H&R Block Quits Immigration, Begrudgingly Shuffles Off To Do Taxes

A few months ago, I posted on how H&R Block was starting a new program to help immigrants fill out immigration forms.  Well,H&R Block decided that they didn’t want a piece of the immigration pie after all. Long story short, AILA threatened legal action for unauthorized practice of law and H&R Block decided it wasn’t worth the fight.

This really isn’t too terribly surprising. On the one hand, I’m happy that I no longer have to compete with H&R Block. On the other hand, there are almost certainly folks that H&R Block would have helped that may instead end up with a notario.  And I’m really not sure, but H&R Block is probably better than a notario….probably.  At least if something goes wrong, H&R Block has deep pockets!

 

 

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Oh Where, Oh Where, Has My G-28 Gone?

How is this still an issue?  When I re-started into immigration about four (4) years ago, I picked up an apparently straightforward I-751 case.  We completed the paperwork, filed it with a G-28 (on blue paper), and waited to get our receipt notice . . . and waited . . . and waited.  I’m still waiting. Four years later (after a divorce, an RFE, an amended petition, AILA liaison assistance, and two InfoPass appointments), and after having resent the G-28 to every employee of USCIS, my client had to tell me she was approved.

Here's a G-28 for you, and one for me . . . just kidding, here's another one for you!

Here’s a G-28 for you, and one for me . . . just kidding, here’s another one for you!

My favorite story, though, occurred more recently. I filed an asylum petition (with a G-28) and only got a biometrics notice, but it was clearly sent to me as “Representative’s Copy.” After 150 days, I filed the I-765 with a G-28 and got an email notification and receipt number. It ran outside of processing times, so I called USCIS Customer Service, was elevated to an officer, and was told that I had no G-28 on file — even though I was holding a “Representative’s Copy” notice and had received an email receipt to my work email address.  Either I’m the attorney or there’s a serious data breach at USCIS. The best part, though, is that now I have no idea if I’m actually attached to the asylum petition, and as practitioners know, they only correspond by mail. HA! Life is fun.

Still, though, how does this remain a problem at USCIS? The left hand continually has no clue that it even has a right hand, let alone what it’s up to. For something as critically important as client representation, this is a huge deal. But USCIS has yet to dedicate any resources (so far as I know) to actually remedy the problem. In fact, they went the other way, bumping the G-28 from 2 pages to 4, because more paper will certainly fix the problem.

Something needs to change, as I know I’m one of thousands of attorneys who’ve experienced this precise problem.  And who knows how many clients have suffered because of it? That’s just unacceptable.

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A Little Extra Marriage Never Hurt Anybody, Right?

On February 16, 2015, DHS announced that it would soon be permitting the H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status to apply and receive work authorization.  So far, at least, it appears that this program, which will become effective May 26, 2015, has not been impacted by the preliminary injunction issued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Brownsville.

You mean I missed one?

On the whole, I believe this is a good thing.  It seems wrong to tell H-1B nonimmigrants that they can come work in this country, that their spouses can come with them, but that their spouses cannot work.  What does the U.S. Government expect their spouses to do?

Parkour, anyone?

That being said, the decision to extend work authorization does raise an interesting point.  First, could this potentially lead to an increase in marriage fraud?  Before, there was no real incentive to marry an H-1B nonimmigrant, aside from your traditional notions of love, etc.  Immigration benefits for the spouse were years away. Now, however, marriage to an H-1B nonimmigrant can lead directly to work authorization.  It is not exactly like a new spouse has hit the jackpot, as there is still no path towards a green card themselves, except potentially through the H-1B spouse if he or she seeks an employment-based immigrant visa.  But, it is, nonetheless, an incentive to marry.

This may prove particularly problematic in certain countries where arranged marriages are the norm. How can one distinguish that from a sham marriage? It’s quite possible that an individual can be approved for an H-1B (to start October 1), and then have several months to “shop” for a spouse, armed with the promise of status in the U.S. and an ability to work.

Hey, baby. I got an EAD with your name on it.

I’m sure I’m just being cynical, but the H-4 can then divorce the H-1B, marry a U.S. citizen, and adjust status. Obviously, fraud could be alleged upon diligent review of the case, but is USCIS really going to catch someone who is not obvious about it? I guess we shall see.

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Everybody’s An Attorney!

With expanded DACA set to kick off in a couple of days, and DAPA on the horizon, it’s really no surprise that non-attorneys (and even non-immigration attorneys) are trying to get a bite of the apple. They figure that there are millions of potentially eligible individuals that will need help and gladly pay for it. And so, we get folks like H&R Block trying to do immigration work.

On the one hand, I really have no problem with this. Free market, baby. If H&R Block and others can actually do this work and provide value to immigrants, then everybody wins. Now if they can’t, that’s a horse of a different color, but bad legal advice can just as easily come from an attorney. I don’t think I’d want any heavy-handed bans in place, for instance.

My guess is it would be this color.

My guess is it would be this color.

On the other hand, as a practicing immigration attorney, who makes a living actually doing immigration, learning immigration law, and keeping up with the changes in the same, it grinds my gears a bit to have potential clients get swooped up by Johnny-come-latelys looking to make a quick buck. It’s particularly hard to put up a wall around your practice, though, when you’ve got a machine like H&R Block, with all of its advertising budget and none of a lawyer’s advertising restrictions, making headlines for venturing outside of its customary tax zone. Small practitioners and small firms don’t stand a chance unless they already have a built in pipeline of clients. It’s frustrating to say the least.

Since law school, I’ve had a real beef with the lawyer ethics rules regarding advertising, and this situation presents a perfect example of why.  H&R Block can say pretty much whatever they want, with no oversight, in their ads.  They can target whomever they want. There are literally no limits on their campaign. Meanwhile, lawyers have to get advertising approved in advance by the state bar and have a billion disclaimers plastered all over everything. To top it all off, we can’t just come out and say: “H&R Block may get it right. But we’re better than H&R Block. We will get it right.”

Does this rule really help the consumer? Absolutely not. It helps established firms and practitioners beat off new competition by restricting the public’s ability to meaningfully compare firms and attorneys. I don’t see that as a positive. The rules, particularly in regard to advertising, reek of paternalism and the belief that the public just isn’t smart enough to make an informed decision in regard to legal services if — heaven forbid — two attorneys said that they were the best lawyers in town!

No representation is made that either shark is a better dancer.

No representation is made that either shark is a better dancer.

I do believe that good lawyers do more than simply sell a defined service, but too many lawyers fail to realize that this actually is a business. By putting handcuffs on attorneys in the name of creating a level playing field, the state bar actually tips the scales heavily in favor of non-attorneys, like H&R Block, when they can step in and technically not be practicing law. The advertising rules are terrible in my mind regardless, but the fact that it puts all attorneys at a competitive disadvantage damages consumers because it makes it more likely that they will seek non-attorneys for their legal needs. And honestly, that’s just a roll of the dice.

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Is the GOP a Lost Cause?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few days now (or maybe a week even). I saw a tweet from Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney with his own blog, that got me thinking.  He said:

To which I responded:

For starters, I’m not a Republican.  I’m not a Democrat. I’m a libertarian, but I’m not a Libertarian. So if you bash a political party — any political party — I’ll probably agree with you to some extent. I state this so you know that my criticism is relatively objective and not driven by my political affiliation. All of that being said: The GOP is insane.

spencer thing.png

Insane in the semipermeable membrane.

Republicans know — 100% know — that they need the Latino vote. Even if it is not critical now, it will be absolutely necessary over the long-run. They don’t have to get them all, but if 95-plus percent of Latinos vote for Democrats based on immigration issues, then it doesn’t matter how good you think your fiscal policy is.  You’re probably going to lose.

And yet, some Republicans, such as Alabama’s Senator Sessions, insist on impeding immigration reform at every opportunity. I understand if you want sensible reforms — secure the border first and all that jazz — but to not think that any immigration reform is needed is simply burying your head in the sand. Immigration is a HUGE problem that is not going away. The system is terrible in so many ways. Immigration attorneys could probably come up with 100+ reforms before they even reached the issue of “illegal” aliens. At least give reform the ol’ college try.

Belushi

Try harder.

Nope. As Bush the Elder stated (or maybe it was just Dana Carvey): “Not gonna do it.” The GOP simply isn’t interested.

As we head toward the 2016 election, the problem is only going to get worse. The GOP primaries are going to push everyone to the right, and the eventual candidate likely won’t stand a chance with Latinos in the general election. The sole chance that the GOP has of bringing Latinos into the fold is if it embraces its libertarian wing. As it stands now, the GOP has done everything it can to silence the libertarians, making many of them enemies. Look what they did to poor Ron Paul and his many followers, most of whom represent a young demographic that was previously the exclusive domain of the Democratic Party (or maybe the Green Party). Part of me feels the GOP has already missed its chance here.

Rand Paul is the only potential presidential candidate that has libertarian leanings, but he fell a bit further from the tree than most libertarians would like. His stance on immigration is moderate only by GOP standards, which is disappointing. But the overall point is more to the party than the presidential candidate. A true libertarian-leaning GOP party would be in favor of opening the borders, not closing them – of getting government out of the way. If businesses need international employees, hire them without all the red tape. If someone from Peru wants to work in the U.S. as a plumber, architect, or lawyer, I say welcome. I would be floored if the GOP ever went that far, but by closing the party to new ideas on immigration, it almost guarantees that most Latinos will vote for Democrats.

No immigration solution is going to be perfect (or even close), but the GOP has to at least try to find common ground unless it plans on simply writing off the Latino vote going forward. I don’t hold out much hope that it will happen, though. Only time will tell.

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Is a Law Blog Beneficial?

Yesterday, Above The Law ran a story on whether or not it was necessary to actually attract people to your law blog.  Ironically, the original link was to a blank story.  Maybe they were trying to make a point. But, eventually, the story showed up in full.

The article raises a good question for legal bloggers: What’s the point of all of this?  Is it to generate traffic and new business leads or is it to provide credibility? Or is it merely because you like to wax poetic on the law?  You have to know your goal before you start writing or you’ll never know if you’re doing a good job.

I believe I come down on the side of credibility. Unless you have a high volume blog with a huge platform, I don’t believe a blog will generate new business.  But, the first thing I do with any attorney I come across (or really anything that is recommended to me), is to Google it. I want to be wowed by what I find.  I want that blog/website to seal the deal. But maybe that’s just me?

I’d be curious to hear what other legal bloggers think on this topic. Are we just shouting into the void?

daleks

The Void: Where You’ll Find My Blog and Daleks

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Never a Dull Moment in Immigration

Over the last week or so, there has been a lot of chatter about the GOP and what they intend to do about immigration.  There’s talk of defunding DHS, though I doubt that’s a serious option. I don’t see the GOP taking funding away from the agency in charge of a good chunk of national security.  There’s also talk of passing immigration legislation to possibly short-circuit Obama’s Executive Order, or to simply establish the GOP’s immigration priorities.  Who knows what will actually come of all of this?

I will be floored if the GOP is able to pass legislation through Congress that Obama would also sign. Any such legislation would probably try and stop DACA/DAP, among other things, and I just don’t see Obama going for that no matter what else is in the bill.  In a way, this is kind of a shame.  The GOP could actually put forth a bill, that when coupled with the Executive Order, give both sides of the aisle something they want.  The Dems can keep Obama’s Executive Order, but the GOP could still get the increases it wants in border security and business visas.  It would represent a significant step forward, even if it was just a first step.

Blaming partisan politics for the lack of movement on immigration is a little cliched, and in my opinion, only partially true. But, it definitely does have an effect. The bulk of each side wants a complete victory, and compromise seems unlikely – save for a few moderates here and there. It’s more important for politicians on both sides to represent to their constituents that they “won’t back down to the liberal/conservative agenda” than it is to actually solve the issue. As long as we live in a representative democracy, that’s just the way it is going to be, unfortunately. All the incentives make staying in office more important than “doing work.”  See, e.g., Obama’s lack of action on immigration during his first term.  He could have done that on Day 1.  That’s politics for you. Better late than never, I guess.

 

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TPS for Syria Is Redesignated!

Finally! I mean, seriously, how has it taken this long for USCIS to redesignate Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). I’ve had clients come to me from Syria with horrible stories about what they and their families have faced in Syria, and it was basically asylum or bust. Thank goodness they finally have another option!

I can understand the U.S. government being reluctant to grant blanket protections like is done with TPS. I know that there’s security risk there. But, Syria is about as unstable as a country can possibly be while still having borders. The violence there is well documented, with people simply disappearing every day. A humanitarian designation was much needed and is gratefully accepted.

Jesus2You’re alright, USCIS. You’re alright.

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Executive Action is Finally Here — Rejoice!

I assume that anyone reading this likely is already aware that last week President Obama announced some significant reforms via executive order. He expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), created a new, similar program for parents of U.S. citizens and LPRs, and reminded ICE, once again, of its enforcement priorities.  He also plans to implement a couple of business immigration reforms that will be quite handy, such as allowing those with approved employment visa applications (I-140s) to file for adjustment of status even though their priority dates are not current due to the quota backlog.

Ultimately, these are all good things. I’m very pleased that the President acted on immigration.  That being said, here are a couple of things that really annoy me about how all this went down and the general reaction around the country.

First and foremost, those happy with the reforms should rightly thank President Obama.  He could have simply not acted, but he did.  He gets credit for that.  HOWEVER, he could have done this all on day 1 of his term.  He did not do so because it was not politically beneficial for him to do so. He hoped DACA would buy him enough goodwill to keep the Dems in power and maybe, maybe, eventually, Congress would act.  That didn’t happen. And for that, he rightly deserves criticism.  It’s a mixed bag, but as a pro-immigrant attorney, I’ll take it.

Second, I wish he had expanded deferred action to the parents of DACA recipients.  I think it was simply politically untenable for him to do so.  But, leaving this gap undercuts the “family unity” message under which all these reforms were deemed necessary.  Again, I’m happy action was taken, but the message is a bit mixed.

Here’s hoping that Congress does eventually fix our unmistakeably broken system.  But I’m not holding my breath. These executive orders are great and all, until the next guy takes over and strips them all back.  I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’d prefer to not have to worry about it.  Onwards and upwards!

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You Learn Something New (Almost) Every Day

Today was one of those days! Because immigration is so dang convoluted, it’s impossible to know all the minutia until you get a case that takes you right up against it.  And then you become the world’s leading expert (for about three days) on the smallest detail of a regulation that pretty much no one else on Earth cares exists.

But, today I stumbled upon a handy trick that is apparently working for attorneys in various locales to get around the E(ntered)W(ithout)I(nspection) problem with which a lot of clients are dealing. As the attorneys out there know, with rare exception, if you are EWI, you have to leave the country and consular process, which opens the door to the unlawful presence bar. But, while reading through the AILA list-serve, someone noted that they’ve been able to adjust status for EWI clients.  Apparently, they establish some type of status, like via DACA for example, and request advanced parole. When the AP is granted, they leave the country and are paroled back in.  They then adjust without any problem!

At first read, this almost sounds too good to be true, but it also makes some sense. For DACA folks, in particular, they may not have to worry about the ULP bars depending on their age, but I’m not sure how older EWIs are getting around that trigger. I haven’t had the chance to read up on this at all just yet, but it’s the kind of regulatory creativity that I love to see!

EDIT: I finally read the case and apparently leaving on advance parole does not trigger the bars at all.  The court basically did some legal gymnastics to reach the conclusion, but who am I to argue!

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