Obama quietly makes changes to the U.S. immigration policy

The Obama administration has announced that it would overturn one of the harsh immigration enforcement measures enacted by the Bush administration following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Beginning next month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that those who arrive in the United States fleeing torture or persecution abroad will no longer automatically be welcomed with handcuffs and months in a jail cell. Instead, many of those seeking protection will again be permitted to live freely in the country while their applications for permanent asylum are considered by an immigration judge.
The measure is the latest in a string of initiatives by the DHS to reconsider some of the most controversial enforcement policies of the past decade. The administration in August launched an overhaul of the immigration detention system, which had grown out of control as the number of detainees doubled in just five years to more than 440,000 annually. Some of them were simply lost in the system, while others fell ill and died due to poor medical care, and the administration has pledged to stop such abuses. That same month, it moved families out of the notorious T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Texas, which had become a national disgrace after revelations that pregnant women and children were being held there in prison-like conditions.
The administration has also largely halted workplace raids that resulted in jailing, deportation and even criminal charges for many unauthorized workers, and is focused instead on in-depth audits of companies suspected of hiring such workers. And DHS has curbed the authority of state and local police forces to demand immigration documents from anyone stopped for minor offenses like traffic violations, saying that such checks should be done only for those jailed on criminal charges, especially for serious criminal offenses. To drive home the point, the DHS in October stripped the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona of federal authority to make immigration-related arrests.
The administration is walking a narrow line. The White House believes it must be tough on enforcement if there is any hope of assembling a political coalition in Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform next year. Janet Napolitano, the DHS secretary, says the administration has done what Congress sought on everything from the U.S.-Mexico border fence to the E-Verify system for authorizing workers, and that the time has come to enact other elements of reform, including a legalization program for many unauthorized immigrants. If Congress does not believe her claims on enforcement, the rest of the package will likely be dead on arrival.
But at the same time, the administration wants to demonstrate that it is possible to be tough without being unfair and inhumane. The treatment of asylum claimants is just one example of where the United States had gone awry. Under the guidelines enacted in 1997, once an arriving individual had shown immigration officials a “credible fear” of persecution or torture back home, he could be “paroled” into the country to await a judge’s decision on his application to remain, which could take many months.
But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration began to clamp down, arguing that those released might simply disappear, remaining as illegal immigrants and perhaps even posing a terror threat. According to a recent study by Human Rights First, about 40 per cent of those asylum seekers were still being paroled in 2004; by 2007 that number had dropped to just four per cent. Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, called that figure “an affront to our ideals as a nation that aspires to be a beacon of light to persecuted refugees.”
The Obama administration’s new policy, which will end such routine incarceration, had been urged by everyone from the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. And there is no reason to believe that the risks will rise significantly. There is considerable evidence, for instance, that alternative programs to monitor those released will ensure that they comply with whatever ruling a judge finally reaches.
Other initiatives show this more nuanced approach as well. The workplace raids, which were intended to send a warning to companies that hired unauthorized workers, mostly just hurt the workers themselves. Last year, only 13 companies were prosecuted for hiring undocumented workers. Now, the Obama administration is instead focusing on expanded audits of the paper trail that companies must keep on their workforce. Arrests and deportations of workers are down, but hefty fines against the companies are up, providing strong incentives for them to maintain a legal workforce. This is hardly a benign approach – ask the families of the 1,800 immigrant workers who were fired from American Apparel in Los Angeles following an audit – but it marks a departure from the Bush policy of summarily jailing and deporting any unauthorized workers arrested in the raids.
The recent initiatives are only initial steps, and the administration is still facing criticism from its own liberal allies that it is simply continuing the Bush administration’s enforcement policies. Indeed, by any of the hard measures – detentions, criminal prosecutions, deportations, the number of Border Patrol agents – there has been no softening of the toughest immigration enforcement campaign in recent U.S. history.
Still, the changes in the last year are significant, even if they are as yet little recognized. Indeed, the Obama administration itself has not made much effort to advertise the new measures. With the tough fight looming ahead next year on comprehensive immigration reform, it is clear why.

Source

NVARSappointment.com

USCIS intends to increase on-site inspections of H-1B visas in 2010

The United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS) plans to up its enforcement of the law on H-1B visas and the U.S. companies that take advantage of them by conducting 5,000 on-site inspections in 2010. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Google and many technology giants and smaller IT firms employ temporary H-1B visa holders to fill U.S.-based jobs from foreign countries. After a Congressional report showed a range of fraud within the H-1B visa program, the pressure to enforce the law has increased.
In 2009, the USCIS conducted 5,191 on-site inspections, according to a report, with many of the inspections being unannounced visits. The 25,000 inspection effort in 2010 could be a serious boost to quelling fraud, but it may not be enough for those in the U.S. government who advocate for stronger limits on H-1B visas.
Some in the U.S. Senate, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have introduced legislation that would impose limitations on H-1B visa usage. In a year of major job loss in information technology, Grassley, along with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois initiated a bill that seeks to ensure that U.S. companies look to hire American workers before using H-1B visas.
"The H-1B program was never meant to replace qualified American workers. It was meant to compliment them because of a shortage of workers in specialized fields," Grassley said in a statement. "In tough economic times like we're seeing, it's even more important that we do everything possible to see that Americans are given every consideration when applying for jobs."
The boost to enforcement became public knowledge after the recently appointed USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas sent letters to Sen. Grassley and Sen. Durbin.
Computerworld reported how the inspections are expected to happen:
"Mayorkas, a former federal prosecutor... told Grassley that the inspections aim to determine 'whether the location of employment actually exists and if a beneficiary is employed at the location specified, performing the duties as described, and paid the salary as identified in the petition.'"
Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont also introduced a bill this year that would limit visa usage, significantly increase the fees for H-1B visa company sponsors and protect U.S. workers.
Technology companies-with lobbying support from organizations like TechAmerica and CompTIA widely support the use of H-1B visas and consistently express a skills gap between U.S. and foreign-born workers and support an increase in the annual number of visa allotments, which is now capped at 64,000.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told the Detroit Free Press earlier this year: "I don't care whether they're American-born or Indian-born or Russian-born. I want to pay them to work in the U.S. That's why I'm trying to get 'em a visa.... I'm not trying to ship the job to India."

Source

NVARSappointment.com

Court orders shutdown of three websites opposing H-1B visas

A New Jersey judge has ordered the shutdown of three H-1B opposition web sites and has asked for information about the identity of anonymous posters.
On Dec. 23, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge James Hurley ordered domain-registering firms and provide hosting services- GoDaddy Inc., Network Solutions, Comcast Cable Communications Inc. and DiscountASP.Net, to disable the three sites, ITgrunt.com, Endh1b.com, and Guestworkerfraud.com.
Facebook Inc. was also ordered to disable ITgrunt's Facebook page.
DiscountASP.Net said it has disabled Endh1b.com after it received the order from the New Jersey Superior Court. The order did not request any account information, only that the company "...immediately shut down and disable the website www.endh1b.com until further order of this court..," a spokesman said in an email.
Facebook said it also received the document.
GoDaddy is complying with the order too and has suspended the web hosting for ITgrunt.com.
The web site Endh1b.com is registered but not hosted at Go Daddy. Both domain names have been placed on registrar lock due to the pending litigation. When Go Daddy receives a court order, it is standard procedure to comply.
Hurley's order was made in response to a libel lawsuit filed by IT services and consulting firm Apex Technology Group Inc., based in Edison, N.J. against the three Web sites opposing the H-1B visa program.
The issue is creating a stir among H-1B opponents working in IT-related jobs who fear that their posts could result in the loss of their jobs.
The company is seeking the identity of a person who posted an Apex employment agreement on Docstoc.com, that has since been removed. A link to the document and comments critical of it has been posted on a variety of Web sites, including at least one in India, on Desicrunch.com. The comment broadly alleges that employees will find it difficult to leave Apex because of its employment contract terms.

Apex, in one legal filing, said the allegations by the anonymous posters are false and defamatory, and were hurting the company. In the filing, Apex said it "has had three consultants refuse to report for employment" due to the postings, according to legal documents.
Apex said it is also seeking "contact details of the individual who posted this legal agreement without permission since we are the copyright owner of the legal document."
Accoring to court documents, a writer responding to admin@endh1b.com wrote that the site has "not posted a legal agreement and don't have the contact details of anyone of our contributors. We will also protect the privacy of any members of our community."
Patrick Papalia, an attorney representing Apex, said that the company has already identified an employee who left the initial comment. But he said the issue goes well beyond the agreement and involves threatening and racist comments against company officials, as well as ongoing allegations that it is engaging in illegal activities. "Apex has an outstanding reputation in the information technology field," he said.
John Miano, who heads the Programmers Guild and is also an attorney, and who one represented one the parties involved in the dispute, said it is "rather chilling" to have a court in New Jersey ordering the shutdown of Web sites operated by people with no connection to New Jersey.
The operator of Guestworkerfraud.com linked to ITgrunt.com's blog entry and said he added some comments of his own. He doesn't allow comments on this site. He has since removed the entry concerning Apex. He says he won't let the New Jersey judge "run the Internet and silence free speech by shutting down the whole site. Hence, my site is still up." He asked that his name not be used, in response to an email.


All H-1B slots for 2010 finally filled up- Longest time taken in five years !

All the slots for H1B visas for the year 2010 were finally filled on December 21, breaking a record, and making it the longest time it has taken to meet the quota in the previous five years. In the previous two years, these slots were grabbed within two days of the applications being accepted in the beginning of April.
As the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS announced that it had received “sufficient petitions to reach the statutory cap”, it would “apply a computer-generated random selection process to all petitions that are subject to the cap and were received on December 21, 2009.”
There are 65,000 such visas available every year. Indians have typically accounted for over a one third of the H1B visas granted in recent years.
This decline in interest could well scupper years of lobbying efforts by major US companies including Microsoft to increase the cap with most seeking a doubling of the numbers.
The tone against H1Bs has become strident in recent months with a bill being introduced in late November seeking to prohibit American companies that lay off workers from hiring people on visas such as the H1B.
However, immigration proponents believe such measures may prove counterproductive.
Richard Herman, co-author of recently-published Immigrant, Inc., said, “In the new economy, immigrants are disproportionately doing technology innovation and commercialisation.”
New York-based immigration attorney Cyrus Mehta ascribed the slow pace of H1B filings this year partly to “hostility of certain elected representatives” and “populism” in creating a climate where companies are less likely to hire H1B workers.
“Rather than assume every H1B is fraudulent and taking away jobs, they should remove artificial conditions,” he said.
Vivek Wadhwa, a professor at Duke University, sees anti-Indianism. “This anti-H1B sentiment is directed at Indians. This is racism at its worst and they’re targeting Indian immigrants with this,” he said.

Source

NVARSappointment.com

Ex-ICE officer pleads guilty to corruption charges

A retired U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent accused of being a part of a cocaine smuggling operation has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a Florida.
As a part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to drop three drug charges against Richard Padilla Cramer of Green Valley, Ariz., who's also accused of leaking law enforcement information to smugglers.
Authorities say Cramer used confidential law enforcement databases to gather information for a smuggling group to see whether one of its members was a government informant.
He was also accused of giving $15,000 to $25,000 to smugglers as an investment in a scheme that brought 660 pounds (300 kilos) of cocaine from Panama to Spain, where it was seized in June 2007.

Source

NVARSappointment.com

Largest crackdown on illegal immigrants with a criminal record

Approximately 300 foreign nationals with criminal records have been deported from the United States or face removal after a three-day immigration enforcement operation, officials have said.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement hailed the 286 arrests as the "biggest operation targeting at large criminal aliens" it has ever carried out, and it involved more than 400 agents and officers from ICE, the US Marshals Service, as well as state and local agencies.
Those arrested - 257 men and 29 women - are reportedly from more than 30 countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Most of them - 207 - were Mexican nationals, followed by 19 from El Salvador, 10 from Guatemala and seven from India. There were only between one and three nationals from the other countries.
At least 100 of the criminal immigrants have already been removed from the United States. More than 80 percent of them had prior convictions for rape, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and other serious crimes.
The group also included 30 convicted sex offenders, including child molesters.
"Legal immigration is an important part of our country's history and the American dream exists for many immigrants," Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary and ICE chief John Morton said in a statement.
"However, that dream involves playing by the rules and those who break our criminal laws will be removed from the country. Sadly, many of the people victimized by aliens who commit crimes are other members of the immigrant community, who are following the rules."
The United States is home to around 12 million illegal immigrants, most of them workers who pay taxes after obtaining false identification for work as cleaners, cooks and construction workers.
At least 17 of those arrested during the enforcement operation face further federal prosecution because they re-entered the country illegally after a formal deportation. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.
The immigrants came from US neighbors Mexico and Canada as well as Bolivia, Britain, Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vietnam.

Source

NVARSappointment.com

Sudden jump in the demand for H-1B visa applications

After months of lull in H-1B applications, US authorities have witnessed a sudden increase in demand for H-1B work visa.
The applications received so far are still over 6,000 short of the Congress-mandated cap of 65,000.
Latest figures released by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) show that an increased number of people applying for H-1B visas in the last two months.
As a result of this, till November 27, the USCIS had received about 58,900 H-1B petitions. This is still over 6,000 short of the Congressionally-mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas in the general category.
The USCIS has approved sufficient H-1B petitions for aliens with advanced degrees to meet the exemption of 20,000 from the fiscal year 2010 cap.
According to the periodic figures released by USCIS, in the past two months more than 12,000 H-1B visas have been  filed.
In the beginning of October, more than 18,000 H-1B visas were vacant.

Source

NVARSappointment.com

Immigration reform, and its impact on USCIS caseloads

The current presidential administration has declared immigration reform to be a high priority issue.
Presently, the administration has focused primarily on the country’s economics and the need for reform of the American healthcare system. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), however, is preparing for the eventual announcement that the President is turning his eyes to comprehensive immigration reform, commonly referred to as CIR. Once this reform has been initiated, USCIS expects a considerable increase in the numbers of cases.
Prior to the most recent presidential elections, Barak Obama indicated his resolve to significantly reform the immigration process. He has made it clear that this reform will involve the large numbers of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. In fact, a part of the reform proposal is expected to contain a plan for status legalization for many of these people.
America’s present economic condition makes it likely that legalization will be strongly opposed, and the current lack of jobs for legal residents and U.S. citizens makes opposition even more likely. Despite this, USCIS is aware that at least some cases will be presented to that agency for consideration, and this is likely to bog down an already backlogged immigration service even more.

At present, people who apply for I-140 visas (which are also known as “green cards”) must wait up to one year after their petition is filed for an interview to be scheduled. The process can be complicated by documentation or education issues. Sometimes, the USCIS issues a Request for Evidence, or RFE, indicating that some aspect of the petitioner’s application – possibly the labor certificate or educational credentials – requires further investigation.
Many companies who employ legal residents, as well as workers residing in the U.S. on temporary work visas, such as H1B visas, are concerned that this anticipated increase in USCIS’s caseload will further slow the visa approval process. Many employers depend on highly trained or skilled workers who enter the country on employment-based visas, and could experience a shortage of trained employees if this potential problem does become a reality.
The USCIS caseload is already backlogged, and the H1B visa cap did not fill for 2009 as a consequence, in part, of the recession. If the economy does recover substantially, and visa applications do increase significantly in the coming year, USCIS will need to meet the usual demands of H1B visa season, as well as Obama’s proposed immigration reform.
The American public will watch the reform proposals with interest and how they affect the USCIS remains to be seen, but an increased caseload is almost certain.