Planning to Travel Internationally? We suggest you leave your electronics at home

International travel and customs regulationsSmart phones. Tablets. Laptops. It’s hard to imagine life without them anymore. However, if you’re about to travel across an international border, you should know that your devices will likely be subject to searches by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Whether you’re a U.S. citizen or not, your electronics are not anonymous safe-havens for your personal information. The Department of Homeland Security has recently expanded searches of electronic devices and other personal belongings for anyone – citizen or non-citizen – trying to enter the United States.

Can I refuse to allow DHS to search my belongings?

The sad reality is that even United States citizens have almost no right to refuse searches by CBP upon entry to the United States. Citizens, however, cannot ultimately be denied entry to the U.S., while any noncitizen may be at risk of being turned away or even detained if she refuses to allow a search of her personal effects, including electronic devices.

The law generally allows DHS to conduct searches of travelers’ personal effects if there is a reasonable cause to suspect inadmissibility. While CBP directives regarding searches of electronic devices date back to at least 2009, CBP has notably ramped up its searches of personal devices since the beginning of the year. By some accounts, such searches are reaching unprecedented levels, surpassing in one month the total number of searches conducted in previous years. Horror stories about CBP searches of smartphones and laptops have flooded the news. Even U.S. citizens have not been immune to these invasive searches of personal data.

How can I protect my personal information?

DHS has clarified that for U.S. citizens searches of devices will be limited to the information “physically resident” on the device. Searches of social media, “cloud” information, or any other data that is maintained by a third-party server will not be permitted without a warrant. While this clarification is small comfort, it does provide a blueprint for U.S. citizens on how to safeguard information from invasive searches at the border: Save it in the cloud and be certain when travelling that private information is cleared from your devices.

Non-citizens are of course far more vulnerable. They may be denied entry for refusing to cooperate with a search. Even lawful permanent residents may be subject to arrest and detention. The current administration has even announced the inclusion of social media handles as part of a non-citizen’s alien file. See Notice of Modified Privacy Act System of Records, 82 Fed. Reg. 43556 (Sept. 18, 2017). The administration has hinted that, for non-citizens, they may search all social media accounts, files, and records, whether “physically resident” on the device or not.

Thus, the best advice for citizens and non-citizens alike is to leave devices at home, and keep any sensitive information in the cloud or on an external hard drive that you do not take with you.

Consider purchasing a temporary flip phone for use on trips. Arrange for use of a computer at your destination so that you do not have it with you when crossing the border. Buy an old-fashioned book or magazine and leave that tablet behind. If you must travel with a computer or other device, transfer all sensitive information to the cloud or an external hard drive and disconnect it before you leave. Oh, and remove all your social media apps. Your Facebook friends will be there when you get back.

For questions or additional information about protecting your rights at the border, contact our office at 512-633-1785 or info@walkergatesvela.com.

TELL CONGRESS: PASS THE DREAM ACT!

For U.S. Citizens: Here’s How and Why to Contact Your Elected Representatives.

One key aspect of our democratic system involves contacting our members of Congress about issues that matter to us. Each time you call, write, email or fax your member of Congress, his or her office staff must stop and make a recording of your communication. The more letters, notes, faxes, and emails you send, and the more calls you make – or better yet, the more you visit their offices – the more staff time you consume. When we contact them repeatedly about issues that matter, we can sometimes actually get the attention of our elected officials. For these reasons, we at WGV are asking all of our U.S. Citizen clients to contact their members of Congress.

Here are some ways to do it:

Text Them!

A wonderful new smart phone app allows you to quickly and easily send a text message to your elected representatives – the app converts your text into a fax that is then sent to your Senators’ offices. To use, just text the word “Resist” to 50-409 and follow the instructions. Each time you would like to send a new fax, simply re-text the word “Resist.” Feel free to text them every single day!

Send them mail!

For your convenience, WGV has printed several hundred new pro-immigrant post cards (image above). In addition, we have pre-addressed these for congressional representatives from around Texas as well as for the White House. Come on in to the office and fill out some cards. We’ll gladly stamp and send them for you.

Call them!

In the age of the smart phone, it is easy to put your member of Congress on speed dial. Each member has at least two or three offices – one in DC and at least one in the area they represent. Call every office and recruit friends and family members from around the state and country to call as well. All it takes is approximately a dozen calls on a particular issue to really make an impact. And it’s free!

WGV is here to help

We at WGV are glad to support friends and clients in their efforts to participate in our democracy. Our office staff can provide translation, assist with looking up representatives and contact information, and send correspondence for you to the President and Congress.

Support the Dream Act of 2017!

A bi-partisan group of law-makers has introduced the Dream Act of 2017. If passed, this law would serve to provide permanent resident status to those in our community who arrived in the USA as children and have grown up here.

This program would be an enormous benefit to our families, our communities, and our economy. However, the President has indicated that he intends to use the proposal as a bargaining chip in his battle to secure Congressional funding for a border wall and ramped up deportations.

Our law-makers need to know how we feel about these issues. Please contact your members of Congress and say:

  1. Please support the DREAM Act of 2017 as written.
  2. No funding for Trump’s border wall.
  3. No increased detention and deportation of our immigrant community.
  4. Please pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform!

 

DACA: Your Questions Answered

On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration ended the Obama-era program known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or “DACA.” Many of our clients have been asking the following questions:

Q: If I have DACA, will I be able to keep working?

A: Yes. You will be eligible to continue working lawfully until the expiration of your work permit.

Q: If I have DACA, will ICE use the information on my applications to find me and deport me?

A: Probably not. The Department of Homeland Security has announced that information provided by DACA applicants will not be furnished to ICE for deportation purposes unless an individual is a criminal or security threat.

Q: If I have DACA and it expires on or before March 5, 2018, will I be able to renew it?

A: Yes. You must submit your application to renew your DACA before October 5, 2017.

Q: If I have DACA and it expires after March 5, 2018, will I be able to renew it?

A: No. If you submit a renewal application, it will be rejected.

Q: If I have a DACA application pending, may it still be approved?

 R: Applications that were submitted before September 5, 2017 will be adjudicated.

 Q: If I have DACA Advance Parole, may I still travel?

R: Yes. However, it is advisable to consult with your attorney regarding your planned travel before departing the USA.

Q: I have an application for DACA Advance Parole pending with USCIS. What is going to happen?

A: USCIS has announced that pending applications for DACA Advance Parole will be returned along with the filing fees to the applicants.

We at WGV will continue to fight for our many beloved immigrant youth – those who benefitted from DACA and those who did not – as well as for our many undocumented family and friends.

If you need assistance renewing DACA, please contact us immediately at (512) 633 – 1785.

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.

National Anti-Trafficking Helpline

200 Languages Spoken

1-888-733-8888

Or Text “Help” or “Info” to 233733

TRAFFICKING =

AN ACT

Recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining

+ A MEANS

Force, fraud, coercion

+ FOR A PURPOSE

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

I’m Married to the Chupacabra: When Dual Representation In Family Immigration Matters Goes Wrong

When I was growing up, my mom worked for divorce lawyers. As a result, I heard stories on a regular basis about atrocities committed by clients against spouses and ex-spouses in the course of divorce proceedings. If there’s one thing that can call forth our inner war criminal, it’s marital strife. A child custody battle can turn a geeky, harmless waif into a blood-thirsty psychopath. Because of this, my primary career aspiration as a young person was to NOT be a family lawyer.

Nevertheless, as a family-based immigration practitioner, I have been unable to completely escape the toxic fall out created by clients going through inner-family conflict. Recently, I have had a spate of clients who, after starting their spousal petitions, suffered a falling out with their husband/wife and have called me wanting to “cancel the case.” Inevitably, it’s a betrayed spouse who calls. They no longer want to continue the immigration case with their spouse because he or she is a traitor, a cheater, a liar, a monster, or all of the above. I’ve actually had two separate cases now where petitioning clients have indicated that their mother-in-law practices witchcraft and has cursed the client’s spouse, making him/her crazy and/or violent. I’ve had clients ask me to have their estranged significant other deported. These situations raise some sticky ethical issues for the family immigration attorney.  When we represent both petitioner and beneficiary in a legal matter before DHS, what are we to do when our clients, our supposed allies in the fight, turn their swords upon each other?

The ethical issues at play in these situations primarily revolve around our duties of confidentiality and our obligations to avoid conflicts of interest. The disciplinary rules implicated are Rules 1.05 and 1.06 of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct (TRDC). Rule 1.05 covers lawyers’ duties of confidentiality. It says that we must not “reveal confidential information of a client or former client” to any third party and shall not “use confidential information to the disadvantage of a client” unless the client provides informed consent for us to do so. Rule 1.06 is the General Rule on Conflicts of Interest. It says that lawyers are prohibited from representation of a client if the case “involves a substantially related matter” to that of another client or former client, and in which the client’s interests are “materially and directly adverse to the interests of another client.”

The following are some fact scenarios that have come up in our office recently in which Rules 1.05 and 1.06 are potentially implicated:

  1.  Non-LPR cancellation client wins case but is awaiting visa and issuance of green card. Backlogs in the immigration court have resulted in his next hearing being set in November of 2019. (Seriously.) Wife, upon whose medical hardship cancellation was granted, calls and says husband is cheating and she wants the case cancelled and husband deported. Husband drops by to ask a question and brings new girlfriend with him. Lawyer is disgusted, but wonders: must the dissolution of the marriage be disclosed to the court? Must lawyer withdraw? May lawyer withdraw?
  2. Wife, an LPR, comes to our office in distress because husband is detained by ICE. Husband becomes removal defense client. Wife becomes naturalization client, then files petition for husband as part of removal defense strategy. A few years into this process, husband and wife begin to have problems on account of husband’s mother being involved in witchcraft and cursing the relationship. Wife now wants to cancel the representation because husband moved out of the house to go live with his mother. Lawyer feels that withdrawal from USCIS petition is warranted here. But what about the representation before EOIR? Must wife provide informed consent if lawyer is to continue the representation? If she wants him deported, is lawyer acting adverse to her interests by defending husband against that?
  3. Husband and wife come to lawyer for a spousal petition. Wife is a U.S. citizen. Later, husband discloses to lawyer that wife has been emotionally abusive and the couple has separated. Must lawyer withdraw from husband’s case? Most attorneys would say yes. There is, however, at least one veteran practitioner who would disagree. This practitioner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would argue that in this situation there is no breach of confidentiality to the wife because the information about the abuse was not provided by her or on account of the lawyer’s representation of her. Furthermore, he would argue that absolutely no disadvantage accrues to the wife as the result of disclosure of the alleged abuse to USCIS. Finally, if the client lives in a rural area, then it is very unlikely that he could avail himself of the representation of another advocate. Thus, this renegade practitioner would say, what would be most unethical would be to drop this client and not help him get the benefits to which he is entitled. The renegade practitioner makes a compelling case.

A few years in this practice has taught me that, very often, the “right” course of action becomes clear after a little time. For example, the spouses might reconcile thus eliminating the conflict. Alternatively, the cheater’s new girlfriend may have her own immigration attorney and cheater may decide to go with that lawyer, so that withdrawal becomes a non-issue. In any case, these are questions that will outlast many a marriage.

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