Obama Immigration Plan

Yesterday President Obama spoke about his plan to fix the broken immigration system in the United States. His plan was similar to that of the Senate. Below are the highlights from President Obama’s plan:

· Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: Increase border security by increasing Border Patrol Agents (President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004) and enhancing the infrastructure and technology to prosecute criminals and catch and prosecute national security threats.

· Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Stop businesses from hiring undocumented workers and prosecute those that do. Create or enhance the current system to provide employers a reliable way to verify their employees work status in the United States.

· Earned Citizenship: Provide undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship and the encourage them to come out of the shadows, pay taxes and a penalty, and learn English before being granted citizenship. Criminal and national security background checks will also be required. Undocumented will still have to go to the “back of the line.” Allowed undocumented children who were brought here as children a  way to earn their citizenship faster if they join the military or pursue a higher education.

· Streamlining Legal Immigration: Simplify the immigration system. Encourage entrepreneurs and graduate students in science and math to come to America and stay.


It will be interesting to see if and how this plan changes the current immigration system. There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. As a practitioner of immigration law, Obama’s plan does not lay out the specifics of how the plans to allow undocumented immigrants a way to stay or to obtain citizenship. Currently, a person who is undocumented may joint the armed forces and at the end of boot camp, obtains their citizenship. This is nothing new. Let’s see if Obama stands true to his word and really reforms our broken immigration system.

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Senate Immigration Plan

January 28, 2013, the United States Senate proposed what they are calling a comprehensive immigration plan. The plan can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/28/politics/immigration-plan-framework/index.html

The plan includes registration and work authorization for millions of undocumented immigrants, but only after border control and a crack down on overstayers is first addressed. Here are the highlights (excerpted from Immigration Impact)

  • Creating a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States. Implementation of this provision is “contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays,” which leaves open the question of exactly how much enforcement will be deemed sufficient for a legalization program to begin. Nevertheless, unauthorized immigrants would first register with the federal government and receive “probationary legal status” if they pass a background check and pay a fine and back taxes. Once new enforcement measures are in place at the border and an entry-exit system has been created for the nation as a whole, immigrants with probationary status would be sent to the “back of the line” for a green card and, after that, U.S. citizenship.  Because current backlogs for immigrants applying for family and employment based visas can cause delays of twenty years or more, the proposal also acknowledges a need to reduce existing backlogs.  Backlog reduction and a more reasonable number of family and employment based visas will constitute an important, but as yet unknown part of the forthcoming legislation. Separate and less arduous pathways to citizenship would be created for unauthorized immigrants who came to this country as children (the DREAMers) and for unauthorized agricultural workers.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system and attracting the “best and brightest.” Channels for legal immigration to the United States would be revamped so that they are more responsive to labor demand, especially at the high-skilled end of the occupational spectrum. Green cards would be given to foreign students who earn a graduate degree in science, engineering, technology, or mathematics from a U.S. university. In addition, backlogs would be reduced for both family-based and employment-based immigration applications.
  • Strong employment verifications. A mandatory system of employment-eligibility verification that is capable of detecting identity fraud would be put in place to prevent future unauthorized immigrants from obtaining jobs in the United States.
  • Admitting new workers and protecting workers’ rights. U.S. employers would be allowed to hire an immigrant if an American worker cannot be found to fill a position, within the context of strong labor protections for all workers, both immigrant and native-born.
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President Obama to Outline Path to Citizenship

Obama to Announce Immigration Plan

January 29, 2013 – President Obama is set to announce an immigration plan today that will outline how many undocumented immigrants can seek citizenship. The path to citizenship is an important issue among both Democrats and Republicans as the President tries to bring both sides together to reach common ground regarding the issue of illegal immigration.

In June of 2012, the President used his executive order powers to grant deferred action for people who were brought over as children and who had little or no criminal record. Although this order did not give people any sort of status in the United States, it did allow people to apply for a work permit, which would have never been available to them in the current immigration system.

It will be interesting to see what President Obama’s plan includes. Under President Obama, there have been a record number of deportations – more than any other president. Only time will tell if that number continues to climb or if the Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will cooperate with the Obama Administration and focus on enforcement priorities, including criminal aliens.

Talk to an attorney to explore the opportunities that will soon be available for immigrants, both documented and undocumented alike.

Attorney Jennifer A. Gutierrez provides free consultations – call 713-974-1151 to speak with her.

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Voluntary Departure vs. Voluntary Return vs. Deportation

Many people believe that there is no difference between a voluntary departure, a voluntary return, and a deportation. When, in fact, there is a significant difference between each on of them and each has a different immigration consequence if and when  a person decides to seek admission to the United States.

Voluntary Departure : This type of departure can take place at the border, a port of entry, or anywhere in the United States, including immigration court or detention. It can be given by border patrol or by ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

  • If at the border, typically there is a short detention period, usually less than 6 hours, fingerprints and pictures are taken, and a paper is signed. After which the person is allowed to go back to their home country. This type of immigration procedure is common at the border between Mexico and the United States if you are a Mexican national. It is also common if the person is not a habitual immigration violator and does not have a criminal record.
  • This type of immigration procedure will not harm a person if they apply for a visa or a green card.

Voluntary Return : This type of departure only takes place at the border It can be given by border patrol.

  • At the border, there is a short detention, usually less than 30 minutes, fingerprints are taken but nothing is signed. Basically, border patrol turns the person back around and sends them back to their home country (typically Mexico) without gathering any data or very little data about the person.
  • This type of departure will not harm a person if they apply for a visa or a green card.

Deportation or Order of Removal: This type of departure takes place at the border, port of entry, or any immigration court in the nation.  It can be given by border patrol or ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

  • If at the Border or Port of Entry, a deportation is called a Expedited Removal. This type of order is allowed to be given to a person by border patrol within 90 miles of the border. A person will not be able to see a judge or contest an Order of Expedited Removal. It is up to border patrol alone whether or not to give someone an expedited removal order. A person’s fingerprints will be taken, notice will be given, and the person will sign something. Detention is usually more than 24 hours.
  • In  immigration proceedings, if the Judge determines that a person is not eligible for a certain type of relief or denies a person’s relief, an Order of Removal will be entered. If not detained, a person will receive a bag and baggage letter stating a place and time to report to in order to be deported.
  • This type of departure will harm someone if they apply for a visa or a green card. An expedited removal order bars a person from applying for admission into the United States for five (5) years. An order of removal bars a person from applying for admission for ten (10) years.
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Immigration Detention and Immigration Bond

It is the policy of the Houston Police Department, and many other police departments, to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they encounter an undocumented immigrant who has committed any sort of offense – even minor offenses such as running a red light or failure to provide proof of insurance. Once the police contact ICE, an immigration “hold” will be put on the undocumented immigrant.

What Is an ICE Hold?

Once ICE puts a hold on someone, they will be transferred into ICE custody upon the completion of the person’s criminal case with the local police. The person’s criminal case must be resolved (for example, a plea is entered and a sentence is given) before ICE will take them.

For example, here is a timeline of events: if someone is stopped for a DWI by the Houston Police Department and taken to jail, ICE is contacted by the Houston Police and a “hold” is placed, a plea is entered on the criminal case before a criminal judge, and then the person is transferred to immigration for removal proceedings before an immigration judge.

Immigration Bond

Not everyone is eligible for an immigration bond. This bond is different than a criminal bail bond in a criminal case. To be eligible for an immigration bond you must not be a danger to property or persons and must not be a threat to national security. Another important factor is the length and severity of a criminal history. If the person has broken the law many times and the laws broken are serious, (like assault, theft, rape) the immigration judge will  not likely grant bond or may set a very high bond amount.

Immigration bonds are not 10% bonds like criminal bonds. The ENTIRE amount of the immigration bond must be paid for the person to be released from immigration custody. For example, if the immigration judge sets a $20,000 bond for release, then the entire $20,000 must be paid before the person is released.

Immigration Judge Discretion

The immigration judge has a lot of power in granting or denying someone an immigration bond. Some factors the immigration judge considers are:

  • Length in the United States
  • Stable address in the United States
  • Criminal History
  • Family Ties to the United States
  • Immigration Record
  • Attempts to Escape from Police or Authorities
  • Likelihood to Appear for Future Hearings


Asking for Bond

An undocumented immigrant may ask for an immigration bond at his first court date with an immigration judge. The undocumented immigrant does not need to speak English, the Immigration Court has interpreters.  The immigration judge will ask the person about family, time in the United States, possible immigration relief, and criminal and immigration history to determine the amount of bond to give. It is very helpful to hire an attorney for this process as immigration court and proceedings are very confusing and difficult to navigate. Many immigration courts will set a bond amount even if the undocumented immigrant does not ask for one and most often it is a higher amount than if the person had hired an attorney to fight for them. Also, remember that the Government attorney is not there to help the undocumented immigrant – the Government attorney is trying to deport the undocumented immigrant.


If you have questions concerning immigration bond, it is best to talk to an attorney. I can be reached at:

Immigration Attorney

Jennifer A. Gutierrez

2909 Hillcroft, Suite 350

Houston, Texas 77386

(713) 974-1151

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Immigration Court Overview

Immigration Court Overview

Going to Immigration Court can be overwhelming and confusing. The Department of Homeland Security, a division of the United States Government, is trying to deport you.  Below is an explanation of immigration court proceedings across the country.

You were initially given a document called a Notice to Appear. This document was either mailed to you or it was hand delivered to you by an officer. This document states why you should be deported from the United States. It is like a charging document in criminal proceedings and you must make a plea to the allegations and the charges of deportation.

Talk to an Attorney FIRST

It is important to consult with an attorney for possible immigration benefits and to see how to present your case to the judge. Immigration proceedings are very formal and complicated. It is very difficult for someone who is not a lawyer to be successful in immigration court. The Government does not want to help you and will not help you stay in the United States. You must convince the judge that you should be granted the immigration benefit as a matter of law and of discretion. This is very difficult to do.

Hearing #1 – Master Calendar Hearing

At your first hearing, called a master calendar hearing, you will have to tell the judge what you want to do. This is not the time to tell your story or explain what happened. At this hearing, you must either ask for an attorney or make a plea to the allegations and charges of deportability. It is always wise to hire an attorney to review your Notice to Appear. If you ask for an attorney, the judge will give you time to retain one and will continue your case to another day. Remember that if you hire an attorney, you must pay for one. The Government does not pay for you to have an attorney. If you plea to the allegations in the Notice to Appear, the judge will continue your case again to another day if you have a way to stay in the United States.

You may have several master calendar hearings depending on the type of immigration benefit you are seeking and also the flow of your case. It may take years before you get to present your case in front of the judge and be granted an immigration benefit.

Final Hearing – Individual or Hearing on the Merits

Your last hearing in front of the judge is called an Individual hearing or a Hearing on the Merits. This is where you get to present your entire case and ask for the immigration benefit you are seeking. It will be up to the judge whether you are granted the immigration benefit you asked for. The judge must follow the law and has discretion whether to grant your case.

Immigration Judge Decision

The immigration laws allow for immigration judges to deny an application based on a lack of good moral character. This is the most common reason an immigration judge denies a person an immigration benefit. The most common reasons why an immigration judge denies an application based on a lack of good moral character are criminal records, not paying taxes, lying to an immigration official, or finding a person’s testimony incredible.

How Long Does the Process Take?

If you are in immigration proceedings, and are not being detained by immigration, you will not be deported upon going to court for the first time. It takes time for the judge to make a decision on your case and many times it takes years to get a decision. When the judge makes his decision, he may make an oral decision the day of your hearing or he may send a written decision later.

 Attendance – Go to EVERY Court Date

It is very important that you go to every hearing date. If you miss a hearing date, the Government will order you removed from the United States. Once an Order of Removal is entered against you, it is very  difficult to undo it. An Order of Removal is effective immediately and allows the Government to pick you up at any time, day or night, and deport you.

If you have children you should leave them at home unless they are part of the case.

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Waiver/Exception for Naturalization Exam

The US Naturalization test is made up of two parts: and English Exam and a Civics Exam. Not everyone applying for naturalization may have to take the English and Civics Exam. There are exceptions to the English portion of the exam. These include if you are :

over age 50 and have been a green card holder for 20 years


over age 55 and have been a green card holder for 15 years.

You may not be required to take either exam is you are physically or developmentally disabled. A form documenting these disabilities must be filed by your treating doctor.

Practice Tests for the English Portion of the Naturalization Test

The Office of Citizenship recently introduced three new practice tests to help permanent residents prepare for the naturalization interview. The first activity helps you with some general commands you may hear from an Immigration Services Officer during the naturalization interview. You can download self-study flash cards and review a practice exercise before taking the practice test called “Understanding Commands for the Naturalization Interview.” There are two other activities that focus on vocabulary words that you may hear in your interview or read on the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. You can find all three activities on the Study Materials for the English Test section of the Citizenship Resource Center.

For Educators: Classroom Materials for Teachers Accompany Practice Tests for Naturalization Preparation

To help students learn and practice commands that an applicant may hear during the naturalization interview, the Office of Citizenship has developed 8 ½” x 11″ visuals and flash cards for teachers to accompany the practice test called “Understanding Commands for the Naturalization Interview.” These materials include suggestions for using the visuals and flash cards for games and small-group activities in the classroom. A downloadable practice exercise is also available for students to read, listen, and review the sentences before taking the interactive practice test. The other two practice tests for students focus on vocabulary words that applicants may hear in their interview or read on the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400. These materials can be found on the Educational Products section of the Citizenship Resource Center.

Here is the link for the materials:  http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.749cabd81f5ffc8fba713d10526e0aa0/?vgnextoid=4b4f238b6210b210VgnVCM10000008

Naturalization Oath Ceremony Address:

US District Court of Southern Texas

1865 Aldine Bender Road

Houston, Texas 77032


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