The COVID-19 meltdown has been reminding me a lot of the previous economic crisis we experienced back in 2008 – 2011. My husband, Andrew Gates, is a home-builder and he was our family’s main support back then when I was working at Catholic Charities, earning very little, and paying big law school debts. Suddenly, Andrew’s work just evaporated and he had no income. Our third child was a newborn. We thought we were going to lose our house, our cars, everything. We went through a lot of panic. We were sued by our credit card company. We made lots of mistakes. But we made it through to the other side.
I learned some valuable lessons from that experience about how to get through times like these, and I have compiled them into a list of tips, which I invite you to download here. I hope that my hard-earned lessons can make things at least a bit easier for you and your family during this crisis.
For our U visa clients who have been waiting many years to receive work permits while awaiting their U visa approvals, we have begun working through the federal court in Austin to push USCIS to make decisions on cases more expediently. To read more about those efforts, check out our blog post here.
Currently, we are concluding our first U visa delay lawsuit. Once that case is concluded, we intend to file for other clients who live in the Austin area, who have clean criminal and immigration records, and who have had their cases filed since at least 2017. Current processing times indicate that USCIS is adjudicating work permits for individuals who have had applications filed since September of 2015. We are arguing in our suit that five years waiting for a simple work permit is too long, and that this long wait time is frustrating the will of Congress, which is to provide legal status to cooperative victims of crime through the U visa program.
Last week, USCIS contacted us through their attorney and requested some clarification about our clients’ Form I-918B. The I-918B is the form that certifies that our clients were victims of a crime and cooperated with prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. In order for USCIS to approve our clients’ work permits, we need to coordinate with prosecutors at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to clarify some of the information they included in the form. Once we do that, and submit the clarifications to USCIS, we anticipate that our clients’ work permits will be approved and issued within approximately 30 days.
If you have a U visa pending since at least 2017, have a clean criminal record, and live in the Central Texas area, you may be a good candidate to join our next lawsuit. For more information, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates at [email protected].
We at WGV want all of our friends and clients to know that using available resources to get through this time (including unemployment benefits) will NOT be counted against you for public charge purposes.
Regardless of your immigration status, it is safe to call 3-1-1 or visit the City of Austin’s Community Resources page to learn about resources available to you and your family for food, health care, utilities, housing, and transportation.
In addition, many private organizations have set up assistance funds for workers who have been laid off. For example, there are funds available for employees of hotels, restaurants and delivery drivers. These are privately funded assistance programs, and applying for them will NOT harm your immigration case.
Finally, emergency medical assistance will not be counted against anyone for public charge purposes. And as always, if your U.S. citizen spouse or children are receiving public benefits such as food assistance (a.k.a. food stamps), Medicaid, CHiP, or WIC, talk to a trusted immigration attorney before making any changes to those benefits.
If you have questions about your specific case and benefits you are considering, please reach out to us at [email protected]
First, we are remaining calm. Statistically speaking, we are all still much more vulnerable to the flu than to Coronavirus. However, since caution and good hygiene are never bad ideas, here are the steps we’re taking at WGV to minimize risk to ourselves, our clients, and other visitors to our office:
1. No more toys (for now). When flu and coronavirus seasons have passed, we’ll bring the toys back to the lobby (we always disinfect the toys daily). In the meantime, please either leave your child with a caregiver outside the office during your appointments, or bring toys to keep them occupied while here. Click here for our general policy on kids in the office.
2. Meet with us by phone or video call. When we were kids, video calls were Star Trek fantasy. But the future is now, baby, and video calls are easy! Just let us know if you’d like to meet on video, and we’ll send you a link by text or email that makes it very easy. And of course, old fashioned phone calls are often a great way to meet too. We ask that you please STAY HOME if you have flu or virus symptoms. We will be happy to meet with you by phone or video call if you’re feeling bad.
In the summer of 2019, one of our most beloved long-time clients – we’ll call him Joseph – lost his battle against the deportation machine.
Joseph was convicted in 2016 for conspiring with cartel members, though the facts were clear that the only mistake he made was selling a car to someone he didn’t know, who then used the car to transport drugs. Joseph was sentenced to 18 months in a west Texas Federal prison for the alleged conspiracy. He then spent the next 18 months fighting his deportation from inside an immigration jail near Dallas. I have known Joseph and his family since 2010, and I will personally vouch for the fact that Joseph is no cartel member. But as we’ve all seen, our criminal justice system in the U.S. is not always just.
I’ll never forget the day we went to immigration court to present his case. It was the first time he had been able to lay eyes on his wife or his five beautiful U.S. citizen children in almost three years. Everyone was sobbing before the hearing even started. Then each child spoke to the immigration judge, telling her how much they loved their father, how broken the family had been without him, and how much more they would suffer if he was deported. Each child had to endure the government attorney’s cross examination, where she repeatedly accused their beloved father of working for cartels.
My client’s youngest child was just 10 years old when she bravely took the stand to tell the agents of the deportation machine how much harm they had caused her and her family. She trembled and sobbed as she testified for an hour at the front of that court room. And in spite of her pleas to the judge to let her dad stay with her in the United States, the judge ordered Joseph deported anyway.
Now Joseph’s kids live every day with the loss of their dad, and their memories of their failed attempt to keep him from getting deported. Youth Rise Texas exists to help kids like Joseph’s. They provide leadership training to young people who have been directly impacted by incarceration and deportation. They provide community to young people who need to know that they are not alone, and that they do have the power to make positive change. And they provide healing from the trauma of losing a parent to jail and deportation. Youth Rise is creating the possibility of a future with justice by helping victims of injustice learn how to envision and enact policies that make our communities stronger and safer. They give us hope. (To learn more about Youth Rise Texas, including what they do and why they do it, click here.)
This year, for every dollar donated to Youth Rise Texas on March 5 during Amplify Austin, WGV will match it up to $2500. This means that if you donate $1, we make it $2. If you donate $5, we make it $10.
Want to know what’s GOOD about the new public charge rules?
**The new rules look at the IMMIGRANT’s earning potential, not just the U.S. Citizen petitioner’s.**
The new “Affidavit of Self Sufficiency” will examine the applicant’s work history and earning potential and provide applicants with the opportunity to show what they can contribute to our economy. If you are like most of our clients, you are super hard-working and a good earner for your family, so this is a welcome change as far as we’re concerned.
However, if you’re worried about how the new public charge rules will affect your immigration case, here are five steps you could take to make your “Affidavit of Self Sufficiency” stronger. Please note that all of these options are open to you even if you’re undocumented.
2. Take business classes. The City of Austin Small Business Program provides FREE classes, both online and in person, to help city residents open and launch small businesses. Immigration status is not a barrier to registration. Check out all the classes here: http://www.austintexas.gov/smallbiz. Make sure and keep documentation for all of the classes you take.
3. Start a small business. Dozens of our clients are small business owners and we’ve seen many of them achieve incredible success with restaurants, cleaning businesses, food trailers, retail stores, automotive repairs, and more, in spite of being undocumented. If you have a small business already, make sure it is registered with the Texas Secretary of State and make sure you file and keep your official registration and tax documents.
4. Get a professional certification. Austin Community College offers classes to all Central Texas residents, regardless of immigration status. They offer certifications in dozens of professions where our clients are already working including Culinary, Hospitality, Automotive, Construction, Welding, Heating and AC Services, etc. Check out their academic and career programs at here.
As we’ve already stated, all of these resources is available to you regardless of immigration status. And not only does this kind of effort strengthen your “Affidavit of Self-Sufficiency.” It will also fortify your personal, professional, and financial success in the United States.
In the meantime, if you have questions about how the new rules affect you and your case, please call us at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected].