seisomograph.jpgThe immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles have many, many Japanese clients. In response to the devastation caused by the earthquake around Sendai, Japan yesterday, the US Citizenship and Immigraiton Services (USCIS) issued an advisory to Japanese nationals and others who cannot return to their home countries due to earthquake and tsunami disruption in the Pacific region. This is of particular importance to those who are here on visitor visas (B-1 or B-2), visa waiver, or other non-immigrant visas such as H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, E-1, E-2, F-1, J-1, M-1, etc.

From time to time, the US government permits citizens from certain countries to remain in the USA — even after their visas or landing permits have expired — due to emergency circumstances in the home country. This special designation — which is called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) — is made by the US government. At the present time, Japan has not yet been designated a TPS-eligible country by the US government.

However, the USCIS advisory, issued at 5:35pm today advises that people should visit their local USCIS office if they have overstayed their I-94s or will become an overstay because they cannot now return to their homes in the Pacific. In certain cases, the USCIS may allow for an additional 30 days be granted in order to depart without facing unlawful presence or other serious immigration violation. USCIS will likely control such applications with high scrutiny and enforcement. We do not recommend that Japanese citizens go to USCIS to obtain assistance without first consulting an immigration attorney.

Japan: an 8.9 earthquake has rocked Japan today, marking the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s recorded history. This quake is the fifth most powerful in the world since 1900, says the U.S. Geologic Survey. Tokyo reports massive aftershocks. Narita Airport, Sendai Airport remain closed, although Haneda Airport has reopened already. The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino who practice in business immigration, family-based immigration, removal defense and appellate work extend sympathy and concern to all our Japanese clients and those with family and friends abroad who are affected by this devastating disaster.

Over the years, the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have worked proudly in the Japanese immigrant community, having represented multinational executives and managers for some of Japan’s largest corporations, professors providing invaluable research and teaching in top U.S. universities, professional employees working in companies based in Little Tokyo and in Japanese American non-profit organizations, and of course, countless individuals and families of Japanese descent.

With early reports of the death toll, the true damage the earthquake has caused remains unknown at this moment. We do know that this earthquake may cause tsunamis powerful enough to engulf or wash over small islands in the Pacific causing more damage and posing continued danger to those in the Pacific. For clients wishing to return to Japan in the weeks to come, please call the attorneys at Fong & Aquino for guidance on how to check the US Department of State for travel warnings and other restrictions. —ecf

Congressional hearings will soon take place to “highlight and investigate” the threat that radical Islam might pose to the USA. These short-sighted hearings, called by republican Congressman Peter King of New York, are supposed to merely investigate the question; however, many people — including the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles — are concerned that the hearings will be an excuse to demonize Muslims and others of middle eastern origin and create a climate of suspicion and hatred.

Already, immigration lawyers here at Fong & Aquino have noticed that several cases we are handling — involving persons from predominantly Muslim countries — have been side-tracked, investigated, and in other ways delayed by US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). These cases have been unnecessarily subjected to delays, and there has been no explanation forthcoming from USCIS. Simply more and more delay.

There is no doubt that the US must investigate threats to national security; however, to do so in a way that broadly demonizes the faithful of any particular religion, nationality, or ethnicity is wrong. This is what was done to Japanese-Americans during World War II, and it should not be repeated in 2011. –jcf

Over the years, the business immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have reported on PERM processing times, which have varied at just several days to several weeks to over a year for initial adjudication. Currently, the Office of Foreign Labor Certification “OFLC” is reporting that initial adjudications are being completed in less than a month, which is a welcome relief for those on H-1B, H-1B1, TN, E-3 or other status where they may be running out of time to complete the labor certification process.

In terms of an update, the OFLC released it’s annual performance report on FY2010 just this week. As many of you might know, the PERM application (Form ETA9089) is set to expire in June 2011, and the new form will be much longer and detailed (possibly 20 pages long as opposed to the current 10 pages). The annual report also makes this statement: “OFLC will apply stricter scrutiny to applications.” In addition, the Department of Labor also announced that they will propose that employers pay a user fee to fund the PERM, H-2A and H-2B programs. Many people seeking PERM have already dealt with issues of eligibility on those dreaded Request for Evidence (RFEs) for nonimmigrant statuses and now the hurdles to filing a successful PERM case have also increased. It is more important than ever to prepare your PERM case early with an experienced immigration attorney especially one who will take the time to explain what employers and applicants should expect throughout the pre-filing and adjudications period for PERM, because be it slow or fast, OFLC is implementing much stricter scrutiny on all applications. For a initial consultation on a PERM case, call the attorneys at Fong & Aquino. –ecf 577.jpg,

giraffes.jpgIt’s been a busy time since yesterday, when the Obama Administration announced it would no longer defend in court the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that would deny Federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married. The phones here at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles have been ringing off the hook. In my many years as an advocate for gay and lesbian immigrants, I do not think I’ve received as many calls in one day, from Palm Springs to Providence, from West Hollywood to Washington, all asking the $64,000 question: “Can we get married and file our Spouse Petition now?”

First, to give you fair warning, I am going to punt the answer to that question down field. I think that — at this moment in the legal process — it would be prudent to think of SAFETY, to look at the facts of each couple before advising whether to file the paperwork. Why? Because there are simply too many variables right now, and we have no assurance from the immigration authorities that they won’t run out, arrest, and quickly deport an undocumented alien the moment they know where s/he is.

Next, the Obama administration has said that they will no longer defend DOMA in court. This is NOT the same as saying that they are freely granting equal rights to all same-sex married couples for tax, social security, or immigration purposes. I anticipate that — as well-meaning as the administration may be — the powers-that-be at US Citizenship and Immigration Services will fight tooth and nail until specifically ordered by the White House to recognize same-sex marriages.

Consequences.jpegWednesday’s announcement by the White House that the Obama Administration has said it will not defend section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court is something of a welcome surprise. This should mean that — at least in states where same-sex marriage is legal — same-sex couples can claim federal benefits on an equal footing with opposite-sex married couples. Such benefits would likely include marriage petitions for foreign spouses. The attorneys at Fong & Aquino have sought and created legal immigration solutions for same-sex couples for years, here in West Hollywood and Los Angeles, throughout the United States, and even overseas. I have been an attorney for almost thirty years and have been an advocate for gay and lesbian immigrants for most of that time. I have counseled over a thousand same-sex couples in my time, and this is the best news so far in the fight to permit US citizens to petition their same-sex partners.

However, it is not clear how this will spin out. I wish I could tell couples to go out, get married where it’s legal to do so, and file the Family Petitions — but I don’t think it’s prudent just yet. Why not?

First, the Department of Homeland Security is no joke. They are serious about removing people from the USA wherever undocumented people can be found. If you are trying to protect your loved one, you don’t volunteer him or her to be a guinea pig! By filing a petition, you are revealing the exact address of your spouse. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is famous for the “knock in the middle of the night.”

caduceus1.jpgA bill was proposed in Arizona that would force hospitals to check the immigration status of patients. Like many advocates for immigrants, family immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino see many situations here in California where such a bill would discourage people who genuinely need medical help from seeking that assistance. It appears that this proposed law — a bad immigration idea, and a bad public health idea — was removed from consideration by the Arizona Senate today.

For very good reasons, doctors and other health care providers would not want to be forced into the role of immigration officers. Health care professionals must establish a relationship of trust with their patients, and if the patient is afraid s/he might be turned in, the patient might not seek needed medical care. Whether we like immigrants or not, it is not a good idea from a public health point-of-view to allow sick or injured people to walk around untreated.

Serious contagious conditions like tuberculosis, H1N1 influenza, whooping cough, measles, and many others should be treated — no matter who contracts them. It is in America’s best public interest to keep such diseases under control. –jcf

Clients who file their permanent residency applications through Fong & Aquino are always advised to use employment authorization and advance parole (often referred to as “travel permit”) documents with caution. As of February 11, 2011, USCIS has begun issuing employment authorization and advance parole documents in ONE SINGLE CARD, and as a result, the attorneys at Fong & Aquino are concerned that applicants for permanent residency do not utilize the card without a careful analysis of whether using the card might jeopardize their current status or prevent them from re-entering the US after traveling abroad!Screen shot 2011-02-15 at 12.59.51 PM.png

For many applicants who are applying for greencards through employment, using an employment authorization card with a company other than the sponsoring employer can be a violation of the applicant’s current non-immigrant visa status. In some cases, this can result in a denial of the entire adjustment of status application!

It is very common for some applicants to be granted the advance parole document by USCIS, although leaving the country, even with the advance parole in hand, could bar them from re-entering. This scenario is typical for those who face the 3 or 10 year bar because of unlawful presence. Please contact the attorneys at Fong & Aquino if you or someone you know is applying for permanent residency. —ecf

Individuals who seek the assistance of the immigration attorneys at the Los Angeles Fong & Aquino often marry their spouses after they are placed into removal proceedings. The question then became: how much patience will the Immigration Judge have while the government determines if it was a “bona fide marriage,” or if it one entered solely to save the respondent from deportation?

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently determined that an immigration judge cannot deny a request for a continuance simply because the government takes too long to adjudicate cases. In Malilia v. Holder, the Ninth Circuit considered the case of an individual who married his fiancee while he was in removal proceedings. Mr. Malilia’s lawyer requested that the judge wait until U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services made a decision on the petition filed by Mr. Malilia’s wife. The judge denied the request for a continuance, finding first, that there was a presumption that Mr. Malilia had married his wife in order to obtain immigration benefits and second, that USCIS would take an “unpredictable period of time” to adjudicate the marriage petition. Because Mr. Malilia was not then eligible for relief, the judge ordered his removal from the United States and Mr. Malilia appealed. During the course of Mr. Malilia’s appeal, USCIS determined that the marriage was bona fide and approved the petition.

Ultimately, the Court sided with Mr. Malilia. The Court agreed with the Immigration Judge that a presumption exists. However, the Court noted that the presumption can be overcome by evidence presented by the couple. In other words, the couple must have an opportunity to persuade the government that their marriage is genuine and not for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. This process takes time — months, sometimes years.

Rom.pngLike many other areas of the law, immigration and nationality law is vast and complex. It has come to the point where no one attorney can truly know ALL of immigration law. For this reason, the lawyers of Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles are very happy to welcome Romben Aquino as of counsel to our firm. Romben will handle the deportation (removal), asylum, appellate, and other specialized cases in our office.

My law partner, Eileen Chun-Fruto, and I have long wanted someone to handle the litigation cases in the office, most especially because the current administration’s immigration policies have resulted in record numbers of deportations (removals) from the United States. Finding such a person was not easy. Eileen and I have very strong ideas about the way that an attorney should practice immigration law. We are thrilled to have Romben Aquino as part of our team.

Romben is the son of immigrants. A graduate of UCLA and Northeastern University School of Law, he is keenly aware of how important an attorney’s role is in counseling immigrants and their families. He has worked with a well-known immigration law firm in New York City and a firm in the San Fernando Valley. The litigation and appeal process is challenging and requires a strong, keen mind and a feeling heart. Romben has both.