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Charleston Immigration Law Blog

City's immigrant sanctuary policy questioned

Residents of South Carolina may have heard about the infamous shooting death of a woman at a San Francisco pier that took place about a year ago. The shooter who killed the 32-year-old woman was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who was facing drug charges. The fatal incident brought attention to the controversial idea of 'sanctuary cities," places where local authorities refuse to communicate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Before the shooting, the sheriff in San Francisco banned staff from communicating with immigration authorities about inmates that could be targeted for deportation. A new sheriff in San Francisco has repealed that ban, but communication between the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and ICE is still very minimal. The Mexican national accused of the pier shooting had been released from jail prior to the shooting, though federal authorities had asked that he be held and deported.

Marijuana and immigration in South Carolina

While certain states such as Colorado have legalized marijuana, it is still illegal at the federal level. For those who are non-citizens, admitting to smoking, possessing or distributing it could be an offense punishable by deportation. This may be true even if an individual is not convicted of any crime. One woman was detained at LAX for 15 hours before being sent back to Chile for admitting she had smoked marijuana while in Colorado.

She was accepted to the University of Colorado Boulder and was flying to Los Angeles to meet her boyfriend at the time of her detainment. It is believed that more cases such as hers will occur as additional states legalize marijuana use, which goes against the federal Controlled Substances Act. The woman and others like her can be deported under language found in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Prospective immigrants may have to prove personal character

According to immigration laws, individuals seeking citizenship must possess good moral character. While this seems like a subjective benchmark, those seeking to naturalize in states like South Carolina can prove their character by demonstrating that they haven't committed actions that might indicate they're lacking in positive qualities.

Immigration authorities may examine factors like whether naturalization seekers have criminal records. Those who have committed crimes or been indicted for illegal activities may be judged as lacking the appropriate moral fiber needed to become productive citizens. Other transgressions, such as failure to pay owed child support, could also contribute to delays or hurdles in the citizenship process.

Researchers find that militarized borders are largely ineffective

Border security and immigration have been hot-button topics in South Carolina and around the country during the 2016 primary season, but recent research suggests that increased scrutiny of those crossing the U.S. Mexican border does little to keep illegal immigrants out and mainly serves to prevent immigrants already in the United States from leaving. The study was published in the March 2016 edition of the American Journal of Sociology.

According to the research, increased border security has had a profound impact on the movement of immigrants but little influence over their numbers. Prior to border militarization, Mexican immigrants traveled with relative ease between the two countries and rarely strayed past a handful of southern states. Increased security throttled this circular movement and led to a permanent illegal immigrant community of about 11 million people. Mexican immigrants cut off from their home country also ventured further into the U.S. than they had before security was tightened, and their communities can now be found in all 50 states.

Lawmakers seek repeal of controversial 1996 immigration laws

Immigrants in South Carolina and around the country live with the knowledge that even a small misstep could dash their hopes of naturalization and lead to deportation proceedings, and many of these fears are rooted in two crime reduction bills passed in 1996. Crime rates were soaring in the 1990s, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act were two of many tough on crime laws introduced by the Clinton administration to reassure a nervous public.

Immigrants who commit aggravated felonies face deportation, and the 1996 laws expanded this category to include minor offenses such as shoplifting, possessing marijuana and passing bad checks. Immigrants who commit offenses categorized as aggravated felonies are turned over to federal authorities to face deportation proceedings once they have served their custodial sentences. These laws also stripped immigration judges of the ability to review these cases and prevent deportations deemed to be unjust or unfair.

Supreme Court may be split on immigration case

There are likely immigrants living in South Carolina who will be affected by the Supreme Court's ruling in U.S. v. Texas. The case concerns the lawsuit that was filed against President Obama after he attempted to issue executive orders on immigration. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case on April 18, and analysts say it looks like the judges are split in a 4-4 tie.

With eight justices on the Supreme Court right now, the decision in U.S. v. Texas could be a tie. If the Supreme Court is equally divided on the case, the ruling that was made by the lower court will stand, and Obama's executive actions on immigration will be ruled unconstitutional.

Immigration visas for foreign fiancés or fiancées

South Carolina residents may know that U.S. citizens who marry foreign nationals can petition United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for a visa, but they might not know that the process is different for a fiancé or fiancée and a husband or wife. Citizens who marry abroad must complete USCIS form I-130, Petition for Alien relative. Those who get engaged overseas but plan to marry in the United States must complete USCIS form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancée.

Those seeking a fiancée or fiancé visa must be able to prove to immigration authorities that they had at least one in-person meeting with their intended spouse within the two-year period prior to filing their USCIS form. This safeguard is in place to prevent marriages of convenience that are designed purely to circumvent U.S. immigration law. Exemptions are sometimes made for U.S. citizens who are unable to travel or where meeting prior to marriage would violate local customs or religious beliefs, but such cases are rare.

Large rally planned in support of Obama's executive order

People in South Carolina who are interested in U.S. immigration may want to know about the case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States on April 18. The case concerns the deferred action program signed into law by President Obama via an executive order.

At the same time the Supreme Court will be hearing the case, thousands of people are planning to head to the nation's capital to rally in support of the court's upholding the law. While the Supreme Court is supposed to base all of its decisions on the law, there have been instances in the past in which the court changed its position in response to public opinion.

H-1B limits hit in early days of application acceptance

Candidates for immigration to South Carolina and other states in the U.S. based on their prospective employment in a specialty area are subject to limited numbers of slots each year. The H-1B selection process begins with applications being accepted in April of the preceding fiscal year, and if applications exceed the slots available, a lottery process will occur to fill those slots. As the application process for the 2017 fiscal year began in April 2016, the number of applications received quickly exceeded the number of visas available, a fact announced by USCIS on April 7.

There are two H-1B categories involved in this process. A general category is available for individuals seeking visas for specialty employment in areas ranging from engineering to computer expertise, which is limited to 65,000 visas. Additionally, 20,000 visas are available to applicants with master's degrees earned in the U.S. This was the fourth consecutive year during which the applications exceeded the openings within just five business days of the application process opening.

ACLU takes action over the treatment of immigrants

Immigration was a hot-button topic during the 2016 presidential primary campaigns held in South Carolina and many other states. While the candidates continue to debate about how the nation's borders could best be managed, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers in two states have taken action against the federal government over the treatment of illegal immigrants. While the filings were both made on April 6, the ACLU say that they are not connected.

In New Mexico, an ACLU administrative complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security accused Border Patrol agents of seizing the property of immigrants taken into custody near the U.S.-Mexico border. The complaint alleges that before being sent back to Mexico, immigrants were coerced into signing seizure documents and forced to hand over their money, jewelry and other valuables. The advocacy group claims that this type of seizure placed immigrants in harm's way on 26 occasions.

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