Nicaragua, Asylum, and Stability.

Perhaps the most important issue facing the American immigration system is the status of Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UAC's. UAC's, in addition to other asylum seekers, have surged in recent years, mostly arriving from a three nation bloc often referred to as the "Northern Triangle": El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. El Salvador alone has accounted for a staggering amount of unaccompanied children and asylum seekers. Beginning in 2011, an incredible rise in UAC's from the triangle crested in 2014 at a staggering 51,705. 2015 saw a five fold increase of total asylum seekers- a number that includes both UAC's and others who wish to pursue an asylum claim- to 110,000. The reasons these migrants travel in seek of asylum are argued along predictable partisan fault lines. However, there is a general consensus among immigration analysts that the migration stems from a combination of violence and extreme poverty.

Whether or not these claims should merit the protection of asylum in the United States is not the point of this blog. As one might guess, as an immigration attorney who has worked with clients from the Triangle, I believe many of these asylum seekers have suffered persecution or fear persecution based on one of the five protected categories listed in the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees: Race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. Regardless of where you stand on the merit of these asylum claims, most agree that this mass migration is largely limited to the countries from the triangle. The rate of migration (and asylum seekers) drops considerably in countries to the south of the triangle- Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. While Costa Rica and to a lesser degree Panama enjoy comparatively lower rates of poverty than other Central American nations, Nicaragua certainly does not, with a smaller GDP per capita than El Salvador and Guatemala. But one characteristic that all three of these nations share is a significant lower crime rate. Unsurprisingly, these three nations also enjoy comparatively lower gang membership rates. Because of these lower rates of crime and gang membership, Nicaragua has earned a reputation for stability (at least from the outside) that many could not have predicted during the counter-revolution and instability of the 1990's.

That is, until now. Over the last week, reforms to the nations (already feeble) social security program have prompted its residents to take to the streets in a protest that quickly became violent. Despite living there for some time, I have been unable to flesh out any ulterior motives on behalf of the police force or the protestors. The protestors feel they are a grassroots movement, while President Ortega claims it is a right wing tool of U.S. influence. But two things are certainly clear: Protests prompted a violent response from police officers and protestors responded in kind. At last count at least 10 have been killed, and while the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega scuttled his reforms, protests have continued throughout the week attacking the administration for it’s attacks on democracy. For it’s part, The U.S. State Department responded with an advisory for American citizens to reconsider their trips to Nicaragua, particularly to parts of Managua and Northern autonomous regions.

The nation now stands at a crossroads. This is of course not unique, as many Latin American nations live on the cusp of instability. What does make the country unique is that it borders El Salvador and Honduras, with free movement afforded to citizens of each country. From an asylum law perspective, Nicaraguan political instability combined with the ease of which migrants could travel over their northern border could worsen the humanitarian crisis. Even if a political crisis doesn't prompt mass migration northward, the ensuing increase in crime (and the potential vacuum that could lead Salvadoran gangs to sniff out an opportunity for growth in a neighboring country) certainly would. The delicate political response from an already recalcitrant Trump administration would make matters even more complicated.

A potential worsening of the UAC and asylum seeker crisis is to say nothing of the United States interest in democracy, peace, and stability throughout the region. While it may be easy to concentrate on more pressing matters in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and even the Mexican Presidential election, Nicaragua is ignored at the immigration advocates peril.

Processing Time Changes For 2017

It is perhaps obvious that one of the first questions from most potential clients is how long a specific petition or application will take to process. This is natural, considering most people filing with USCIS are doing so for reasons they consider to be pressing and important: the ability to work, to travel, to see a loved one again. This is also, however, one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of an opening conversation with a client. Processing times for even the simplest applications can vary widely, frustrating clients and putting pressure on the relationship with their attorney. An extra month or three added to your lawyers processing can lead the client to think the attorney lied, exaggerated, or made mistakes leading to the delay. 

The truth most often, however, is that processing times are outside of an attorneys control. This situation is obviously exacerbated by the change in administrations, and budgetary changes in the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS which lead to shifts- often large- in the time you can expect to receive an approval. 

Let's take the I-765, perhaps the most important part of any application. This application is short, and is included in any application to adjust status. Best of all, there is not additional cost. A year ago, I was confident in telling clients about the three to four month window it would generally take to receive an approval. A year later, however, I rarely see such a timeframe. Without a Request For Evidence, I've seen some applications take over 5 months. 

I've seen similar processing delays in N-400's, sometimes with administrative delays on specific cases without any explanation at all. Some clients at a non-profit I work for notice that friends and family who applied at the exact same time receive interview dates and approvals without hearing from USCIS at all. This can of course be maddening, specifically for those who wish to become a permanent part of American society (in addition to being able to petition for children, spouses, and parents). As frustrating as this may seem, it is important to realize that USCIS is a large bureaucracy, and many who offer magic solutions are simply selling snake oil. Be wary, contact a reputable attorney, and double check your information with an organization if possible. 

I've included a link to USCIS processing times below. It is important to always use official USCIS resources when using the internet. Many fraudulent or manipulative "resources" online are simply there to funnel you towards paying them for free information. Always feel free to email or call when looking for more information as well. 

https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplay.do

 

Michael Tracey
Protege a su familia- Poder Legal Por $25.

Después de que el gobierno estadounidense y el Departamento de Seguridad Nacional anunciaran hace días su nueva política referente a los inmigrantes indocumentados, he recibido numerosas llamadas de inmigrantes indocumentados, personas con permisos de residencia y aun ciudadanos estadounidenses. Cunde el miedo y es comprensible que la gente quiere saber qué hacer en caso de que algo le llegara a pasar. Lamentablemente, es precisamente este miedo que hace que muchos en las comunidades inmigrantes sean víctimas de engaño o de otras personas que cobren mucho por cosas sencillas, tales como los documentos de inmigración o planes sucesorios. Es importante que todos estemos conscientes de esto. Hay muchas cosas que se pueden hacer para poder planear el futuro. Se puede crear un poder para autorizar a una persona para actuar en representación de otra en materia de cuentas bancarias, propiedad y bienes. Asimismo, se puede crear un plan de tutela para establecer quién cuidará a su familia en caso de que algo le llegara a pasar. Sin embargo, cabe señalar que estos documentos no son complicados y no se deben pagar cientos de dólares por ellos. Por el momento le prepararé estos documentos por $25 cada uno. ¡No deje que otros se aprovechen de usted! Si tiene una duda con respecto a cuánto debería pagar o si necesita algún documento, comuníquese conmigo y le puedo dar consejos legales sin costo alguno. Como siempre, también estoy disponible para consultas migratorias.

Michael Tracey
KNOW THE LAW: The truth about ICE raids.

This past weekend, as rumors and verified news stories of ICE raids and arrests have circulated, many immigrants have begun to see their worst fears come to fruition: The Donald Trump Presidency is going to lead to increased panic, mistrust, and disruption in local immigrant communities. This panic has already lead to an immigrant community that has lived and worked among us now retreating in fear. It has also lead to misinformation and rumors. This post will try to clarify how ICE operates and what they are allowed to do within the law for those who fear removal proceedings, and for those who are simply curious about how the system works.

One of the rampant rumors on social media has been that ICE agents have set up checkpoints in Queens, or are randomly interrogating people in certain neighborhoods. Fortunately, these rumors have been false and are not an accurate portrayal of how this agency operates. ICE is a federal agency that is responsible solely for enforcing the nations immigration laws. In order to briefly detain someone for questioning, they must have reasonable suspicion based on specific articulable facts and therefore cannot simply set up shop on Queens Boulevard. That same standard is set for a raid: An Ice agent must have "reasonable suspicion" and cannot simply enter non-public areas and homes without a warrant or consent.

In the past, ICE has limited their resources to finding a particular non-citizen who has committed a certain criminal act. While many had hoped this would remain true under a Trump Presidency, reports from this weekend have shown that 25% of the aliens arrested had committed no crime. Therefore while many undocumented immigrants were wrong to believe the false information circulating over the weekend, they nevertheless were right to fear that they could be detained simply from being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are many resources for educating immigrants both in and out of status of their rights. Here is a brief review: ICE agents can only enter your home with a permission or a warrant. They typically come very early in the morning and are able to gain entry through trickery. Remember that you do not have to allow anyone to enter your home unless they show a warrant, and to make it clear that you do not consent to them entering your home. Additionally, you have the right to remain silent and to speak with a lawyer. These are extremely important things to remember.

If you have any concerns or fears, talk to a non-profit law group. Talk to any lawyer. Talk to government agencies in New York City who are doing their best to protect the rights of all immigrants. I am offering free advice to anyone who has questions about the new policies and what their rights are under in law, in both English and Spanish. If you are questioned, interrogated, detained, or arrested, I am also available to represent those in removal proceedings.

Reflections on what has happened.

My original intent a few months ago was to start a small immigration law blog for my law practice's website. The ideas and topics discussed would be simple and straight forward for anyone confused by the immigration process. As you can see in the bio on this page, I am a solo practitioner focusing on immigration, but also doing some landlord/tenant, wills, and any legal work that piques my interest. You will also find that I have been, and continue to be, a Lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York City. I practice immigration law because it manages to be both intellectually stimulating and manageable with my schedule, along with the tremendous privilege of helping people. It should not surprise you, then, that the events of the last few days- that Donald Trump has been elected President- have led many clients, family members, friends and even adversaries to ask my thoughts and advice on how to proceed. What follows here are those thoughts on our situation:

First, and most important for immigrants, be very cautious and patient. Immigrants are notoriously taken advantage of, with frauds knowing the desperation many face in seeking a better life. There is no magic bullet, and no one knows EXACTLY what is coming in the next few months. Anyone who asks for your hard earned money while promising you anything is likely using your emotions against you. Find a reputable immigration attorney or organization who can give you honest answers; if you do not want to set up a consultation with a solo-attorney such as myself, you can contact me and I can show you organizations that can talk with you.

Second, Donald Trump has been elected President- not king. He does not have the power to make all the changes he has spoken about, at least not in the immediate future. A complicated separation of powers exists between the different branches of government. Furthermore, you are entitled to Due Process under the Constitution of the United States. There will be many lawyers, religious leaders, community members, and even members of his own political party who will be here fighting for you. His Presidency will only encourage us to fight harder. Do not become overcome by fear. There are thousands of lawyers, citizens, and politicians who will furiously fight for you. Remember that the vast majority of Americans do not support such a foolish immigration policy; in fact a majority did not even vote for him.

And lastly, for over a year, we have been bombarded by quotes, opinions, and news stories about immigrants as if they are lifeless statistics. Immigrants are not a piece of policy, a treaty, or a Supreme Court case- they are human beings, with lives, families, fears, and hopes. Do not ever forget your own humanity. As many people in this country now feel emboldened to express their hatred of the unknown, remember that history will laugh at their ignorance. This country moves very slowly in the direction of progress and acceptance.

This law practice is a business, albeit a small one. As a lawyer it is my job to find a client who needs help, and to use the law to fight on their behalf. I understand the obligations I have as a professional, but I am also a human being. If you want to contact me by phone briefly (718-679-4602) or email (michael@michaelwtracey.com), to talk about your current immigration status, how I can help, or even what your thoughts and fears are, please, feel free to talk.

 

 

USCIS is raising fees!!

The bad news that most were expecting has arrived: USCIS will be raising fees on many of their applications on December 23rd, 2016. Let's call it an early Christmas present for those hoping to adjust their status (i485), naturalize/become a citizen (n400), renew their greencards (i90) or applying for a certificate of Citizenship (n600). Below are the new fees:

I-90 will be $455

I-102 will be $445

I-129F will be $535

I-131 will be $575

I-485 will be $1,140 

I-130 will be $535

I-751 will be $595

N-400 will be $640

N-600 will be $1,170

As you can see, these fee increases are considerable. Many who are thinking about applying to become a citizen, get a greencard for their spouse, for bring their children from another country here to the United States, should factor this fee increase into their decision making. My office can compare the difference in price between the old fees and the ones.

Not all news is bad news however. Realizing that many applicants do not qualify for the fee waiver for the citizenship (n44) application but are nonetheless unable to apply because they do not feel they have the money can now qualify for a new "reduced fee" structure. While those who make less than 150% of the federal poverty level, receive medicaid, food stamps or other federal benefits still qualify for a fee waiver, those who make more than 150% of the federal poverty level but less than 200% of it now qualify for a reduced fee of $320. This can help thousands save $300. Again, my office can view your tax records and benefits to help you learn more about what fee structure you will pay.

One price that has not increased however are my fees! I STILL do citizenship applications for only $250. My adjustments are $900, greencard renewals are $200. If your relative is overseas I will file the I130 for $250, and do all follow up documentation for $350. These fees are fair for all New Yorkers who are in need of immigration help. As always, feel free to contact me to talk about your situation.

Michael Tracey
Become a Citizen for $250 (plus filing fees)

One of the most important goals of my practice is to provide a low cost option for clients who wish to become citizens of the United States. When I first began talking with fellow attorneys and others in the immigration field, they were surprised that I intended to represent clients for such a small legal fee- $250, plus processing fees to USCIS. However, helping a client become a citizen is one of the most fulfilling parts of being an immigration attorney, and it is one I want to be a part of. My years of experience in completing and processing these applications both make the process speedy, efficient, and often ending in excellent results for the client. I have completed hundreds of citizenship applications (and fee waivers!) for clients from all over the world. 

Citizenship is one of the most important, and exciting, decisions a resident (or "green card holder") can make in their lives, and can also be a difficult one. Do I know enough about American government and history? Do I speak English well enough? Am I betraying my country of birth by becoming an American? These questions are, of course, on the minds of ALL potential citizens. Usually though, these doubts should not stop you from trying to become a citizen. There are many resources you can use- study materials, classes- to help you succeed that I can direct you to. Many countries offer dual citizenship. Therefore, becoming a citizen is a decision with only positives for most- more protection from the law, an ability to apply for certain jobs and benefits that residents are not eligible for, and most importantly, the ability to petition for members of your family. 

The processing fee for applications is $680 to USCIS, but it will soon increase. Many clients, however, are unaware that they are eligible to apply for free because of their circumstances, such as unemployment or the receipt of certain benefits. The fees and some basic mandatory documents are all that is required. As your attorney, I can make all decisions regarding eligibility, required information, and completing the (very long!) form. After sending the completed application, the resident must complete a biometrics appointment, an interview, and two "tests"- one on language, and one on U.S. civics and history. While this may sound intimidating, I assure you, you can do this! Even if you are unsure that you want to hire an attorney at this time, feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment to discuss the process and schedule an appointment. Additionally, if you cannot afford the fees at this time, I offer a lower cost "consultation plus" appointment for a very small fee. I can help you with any questions you have about eligibility or any other concerns you may have. 

 

First Post!

Hello and greetings! Thank you for taking the time to come to this site and learn about my practice, and thank you for reading this post. Just as an introduction, I'd like to get the chance to introduce my practice. Why am I an Immigration attorney? Why did I start my own practice? What kind of practice am I starting? 

As you've probably learned by now, my name is Michael Tracey. I'm a lifelong New Yorker, growing up in the Bronx and Manhattan, attending elementary, high school, and college all within the five boroughs. After college ended however, I lived in Central America to learn Spanish and work for a non-profit located in Managua, Nicaragua, before returning the New York City in 2005 to become a New York City firefighter. I attended law school while working full time on the Fire Department, and after graduating and becoming a licensed attorney, I gained fantastic experience at private law firms, non-profits, and volunteer organizations. 

This practice is the product of all of that experience. I have worked in private industry, the non-profit sector, and within a large government agency. Throughout all of these experiences, I have always kept my focus on how to be efficient in delivering services- be they life saving emergency services, or legal services. As you can imagine, I have learned a tremendous amount in each of these fields, and that body of knowledge is the foundation of this law office. For instance, in the world of government I learned how to deliver services with a sense of pride and public service; and in the non-profit world I learned how to deliver such services in an efficient, cost conscious manner, while learning the importance of business development in the private world. 

This is the kind of service I deliver to clients: Passionate dedication to clients while maintaining cost efficient services so ALL clients can afford legal representation. I do not maintain large offices and expensive advertising budgets. You are getting an experienced attorney at the lowest possible rate. That is not an advertising slogan- it is a promise, one backed up by lifetime of public service to New Yorkers. 

So contact me with any questions you may have about the immigration process, set up an appointment, you can even feel free to contact me just to say hi. I do this practice because I love it, and enjoy meeting people involved in the field. Thanks again for reading!

Yours,

Michael