July 2013 Newsletter
In This Issue
Supreme Court's DOMA Ruling Opens Door to Immigration Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses
About 30,000 same-sex binational couples may now be eligible for immigration benefits, such as permanent residence based on marriage, thanks to the Supreme Court's decision on June 26, 2013, in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. That law had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, regardless of whether they were legally valid in certain states or in other countries, and from conferring federal benefits on same-sex spouses that are enjoyed by heterosexual spouses.
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said she applauded the decision. "Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today's decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws," she said. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas said that USCIS has a list of marriage-based green card petitions that were filed since February 2011 by same-sex binational couples but were denied. He hinted that the cases might be reopened once implementing instructions issue.
The Supreme Court's ruling doesn't apply to same-sex couples in states that don't recognize gay marriage, only to the 13 states that do. There is disagreement among legal observers about whether a gay couple who gets married in one state and moves to another state that doesn't recognize the marriage will still be entitled to federal benefits.
The DOMA decision is available here. Details and additional coverage are available here. A FAQ about the ruling's impact on immigration cases is available here.
Senate Passes Comprehensive Immigration Reform: House Passage Uncertain
On June 27, 2013, the full Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation, 68-32. All Democrats voted for the bill; 14 Republicans joined them. The bill includes a lengthy pathway to provisional legal status, permanent residence, and eventual U.S. citizenship for up to 11 million undocumented persons. It also includes enforcement and border control measures like finishing a 700-mile fence along the border with Mexico, deploying an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents, and mandating E-Verify. Despite the potential costs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the bill became law, it would reduce the United States' deficit by almost $900 billion over the next 10 years.
A celebratory atmosphere ensued after the vote. Despite admonishments from Vice President Joseph Biden, who presided over the vote, chants of "Yes we can" and "Si se puede" were heard from the public gallery after the bill passed. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called it a "historic day."
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group in the House is working on its own version of comprehensive immigration reform, but observers expect that the House may pass immigration-related legislation piece by piece instead of voting for a comprehensive bill. House Speaker John Boehner said, "[T]he House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes. We're going to do our own bill." He said representatives would go home for recess and "listen to our constituents. And when we get back, we're going to...have a discussion about the way forward."
Details and the text of the bill, S.744, are available at here.
Border Patrol Agents Get 30-Year Sentence for Smuggling Migrants into United States
A U.S. District Court judge recently sentenced two Border Patrol agents, Raul Villareal and his brother Fidel, to 30 years in prison for smuggling hundreds of people from Mexico into the United States. Judge John Houston said he deemed their actions a threat to national security. He also ordered one of the brothers to pay a $250,000 fine. The brothers plan to appeal.
An informant notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the operation, which involved the agents leaving their border posts to transport the migrants in Border Patrol vehicles from Tijuana to California. The brothers charged the groups of immigrants, numbering 10, about $10,000 per group. The judge said the brothers made more than $700,000. When the brothers realized they were being investigated, they fled to Tijuana, where they were arrested two years later and extradited to the United States.
DOL Releases New Version of Application for Prevailing Wage Determination
The Department of Labor (DOL) has released a new version of Form 9141, Application for Prevailing Wage Determination.
The revised version of Form 9141 was implemented on the iCERT Portal on June 18, 2013. The DOL made minor changes "to clarify information needed for more efficient application processing."
Requests submitted before June 18 using the iCERT Visa Portal System based on the previous ETA Form 9141 will be completed and returned using that version of the form, the DOL said. Any form initiated in a user's system but not yet submitted by that date, however, will not be accepted. In addition, requests on the previous version of Form 9141 can no longer be "reused" in iCERT to submit a new request for processing. Users can complete a new form by logging into their iCERT Portal account, clicking on "Begin New ETA Form 9141," and completing all the mandatory fields.
The fillable form is available here. The iCERT Portal is available here.
Helpful Information from Social Security Administration at American Embassy, London
USCIS online system now used for payment of $165 fee for new immigrants
The USCIS has announced that immigrant visa holders must now use its ‘Electronic Immigration System' (ELIS) portal to pay the mandatory $165 fee for issuance of their green cards. The system is also used by some nonimmigrant visa holders to e-file applications to extend or change their status.
New Publications and Items of Interest
USCIS Ombudsman's annual report. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) Ombudsman Maria M. Odom released the 2013 Annual Report on June 27, 2013. The report notes, among other things, that employers have continued to raise concerns about inappropriate or unduly burdensome requests for evidence (RFEs). The report notes that in the reporting period, USCIS reviewed and posted for public comment RFE templates for several nonimmigrant employment-based categories, excluding H-1B specialty occupations and L-1B intracompany transferees with specialized knowledge. "While the templates offer a valuable mechanism to standardize and improve employment-based case processing, persistent issues remain," the report notes. "These include USCIS not recognizing various modern business practices and managerial decisions."
The report also notes that from fiscal years 2010 to 2012, USCIS received nearly 300 percent more filings in the fifth employment-based (EB-5) preference category from immigrants seeking to invest capital and create jobs for U.S. workers. This year the Ombudsman received 441 requests for EB-5 case assistance, representing approximately 10 percent of the office's workload. The vast majority of these inquiries came from investors and regional center applicants whose cases had been pending beyond normal processing times, the report notes. Other difficulties included a perceived lack of responsiveness by USCIS, the issuance of duplicative RFEs, and needed guidance regarding processing protocols and requirements.
The report is available here.
Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:
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