Posts Tagged ‘CBP’

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CBP Addresses Canada’s Legalization Of Marijuana And Crossing The U.S. Border

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a statement regarding Canada’s legalization of marijuana and crossing the border, which is available at its website.

Most notable:  CBP affirmatively says that persons working in the legalized industry in Canada, without attachment to the U.S. industry, will still be admissible.  See the paragraph I’ve highlighted in bold italics below. Prior public statements by CBP leadership strongly suggested this would not be the case, which seemed counter to the plain language of the Immigration and Nationality Act. I personally questioned such a policy in a story published last month by the Dow Jones’ publication, Market Watch.

I think CBP has it right now, as far as the Immigration and Nationality Act goes. There are many finer legal points though that come into play, when making actual inadmissibility decisions.

Perhaps most importantly, there still is a real need for Congress to take a longer look at the cannabis issue overall, since over half the states have a form of legalization. Until they do, the border will continue to be a hard line on cannabis, drawn between states and provinces which have legalized the substance.

Here is the CBP’s Statement in full, updated on 10/9/18:

CBP Statement on Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana and Crossing the Border
Release Date:
September 21, 2018

UPDATED: 10/09/2018

U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforces the laws of the United States and U.S. laws will not change following Canada’s legalization of marijuana. Requirements for international travelers wishing to enter the United States are governed by and conducted in accordance with U.S. Federal Law, which supersedes state laws. Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. Federal Law. Consequently, crossing the border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension.

CBP officers are thoroughly trained on admissibility factors and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which broadly governs the admissibility of travelers into the United States. Determinations about admissibility and whether any regulatory or criminal enforcement is appropriate are made by a CBP officer based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.

Generally, any arriving alien who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of, admits having committed, or admits committing, acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of (or an attempt or conspiracy to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the United States.

A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. however, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.

CBP officers are the nation’s first line of defense in preventing the illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. U.S. federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP officers will continue to enforce that law.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.
Last modified:
October 9, 2018

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

L-1 Pilot Program Coming to Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossings

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossing in Blaine, Washington are implementing a “Pilot Program” for L-1 Intracompany Transfer petitions, beginning on or about April 30th. L-1 Intracompany transfers are employees who are Executives, Managers, or employees with specialized knowledge who are transferred from a commonly owned foreign company to a U.S. company. For decades, Canadian beneficiaries of L-1 petitions have been permitted to submit their applications at Class A Port of Entries, and receive immediate adjudication. The Pilot Program, while introduced with promises of efficiencies, threatens a long-standing benefit for Canadian businesses.

On Monday, I attended a briefing session on a Form I-129 Pilot Program for Canadian L Nonimmigrants Pilot Program, held at the Peace Arch. The briefing was hosted jointly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and was led principally by USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. The meeting was attended by more than a dozen officials of CBP, USCIS, and about ten attorneys representing stakeholders. The meeting was open to phone participants as well.

Director Cissna said that the stated intention of the L Pilot Program is to try to move Port of Entry adjudications out of CBP’s hands and into USCIS’s hands. Director Cissna views this work as USCIS work, since it involves immigration benefits. CBP doesn’t seem happy with the function (my observation), as they consider themselves an enforcement agency first and foremost. There were indications that if the Pilot Program works, perhaps TN adjudications can be handled on the same process.

Under the Pilot Program, the petitioning company will send the petition to USCIS with a special cover sheet. USCIS will then try to adjudicate the applications with the cover sheet “super fast…faster than premium processing,” in an effort to provide adjudication service similar to what is now available at the Port of Entry for Canadians. Approvals and Requests for Evidence will be sent to employers directly. While USCIS says it would be best to wait for the approval, Applicants can go down to the Port of Entry with just a receipt notice, and granted admission if the matter is adjudicated favorably. This was all described as “good organizational management.”

The goal is to launch the program at the Peace Arch and the Pacific Highway by April 30th, and then test run the program for 6 months. If it works, they’ll look at expansion to other northern ports of entry, and may need to commence the public notice and comment processes required under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Pilot Program is exclusive to Blaine, and so Canadian applicants who want immediate Port of Entry adjudication may still go to other Port of Entries. The process will be mandatory for Canadians at the Peace Arch and Pacific Highway. The process includes L blankets. The California Service Center is the designated USCIS service center for adjudication.

Some interesting statistics were mentioned during the meeting. We were told there are about 6200 Canadian L petitions submitted each year, which is about one-sixth of the overall total. The Blaine POEs are not handling too many per week now. One person said about half a dozen; another said about 50 per month. Issues raised by attorneys included the Request for Evidence rate at the USCIS Service Centers, which is very high; as well as the benefit from instant adjudication at the Port of Entry v. the issues in presenting a petition there sometimes.

This could end up being a step back for Canadian businesses who may clearly qualify and benefit from on-the-spot adjudication. There was a time when port of entry adjudication was a pretty quick process, and this method of application really helped Canadian businesses quickly get the people they need into the U.S. temporarily. USCIS has created a whole lot of red tape for legitimate businesses in recent years, and this presents another opportunity for government delays. A more favorable view of the program is that this allows pre-adjudication by USCIS of petitions, at a rate faster than Premium Processing’s fee based 15 day guarantee.

If its not obvious, I am skeptical about the Pilot Program. In the big picture, this Administration is taking every step it can to cut legal immigration, in addition to its focus on illegal immigration. There are some in the Administration who only want to “put a pause” on immigration, and seem to have decided that most if not all immigration is bad. The L visa is a poor target, as the visa is dedicated to executives and managers—people who typically create jobs, which leads to a healthier U.S. economy.

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CBP Electronic Searches Up 50%, New Standards Announced

Monday, January 8th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that manages the border, published new officer standards for searching electronic devices. We have noticed in recent months an increase in these types of searches (phones, computers, cameras, etc.), and related Question and Answer sessions.

Now, with its recent announcement, it appears that reported searches by the agency are up by about 50% for the fiscal year. The agency’s announcement focuses on the limited number of searches that are conducted. We hear of cases all the time where officers hold on to the phone for 15 minutes in another room. Given the confidential nature of information on phones, whether personal or business, it can be a significant invasion of privacy.

The new guidance limits searches from reaching into the cloud on devices. It also provides some lipservice to the protection of confidential information. However, the agency stands firm in its belief that it can conduct such searches. In the past, Senator Cantwell and others have proposed legislation to limit this authority to a more reasonable level, but the courts have largely upheld the authority under current law.

Here’s the announcement, which includes a link to the guidance to officers:

CBP Releases Updated Border Search of Electronic Device Directive and FY17 Statistics

Release Date:
January 5, 2018

CBP searches the electronic devices of fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of all arriving international travelers

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection released today an update to the agency’s Directive governing Border Searches of Electronic Devices. This Directive, which supersedes the previous directive released in August 2009, enhances the transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic device border searches performed by CBP.

“In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the U.S. border and to protecting the American people,” said Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, John Wagner. “CBP is committed to preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of those we encounter, including the small number of travelers whose devices are searched, which is why the updated Directive includes provisions above and beyond prevailing constitutional and legal requirements. CBP’s authority for the border search of electronic devices is and will continue to be exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.”

Noting the evolution of the operating environment since the 2009 directive was issued, advances in technology and continuing developments, along with the requirements of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, codified at 6 U.S.C. § 211(k), Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan directed the review and update of the Directive.

In FY17, CBP conducted 30,200 border searches, both inbound and outbound, of electronic devices. Approximately 0.007 percent of arriving international travelers processed by CBP officers (more than 397 million) had their electronic devices searched (more than 29,200). In FY16, 0.005 percent of arriving international travelers (more than 390 million) had their electronic devices searched (more than 18,400).

The need for border searches of electronic devices is driven by CBP’s mission to protect the American people and enforce the nation’s laws in this digital age. As the world of information technology evolves, techniques used by CBP and other law enforcement agencies must also evolve to identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals who use new technologies to commit crimes. CBP border searches of electronic devices have resulted in evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, child pornography, violations of export controls, intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud.

Below is a month-to-month comparison for FY16 and FY17.

International Travelers (Inbound and Outbound) Processed with Electronic Device Search
FY 2016 FY 2017
October 857 2,561
November 1,208 2,379
December 1,486 2,404
January 1,656 2,760
February 1,484 2,303
March 1,709 2,605
April 1,578 2,275
May 1,626 2,537
June 1,487 2,304
July 1,656 2,359
August 2,385 3,133
September 1,919 2,580
Total 19,051 30,200

CBP is responsible for securing our nation’s borders, to include, among other things, ensuring the interdiction of persons and goods illegally entering or exiting the United States; enforcing the customs and trade laws of the United States; detecting, responding to, and interdicting terrorists, drug smugglers and traffickers, human smugglers and traffickers, and other persons who may undermine the security of the United States; and safeguarding the border of the United States to protect against the entry of dangerous goods. In furtherance of these critical responsibilities, CBP exercises its border search authority judiciously and in a manner that preserves the public trust.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

Last published:
January 5, 2018
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Border Security

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival Expands to Sea-Tac Airport

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry trusted traveler program has expanded it’s Enrollment on Arrival to include Sea-Tac airport.  Conditionally approved enrollees can complete their process now by interviewing at the airport.

The Global Entry application fee for a 5 year approval is $100. The agency is not transparent on adjudication standards, but there is little to no tolerance for past criminality. Canadian citizens and residents enrolled in NEXUS may also use the Global Entry kiosks.  The pass can be very helpful in dealing with airport processing times.

Here’s the CBP press release:

Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival Expands to 11 Additional International Airports
Release Date: November 14, 2017

Program is now available in some of the busiest Global Entry enrollment areas and will continue to expand through the remainder of 2017 and into 2018

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced today the expansion of Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival to 11 additional international airports. Enrollment on Arrival enables conditionally-approved Global Entry applicants to complete their interview, the final step of the Global Entry enrollment process, while clearing CBP processing. The program is currently available at nine new locations including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), San Diego International Airport (SAN), Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), and will launch later this week at Denver International Airport (DEN) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).

“Global Entry continues to be one of CBP’s most successful and popular programs and we have made it a priority to improve the enrollment process for those looking to join the ranks of Trusted Traveler,” said Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “Last month, we launched a modernized, mobile-friendly application website making the initial step of the process more user friendly and now with these additional Enrollment on Arrival locations we have added greater flexibility for those looking to complete the enrollment process.”

Since the program’s launch in July, more than 5,200 conditionally-approved Global Entry applicants have completed the final step of the enrollment process at an Enrollment on Arrival location. Enrollment on Arrival is also available at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

Conditionally-approved applicants looking to utilize Enrollment on Arrival do not need to schedule an interview appointment ahead of time.

Once a traveler is conditionally-approved, instead of scheduling an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center, the traveler can complete the enrollment interview during CBP primary inspection at a participating airport. Upon arrival, travelers will be directed to a primary booth designated specifically for Enrollment on Arrival. A CBP officer will conduct both the primary processing and Global Entry interview and collect the traveler’s biometrics to complete the enrollment. The traveler will then be cleared for entry into the United States and, if approved, will be a Global Entry member.

Currently available at 54 U.S. airports and 15 Preclearance locations, Global Entry streamlines the international arrivals process at airports for trusted travelers. The more than 4.7 million Global Entry members bypass traditional CBP inspection lines and use an automated kiosk to complete their admission to the United States. As an added benefit, Global Entry members are also eligible to participate in the TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening program.

U.S. citizens, U.S nationals and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents may apply for Global Entry as well as passport holders from Argentina, Colombia, Germany, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Panama, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Canadian citizens and residents enrolled in NEXUS may also use the Global Entry kiosks.

Interested travelers apply through the Trusted Traveler Programs website. The non-refundable application fee for a five-year Global Entry membership is $100 and applications must be submitted online. Once the applicant successfully passes a background check, a CBP officer will conduct an interview with the applicant at one of the more than 100 Global Entry Enrollment Centers located throughout the U.S., Canada, and Qatar or at an Enrollment on Arrival location and then make a final eligibility determination.

While the goal of Global Entry is to speed travelers through the process, members may be selected for further examination when entering the United States. Any violation of the program’s terms and conditions will result in appropriate enforcement action and may result in the revocation of the traveler’s membership privileges.

Visit CBP’s Global Entry website for more information on the Global Entry Program and the Enrollment on Arrival website for an updated list of available locations.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

Last published:
November 15, 2017

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Posted in Scott Railton |

Staying Admissible To The United States

Friday, July 28th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

We frequently meet with Canadians and other nationals who are concerned about their admissibility to the United States. We also advise Canadian defense attorneys about the consequences of a plea or conviction on United States admissibility. Frequently, persons arrive at the border, seeking entry, only to learn that they are inadmissible (or so the government says), and that they will need a waiver.

Here are some tips on admissibility issues, from my perspective as an immigration attorney:

1. Foreign pardons and expungements do not typically help with U.S. immigration. A conviction vacated for substantive reasons might overcome inadmissibility.

2. The sealing of criminal records can present an obstacle for U.S. immigration purposes, as the burden of proof for admissibility is upon the applicant. The U.S. government will want to see those records, even if they’re under seal.

3. Temporary visitor waivers are available, but they are costly and take months to adjudicate, and must be renewed every five years. Permanent waivers for immigrants are more challenging, but are sometimes available, depending on the past offense.

4. The definition of a conviction under U.S. immigration law includes more than just convictions. Admissions of guilt in the record may count too.

5. Any conviction “related to” controlled substances is a basis for inadmissibility. U.S. immigration law is particularly hard on all controlled substances issues. Marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under federal (national) law, even though many states have legalized.

6. Drug abuse, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse are bases for inadmissibility without a conviction. When applicable, the U.S. Government may require an expert opinion from a U.S. authorized civil surgeon on whether a person is a drug or alcohol abuser prior to admission to the United States.

7. A person is inadmissible if the government has a “reason to believe” that she is or has been a drug trafficker.

8. In general, sentences of less than a year are better (e.g. 364 days or less) to avoid the possibility of having a conviction deemed an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law.

9. Misrepresentation at the border is a basis for a lifetime ban from the U.S. They may search the phone or computer, interview friends and employers, and otherwise double-check to see if someone is lying. Lifetime ban if they make that determination, which in time can be overcome through the waiver process.

10. The U.S. law on inadmissibility is a complicated area of law even for U.S. lawyers, including U.S. immigration lawyers. If there are concerns, it is best to consult with us, or someone like us. If worse comes to worse, it may be better to stop answering questions, and ask to withdraw the application for admission.

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Immigration In A Time of Restrictions

Saturday, July 15th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

Immigration restrictions are one of the defining characteristics of the Trump Administration, which is now about 6 months in. Each week it’s something new, but the overall picture is the Administration intends to restrict all immigration, however it can.

I know from talking with clients that there is a great deal of fear and concern. Know that despite all the restrictive activity, the agencies are still granting petitions and visas, at least outside of those directly subject to travel bans. There may be longer delays, and the likelihood of increased red tape has to be anticipated. Sometimes, caution is needed, and frankly, competent legal advice is sometimes very valuable. Understanding things ahead of time is more likely to lead to predictable outcomes. This is how we try to help.

Here are some of the latest developments:

  • The Supreme Court will take up the travel ban case this fall.  In the meantime, the Court permitted a revised, limited ban to go forward. Lawsuits immediately commenced, on just how to deal with the Court’s limitations, including whether grandparents could be exempt. As this drags on in Court, I can’t help but wonder if the emergency aspect of these orders is moot. So did SCOTUS, by the way, when they granted certorari. Meanwhile, consulates in certain countries aren’t issuing visas like they ordinarily have in the past. Consular officers have many ways to deny and/or delay visa applications, with or without an official travel ban. There is no judicial review of visa denials. Some consulates have always been tougher than others, but this is different. Recently, I’ve heard of some 35 Pakistani doctors who were unable to get visas for unexplained reasons. Long-time practitioners say they’ve never seen anything like it.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative notified Canada and Mexico that it wishes to renegotiate the terms of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Public comments were accepted, and three days of hearings were held in Washington D.C. to gauge priorities. The focus of the discussion seems to be on trade (think Detroit/Toronto auto industry; softwood lumber), but trade in service and immigration was discussed. Some calls were made to update the list of NAFTA TN professions to include Software Designers, Financial Analysts, IT Consultants, Physician Assistants, and Nurse Practitioners. There is a need for an update, as the list is nearly 25 years old, but there is great fear that the list will be excessively limited. We will be monitoring NAFTA TN developments closely.
  • The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continues for now. This program allows certain undocumented “Dreamers” to get temporary work authorization and avoid deportation. President Trump seems in favor of the program. However, several states have joined to challenge the program, and DHS Secretary Kelly says the program may need to end. Attorney General Sessions, historically an opponent when he was in the Senate, is equivocal on whether he will defend the program. Other Obama measures, such as relief for parents of U.S. citizens, have already been officially rescinded.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a form of humanitarian relief provided to persons from certain designated countries, where great harms have occurred, or continuing dangers exist. For example, in recent years, citizens of Haiti and Nepal have been able to obtain TPS, due to earthquake and rebuilding. The Administration indicates it may soon cancel TPS statuses in a number of cases.
  • Sanctuary cities is another well-reported flashpoint. President Trump has issued an order to review defund designated as sanctuary cities, and AG Sessions has actively been speaking out on the subject.
  • The Pentagon is looking at canceling its Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which provided a path to naturalization for persons who enlist and who are vital to the national interest. Examples include Iraqi interpreters and specialized medical workers for the military. Our colleague Margaret Stock has been a driving force in the success of this wonderful program. It would be a shame for the program to be pulled, since the troops get much needed support from certain persons with vital skill sets. It’s not hard to fathom that we should take care of interpreters who are helping us fight terrorism.
  • The President’s budget includes substantial funding for planning the wall, and for more boots on the ground for immigration enforcement. It includes $1.5 billion for added interior enforcement and $2.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection.  Expect a full-on debate on these figures soon in Congress.
  • Access to legal counsel is under attack, as the Department of Justice sent a cease and desist letter to NW Immigrant Rights Project, requiring that they file a Notice of Appearance if they are going provide counsel to persons in removal proceedings. NWIRP historically provides limited representation at the Detention Center. For example, they provide education sessions and initial case assessments. DOJ is trying to halt all that. NWIRP has filed suit in federal court.
  • The USCIS Field Offices and CBP Ports of Entry are asking many more questions about use and possession of legalized marijuana. Officers from each agency now have scripts, prepared by counsel, designed to extract disqualifying admissions (e.g. “Yes, I smoked pot, in Washington, where it’s legal.”). These admissions become the basis for denying admission, based on a violation of federal law. Persons with no criminal record denied visas, entry, green cards or naturalization–based only their admission to having used legalized pot at some point. Recently, a group of Congress representatives wrote the agencies for more information on these practices.
  • The Administration also recently suspended implementation of the International Entrepreneur Rule, which was designed to provide noncitizen entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley and elsewhere a pathway to stay in the U.S. and continue to develop their ideas and businesses. Basically, this was another bridge-gap administrative rule by the Obama Administration, to temporarily address a need, since Congress can’t get the job done. While I found the rule awkward, it’s not a bad idea, and would guarantee more American jobs. Its no secret that many, many of the tech companies in the United States have noncitizen founders. The American dream often starts in a garage somewhere. I fear that garage may end up in another country.
  • There has been a spike in persons entering Canada illegally, to claim asylum. This is well-reported, and happening right here in Whatcom County with some frequency. The Third Safe Country Agreement between the US and Canada prevents persons from claiming asylum at the ports of entry in most circumstances, as this would be deemed as forum shopping. However, if persons enter illegally, and arrive on Canadian soil via the U.S., they may claim asylum. There is a growing perception that Canada is more welcoming to refugees.

 

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Social Media and Immigration

Thursday, June 1st, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

It is a common refrain: “Be careful what you put on social media!” The idea, of course, is something might come back to bite you later, such as in a job interview.

The immigration authorities–including the consulates abroad, the border officers, and the USCIS interview officers–are interested as well. Through a series of Federal Register notices, the federal agencies have requested authority to collect social media information on persons seeking entry into the United States.

The Department of State today requested emergency approval of a supplemental questionnaire to be used in select visa interviews. Of course, the facial reason for the request is to identify true terrorist threats, which everyone wants. The questionnaire seeks information going back 15 years, instead of the standard 5 years, and collects information on family relatives, employment history, and travel history (including source of funding). The questionnaire also asks for “all social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the past five years.”

Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security’s border security agency, Customs and Border Protection, published notice of its intent to collect social media information platforms and handles in February. The announcement garnered the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as many media outlets. In 2016, the agency added an optional field to its visa waiver form so that applicants could volunteer their social media handles.

Immigration authorities have a great deal of discretion in seeking information to make determinations of admissibility. It seems that the agencies are quickly moving in the direction of requiring that social media handles be provided as part of the application process.

As with all expansions of government authority, there will be intended and unintended consequences. Terrorists and zealots use social media to find new recruits. Theoretically, social media might help identify someone who should not be issued a visa or admitted. Of course, this presumes that the bad-actor volunteers their information in the first place. While unlikely, developing a repository of such information could theoretically provide security dividends.

There are other considerations. The ACLU and EFF point to privacy interests. The digital age feels different, when it comes to search and seizure, with so much information retained on devices, in the cloud, and on social media platforms. Some of the privacy issues will inevitably be litigated. In general, I expect the courts to favor the national security interests inherent in border searches, though not without some measure of reason.

We increasingly observ officers walking over to a computer to conduct “Google” searches of applicants for admission. In fact, this does seem to be more common with the new Administration. I expect there will be even more digital searches, as agents peruse social media histories, to form an opinion on the person before them. Intrusive, yes, but also at times inefficient. These searches take time, and lead to more questions, which also takes time, and leads to frustrations. Most people are on several social media platforms. It’s not hard to picture someone being penalized for failing to volunteer their Instagram account, while yet disclosing Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. It’s also easy to imagine that nonsensical lines of questioning will be more common. Fishing expeditions.

The agencies are really only formalizing something they already do in select cases. Every week I hear of persons who were asked for passwords to their computers and phones, as well as social media handles. The question with these Federal Register notices is whether this is going to be routine for all travelers. How often and how deep will they choose to dig? Hopefully, these requests for social media information handles catch terrorists and other bad guys, and don’t become just another burden on travelers to the U.S.

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Marijuana and the Border

Friday, April 21st, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

Today is April 20th, or 4-20, as marijuana legalization proponents like to say. More than half of the states have passed some form of legalization, usually by popular vote. Eight states have legalized recreational marijuana, again by popular vote. It is an astounding development in my lifetime, as the concept of legalization was quite radical little more than two decades ago.

I’ve been interested in how state legalization impacts noncitizens, since immigration is my area of law practice. Washington State and Colorado were the first to legalize recreational marijuana, back in 2012, and I knew this would present issues at the border, eventually. It seems now the issues are also coming up at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State’s consulates abroad.

I periodically speak and write on this topic.  I am very pleased to say that this month the American Bar Association published an article I wrote, entitled “Marijuana and Immigration,” in its Criminal Justice magazine. I also received a Freedom of Information Act request back this past week, from USCIS, on its policies concerning legalized marijuana. The pdf is over 1700 pages, but 1500 pages or so are redacted. We will appeal.

The issues continue to develop, and, unfortunately, most of the news is not good for noncitizens. DHS Secretary Kelly and Attorney General Sessions say they want to crack down on marijuana. The specifics are lacking, but I am hearing some tough reports. These include:

-Adjustment of status applications being denied for spouses of U.S. citizens, because they worked for marijuana dispensary in a marijuana-legal state.

-Naturalization application denied to a permanent resident of over 10 years, because they worked in the marijuana industry in Colorado, a fully legalized state

-Denial of entry in many cases to the U.S., for admitting to having used marijuana at some undisclosed point in the past, in a foreign or U.S. jurisdiction where it was known to be illegal. No conviction is required–just a voluntary admission to a border officer, medical examiner, consular official, or other government worker. A lot of people, including former presidents, have admitted to as much in the past, and publicly. Once denied admission, a waiver must be obtained from CBP’s Admissibility Review Office, for life. Canadians have a $585 filing fee. The waiver takes months to adjudicate.

-More bad news: reportedly, they are not necessarily going to grant the waiver. We’ve just started to hear of denials for these types of circumstances.

-Also, the word on the west coast is the local ports of entry will not admit anyone working in the industry. Of course, this means accountants, who may also have other non-marijuana clients; scientists who need to test products; architects for greenhouses; and the list of professionals can go on. This is of course a multi-million dollar industry, which indeed, pays taxes, even if the standard deductions aren’t available.

-I don’t expect Consulates to issue investor visas for the industry.

The federal government is anything but transparent on these issues. The state governments need to get vocal, and force the issues, so that travel and business can be predictable. Legislators in legalized states need to fight for these businesses and opportunities, because right now at the administrative level, things are not going well for the industry or noncitizens. There is a basic lack of justice and fairness, as persons think they are ok by being truthful and are in compliance with state laws, but the federal government is playing “gotcha” with good people.

 

 

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Administrative Actions Making Immigration Harder

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

I am often asked whether the Trump Administration is impacting immigration law. The headline news concerns travel bans from certain countries and refugees, and this indeed is impacting noncitizens. I routinely hear from professionals who are concerned about their eligibility for benefits under the new administration. Their anxiety is real. Human Resource Departments feel the stress too, as key employees send emails and phone busy staff, with palpable concern. The undocumented communities are very anxious about police coordinating with ICE, as the Administration makes overtures towards “sanctuary” cities and enforcement policies.

Here are a few things that have occurred recently that may not be getting as much press coverage:
1. USCIS recently issued a memo revoking old guidance on computer programmers, and encouraging adjudicators to take a longer look at whether computer programmer positions are actually specialty occupations. Information technology professionals cover about half of the annual quota for H-1Bs professionals.

2. Recently, some ports of entry began to say that Advanced Nurse Practitioners do not qualify for TN status as registered nurses, despite historic practice. This means there is increased risk in traveling abroad for RNs who are ARNPs, as well as with renewals. It does not appear this is a universal interpretation.

3. Premium processing for H-1Bs–which guarantees 15 day adjudication for the price of $1225- is suspended as of April 3rd. USCIS has a considerable backlog on H-1Bs that they need to manage, but there is no confidence that they’ll be able to do this without this program, which, by the way, generates substantial revenues. In particular, physicians who complete their residencies and take on new fellowships on July 1st are particularly concerned.

4. Searches of electronic media at the border have gone up considerably. The Guardian referred to this as a digital strip search. CBP asks for a password, and then takes a person’s phone or computer to another room, and comes back a while later, having scanned photos, emails, and other confidential information. Often, they offer no reason for the search—they just claim the authority and proceed.

5. The border is also asking more frequently whether a person has ever smoked or used marijuana. If the person responds yes, during a sworn statement, the agency is then finding the person inadmissible and requiring them to get a waiver. Waivers cost $585 for Canadians, and take months to process.

6. The Department of State has issued cables to its consular officers requiring them to “improve visa applicant vetting” and to implement “the concepts undergirding the Presidential memorandum.” Also, a hiring freeze was ordered, which will eventually further backlog appointments.

7. Contractors are lining up to build the wall.

8. ICE is deporting persons who have had deferred action and persons who are showing up for USCIS appointments. These have included family members, DREAMers, and other non-criminals.

Make no mistake—the Administration is not just focused on illegal immigration. The Administration is focused on limiting all immigration, and is implementing immigration procedures which effectively do this, even before pursuing a legislative agenda. These measures add complexity and require added time for all immigration processes.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

President Trump’s Executive Orders

Saturday, February 4th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

As widely reported, three Executive Orders affecting immigration have been issued by President Trump’s new administration. Additional draft memos, heavy on enforcement, have also been leaked. We are following these administrative developments on a daily basis, and are available to discuss. While we of course want national security, we stand with immigrants and our proud national heritage of being a welcoming country. America is not just a nation of immigrants; America is THE nation of immigrants. We hope this continues, and will fight to make it so. Immigration is our strength as a nation.

Executive Orders are not statutes. They are orders to the administration on how to implement existing law, though Presidents may effectively make law with some orders. The Republicans were highly critical of the Obama Administration for its executive orders and actions regarding immigration. Texas and a number of other states challenged the constitutional validity of Obama’s actions, ending with a 4-4 split in the Supreme Court.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. President Trump’s executive actions are completely different, but courts are already restraining parts of them. Today, Judge James Robart of the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order on the temporary ban placed upon nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya. Washington State, joined by Minnesota, alleged violations of the First Amendment (Establishment Clause), the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Convention Against Torture, et al. The judge determined the States are likely to prevail, and there is risk of irreparable harm to citizens of the State. These risks included immediate harm to families, the high tech industry, and education, amongst others. The Order is effective nationwide, on a temporary basis, and the matter is now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, in Boston, a federal judge today refused to extend the temporary restraining order which was issued last week. Litigation has ensued in other jurisdictions, such as Chicago. And so it goes, elsewhere around the country.

The order imposing certain travel and refugee bans was not properly vetted, and the rollout has been described as amateurish.  By most reports, agencies struggled with aspects of the orders, such as whether the bans applied to permanent residents and dual nationals.  No consideration was given for special immigrants, who have acted as interpreters in the fight against terrorism. The complete ban has caught students, including doctors in the middle of their residencies, unawares. Some of the issues are getting addressed, but smart policy requires careful review, and some of the mistakes were clearly avoidable.

Where Obama was accused of creating a blanket amnesty, Trump is instituting blanket bans of immigrants classes (refugees for 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely, et al.), and effectively those of the Muslim religion from specified countries. The orders are justifiably criticized for omitting several countries which have originated terrorists. Clearly, President Trump is pushing forward with fulfilling his campaign promises, and is intent on showing he will be a President of action. Campaign politics and sound government policy are two very different things sometimes.

So far, the State Department revoked somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 visas from the seven countries, depending on the report. After Judge Robart’s decision, the Department of State is reporting that these are reinstated, unless physically revoked. Persons departing the country on a revoked visa will have to interview again for a new visa. Travel is therefore inadvisable in most affected cases. In light of last weekend’s events, it may be advisable to consult with an immigration attorney before traveling abroad, at least in the short term until things settle down.

Trump said he’d build a wall and Mexico would pay for it. He said we are going to get control of the border. His executive order on border security calls for an increase in 5000 Customs and Border Patrol agents. CBP is already the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. The agency’s union endorsed him, a fact he proudly touted. Perhaps this is because his election would be good for them, as it seems is the case.

There will be a large effort to  build detention facilities along the border, if Congress appropriates the funds. The growth in the detention business over the past 10 yeas has already been exponential. The Obama Administration deported over 400,000 persons per year. These numbers may reflect “catch and release” actions—a practice Trump has now stricken. There will be a lot of jobs and construction related to this burgeoning detention business. Immigration enforcement, whether it be detention or walls, is big business for contractors.

Locally, know that the Trump Transition Team asked CBP for information about building a wall on the U.S.-Canada side. Nothing definite, and it seems unlikely. It appears they were just looking to identify what studies have been done. The border security order also calls, once again, for the implementation of an entry-exit system, to better keep track of arriavals and departures in the air, land, sea, and in between. The government has been working on this since at least 1996. Some progress has been made as technology has improved, and the work continues, apparently.

The complete ban on refugees to the U.S. is horrific, given the U.S.’s means to accommodate, and its role as a leader in the world. The world is in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The U.S. has a role to play with its allies in accommodating refugees, and that role is being shirked. National security concerns are understandable, but over 2/3 of the refugees are women and children. There are better ways. The refugee program involves two to three years of vetting and waiting—it is not the likely path of entry for a terrorist.

The “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S.” Executive Order calls for 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. ICE is the agency that handles interior enforcement. The enforcement priorities have been elevated from serious crimes to now anyone who has been arrested. This is a significant change in immigration policy, albeit not unexpected with Trump’s election. Adding boots on the ground, a wall, and detention facilities will require significant Congressional appropriations. The intent may be there from the White House, but actual implementation will take some time. In the meantime, there is concern that the agency will begin to conduct worksite raids and be generally more emboldened. It is important that undocumented and persons otherwise out of status know your rights.

The Trump administration wants to reinvigorate the 287(g) program, which makes local law enforcement immigration enforcement. In Washington State, I’ve mainly heard great resistance to this. In Whatcom County, sitting on the border, the perennial question on these programs, right or wrong, is where’s the funding?

Trump is also going after the “sanctuary cities”, by threatening their federal funding. This will be harder than it sounds, and there will be some wait and see. The issues include precisely what it means to “inhibit” a federal effort, and also there is Supreme Court law which says limitations of this sort need to be focused on related programs, rather than wholesale funding cuts.  Federal immigration holds, strictly for immigration purposes, has been held to violate the 4th Amendment, which potentially makes municipalities liable it tort for holding a person too long.

Still to come: possible renegotiation of NAFTA, which has the potential to have great impact on locally, with regard to workers and cross-border business travel. Also, we’re still waiting to hear what the Administration will do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. It seems this is on hold for the moment. And, there’s a leaked White House memo calling for evaluation of all business class nonimmigrant statuses, and the enforcement of certain employer compliance measures. We are also watching for changes to trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry and NEXUS, as we understand some statuses have been revoked.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

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