The T Visa For Trafficking Victims: What it is and why you should know

What you need to know about immigration policyHuman Trafficking is a crime that affects almost every nation in the world and is a grave violation of human rights. United States immigration law defines human trafficking as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor, sex, or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

As part of its effort to combat trafficking and assist victims, in the year 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which allows victims of human trafficking to receive lawful immigration status in the United States through the “T Visa.” Victims of human trafficking who qualify for a T Visa may receive the following benefits:

  1. Work authorization for four years
  2. Lawful immigration status for four years
  3. The opportunity to request advance permission to travel abroad and return
  4. The opportunity to request a waiver/pardon for many criminal and immigration-related violations
  5. The opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status after three years with the T visa.

Many individuals who are victims of human trafficking do not know that they may qualify for a T Visa. For instance, persons who have been held hostage, sexually assaulted, and/or forced to work by “coyotes” may qualify for a T visa. Persons who have worked for an employer who did not pay wages owed may qualify for a T visa. The fact that a person is working “illegally” or is “illegally” entering the United States does NOT disqualify him or her from receiving T Visa benefits if he or she is or was a victim of human trafficking.

The T Visa is a critical tool for law enforcement in the battle to stop human trafficking. If you or a loved one believe that you may have been the victim of human trafficking, contact Walker Gates Vela immediately for a full assessment of eligibility for T Visa benefits.

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Recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining


Force, fraud, coercion


Involuntary sex, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, slavery

What Should I Do If I am Detained By ICE?

Hi, I am Jennifer Walker Gates with Walker Gates Vela. Today’s immigration law question comes from Daniel in Harlingen, Texas. Daniel asks, “What should I do if I’m detained by ICE?” If you are in the United States and you are undocumented, you must unfortunately face the reality that you are at risk of being detained by ICE and questioned. This can happen if you are arrested for a crime or even if you’re simply pulled over in your car for having a taillight out or an expired inspection sticker.

However, just because you’re detained and questioned by ICE does not mean that you will immediately be deported. In order to protect yourself and your family from the devastating consequences of deportation, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities in case of an ICE detention.

The three most important things to know if you’re detained by ICE are: Don’t say anything, don’t sign anything, and talk to your lawyer. In the United States, the right to remain silent with law enforcement officers is enshrined in our Constitution. Therefore, if you’re detained by ICE, the only thing you should say is, “Thank you. With all due respect, I wish to talk to my lawyer. I decline to comment without first talking to my lawyer.” It is important to be respectful. Don’t make the ICE agents your enemy, but more important is that you not reveal too much to ICE until your lawyer has analyzed your case and informed you about the best course of action.

The second rule for ICE detentions is don’t sign anything, especially if you’re unable to read and clearly understand what you’re signing, do not sign anything. Many immigrants come to Walker Gates Vela having spent many years in the United States, having built a family and contributed a lot to this country. However, because they signed a voluntary departure order during an ICE detention, they are often ineligible for any benefits with immigration because crossing out of the United States and back in without permission can destroy your chances of ever becoming a legal resident in this country.

Signing a voluntary departure might make your detention with ICE shorter, it might seem like a better idea than fighting your case in the immigration courts with lawyers and judges and all of that stress and expense. However, if you leave the United States and then are caught reentering illegally, you can be charged with a felony and sentenced to time in federal prison. Given the level of crime and danger at the US-Mexico border, you could also be risking your life by leaving, and trying to come back without permission.

So well, it might take longer to get out of detention, refusing to sign a voluntary departure is extremely important for your future immigration status in this country. So, remember if you’re detained by ICE, your job is don’t say anything, don’t sign anything. Instead, call us at Walker Gates Vela at 512-633-1785 and let us help you get out of detention.

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Do I Have To Leave The U.S. When Applying For Residency?

Hi, I’m Jennifer with Walker Gates Vela. Today’s question comes from Jose in Waco, Texas. He says, if I’m applying for my residency, do I still have to leave the United States and go to my home country to get it?

This is a good question that a lot of people wonder about. The answer, of course, is maybe. Let me explain. If you enter the United States without a visa, then you probably need to get a waiver in order to become a resident. In early 2013, the Immigration Service changed the way that it processes applications for these waivers. Before, applicants for waivers had to wait outside the United States while Immigration was making a decision on the waiver.

Now, many applicants are eligible to apply for the waiver and wait for a decision here in the United States. So, if you enter the US without permission and you need a waiver, you still have to travel to your home country to get your residency. But the amount of time that you will have to be there is a lot less than it was before if you are eligible to apply for the waiver using the new process. Most people are only outside the United States for a week or two now; whereas before, the wait outside the country was sometimes a year or more.

The only people who can use the new waiver process are spouses of US citizens who only need the waiver because of an unlawful entry and not for any other reason.

Husbands and wives of permanent residents may apply for residency, but they cannot use the new waiver process. Spouses and other family members of residents and US citizens still have to wait outside the United States while their waivers are processed. Also, people who need a waiver for anything other than an unlawful entry cannot use the new waiver process. For example, if you need a waiver because you have a criminal record, you cannot use the new waiver process and you’ll have to wait outside the United States for your waiver application to be adjudicated.

If you would like assistance determining whether you qualify to apply for a waiver and how it will be adjudicated, call us at (512) 633-1785 in Austin or in Corpus Christi at (361) 356-4502 to schedule a consultation. We look forward to meeting you and learning about your case.

Jennifer Walker Gates On G+

Is it time to renew your Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?

Hi, I’m Chito Vela with Walker Gates Vela, PLLC. Today we are glad to announce that the Department of Homeland Security has published guidelines for renewal of Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals or DACA. On June 5, 2014, US Citizenship and Immigration Services published a revised form I-821D which is now the only form accepted for DACA applications, whether renewals or first-time applicants.

The renewal process will require applicants to show that [1] they have not departed the United States on or after August 15, 2012 unless they had advance parole, [2] they have resided continuously in the United States since they submitted their last application for DACA, and [3] they have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors of any kind. The renewal process does not require submission of evidence to establish eligibility.

Initial applications, however, do continue to require submission of evidence that the applicant entered before age 16, is currently under 33 years of age, graduated from school or is attending school in the United States, does not have disqualifying criminal convictions.

For assistance with applying for DACA or renewing your deferred action, call us at (512) 633-1785.

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Wondering about renewing DACA? You’re not alone.

In September of 2014, around 150 days (5 months) from now, the first DACA recipients’ work permits will begin to expire. Many DACA recipients (and their advocates) have started to wonder about the process for renewing their status and work authorization, especially because the typical time-frame for receiving an initial grant of DACA is around 180 days, or six months. So far, however, the immigration service has not published finalized instructions about how to renew deferred action for those who have received it since it was first announced in 2012.

On April 9, 2014, USCIS published an “Outline to request renewal of DACA.” The outline indicates that final instructions will be published, along with new forms for renewing and receiving initial grants of DACA, in late May of 2014. The outline also indicates that USCIS will “not accept requests [for renewal] made earlier than 150 days prior to [the] expiration date” printed on the front of the Employment Authorization Document. The outline instructs applicants to submit their renewal requests “approximately 120 days (or 4 months) before” the current period of DACA expires. Unfortunately for some who received DACA in the earliest days of the program, the 120 day period prior to expiration will already be well underway by the time the renewal process is publicized.

If you received a grant of DACA in the fall of 2012, stay tuned and ready for the publication of final instructions about renewal. If we all remain vigilant, we can avoid gaps in status or work authorization as we go about the process of renewing this new and unfamiliar benefit. Clients of WGV are encouraged to make an appointment with Diana Arellano, DACA Case Manager, no later than six months prior to the expiration of your status.

Jennifer Walker Gates On G+

Avoid Deportation: The Three Most Important Points for Avoiding Removal from the United States

If you are in the United States and undocumented, unfortunately, you must face the reality that you are at risk of being arrested or questioned by ICE. This can happen if you are arrested for a crime, if there is a raid at your home or place of work, or even if you just stopped in your car for having a taillight out or an expired inspection sticker. If you are detained and/or deported, everything you have cared and worked for in the United States is put at risk.

However, just because you are detained and questioned by ICE does not mean that you will be deported immediately IF you know how to protect your legal rights. The three most important things to know if you are detained by ICE are: 1. Say nothing. 2. Don’t sign anything. 3. Get an Austin immigration lawyer.

  1. Say Nothing: In the United States, the right to remain silent with law enforcement authorities is enshrined in our Constitution.  Therefore, if you are stopped by ICE, the only thing you should say is, “Thank you. With all due respect, I refuse to comment until I speak with my attorney.”

Anything you say can be used against you later – in the criminal context (if you have been accused of a crime), and in the immigration context. So, answering the immigration authorities’ questions about where you were born, when you came to the United States, how you came here, where you live now, etc. etc. will probably be written down and then used against you in deportation proceedings. The best thing to say is, “I don’t want to speak with anyone but my lawyer.” Of course, be respectful and as cooperative as you can be – without engaging in conversation!

  1. Sign Nothing: The second rule for handling an ICE arrest is  “Don’t sign anything.” Especially if you are unable to clearly read and understand what you are signing, do not sign anything!

Signing a “voluntary return” is considered by the immigration service to break a person’s time living in the United States. So, you may have 20 years or more living here, no criminal record, and a child with a severe disability, but if you sign a voluntary return all of those good factors in your case are wiped away as far as the immigration service is concerned. If you come back to the United States without permission, you destroy your chances of legalizing your status through a family member and you may be charged with a federal felony and sentenced to time in a federal prison. Finally, crossing the border with human smugglers is exceedingly dangerous. Thousands of immigrants have died in the process, thousands more have become victims of kidnapping, human trafficking, and other crimes. So, no matter what, if you are detained by ICE and hope to have a chance of winning lawful status in the United States, do not sign anything that they put in front of you until a trusted lawyer has reviewed your case.

  1. Get an immigration lawyer: If you are undocumented, the time to talk to an immigration lawyer is BEFORE there is an emergency. Interview several if you can so as to find one that you trust. Make sure your immigration lawyer has expertise in cases like yours and handles cases involving arrests, detentions, and deportation. Many immigration attorneys do not handle deportation matters.

Protection of your rights is not automatic. If you do not know what to do – and what NOT to do – in the case of arrest, you run the risk of destroying your chances of ever having legal immigration status. In the United States, our immigration system is extremely strict and very harsh in its application in many cases – especially involving undocumented immigrants. For this reason, knowing how to protect yourself in case of an ICE encounter is critically important to protect yourself and your family against the ruinous results of a run-in with the deportation machine.

Jennifer Walker Gates On G+

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