Interview with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, Texas legendary Activist and Organizer.

 

 

We were so proud and honored to have the chance to interview legendary activist and organizer, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez about her latest projects, Jolt and Latino Families Forward. Cristina is a dynamo and a force to be reckoned with. If you want some inspiration and hope for the future of our country, definitely check out this video!

What to do if an employer refuses to pay you?

This week, we heard a familiar story from one of our immigrant friends: He completed work for a contractor more than a month ago, but the contractor has not paid him. He is owed almost $4,000. The contractor told our friend, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay you when I get paid,” but now is not responding to our friend’s calls or texts. Our friend does not have a work permit or residency, and is afraid the contractor won’t pay him.

But, the law in Texas is clear: If you get hired for work, you get paid for that work. Immigration status does not matter. An employer who refuses to pay for work has committed a crime called Wage Theft, and the worker is entitled to be paid back wages, and sometimes more.

So, what should you do if an employer refuses to pay you for work that you’ve done? Here are some options:
1. Contact the Worker’s Defense Project. This is an organization with almost two decades helping workers recover stolen wages, learn their rights, and fight for better laws to protect workers. They have offices in Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Click here to visit their website.
2. Submit a Wage Claim with Texas Workforce Commission. Click here to see information on how to do this.
3. Contact an employment law attorney in your area. Depending on the amount of stolen wages, an attorney may or may not be able to take your case. This is why organizations like WDP are so important – they can help no matter the amount you need to recover.

Finally, if you are a victim of wage theft, DO NOT DELAY in taking action! The law provides only two years to file a law suit to recover your wages, and that time can slip away faster than you think.

If you are a client of WGV and have been the victim of wage theft in the past two years, please call or email your attorney for assistance.

New TPS Rules Adopted at USCIS … and they appear to be unlawful

This week, USCIS published an update to their policy manual which states that they will no longer approve applications for adjustment of status for individuals whose only lawful entry is based on travel using TPS advance parole.

This new policy appears to be another attempt by the Trump Administration to illegally change immigration law without Congressional approval as is required under our Constitution. This new USCIS policy flouts federal appellate court decisions, decades of routine practice, and a common-sense interpretation of the immigration law as written by Congress.

Please note: According to the policy manual, individuals with TPS who travelled with advance parole before August 19, 2020 will not be affected by this new rule.

We at WGV are looking forward to suing USCIS over this policy, as we are confident that it will not withstand the scrutiny of a federal judge. We welcome anyone with TPS who travelled using advance parole on or after August 19, and who hopes to seek adjustment of status on the basis of that travel, to contact us for a consultation immediately.

A sad story we’ve heard too many times

On a call I had recently, I was explaining for perhaps the millionth time, about the permanent bar. I was talking to a man from Mexico, we’ll call him “Jose,” and his U.S. citizen wife, whom we’ll call “Laura.” Jose had come to the USA in the year 2000 without permission. He was 17 years old at the time and needed to work to help provide for his family back in Mexico. He found work in Texas and was able to achieve his goal – his family in Mexico used his financial contribution to feed all the siblings and send them to school. Then, in 2002, Jose made a trip home to visit his beloved family. He went home and hugged his parents and siblings, ate his mom’s cooking, and enjoyed the feeling of being home for the first time in two years. Then he came back to the USA to continue working. He entered the same way he had the first time – crossed the river and got on a bus, but without a visa or permit, but without harming anyone or having anyone even ask him for papers. He has not been back to see his home or his family in more than 18 years. During the past two decades in the USA, Jose married Laura and they have three U.S. citizen children. Laura insisted emphatically that Jose is a loving and devoted husband and father, has built a successful business, earns well for his family, pays tens of thousands of dollars each year in taxes to the U.S. government, and employs several other people. Laura felt strongly that Jose deserves to be a legal resident of the USA.

However, Jose is ineligible to get legal residency – all because of that illegal entry back in 2002. When Jose entered the USA without permission for the second time, he unknowingly triggered what’s called the “Permanent Bar.” This bar, enacted into law in 1996, prohibits anyone from gaining legal status through marriage to a U.S. citizen if they have an immigration history like Jose’s. This bar is one of the most severe and unjust provisions in the immigration law. There is no way around it – there is no fine you can pay, there is no hardship-based waiver you can request. Even people with severely disabled U.S. citizen kids cannot get around the permanent bar. The only hope of overcoming it is to leave the USA for 10 years and THEN request a hardship-based waiver of the bar. Very few families are able to consider this option. The permanent bar impacts many millions of families in the USA, preventing these families from reaching their full potential, and locking immigrants inside the country with no way to return home to visit their loved ones, legalize their status, and live and work without fear of deportation. The punishment that this bar inflicts on immigrants and their families is far more severe than the victimless crime of entering the USA without a visa.

But the permanent bar is not a law of God or science. It’s not like the law of gravity or the law of cause and effect. The permanent bar is just a tiny paragraph in the immigration code. It can be changed – but only if U.S. citizens work it. Step one of this work is getting REGISTERED TO VOTE.

After listening to me explain the permanent bar, Jose and Laura asked, “So, are you really saying there is NOTHING we can do to get Jose’s legal status?” I assured them that this provision of the immigration law really is as rigid and unforgiving as I described. Then I asked a question: “Laura, you’re a U.S. citizen. Are you registered to vote?” Her answer was all too common: “No, I haven’t registered yet.”

Imagine how different our political system and our immigration system would look if all the Laura’s of the world were voting in our elections.

Is this your family’s story too?

It’s time to fight for our undocumented loved ones.

Tips and Strategies for Managing a Financial Crisis

Walker Gates Vela logoThe 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.

U Visa Litigation Update

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].

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