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.

The “CARES Act” is mis-named for immigrant tax-payers and their families. Here’s what you can do about it.

Looking forward to your $1200 check from the IRS? Read this:

You probably know that on March 30, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief for Americans struggling through this pandemic. The CARES Act says that most U.S. Citizen adults will receive $1200 each; U.S. citizen and permanent resident children under 16 are supposed to receive $500 each.

But get this: The language of the CARES Act seems to say that if anyone in your family files taxes with an Individual Tax-payer ID Number or ITIN, then your whole family is excluded from receiving the benefit. So, for example, if you are a U.S. Citizen and you file jointly with your spouse who files and pays taxes with an ITIN, then neither you nor your children will get a benefit payment. I’ve spent several hours researching this question, and this is what I’ve read in three different articles, which you can see herehere, and here.

If I’m reading this correctly, this means that Congress and the president acted together to pass a bill that not only excludes undocumented people for filing and paying taxes with their ITIN, but goes even further to also punish their U.S. Citizen and Lawful Permanent Resident spouses and children for living with them, depending on them, and filing taxes with them. The people who allowed this to happen need to hear from us NOW.

Two things you can do about this unfair exclusion:

  1. Call our elected officials.They are supposed to work for us. Punishing U.S. citizen spouses and children of immigrant tax payers in this way is unacceptable. The next Coronavirus relief package needs to ensure – at a minimum – that every single U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident is provided with benefits, regardless of the immigration status of anyone in their family or household. (An easy way to stay in touch with our representatives in D.C. is by using “Resistbot.” Just text the word “Resist” to 50409 and you will be connected easily and automatically to our elected officials. I use Resistbot all the time and LOVE it.)
  2. If you haven’t filed 2019 taxes yet, ask about filing status “Married, filing separately.” Consider this status for 2020 as well. Everyone who knows me can tell you with 100% certainty that I am no tax expert. But the language of the CARES Act and the articles about it suggest that, if you’re married, then filing separately from a spouse who uses an ITIN may permit you to receive the benefit. It will be important to ask a reputable, knowledgeable tax preparer about this. What I can tell you is that, if you’re married, then filing taxes separately from your spouse is not going to cause problems for your or your spouse’s immigration case. The problem on the immigration side comes from filing as “Head of Household” when you’re married – “Head of Household” status is supposed to be reserved for unmarried people.

I hope I’m wrong about the CARES Act

I have made several angry calls to my representative’s and senators’ offices about this exclusion of families of immigrant tax payers. One of the staffers in Senator John Cornyn’s office was “very surprised” by my complaint; she did not believe what I was telling her about the CARES Act and said she thinks it’s not true. At the time I am writing this email, I am waiting for a call back from Cornyn’s tax expert who is supposed to clarify the language of the law.

I really hope I’m misreading the language of the bill and the articles I’ve found. If it turns out I am, I will post a very happy “I was wrong” message next week.

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.

How WGV is responding to the Coronavirus

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.

3. Scan, email, or fax your documents to us. It’s easy to send us your documents using nothing more than your smart phone. Click here for info on apps and tools you can use on your phone to make clear digital copies of your original documents. (This is a great idea for immigration emergency planning as well.)

Of course, don’t forget to wash your hands frequently. Stay safe, everyone!
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