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.

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.

If you have a delayed application for Naturalization, we have a solution for you

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (i.e. the immigration law), USCIS has 120 days after an applicant’s first interview and exam to make a determination on the application for naturalization. After 120 days have passed, the applicant may file his or her naturalization case in the Federal Court and ask a judge to decide whether he or she qualifies for U.S. citizenship.

There is no exception to the 120-day deadline. It doesn’t matter if USCIS has requested additional documents from you, scheduled an additional interview for you, or just stopped communicating with you. If you’ve had a first interview on your case more than 120 days ago and you still do not have a decision on your application, you can file a lawsuit.

WGV has helped many clients successfully conclude their applications for naturalization after long delays by filing cases in the federal courts. If you or someone you know needs help getting your naturalization case un-stuck at USCIS, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates or Jacqueline Watson at (512) 633-1785 or at [email protected].

Have you been waiting years for your U visa? We finally have a solution.

Since 2014, applicants for U visas have been forced to wait several years for their cases to be reviewed. Before then, U visas took about nine months for processing. But as the numbers of U visa applications exploded, USCIS did nothing to deal with all of the new cases, and the wait times for U visa processing became ridiculous.

Applicants for U visas are supposed to get a work permit while they’re waiting for the final decision on their case. But USCIS isn’t even conducting the preliminary review of cases for several years. Right now, WGV has more than 80 clients waiting for work permits for their U visas, and most of them have been waiting more than three years. We have been working with other attorneys from around the country to pressure USCIS to retool their U visa processing system but haven’t seen any real progress. Until now.

In late 2019, WGV filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in Austin on behalf of two of our U visa clients, and we asked the judge to order USCIS to process our clients’ work permits. We didn’t know what would happen. The government fought back and asked the judge to dismiss our case. In January, the judge ruled that the government needed to provide a valid reason why their processing times were taking so long. The judge did not dismiss our case. In fact, he gave us permission to investigate USCIS to find out the reason they were taking so long. Instead of dealing with our investigation, however, USCIS offered to immediately issue our client’s work permit if we would drop the lawsuit. Which is what we wanted all along.

If you have a U visa case and have been waiting more than a year, we want to help. We are inviting U visa clients who have been waiting for more than one year to file lawsuits against USCIS for their U visa work permits. Also, before we file a lawsuit, we want to make sure you:

1.    Have no significant criminal record;
2.    Have had no past deportations;
3.    Have no past fraud or misrepresentation problems.

But if you are like most of our U visa clients, you have a clean criminal history and a great opportunity to expedite the processing of your case if you join us in suing the government.

If you would like to discuss the possibility, please call us at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

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.

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