Archive for October, 2010

Enforcement Update: Abercrombie & Fitch Fined Over $1 Million in I-9 Violations and ICE Secure Communities Program

October 27, 2010

Increased enforcement initiatives show no sign of abating anytime soon. There have been a record number of deportations in 2009 and the government is on track to deport more than 400,000 individuals in calendar year 2010. Enforcement continues to focus on two prongs: employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and stepped-up enforcement against gang-related violence and felons.

In recent, high-profile cases, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has shown that it intends to continue investigating and prosecuting companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. Abercrombie & Fitch recently agreed to a settlement of more than $1,000,000 for numerous I-9 compliance violations for its retail stores in Michigan. More employer audits are on the way. In mid-September, 500 “Notices of Inspection” (NOIs) were served to employers in one week and the scope of documentation requested or subpoenaed is expanding. A recent ICE Notice and subpoena requested 11 different immigration and employment documents over a three-year inspection period, including lists of current and terminated employees, copies of quarterly wage and hour reports, tax statements, company hiring policy, and a list of all contractors, recruiters, and temporary employment agencies. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the owner and top executives of a metal casting company were arrested and charged with federal crimes for their role in encouraging the acquisition of fake Social Security numbers. The current administration has made also stepped-up enforcement against criminal foreigners through a series of raids, including those on known gangs in major cities across the U.S.

In a related development, the ICE Secure Communities Program, which encourages local law enforcement agencies to cross-check fingerprints and biometrics against a federal database of immigration statuses, continues to expand quickly across the country. Nearly 700 jurisdictions in 32 states have signed on to the program. Secure Communities, however, has come under fire in recent weeks as controversy has arisen over the ability of communities to opt-out of the program. Since its introduction two years ago, the program was widely thought to be voluntary. However, when Washington, DC, Arlington (VA), and San Francisco recently attempted to opt-out, ICE replied that it was not possible to do so. Since the program relies only on state police to share fingerprint information with the FBI, local communities’ choices on whether to participate is essentially moot because they cannot control what state police choose to do with the biometric information. Sounds like this issue has the makings for legal and constitutional challenges. Stay tuned.

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Enforcement Update: Abercrombie & Fitch Fined Over $1 Million in I-9 Violations and ICE Secure Communities Program

October 27, 2010

Increased enforcement initiatives show no sign of abating anytime soon.  There have been a record number of deportations in 2009 and the government is on track to deport more than 400,000 individuals in calendar year 2010.  Enforcement continues to focus on two prongs: employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and stepped-up enforcement against gang-related violence and felons.

In recent, high-profile cases, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has shown that it intends to continue investigating and prosecuting companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. Abercrombie & Fitch recently agreed to a settlement of more than $1,000,000 for numerous I-9 compliance violations for its retail stores in Michigan. More employer audits are on the way.  In mid-September, 500 “Notices of Inspection” (NOIs) were served to employers in one week and the scope of documentation requested or subpoenaed is expanding. A recent ICE Notice and subpoena requested 11 different immigration and employment documents over a three-year inspection period, including lists of current and terminated employees, copies of quarterly wage and hour reports, tax statements, company hiring policy, and a list of all contractors, recruiters, and temporary employment agencies. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the owner and top executives of a metal casting company were arrested and charged with federal crimes for their role in encouraging the acquisition of fake Social Security numbers. The current administration has made also stepped-up enforcement against criminal foreigners through a series of raids, including those on known gangs in major cities across the U.S.

In a related development, the ICE Secure Communities Program, which encourages local law enforcement agencies to cross-check fingerprints and biometrics against a federal database of immigration statuses, continues to expand quickly across the country. Nearly 700 jurisdictions in 32 states have signed on to the program. Secure Communities, however, has come under fire in recent weeks as controversy has arisen over the ability of communities to opt-out of the program. Since its introduction two years ago, the program was widely thought to be voluntary.  However, when Washington, DC, Arlington (VA), and San Francisco recently attempted to opt-out, ICE replied that it was not possible to do so. Since the program relies only on state police to share fingerprint information with the FBI, local communities’ choices on whether to participate is essentially moot because they cannot control what state police choose to do with the biometric information. Sounds like this issue has the makings for legal and constitutional challenges. Stay tuned.

Surge in Visa Availability for Family-Based Immigration Continues (for Now); Work Visas for Professionals, Skilled Workers and Others to Remain Backlogged

October 20, 2010

Family-based immigrant visa availability, as reported in the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, took a major step forward in fiscal year 2010 (October 1, 2009 – September 31, 2010) and continues for FY2011. The collective result is that wait times across the board have been significantly reduced compared with this time last year. All family-based preference categories skipped forward by at least 15 months compared to October 1, 2009. Visa waits for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and for close family relatives of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) jumped forward three to five years.

Charles Oppenheim, head of the State Department’s Visa Control and Reporting Division, recently meet with immigration lawyers in Washington, DC, and shared his thoughts. On the family-side, the demand for visa numbers has declined in recent years, and Mr. Oppenheim attributed the decline to several reasons. First, “current” beneficiaries are deferring the filing of their immigrant visas due to the present economic climate in the U.S., including increased uncertainty about employment prospects, petitioners’ inability to pay visa fees, and/or petitioner’s inability to show compliance with affidavit of support income requirements. Second, many beneficiaries unlawfully present in the U.S. may be unwilling to travel to their home consulates to obtain their visas – these individuals are barred from adjusting their status in the U.S. – because doing so will subject them to the three- or ten-year bars on their readmission. Instead, such beneficiaries may be hoping for the passage of new law that would allow them to adjust their status. Priority dates in the family‐based categories are expected to continue to advance relatively quickly.

On the employment side, however, employment-based preference categories surged over the same period. While employment-based first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-preference categories all remained “current” (with the exception of second-preference categories for nationals born in China or India), third-preference, although still oversubscribed, gained three years (for professionals and skilled workers) and two years for “other workers.”

Mr. Oppenheim reported that employment-based professional and unskilled visa categories (EB-3) will continue to remain oversubscribed and no change is expected. He opined that each beneficiary now requires more visas (for their spouses and children) than previously (on average 2.5 visas as compared to one visa in the past). Slow movement is expected to continue for Indian and Chinese nationals. In addition, he predicted that visas for Special Immigrant Religious Workers (E-4) may be oversubscribed by the year’s end.

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New ESTA Fee for Visa Waiver Travelers Now in Effect

October 19, 2010

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) instituted a new $14 fee on September 8,2010 for all travelers visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Such travelers must register 72 hours in advance of their travel with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program. ESTA registration and authorization previously had been free. For updated information, you have visit the CBP website at:

www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/business_pleasure/vwp/faq_vwp.xml

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Filing Fees for Immigration Benefits Increase on November 23, 2010

October 18, 2010

Applying for immigration benefits with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is about to get more expensive. Starting November 23, 2010, fees for nearly all types of applications and petitions with USCIS will increase by an average of 10% across the board. Coupled with a 66% increase in 2007, immigration service users, especially families applying for their green cards, will feel the hit.

The most relevant and significant increases include: an I-130 petition for an immigrant relative, which will cost $420 (up $65); an I-140 petition for an immigrant worker, $580 (up $105); and an I-485 application to adjust status, $1,070 with biometrics (up $60). The premium processing fee – available for certain nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions and guaranteeing a decision in 15 days – will increase to $1,225, a 25% increase from the current cost of $1,000. Replacing a lost green card will cost $365 (up $75). Another hefty increase is for a petition to remove conditions by an EB-5 immigrant-entrepreneur (I-829): $3,750, up from the current cost of $2,850. There is at least one key application only slightly affected: N-400 applications for naturalization (N-400s) remain unchanged at $595 (although there is an increase in biometrics, which will mean an increase of $5).

USCIS asserts that the increase is necessary to recoup its operating costs of administering the nation’s immigration laws and processing applications for benefits. As a fee-based agency with about 90% of its budget coming from fees, USCIS is required by law to review its fee structure every several years. However, unlike the 2007 fee increase, this increase does not come with a promise to reduce government processing times.

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