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Washington, D.C. Immigration Law Blog

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Refugees from Afghanistan face dwindling chance for visas

The proximity of Maryland to the District of Columbia places its immigrant community close to the restrictions emerging from the U.S. Department of State. Visas meant to enable Afghans who aided U.S. military forces to come to the country and escape persecution in their homeland appear to be running out. A request made in the late months of the Obama administration for 4,000 more visas for Afghans resulted in Congress approving only 1,500 more Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans.

An official from the State Department revealed that only 1,437 visas remain available currently. Immigration advocates insist that the Afghans who helped the military need to come to the United States because the Taliban continually hunts them down in their homeland.

H-4 visa holders may not be permitted to work

People who are living and working on a H-1B visa in Maryland may be facing additional restrictions regarding their family members. In 2015, the Obama administration introduced a rule that would allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work if they were waiting for green cards. These spouses have H-4 dependent visas. However, the rule is facing a court challenge, and the Department of Justice has asked to be given until April 2 to consider the issue.

In the meantime, the pro-immigration group Immigration Voice has filed a motion against the lawsuit. It says that it believes that this was the only option to protect families in the country with H-1B visas and H-4 visas and points out that many of these families have children who are U.S. citizens. Its petition describes two immigrants who have started businesses with their H-4 visas that will mean more jobs for American workers. Without the ability to work, the immigrants will also face financial hardships since they have already made considerable investments in their businesses.

New immigration rules may soon apply

According to a senior administration official, the president is considering a bill that would allow illegal immigrants in Maryland and elsewhere to stay in the country. The bill would let undocumented immigrants remain in the U.S. without fear of being deported so long as they do not commit serious or violent crimes. The president spoke about the idea of a compromise bill in his address to the joint session of Congress.

However, the president also stated that he still intends to go forward with other aspects of his immigration plan, including what has been called extreme vetting. He also still plans to work to reduce the number of low-skilled workers coming into the country and to implement a merit-based immigration system.

Possible changes ahead to immigration policies

Immigrants in Maryland might be concerned about news concerning more than 600 immigrants being detained in five cities throughout the country. According to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's actions were routine and aimed at people in gangs, with criminal records and who had previous immigration violations. However, both immigrants and those who employ them have expressed concern about what appears to be increasing enforcement.

President Donald Trump's Executive Order has prioritized the deportation of most immigrants who are in the country illegally and also proposes withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities. Boston and San Francisco, both sanctuary cities, have responded with a lawsuit, and three senators have introduced a bill that will nullify the order. There is concern that the Order will damage community policing and discourage people from coming forward with information about crimes because they are worried about their immigration status.

DHS expands authority of immigration agents

Although Maryland does not border any foreign countries, immigration agents working in the state will now have an increased ability to remove immigrants, according to memos issued by the Department of Homeland Security. People who cannot show that they have been in the U.S. for over two years could be automatically detained and sent back to their countries of origin. Previously, this authority had only been in place for agents operating in border states.

Another rule established by DHS ended exemptions for removable aliens that could have halted or delayed deportation. The only remaining protection from immediate removal applies to people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

GOP proposes plan to reduce immigration

Maryland residents may be aware that President Donald Trump is a proponent of immigration reform. He ran on a platform of reducing both legal and illegal immigration to the country. Now, two senators are proposing a bill that would take a step toward accomplishing that goal. As part of their legislation, the number of refugees allowed into the country would be cut in half.

It would also eliminate the diversity draft lottery, which gives visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Sen. Tom Cotton believes that the roughly 1 million green cards awarded each year is too high. He suggests that the number be reduced to about 600,000 in a year and to 500,000 per year in a decade. He also stated that such a reduction would allow the economy to catch up and better serve American citizens.

Stay put on Trump's travel ban but many visas have been revoked

It's unclear how many visa holders in Maryland and other states across the nation had their visas revoked under Trump's executive order that banned people from seven countries from entering the U.S. According to a State Department spokesman, people aren't illegal if they were already in the United States when their visas were revoked by this ban.

The executive order bans all refugees from Syria indefinitely and people from Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Iran and Somalia for three months and stops admissions of new refugees for 120 days. A Seattle federal judge stayed the president's order. The state attorney general from New York who is suing the federal government called Trump's order 'unlawful and unconstitutional." The White House is appealing the stay issued by the Seattle judge. The White House issued a statement saying that if the president is protecting the homeland, then he has a constitutional right to deny entry to any alien or class of aliens if he believes is in the best interests of the U.S.

Trump orders could overload immigration courts even more

Maryland residents have likely heard about immigration actions that President Trump has been signing. In an effort to increase the number of deportations, Trump issued orders for more federal agents on the U.S.- Mexico border and the construction of new immigration detention centers. However, some people argue that what the immigration system actually needs are more immigration judges.

There is currently a record-breaking number of pending deportation cases but very few immigration judges to conduct hearings. According to data gathered by Syracuse University researchers, there are currently over 533,000 people awaiting hearings in their deportation cases. With just over 300 immigration judges in the whole country, the average immigrant that is facing deportation waits close to two years before spending just seven minutes before a judge.

New I-9 form now in effect

On Jan. 22, the I-9 form marked 03/08/13 became obsolete and was replaced by a new form marked 11/14/2016. Maryland employers that fail to use the new forms could be subject to increased penalties, and it is expected that ICE audits will increase as a result of the Trump administration. For the most part, the new I-9 is similar to the previous version of the I-9, and the new forms do not have to be used for current employees.

Employers can either print out a copy of the new form or fill it out electronically before printing it out. It is also possible to fill out the form through an electronic I-9 vendor. It is important to note that I-9 smart forms cannot be filed electronically. Instead, a paper copy must be printed and signed with a pen.

Maryland county might offer sanctuary to immigrants

A Maryland county is considering a sanctuary bill that will protect undocumented immigrants. If Howard County passes the bill, only immigrants who have committed a crime can be asked for documentation paperwork by law enforcement. A council member who co-sponsored the bill said that he hopes that it will result in more undocumented immigrants reporting crimes since they would not need to fear deportation.

A councilman who opposes the bill says that it will mean the county can no longer make agreements with federal agencies that deal with immigration and that this is an important tool that should not be discarded. Other residents expressed fear that the bill would lead to an increase in crime. Furthermore, the president-elect has said that sanctuary cities will not receive funding.

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