IMPORTA's Immigration Legal Work This Year Through November 15
IMPORTA offers a full range of services to local immigrants without charge. Here are brief descriptions of some of our most important services.
IMPORTA is heavily involved in the defense of our clients who face deportation in immigration court. Our role is to counsel clients, to find them an experienced and competent immigration defense attorney, and then to offer our paralegal support to the attorney. This is especially important in the case of attorneys unfamiliar with immigration law who offer their services pro bono. (Most of these attorneys do not speak Spanish which increases our responsibilities to including interpreting and translating documents.) IMPORTA is committed to assisting the defense of cour clients with substantial paralegal support for pro bono attorneys. We are fortunate to work with Janet McGinnis, a well-known local attorney who is dedicated to social justice. Janet has donated an enormous amount of her time to the defense of a number of our clients. We have also worked with other pro bono attorneys. In one case, we won an asylum case for our client whose attorney did absolutely nothing to provide a defense in immigration court. For brief case histories of some of the removal defense cases involving our clients, click here.
Over the past four years, defense against deportation has been extremely difficult because of the many changes made in immigration court policies and procedures created by the Trump Administration. We expect these anti-immigrant policies to be rapidly reversed under the new administration which should give new hopes to many immigrants now facing deportation. In addition to our cases being defended by Janet McGinnis, we will begin working with Karla Can of Immigrant Hope, an accredited representative who recently received authorization from the Justice Department to defend clients in immigration court. We will also be referring some clients to an immigration defense lawyer who works with the non-profit Esperanza Project of Catholic Charities in Los Angeles. Some of he saddest cases are clients who are detained (imprisoned) in the ICE "High Desert" detention center in Adelanto. If these immigrants are unable to obtain release on bond, their chances of avoiding deportation are extremely small. We will be working with a non-profit organization in San Bernardino (20 minutes from Adelanto) that has a staff attorney able to represent clients at bond hearings without charge. Finally, we hope to be able to secure representation for our clients in Santa Maria who are in deportation proceedings through Maria Vega, an attorney recently hired by the Santa Barbara Immigrant Defense Center.
Victims of Domestic Violence and Serious Crimes: U Visas and VAWA
The so-called U Visa (actual U non-immigrant status) is by far the most commonly pursued path to legality for undocumented women, many of whom have suffered domestic violence at the hands of their husbands. If the woman is married to a green card holder or US citizen VAWA is usually a better application as it is a quicker process. The U Visa requirements are different from the VAWA requirements, since U Visa status may be granted to any victim of a serious crime (not only domestic violence) who cooperates with a police investigation and prosecution of the crime. Most U visa applicates are women who have suffered criminal domestic violence. The process is complicated and IMPORTA has seen many cases of defective U Visa applications prepared by illegal consultants (notarios) which were rejected. At IMPORTA we thoroughly investigate each case, doing Freedom of Information Act requests and FBI record checks to determine if the immigrant has any potential past problems that may lead to denial of an application. In some cases, immigrants may qualify for waivers of certain immigration and even minor criminal offenses. We also hope that applications for U Visas will, under the new administration, become grounds for administrative closure of cases in immigration court.
Asylum and SIJS (For Abandoned, Neglected or Abused Children):
The current administration's inhumane asylum policies are frequently in the news and the new administration will be faced with difficult decisions on how to correct the abuses. As described in the case histories (found here), IMPORTA has won several asylum cases, and others are pending in immigration court, and may succeed if the anti-immigrant rule changes made by the Trump administration are reversed.
However, whenever a minor is given a choice between an asylum application and a SIJS application (available to abandoned, neglected or abused minors, under age 21 in California) we will normally chose SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status). This is because we have experience working with attorneys in local courts to get a guardian appointed and to reach the required findings of fact as required for a successful SiJS filing. Once a SIJS application is filed, it should be far easier in the future to win administrative closure in immigration court, and after SIJS approval, for the attorney to file for adjustment of status with the court to win a green card for the client. A discussion of two SIJS cases we have handled is found here.
IMPORTA was the non-profit to successfully represent a gay couple in an adjustment of status application when such applications were first accepted. Since then IMPORTA has represented a number of gay and lesbian couples, and also transgender clients who suffered violent attacks on their lives in Latin America.
IMPORTA has processed more DACA applications than any other provider of immigration services in Santa Barbara County with a near 100% success record. We treat each case individually and have overcome potential rejections based on misleading juvenile criminal records or other errors by USCIS adjudicators. Periodically, the State of California provides us with grants to pay applicants $495 fee, and we have also welcome private grants to help needy applicants pay these high fees which come due every two years.
The ultimate goal of our work is seeing immigrants integrate into local civic life by becoming US citizens, through naturalization or the process of derivation of citizenship and acquisition of citizenship for persons with a US citizen parent. Long-term green card holders are often intimidated by the language and citizenship test requirements. IMPORTA works closely with each individual immigrant to develop the confidence and knowledge to pass these tests.
Citizens and green card holders may petition for children, parents, and siblings living abroad or in some cases living without authorization in the US as undocumented immigrants. In many cases there may be a wait of many years, and especially in the case of undocumented family members living in the US, laws and requirements have been changing over the years. This makes the process an expensive trap for many citizens and green card holders who pay thousands of dollars to unscrupulous providers who file petitions that are certain to be denied. IMPORTA offers in-depth consultations to determine whether a petition is likely to succeed, and only then proceed with the sometimes difficult work of gathering documentation required for success.
There are dozens of additional applications that create a path to legality, and it is important that legal practitioners of immigration law know how to investigate and properly file cases that meet the requirements. Among these are T visas for victims of trafficking (sexual or labor exploitation), widow(er) petitions, and204(l) petitions for immigrants who are beneficiaries of petitions filed by a family member who died. Inexperienced lawyers and illegal consultants often miss these opportunities for legalization.
Community Educational Outreach:
IMPORTA considers that educating immigrants about their opportunities and also about the dangers they face are key to our mission. During the restrictions imposed by the Corona Virus, IMPORTA relies on interviews on Spanish-language radio and television.
Consultations and Background Record Checks (FOIA and FBI)
Immigrants are often mistaken or confused about their immigration status. Not only does this make them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous practitioners of immigration law, but it also means that many undocumented immigrants are unaware that they have a path to legalization. IMPORTA offers in-depth consultations which are often followed by multiple FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests and FBI record checks, both of which require fingerprint cards. (We do not charge for these services.) We have helped many immigrants get green cards who were told that they had no path to legalization.
Helping Immigrants Victimized by Notario Fraud:
Undocumented immigrants are easily victimized by members of their own communities who practice immigration law without training, and pretend to be helping. These illegal practitioners label themselves as "immigration consultants." Some even have the backing of naïve politicians and organizations trusted by immigrants. IMPORTA, Immigrant Hope, and the local Legal Aid organization encounter many cases of immigration fraud which always involves a large loss of money when an application is denied, and under the Trump administration has led to many deportations. IMPORTA has worked closely with the better business bureau and to Legal Aid, and many clients have been able to recover the money they paid for incompetent and corrupt services. IMPORTA is also working with other organizations to pass legislation to help stamp out this corrupt activity.
649 DACA Renewals (about half the Santa Barbara County total)
194 Naturalization Cases
66 Complex Cases (U Visas, Acquisition and Derivation of Citizenship, VAWA, Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Adjustment of Status, Waivers, Family Petitions, Appeals)
8 Cases Working with Pro-Bono Immigration Attorneys for Clients in Immigration Court