Why we are supporting Youth Rise Texas (and you should too)

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.

It would mean so much to us – and to the families of clients like Joseph – if you could pitch in just $5. Click here to donate today.

 

U.S. Citizen? Register to Vote at Walker Gates Vela PLLC!

We are thrilled to announce that our dynamo of a receptionist, Cristina Arellano, has become officially deputized to register voters in Travis and surrounding counties! This means that many of you can get registered to vote in the convenience of our office, right at the front desk.

In order to legally register to vote, you must:
1. Be a U.S. Citizen
2. Be at least 17 years and 10 months old (you have to be 18 to vote)
3. Have no felony convictions (unless you have completed your entire sentence, including parole, probation, supervision, and jail time)
4. Have no legal declaration of mental incompetency (i.e. a court has never declared you mentally unfit to care for yourself)

If you are a U.S. Citizen over 18 years old and have never registered, OR if you have changed your address, please contact our receptionist, Cristina Arellano, to get registered. If it is easier, you can also register online at the Texas Secretary of State website, which you can find by clicking here. If you would like to check your voter registration online, you may do that by clicking here.

Our next big election in Texas is Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in this election is Monday, February 3, 2020. If you are already registered, you don’t need to do anything. If you are not yet registered but are a U.S. citizen, over 18 years old, and have no felony convictions, PLEASE get registered before February 3 so that you can help us elect candidates who will stand up for our immigrant loved ones, our families, and our communities.

Will using public benefits hurt your immigration case? 

We heard a very sad story yesterday.

A client who is a Lawful Permanent Resident removed her children from the Medicaid program last fall. Her husband is applying for his residency in the immigration court, and she was afraid that using Medicaid for her children could hurt his case or cause her citizenship application to be denied in the future.

Over the Christmas holidays, her youngest child became very ill and had to be hospitalized for a week. The child was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness. Because she is no longer insured, the child has not been able to see the specialist that she needs, and the hospital bills are already staggering. Her mother is in the process of re-registering her for Medicaid/Chip, but it will take time and delay the child’s medical care.

Here is what this family — along with all of our friends and clients — need to know:

1. IF YOU OR YOUR FAMILY ARE USING PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, DO NOT CANCEL IT. Currently, the legal battle over use of public benefits for immigrants and their families is raging in the courts and will not conclude any time soon. There is no clear immediate benefit to canceling public assistance programs. If you or your children need them, use them!

2. BEFORE YOU MAKE CHANGES TO YOUR PUBLIC ASSISTANCE REGISTRATIONS, TALK TO YOUR IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY. Whether by phone or in person, make sure you have the correct information and advice before making changes to the public assistance programs you and your children are using.

3. MEDICAL BILLS ARE ALWAYS SUBJECT TO VERY GENEROUS PAYMENT PLANS. If you do incur a large medical bill because you need care and are uninsured, please note that the law provides patients the opportunity to pay very small monthly sums without harming your credit. You can pay as little as $5 per month, and the medical provider must continue to work with you on payment plans. After a period of making regular payments of even just $5 per month, you will be in a good position to negotiate a settlement of the bill. Please do not hesitate to ask for a reduction of the amount owed at any time. Hospitals and medical providers are often able to make these adjustments when asked.

WGV will continue to update friends and clients on the question of public benefits and how their use affects immigration cases. In the meantime, please do not make any changes without calling us first at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected]

Stupid Thoughts – Especially for Immigrants

I’ve had a few drinks, but I’m ok to drive.”

“I’m actually a better driver when I’ve been drinking.”

“Well, I don’t have money for a ride, so I guess I have to drive myself.”

What do all of these thoughts have in common? They’re categorically stupid thoughts that we all tend to think when we’ve been drinking.

We at WGV have seen dozens of individuals and families devastated because an immigrant loved-one believed one of these stupid thoughts.

First, the expense is enormous. The fines and penalties for the criminal case can exceed $20,000, and this does not include the costs on the immigration side, which are often even greater.

Worse, if you’re a non-U.S. citizen, a DWI can subject you to prolonged ICE detention and deportation. Recent changes to the immigration law punish immigrants with DWIs even more severely than before.

So, for the love of Christmas, please don’t believe these stupid thoughts!

Do your loved ones and your immigration attorneys a huge favor this holiday season, and DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE.

Need help figuring out your sober transportation solution? Go to austintexas.gov/gethomesafe for free and low cost resources in and around Austin.

And if a loved one falls victim to a stupid thought, call our Emergency Line at 877-339-1422 or text us at 512-213-0005 for immediate help. We’ll be available through the holidays.

Forget “Freedom of Speech”! Be careful with your social media posts!

Many people have a poor understanding of what is meant by “freedom of speech” in the United States. There are many legal limitations that apply to “freedom of speech” and this is especially true for non-citizens. Therefore, if you have an immigration case, please know that the government will be scouring your social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’sApp, and many others. PLEASE do not post anything online that could put your case at risk, such as comments about drugs, crime, or violence, or even jokes that could be seen as degrading toward any group such as women, members of a particular religion, or minorities. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT post pictures of yourself engaging in illegal activity! After you become a citizen, you can exercise freedom of speech more fully, but until then, please follow the “Grandma Rule”* with your social media activity (*if your grandmother would like it, it’s probably o.k.)!

If you need more information or are concerned about your social media presence, email us or call us at 512-633-1785 to make an appointment.

Costa Rican Asylum – 10 Things to Know

Costa Rica, a tiny Central American nation nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, is an open and friendly country, with immigration policies to match. We at Walker Gates Vela began investigating Costa Rica’s asylum system in July of 2018, out of desperation to find a safe place for some of our Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, and Mexican clients whose lives were in danger in their home countries, but whose asylum claims in the USA were denied. What we have discovered is a country that may present a viable option for many of our clients who are facing deportation from the United States because of the harsh and unworkable conditions within the current United States asylum system. If you are facing deportation from the USA but cannot safely return to your home country, here are some of the most important points to know about Costa Rica:

⦁ Costa Rica is generally approving asylum claims based on gang violence, cartel violence, and domestic violence. This is very different than the USA. If you are unsafe in your home country because of gangs, cartels, or a violent partner relationship, you have a good chance of being approved for asylum in Costa Rica.

⦁ Most people in the world do not need a visa to go to Costa Rica. This means that, if you wish to go to Costa Rica, there is no application to fill out, there is no fee to pay, there is no chance you’ll be disallowed from entering the country in a safe, orderly, and lawful manner. So long as you have a passport from your home country with at least six months of validity, you can just buy a plane ticket and go. The one important exception to this rule is for Nicaraguans, who do need a visa. But for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, and many others, the doors to Costa Rica are open. Check out the website of the Costa Rican Embassy in the USA to verify whether individuals from your country require a visa to enter Costa Rica. You can access that information ⦁ here.

⦁ Costa Rica’s asylum system is non-adversarial. This means that, unlike in immigration court in the USA, there is no government attorney fighting to keep you out of the country and trying to convince a judge to deny your case. Applicants for asylum present their case with documents and an interview with an asylum officer. If the asylum officer does not approve your case, you can present your documents to a judge, but you do not have to testify in court.

⦁ Costa Rica does not deport anyone who seeks asylum – even if their claim is denied. That’s right. Costa Rica’s government protects asylum seekers even if they don’t approve their case. This is to ensure that no person is ever sent back to a situation where their human rights could be violated. If your case is denied, you are encouraged to find another way to legalize your immigration status in Costa Rica, which is possible through a spouse, a child born in Costa Rica, or an employer, to name a few.

⦁ Costa Rica does not detain asylum seekers or otherwise criminalize them. There is no detention, no family separation, no bonds to pay, no monitoring by deportation officers, etc.

⦁ There are two offices in Costa Rica where applications for asylum are processed. One is in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. The other is in Upala, a small town in the north of the country closer to the Nicaraguan border. If you apply for asylum in San Jose, your application will likely take about a year to process. If you apply in Upala, where there are many fewer cases, your case can be heard and concluded within a few weeks.

⦁ If you file an application for asylum, you can request work authorization three months later. Once you have work authorization, you can enter the Costa Rican workforce, where employment laws protect your rights to minimum wage and medical insurance.
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⦁There are dozens of organizations in Costa Rica that assist asylum seekers and refugees with a variety of services. ⦁ Cenderos is one such organization with offices in San Jose and Upala. At Cenderos, attorneys assist with preparation of applications, therapists conduct groups to assist with recovery from trauma, and social workers help with finding housing, employment, accessing public schools and medical care. There is a network of NGOs in the country offering these types of services, though most of these are located in San Jose.
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⦁Costa Rica has no military and guns are not allowed. It is one of the safest countries in the world for women.

⦁Costa Rica’s public schools are open for the children of asylum seekers. Lawful immigration status is not required to attend Costa Rica’s public schools.
The challenges of seeking asylum in Costa Rica revolve around finding work, housing, and access to medical care while getting established. Asylum seekers cannot work lawfully for the first three months they are in Costa Rica, so they often end up in low-paying jobs that do not offer medical benefits. In San Jose, there are more services available for asylum seekers, but the traffic is horrible, and the crime rate and cost of living are higher than in other parts of the country. However, if a person’s asylum case is approved, they can then access the state-run health care system, and with work authorization, they are able to seek employment from any legitimate business in the country’s growing economy.

In short, while Costa Rica is not a utopia, it is a warm and welcoming country with potential to provide haven for those who truly need and deserve it. If you are facing deportation from the USA and would like additional information about seeking asylum in Costa Rica, please contact us at (512) 633-1785 or [email protected]

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