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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Friday, October 27, 2017

Citizenship Applications Surge as Immigration Talk Toughens

New York Times
By Miriam Jordan
October 27, 2017

LOS ANGELES — For nearly a decade, Yonis Bernal felt perfectly secure carrying a green card that allowed him to live and work legally in the United States.

Becoming a citizen was not a priority, he said. The need to study for an oral civics test, pay a hefty application fee and miss work to complete the process discouraged Mr. Bernal, a truck driver who left El Salvador in 1990, from applying. Plus, he still felt attached to his home country.

He changed his mind after Donald J. Trump clinched the presidency.

“All this tough talk about immigrants got me thinking I still could be deported,” said Mr. Bernal, 49, a homeowner who is married and the father of two teenagers born in the United States. “You never know.”

Last week, he was among 3,542 immigrants who raised their right hands to take the oath at a naturalization ceremony inside the Los Angeles Convention Center.

In a year when the government has bolstered enforcement, backed curbing legal immigration and rescinded a program that protects undocumented youth from deportation, even a green card is not enough in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of immigrants applying for citizenship to protect themselves from removal and gain the right to vote.

Naturalization applications generally spike during presidential cycles and fall after an election. But this year, the volume of applications is on track to surpass that of 2016, as a perennial backlog continues to pile up. It is the first time in 20 years that applications have not slipped after a presidential election, according to analysis by the National Partnership for New Americans, an immigrant rights coalition of 37 groups. And with an unrelenting stream of hard-line rhetoric and enforcement in the news, as well as a swell of citizenship drives and advocacy, there are no signs the trend is abating.

“The draw of U.S. citizenship becomes more powerful when you have the political and policy environment that you have right now,” said Rosalind Gold, senior policy director at the Naleo Educational Fund, a national bipartisan Latino group.

About 8.8 million people are eligible to become American citizens, meaning they have been lawful permanent residents, or had a green card, for at least five years.

In the first three quarters of the 2017 fiscal year — from Oct. 1, 2016, through June 30, the latest period for which data is available — 783,330 people filed applications, compared with the 725,925 who filed during the same months a year earlier. The current figure is well on pace to surpass the 971,242 who applied in the 2016 fiscal year.

With the surge of applications, the processing backlog has ballooned. There were 708,638 pending applications at the end of June, a steady rise from 522,565 at the end of the 2016 fiscal year and 291,833 in 2010. The average wait time has doubled, to 8.6 months from four months a few years ago, with applicants in cities like Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Miami waiting a year or longer.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes the applications, said it was enlisting officers to work overtime and seeking to fill vacancies, noting “there is no quick fix” for the delays.

Not all permanent residents aspire to citizenship. Mexicans and Central Americans have lower naturalization rates than Southeast Asians and Russians, many of whom arrived as refugees and cannot return to their countries. The application fee (currently $725), the civics test and concern about losing certain privileges in a country of origin can deter naturalization.

Permanent residency can be revoked, and green card holders can be deported if they are convicted on charges such as aggravated felonies, drug trafficking and crimes of “moral turpitude,” which can be broadly defined. Each time a permanent resident leaves the United States, re-entry is at the discretion of an immigration official.

Citizenship protects immigrants from deportation if they commit a crime, and gives them access to federal benefits and jobs that are restricted to citizens.

Ahead of the presidential election last year, several nonprofits began campaigns to encourage citizenship and guide immigrants through the application process, an effort that has not let up. Many cities, including Miami, Portland and Salt Lake City, have unveiled naturalization drives this year, and adult-education programs have added free citizenship courses for applicants.

On a recent Saturday, the line for a workshop in Houston began forming at 3:30 a.m. Among the 100 attendees were Isidra Moreno, 72, a green card holder for 20 years, and Isabel Sanchez, 28, who has had one since she was a child.

“We immigrants are feeling threatened,” said Ms. Moreno in Spanish. She said she was concerned after watching on the news that laws could change, which she feared would undermine her right to remain in the country with her two American daughters.

Ms. Sanchez said that she decided to naturalize after applying for a job at a call center, only to be told after passing several steps in the interview process that she did not qualify because she was not a citizen. “I walked out in tears,” said Ms. Sanchez, “and Googled how to become a U.S. citizen.”

There have been busy years for naturalization before. In 2007, 1.4 million immigrants applied, propelled by an impending fee hike and enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s candidacy. In 2016, nearly one million applied, and many did not get approved in time to vote. But this year’s increase, coming after a presidential election, underscores the deep and continuing uncertainty gripping immigrant communities.

The electoral implications of the rise in citizenship applications are unclear. In states like California, which leans heavily Democratic, tens of thousands of new citizens, and newly minted voters, will not change the status quo. In other states, like Florida, many new citizens are Cubans and South Americans who tend to support the Republican Party.

Mexicans make up the largest share of green card holders, and Mexican consulates have received a flood of inquiries about the implications of holding dual citizenship.

“We’ve seen anti-immigrant legislation motivate eligible immigrants to naturalize before and now we’re seeing this again at both the state and national level,” said Emily Gelbaum, chief of staff of the National Partnership for New Americans.

A 1994 ballot initiative in California to block undocumented immigrants from certain public services is credited with mobilizing over one million new Latino voters and moving the state to the Democratic column. Hispanic citizenship soared in the aftermath of the measure, Proposition 187.

Texas, where the Legislature recently passed a measure to penalize local governments that do not allow the police to question people about immigration status, has had the biggest jump in naturalization applications in the last year. Senate Bill 4 is currently stuck in the courts.

“In Texas, we’re seeing unprecedented interest in naturalization, including from green card holders who have lived in the state for decades,” Ms. Gelbaum said.

But Latinos in the state, whose voting potential is often characterized as a sleeping giant, have been less politically engaged and less likely to acquire citizenship than Latinos in other states.

“For a half-century we have been waiting for the moment that would galvanize Texas Latinos to seek citizenship, register to vote and storm the polls,” said Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University. “Maybe this one will do it. I’m not betting on it.”

In Los Angeles, immigrants streamed into the massive hall for the naturalization ceremony, most of them dressed in formal or festive attire and accompanied by family and friends.

Alejandra Ruiz, 35, who is from Mexico and applied in February, arrived with her two children and American husband, Armando. “I encouraged her to become a citizen because of all the stuff going on with politics,” Mr. Ruiz said. “She was already a resident but it felt like she wasn’t safe.”

Seated in the front row was Catalina Morales, 51, with her daughter, Araceli, 26, an American who serves in the military.

After 30 years as a green card holder, “she felt her residency was at risk,” Araceli Morales said of her Mexican mother. “It was mostly because of Trump.”

Also there was Alma Dominguez, 43, who attended night school twice a week for three months to prepare for the civics test. “Out of all the negativity, something positive is happening,” she said, scanning the crowd of immigrants.

The largest number of new citizens hailed from Mexico, the Philippines and China, but those present had come from more than 120 countries.

“It’s the right time now” to become a citizen, said Mona Wattar from Lebanon, who obtained a green card 10 years ago. Ton Gao, a Chinese immigrant who donned a red polo shirt, blue training paints and white sneakers, said, “I did it for freedom.”

Several rows back sat Mr. Bernal, the truck driver from El Salvador, an American flag tucked in his pocket. Hand over heart, he joined his fellow new citizens for the Pledge of Allegiance to a huge flag that hung from the ceiling.

At the end of the ceremony, he collected his naturalization certificate and headed toward the exit to meet his wife, Eloisa, and children, Janie and Marcell, for a celebratory lunch.

But first he stopped at a voter registration table. “I got everything done,” Mr. Bernal said. “Now I’m going to vote.”

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Ryan says no decision on DACA; refutes report that he’ll attach Dreamers to spending bill

Washington Times
By Stephen Dinan
October 26, 2017

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday that he hasn’t promised a solution to a replacement for the Obama-era DACA program as part of the year-end spending bill, pushing back on reports he’d said a legalization for Dreamers would be part of the must-pass bill.

Immigrant-rights groups had seized on the report earlier this week to say they saw momentum, but Mr. Ryan said nothing’s changed, and said the report was wrong.

He said Republicans have a task force working on a bill that would create legal status for Dreamers as well as stiffen enforcement to head off a future wave of illegal immigration.

“No decision has been made about the timing and nature of DACA, how it will be structured and when it would occur,” Mr. Ryan said at his weekly press briefing.

President Trump has called for a six-month phaseout of DACA, the Obama-era deportation amnesty that’s protecting about 700,000 Dreamers from deportation. All current two-year permits will remain valid until their expiration, and those whose permits expire before March 5 were allowed to re-apply, but no new applicants are being accepted and no renewals beyond the March 5 cutoff are allowed.

The administration said the alternative to the phaseout was to have a judge declare the program illegal and cut it off immediately.

Immigrant-rights groups said Mr. Trump should have fought the case out anyway, and say they want to see a permanent solution from Congress by the end of this year.

Some Democrats have backed those demands, saying they won’t vote for the year-end spending bill unless it has full protections for Dreamers. But those Democrats have rejected Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Ryan’s call to couple a DACA fix with stiffer immigration enforcement both on the border and in the interior of the U.S.

Mr. Trump earlier this month released a 70-point wish-list of enforcement actions he said he would like to see attached to any solution for Dreamers.

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Latino Groups Are Fiercely Split Over How To Handle Donald Trump

By Adrian Carrasquillo
October 26, 2017

Latino organizations are fingerpointing and backbiting as they grapple with how to engage the Trump administration.

With young undocumented immigrants who had been protected from deportation by an Obama-era program known as DACA now facing uncertainty since President Trump’s decision to end the program, the advocates who could form a powerful, united force to lobby the White House are instead riven with internal drama.

A new bipartisan effort from national Latino groups that don’t usually find common political ground has spurred the latest rancor among progressives, who feel that nothing is gained by dealing with an administration that backs hardline immigration measures, like building a wall along the southern border and curbing legal immigration.

Liberal and traditionally nonpartisan Hispanic organizations that joined the bipartisan coalition and now face scrutiny include the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), UnidosUS, formerly known as the National Council of La Raza, Voto Latino, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

A recent weekly call of progressive groups to hash out DACA strategy was pock-marked with frustration, as participants questioned why Latino groups were working with conservatives who validate the White House, according to someone with knowledge of the call. “There have been tense conference calls and concern of leaking strategy to Republicans,” the source said.

LULAC, which bills itself as the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States, has recently lost senior staff, sources say, as the group’s president has moved to work closely with the Trump administration. The departures include the organization’s executive director, Brent Wilkes. One leader of a major Latino group said the relationship between Wilkes and LULAC president Roger Rocha had become “contentious.” While Wilkes disputed that he was leaving because of Rocha’s approach to the White House, he acknowledged that there have been disagreements on strategy.

“There are always issues surrounding the best way to approach the Trump administration. There are differences of opinion, I’m not going to say there is not, but it has nothing to do with me leaving,” Wilkes told BuzzFeed News. He conceded it’s hard to leave with Trump in office, but he said that after 30 years with the organization he has other dreams he wants to pursue.

Three sources said Rocha’s efforts to get close to the administration were among the reasons for another senior LULAC staffer’s departure. The former staffer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rocha calmly explained to BuzzFeed News Wednesday that while other Latino leaders were “dazed and confused” the day after the election, he was not. And he pointed to the benefits of talking to Trump’s White House.

“We’re in a good place right now because we’ve taken the approach of not being combative or being personal with anyone,” Rocha said, reiterating what he previously told BuzzFeed News — that if Trump signs legislation enshrining DACA protections, he would stand behind him as he signed it into law.

Rocha’s work with the bipartisan DACA group hit a snag even before its launch, when the burgeoning coalition couldn’t come to an agreement on what principles it would back in negotiations between Congress and the White House, choosing instead to just broadly announce support for protecting DREAMers.

But Rocha said his open arms to the administration have helped in other ways. Rocha spoke to BuzzFeed from the airport, as he headed to Washington to have a follow-up meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to provide them with documentation for detained veterans without US citizenship to help the veterans get medication for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rocha’s goals are lofty — to “reassert LULAC on the national political scene,” he said, being of the belief that few Latino organization actually have connections in the Trump White House. His approach has drawn detractors from outside the group.

Two national progressive Latino leaders told BuzzFeed News that Rocha’s agenda does not line up with what the Hispanic community is asking for, a fight that’s playing out among Democrats more broadly over what to demand from the White House in a DACA deal.

A month after Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, on the same day the bipartisan group announced its partnership, undocumented youth with United We Dream (UWD) chanted demands for a “clean DREAM Act” immediately after a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at an event that also included Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

Supporters of a clean DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, know the established Latino groups advocating for compromise and negotiation with the administration have their hearts in the right place. Everyone in the activist community wants to get to a place where DREAMers don’t have to fear being deported from the only country they have ever known. But the more adamant faction questions if Latino groups willing to compromise with Trump are really speaking on behalf of people who will be directly impacted by whatever Trump does.

Cristina Jimenez, UWD’s executive director, said she lives with the concern that the administration could pass something that will help her DACA recipient brother on the one hand, but enact increased enforcement that leads to the deportation of her parents on the other.

“It is concerning that these groups are not demanding a clean DREAM Act because of the moment that we’re in, and it’s concerning for us because our lives are on the line,” she said. “If we stay unified, we can actually win.”

“You can’t start compromising before seeing what’s going to be on the table,” said Erika Andiola of Our Revolution, the Sen. Bernie Sanders-driven group. Andiola said the traditional politics and give-and-take advocacy approach that worked during Barack Obama’s presidency is no longer feasible.

“We don’t have insiders working with the administration like we had with Obama,” she said. “We have a very unstable president.”

Rocha dismissed a clean DREAM Act as fantasy in the current political environment.

“While we would like to see a clean DREAM Act passed, the reality is we know that’s not going to happen, so what’s the alternative? Give me an alternative so we can support it,” he said.

Rocha isn’t the only Latino leader who has drawn the ire of Democrats and progressive Latino groups for his approach to Trump. Javier Palomarez, the president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has had a tortured history with the Trump administration, as detailed in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek story. Palomarez — who blasted Trump last year and endorsed John Kasich and eventually Hillary Clinton, before promptly ditching Clinton as soon as she lost to sidle up to the incoming administration — argued that it was in the interest of the Hispanic businesses he represents to keep a close relationship with whoever is in the White House.

Palomarez has gone back and forth on Trump since, preaching patience with the administration before writing New York Times op-ed declaring that “the moral costs of associating with this White House are simply too high.” He said in September he would resign from Trump’s diversity council, though the council’s vice chairman said Palomarez was never part of it to begin with.

Palomarez’s waffling has brought distrust from fellow Latinos, as well as administration figures. He was disinvited from the bipartisan Latino coalition, before being re-added in the email announcement of the event, and was invited to the White House Hispanic Heritage Month event where Trump spoke before being disinvited, a fact Palomarez has grumbled about to sources who spoke to BuzzFeed News.

Steve Cortes, a surrogate for the Trump administration, pulled out of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention over his treatment of the president, according to two sources close to the USHCC. And after Trump won, USHCC staff complained to Palomarez about his welcoming stance to the new administration. “We were upset that this was happening,” said a former USHCC staffer. “We didn’t think this was the right choice. He asked our counsel, but he didn’t take it.”

“Certainly Javier hurt his credibility with his caustic TV appearances,” said a source close to the administration of his more recent tact towards Trump. “Anyone who knows this president, when it comes to cable news, this president can hold a grudge.”

The split among Latino organizations cropped up even after reports this week that House Speaker Paul Ryan will seek to attach DACA protections to the upcoming spending bill.

Andiola said the devil will be in the details, concerned that her side will give in on interior enforcement without realizing the way increased policing would terrorize her community.

Rocha was upbeat.

“If that’s what they’re going to hitch DACA to, OK, lets get behind it,” he said. “Eventually the spending bill has to get approved, and it would be a great Christmas gift to a lot of people unsure about their future.”

Rocha said if no Latino groups have a seat at the table, “where we can have dialogue, then who is speaking up for the community?”

But one Latino leader who didn’t want to get publicly involved in the drama said too many Latinos have claimed influence with Trump without anything to show for it.

“We don’t have any good examples of people working with him, just people claiming to have access to him,” the source said.

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Dozens of companies push to protect Dreamers

By Jill Disis
October 26, 2017
Dozens of companies push to protect Dreamers

More than 60 companies and trade organizations are launching a campaign to support protections for Dreamers.

The companies announced a digital ad campaign on Thursday and said they would push for “bipartisan legislation that gives Dreamers a permanent solution this year.”

The Coalition for the American Dream comprises some of the biggest names in business: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, General Motors, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft, among dozens of others.

The Trump administration announced in September that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also called DACA.

The Obama-era policy allows young adults who arrived in the United States as children to apply to defer deportation and legally reside in the country for two years. After that, they could apply for renewal.

Others in the campaign announced Thursday include the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the National Retail Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“If Congress fails to act, our economy could lose $215 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions,” the companies wrote in an ad published in Politico on Thursday. “They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.”

DACA allows its roughly 690,000 recipients — the Dreamers — to obtain valid driver’s licenses, enroll in college and legally secure jobs. They also pay income taxes.

The administration set a six-month deadline for Congress to preserve its protections before recipients start losing their status and face deportation.

Many of the companies and organizations that signed on to the new campaign have previously come out in support of DACA. Hundreds of business leaders signed a letter last month defending the program.

– CNNMoney’s Seth Fiegerman and CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this story.

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Apple, General Motors Join Group Lobbying for Immigrant 'Dreamers'

By Jeffrey Dastin
October 26, 2017

(Reuters) – Apple Inc, General Motors Co, Best Buy Co Inc and others have joined a coalition of top companies lobbying the U.S. Congress for young, illegal immigrants to have a path to permanent residency, the group said on Thursday.

The Coalition for the American Dream counts more than 60 businesses and organizations as members, according to a Thursday press release announcing the group’s launch. Reuters was first to report that the coalition was being formed, including top tech companies Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and Facebook Inc.

The push for this legislation comes after President Donald Trump’s September decision to allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to expire in March. That program, established by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allows illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers” to obtain work permits.

Trump campaigned for president on a pledge to toughen immigration policies and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He has left the fate of DACA up to Congress.

“Roughly 800,000 Dreamers who are working, going to school, and serving in our nation’s military will lose their ability to work and study legally, will be forced from their jobs, and will be subject to immediate deportation from the country they grew up in,” the coalition said in an ad on Politico on Thursday.

The coalition is pushing for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation this year. A number of its members employ Dreamers.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin and Salvador Rodriguez in San Francisco; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com