Canadian citizen concerning how he or she qualifies for the position.

Start date - initial applications: Unless your H1B employment will be at a non-profit research organization or a university, you cannot start working any earlier than October 1st, following the April 1st application date. You can start working in the TN status as soon as your application is approved at a port of entry.

Quotas/Lotteries: The H1B visa has a maximum quota of 65,000 every year for the regular category and 20,000 for the master's degree category. When this cap fills up as it always has in recent years, there is an H1B visa lottery. The lottery means that some people who apply and qualify for the H1B visa will not get it due to the large number of people applying, as some applications will not make it through the lottery. There is no quota or lottery at all with the TN visa. If you apply and qualify and have presented a professionally prepared application then you will receive the TN visa (also assumes you don't have any grounds of inadmissibility).

Government Filing Fees - Initial applications: At a minimum, the H1B filing fees are a total of $820 for those who will be working at a non-profit research organization or university. At a maximum, the H1B filing fees are a total of $2,320 for those who are working at a company with more than 25 full-time employees. This doesn't include the $1,000 for premium processing. The TN visa has a government fee of $56.

Renewals/Extensions: Unless a Labor Certification Application has been pending for a year or more or you have an approved I-140, the H1B visa can only be renewed for a maximum of six years. In theory, the TN can be renewed indefinitely.

Dual intent: The H1B visa allows for dual intent, which means an individual in H1B status or an individual applying for an H1B visa can have an immigrant intent, i.e. they can have intent to reside permanently in the U.S. and apply for a green card. One cannot have an immigrant intent when either applying for the TN visa or while in TN visa status.

Transition to a Green Card: The transition to a green card can appear at first glance to be problematic for a TN visa individual because of the fact that the TN visa doesn't have dual intent, unlike the H1B visa status. However, there are ways around this issue without transitioning to the H1B visa status. One of the ways which has been successfully used by many individuals is to consular process their green card in Canada as opposed to adjusting their status in the U.S. If one is in the H1B status, they can adjust status to permanent residency inside the U.S.

American Apparel to dismiss 1,500 workers who do not have the necessary papers

American Apparel is to dismiss approximately 1500 workers who do not have valid papers.
American Apparel Inc will be dismissing 1,500 factory workers who were unable to prove their U.S. immigration status or rectify problems with their employment records, the Los Angeles Times said on Thursday.

The job cuts come two months after the clothing manufacturer and retailer reported that the U.S. government inspection revealed that it had approximately 1,600 workers who did not appear to be authorized to work in the US.

"There are approximately 1,500 workers facing termination during the month of September," the paper quoted Peter Schey, a lawyer for American Apparel, as saying.

The paper quoted American Apparel Chief Executive Dov Charney as telling the affected employees in a letter that they would be "given priority treatment" for positions as soon as they get their immigration papers in order.

Federal contractors and subcontractors required to use E-Verify from September 8th

From September 8th, USCIS requires all federal contractors and subcontractors to use the E-Verify system.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is reminding federal contractors and subcontractors that from Sept. 8, 2009, they will be required to use the E-Verify system to verify their employees’ eligibility to work in the United States if their contract includes the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify Clause. In July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Janet Napolitano strengthened employment eligibility verification by announcing the Administration’s support for the regulations that will award federal contracts only to employers who use E-Verify to check employee work authorization.

E-Verify, which compares information from the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9) against federal government databases to verify workers’ employment eligibility, is a free web-based system operated by DHS in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The system facilitates compliance with federal immigration laws and helps to deter unauthorized individuals from attempting to work and also helps employers avoid employing unauthorized foreigners.

The Federal Acquisition Rule; Case 2007-013; Employment Eligibility Verification extends use of the E-Verify system to covered federal contractors and subcontractors, including those who receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Applicable federal contracts awarded and solicitations issued after Sept. 8 will include a clause committing government contractors to use E-Verify.

Companies awarded a contract with the E-Verify clause on or after Sept. 8 will be required to enroll in E-Verify within 30 days of the contract award date. E-Verify must be used to confirm that all the new hires, whether employed on a federal contract or not, and existing employees directly working on these contracts are legally authorized to work in the US.

More than 145,000 participating employers at nearly 550,000 worksites nationwide currently use E-Verify to electronically verify their workers’ employment eligibility. Since Oct. 1, 2008, more than 7.6 million employment verification queries have been run through the system and approximately 97 percent of all the queries are now automatically confirmed as work-authorized within 24 hours or less.

Guidance for surviving spouses of US Citizens- Issues by USCIS

A new guidance has been issued by the USCIS for surviving sposes of US citizens.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a guidance on requesting deferred action for surviving spouses of U.S. citizens who died before the second anniversary of their marriage. Surviving spouses qualify for this temporary program if they were married to, but not legally separated from, their U.S. citizen spouse at the time of that spouse's death; did not remarry; and are currently residing in the United States.

The surviving spouses qualify for deferred action regardless of whether the U.S. citizen spouse filed a Form I-130 petition for them. The surviving spouses may ask to have their qualifying children included in their deferred action request. To be considered a "qualifying child" of a surviving spouse, the child must be younger than age 21 or otherwise qualify as a child when the deferred action request is submitted; currently reside in the United States; and be unmarried.

USCIS has revised the instructions to the Forms I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and I-131, Application for Travel Document, as they relate to this temporary new program.

The surviving spouses who apply for deferred action will need to file Form I-360 with supporting documentation and the $375 filing fee with the Vermont Service Center.

Work authorization will be available to surviving spouses and qualifying children who are granted deferred action and who can establish economic necessity. Form I-765 is used for this purpose (separate applications are required for each person seeking work authorization).

Travel authorization will also be available to surviving spouses and qualified children granted deferred action under this program.

USCIS has posted on the Web, an accompanying list of questions and answers and a fact sheet about this program. For additional information about this and other immigration services, please call the National Customer Service Center at (800) 375-5283, or visit their homepage.

Laptop searches without suspicion approved by the Privacy Office

The Department of Homeland Security has approved searches of laptops, PDAs and other such devices without suspicion at US borders.

The Department of Homeland Security's Privacy Office has approved the controversial searches, copying and retention of laptops, PDAs, and other digital devices without cause at U.S. borders.

Travelers could soon start seeing notices from the Privacy Office, which last week released a report supporting the right of customs agents to conduct these searches.

The 51-page Privacy Impact Assessment also supported the right of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to copy, download, retain or seize any content from these devices, or the devices themselves, without assigning any specific reasons.

While in many cases searches would be done with the knowledge of the traveler in some situations, the report says, "it is not practicable for law enforcement reasons to inform the traveler that his electronic device has been searched."

In arriving at the assessment, the Privacy Office argued that such searches of electronic devices were really no different from searches of briefcases and backpacks. They are needed to interdict and investigate violations of federal law at U.S. borders and have been supported by courts in the past, the assessment said.

That conclusion is sure to wake up privacy and civil rights advocates, who have been vehemently protesting such border searches for about two years. They have argued that searches of electronic devices without any reasonable cause are very different from similar searches of luggage and other items by customs agents, because unlike with briefcases and packs, electronic devices are capable of storing far more data, including personal and business information, some that could be highly personal or protected.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives and other groups have warned of potential security breaches when corporate data contained in a laptop or PDA is downloaded by a customs agent as part of a border search. Similar concerns have been raised about data involving client and lawyer privileges, intellectual property, and other sensitive information.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the DHS after an attempt to get information on such searches from the DHS had failed to elicit a response from the agency. In it, the ACLU asked DHS to disclose details on the criteria it uses for selecting passengers for such searches, and the number of such searches it has carried out so far.

The ACLU suit also sought information on the number of devices and documents that have been retained by the DHS following such searches and the reasons for their retention. A similar suit was filed last year by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Asian Law Caucus.

In its analysis, the Privacy Office noted some of the privacy concerns that have been expressed over its border searches. The report conceded that a person who would not mind a briefcase being inspected by a customs agent might feel that a laptop search "increases the possibility of privacy risks due to the vast amount of information potentially stored on electronic devices."

Nevertheless, making such devices exempt from customs inspection would create a dangerous "loophole" for those seeking to break the law, the report said. A traveler's claim of privilege or statement that something is personal or business related, "does not preclude the search," the report said. It pointed to a process that needs to be followed when customs and immigration agents conducted such searches and the notice that needs to be provided to travelers whose devices may be retained or seized.

The report also highlighted the measures currently in place for sharing data with other federal agencies, and ensuring that any data that is copied and retained is properly protected -- including via encryption where needed and "storing in locked containers." It mentions a process for destroying any data that is not needed within a maximum of 21 days from when it was collected.

Largest H-1B fraud case ever in the US

The U.S. government filed a new, expanded indictment last week against a New Jersey IT services firm that it alleges fraudulently used H-1B visas through a scheme that delivered it millions of dollars in profits.

If federal prosecutors win their case against Visions System Group Inc., in South Plainfield, NJ- part of apparent government H-1B enforcement push- they will ask the court to approve $4.9 million in forfeited assets, which is an amount "representing the total amount of gross proceeds obtained as a result of offenses," the government said.

But that amount is also a reduction from the $7.4 million the U.S. sought from Visions Systems in its initial indictment, filed earlier this year.
The reduction was not explained in court documents.

Visions Systems and its executives named in the indictment are fighting the allegations in U.S. District Court in Iowa. The government alleges H-1B workers were paid based on Iowa's lower prevailing wage rates through the creation of shell firms in that state, and not the prevailing wage rates of the higher paying locations where they worked.

An attorney representing Vision Systems disputes the government's charge. "Workers were paid at or above the prevailing wage rates of the places that they were working," said Mark Weinhardt, a Des Moines, Iowa attorney who is part of a team representing the defendants.

Visions System's defense has not yet been outlined but is hinted at in the U.S. filing. The government says Vision Systems told its H-1B hires that it could get a green card faster outside of New Jersey, based on regional office processing differences in effect. In other words, Vision Systems may have been using the Iowa offices as a recruiting tool for H-1B workers interested in a green card.

"Vision Systems Group's business was to bring highly trained computer specialists to the United States to serve a need that was unmet or underserved by our native population. We don't think bringing people from abroad to meet that need is or should be a crime," Weinhardt said.

Weinhardt said his team believes the "indictment is based on a number of misconceptions about immigration law and procedure."

Despite the reduction to $4.9 million sought, this case is likely to remain the largest H-1B fraud case ever brought by the government. The U.S. believes methods used by Visions Systems and by similar companies "have substantially deprived U.S. citizens of employment."

Among the other issues that Visions Systems will have to address in its defense are government allegations that H-1B visas holders were "benched," or not paid. These workers were allowed to live in a guest house with other benched workers.

In February, the U.S. arrested nearly a dozen people in on H-1B fraud related charges but appeared to direct most of its attention against Vision Systems, which was originally charged with a 10-count indictment that has since grown to 18 counts.

Released late last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service study estimated that as many as one-in-five H-1B visa applications had something wrong with them, including fraud.