Arlington, VA

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

It is an underappreciated fact that immigrants, not taxpayers, foot the bill for the bureaucratic machinery of the U.S. immigration system. And it is a big bill. The annual budget of US Citizenship and Immigration Services is $4.8 billion. Ninety-seven percent of that is funded by immigrants themselves.

The Department of Homeland Security periodically reviews USCIS fees to make sure that its income keeps up with its costs. The newest review, which is up for public comment until December 16, imposes large increases on the most common types of immigration applications. For example, an ordinary green card application packet, with applications for interim benefits, currently costs $1,225. The new price is $2,195. An ordinary application for citizenship currently costs $725. The new price is $1,170.

On the whole, prices are set to increase by about twenty percent across all application types, but the pain will be concentrated, for reasons unclear to us, on ordinary individuals applying for benefits. Businesses face much smaller price increases. In addition, applicants for asylum will be required to pay a fee — for the first time in U.S. history — and the government will demand that asylum seekers pay $490 for their first work permit. How to pay for a work permit without working legally is unclear to us; in practical terms, the government is simply demanding that asylum seekers work without permits.

The why of government action is not always easy to discern. USCIS’s own report suggests that the reason for the fee increases is threefold:

  1. Transfer of funding from USCIS to ICE. In short, green card application fees are being used to pay for immigration enforcement, including detention and removal operations.
  2. Pay increases for existing USCIS staff and additional hiring.
  3. Increased administrative overhead and vetting costs.

These justifications aren’t particularly persuasive. Fees increased by twenty percent in 2017 and are set to increase by another twenty percent in 2020. The USCIS budget was $3.3B in 2017. The USCIS cost projection for fiscal year 2020 is $4.6B. During this period of lavish budget increases and moderate workload growth, USCIS has, by its own admission, gotten worse and worse at processing applications in a timely way. Year-long backlogs have become the new norm.

There are plenty of conscientious public servants at USCIS. We want them to have the resources they need to adjudicate requests fairly, quickly and securely. But the burden of paying for it should be more evenly distributed, and immigrants should be able to get answers in months, not years, for ordinary benefits requests.

In these challenging times, even minor mistakes on immigration applications can have expensive consequences and cause a long process to be delayed even further. We’re here to help.

0 Comments

Marymount University has launched a new scholarship program for its Dreamer students, starting in the 2020-21 school year.

The school officially announced its Dreamers Scholarship Program last night at a kick-off party in the university’s Main House, where Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) and university president Irma Becerra gave remarks.

“Marymount is a special place, it is a recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the south,” Kaine said. “Diversity is a value here, and the support for Dreamers is very, very admirable.”

The university on N. Glebe Road is home to over 50 Dreamers — young immigrant students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These students are unable to apply for federal financial aid, which creates an obstacle for paying for higher education.

New for this school year, Marymount became one of 25 colleges in the country to offer grants for students through TheDream.US, a scholarship program that assists Dreamer students. Five students at Marymount are currently receiving the grants.

“Students have enough stress in their lives, and the lack of financial support creates another level of stress — these are incredible students, and we want them to be successful,” Becerra said. “We would love to support them all. That’s what this new scholarship is all about.”

Last night’s announcement kicked off the search for scholarship funding for the remaining students.

“We are looking for any and all sorts of support,” Becerra said.

During the event, Marymount freshman and Dream.US recipient Ashly Trejo Mejia introduced Sen. Kaine during a speech in which she shared the struggles of immigrating to Virginia from Honduras as a young girl, and the fear of not knowing whether she could attend college.

“Marymount was one of those hidden treasures that I, and the rest of us, did not know we had here waiting for us,” Mejia said. “The day of my high school graduation was the most emotional day of my life — I was achieving something that our family members longed for. Coming to Marymount has been a blessing.”

0 Comments

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq. and Doran Shemin, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

ARLnow readers know well that the Washington D.C. metro area has one of the largest Salvadoran populations in the United States. Many Salvadorans in our community have been living and working in the United States lawfully for many years under a program called Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS. Other immigrants from Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen also hold TPS. Quietly, cheaply and efficiently, TPS has offered a safe harbor for many of our friends and neighbors for decades.

The Trump Administration, for reasons best known to itself, has sought to wind down the program, particularly for Salvadoran, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Sudanese, Haitian and Nepalese citizens. TPS holders, employers and immigration attorneys throughout the country have been waiting on pins and needles to see if the Trump Administration would extend TPS for these countries, thereby allowing many immigrants to continue to be productive members of our community.

Thanks to litigation on a scale best appreciated by watching Game of Thrones battles through a kaleidoscope, TPS has indeed been extended until January 4, 2021 for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal. (Two years ago, one of your Infallible Writers told you that TPS was ending. He was wrong.)

This array of stopgap extensions is better than nothing. But what are employers supposed to do if they have to worry year after year about losing their workforce when TPS finally ends? Thankfully, there is an answer for these employers: sponsor TPS employees for permanent residency.

Employers who have trusted employees that are authorized to work under the TPS program can file petitions on behalf of these employees that can eventually lead to green cards. This process, called PERM, is a three-step process that allows immigrants to receive permanent residency in the United States. Any company, large or small, can use PERM to petition beloved employees or attractive potential employees.

It starts off with recruitment and certification overseen by the Department of Labor, followed by an immigrant visa petition with the Department of Homeland Security. If all goes well, the employee can then apply for a green card. This process helps employers keep their star employees without worrying about the whims of the government.

If you have TPS, or you work with a team that includes TPS employees, reach out to an immigration attorney to see if this process is right for you. Moving from TPS to a green card requires dealing with multiple bureaucracies, and small mistakes can have major consequences. We’re here to help. We’re also here to answer questions, so please feel free to leave a comment. We read and appreciate them all.

0 Comments

(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) One of Arlington’s youth soccer teams is forfeiting games after members say a player was wrongfully removed from the team.

The Division 1 recreational soccer team LAFC has already forfeited two games, and members say they may forfeit a third this weekend if fellow player Tania Mendez can’t join them on the field. Her coaches and teammates are protesting a decision by the organization that oversees the league, the Arlington Soccer Association (ASA), which said she was too old to play.

The issue came to a head when an ASA official showed up at a game on Saturday, September 21, and told the team their forward was no longer allowed on the field — something coaches said was a change in policy.

Coach Deanna Herrity told ARLnow it was the players who then made a decision: “I asked my team if they wanted to play the second half without Tania. And they said ‘no.’ And I said alright ‘we leave.’ And we left.”

‘Playing makes me feel at peace’

Tania Mendez immigrated to the U.S. when she was 14 after growing up in El Salvador. She’s lived in Arlington for the last five years.

After arriving in the U.S., learning English meant repeating grades 8 and 11. Now she’s 19 and starting her her senior year at Wakefield High School. But no matter where she’s lived, she’d played soccer, and even dreamed of going pro when she was younger.

“All my life has been spent playing soccer and I think that there’s no other sport that makes me feel as happy as soccer does,” Mendez told ARLnow in an interview in Spanish. “Every time I’m on the field I forget everything else, playing makes me feel at peace.”

But after playing two games with the team this season, ASA’s Recreational Soccer Commissioner David Gould informed the team midway through their game on Saturday, September 21 that Mendez was ineligible to play due to her age. Several teammates and her the team’s coaches told ARLnow it was a confusing confrontation, with Mendez telling ARLnow that she was speechless at the time.

“It was a very diminishing moment,” said one of her teammates, Valentina, 17, a senior at Washington-Liberty High School. “She just doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s been receiving from the ASA.”

Coach Herrity said the ASA has helped make the league welcoming for all kinds of players in the past, including by offering scholarships to cover registration fees. However, she said she fears this action represents a new policy that could harm other players like Tania who also need their help.

“It’s going to disproportionately affect immigrants,” she said in an interview with ARLnow. “Oftentimes you’ll have friends who are immigrants who are not the typical age of the peers of the grade.”

It’s a concern she said she worries about in the larger picture of youth soccer participation falling, and becoming a sport for wealthier, whiter children.

Policies and Older Players

Coaches Andrea Leeson and Herrity had registered Mendez with the ASA, but that on the Friday before their second game, the organization emailed them that Mendez had been removed from the roster “effective immediately” because of her age. After not receiving a reply to their follow-up emails, the coaches put Mendez in the game the next day, which led Gould to arrive and ask her to be removed.

Leeson and Herrity said they were surprised by the ASA’s actions because it had been a long-standing policy at ASA to approve older players who had stayed behind to catch up on English.

In the ASA’s handbook, it notes that the recreational soccer leagues are sorted by grade level groups, “with the exception of players who are out of sync with other students their age (i.e.: due to repeating or skipping a year or more of school).”

The organization is governed by the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, which states in its bylaws that players must be under 19 years of age. However, the organization also notes that the rules of the national U.S. Youth Soccer Association supersede its own. Within the national organization’s policy and players rules document, players 19 years and under are included in the “youth” league category.

ASA approved a 19-year-old player on the team earlier this year, according to emails reviewed by ARLnow. Emails showed how written requests from the coaches for an exception led ASA staff to manually override the age limit in the online registration system.

In the February emails, Gould wrote that helping with the registration was “not a problem” and added that “she’s back there now!” in reference to the player signing up. That lenience, however, has seemingly changed.

“Arlington Soccer Association has allowed 19 year old players up until now, but [recently has] chosen to interpret their policy such that this 19 year old girl cannot play,” Leeson said. “We have exhausted our options in discussing this with them, as they don’t respond to our emails or requests to discuss this in more detail.”

ASA Executive Director Adam Brick responded after publication, telling ARLnow that, “While I am unable to comment on any specific individual’s situation, I am happy to clarify the age-limit rule which comes under the auspices of the United States Soccer Federation (US Soccer), US Youth Soccer (USYS) and the Virginia Youth Soccer Association (VYSA).”

Brick emphasized that based on age-grouping charts posted here from the VYSA, a student who turns 20 years old in 2020 is not eligible for youth soccer programs.

Read More

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Feds Looking for Facility for Migrants — The federal government “has kicked off a search for a site in Northern Virginia to host one of several planned shelters for unaccompanied minors, part of the Trump administration’s answer to the ongoing immigration challenge playing out along the nation’s southern border.” While Arlington is among the jurisdictions included in the search, it’s unclear if the county has any site that would suit the requirements, which include 2 acres of recreation space. [Washington Business Journal]

Verizon Launches 5G in Crystal City — Last week Verizon launched 5G “Ultra Wideband” wireless service in parts of D.C. and Arlington, including Crystal City and Reagan National Airport. [Verizon]

Arlington Among Best Places for Young Pros — The website SmartAsset just ranked Arlington the No. 15 “city” for young professionals, ahead of D.C. (#21) but well behind Sioux Falls, S.D. (#1). [Thrillist, SmartAsset]

Water Main Break Near Crystal City — S. Eads Street was closed between 31st Street S. and S. Glebe Road last night for a water main break. The break affected a 12-inch main near the bus depot. [Twitter, Twitter]]

ACPD to Mix and Mingle in Clarendon — “Arlington County Police Department’s Restaurant Liaison Unit invites members of the public to join us for Conversation with a Cop in Clarendon on August 29, 2019 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

0 Comments

Two Virginia organizations are looking to help as Arlington braces for immigration raids in the wake of President Trump’s deportation threats.

The Falls Church-based Legal Aid Justice Center is collaborating with the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations to train people on what rights the county’s immigrant community has and how they can help. The legal aid organization will be hosting the free event at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd) from 3-5 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday).

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the legal director of the Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program, said the event is aimed at teachers, service providers and “basically anyone who serves the immigrant community who is wondering what to tell people right now.”

Attendance is free but people are asked to RSVP to on Facebook.

The Justice Center will review what to do if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stops someone or knocks on their door, as shared here by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey during a recent Board meeting criticized Trump for issuing “a vague threat” on Twitter.

“If this latest escalation proves to be real, rest assured that Arlington does not participate in federal immigration enforcement and will not be assisting in any mass round-up or deportation of families or the separation of yet more children,” Dorsey said. He urged anyone who feared they would be targeted for deportation to visit the county’s website with resources for immigrants and to contact the Legal Aid Justice Center if they had legal questions.

Last week, Trump announced that ICE would deport “millions” starting Saturday. Despite the president calling off the threatened raids, ICE agents raided several homes and businesses in D.C. over the weekend and detained at least two parents, according to the Washington City Paper.

After the initial announcement “the level of fear in the immigrant community spiked to early 2017 levels, which is to say, extraordinarily high,” Sandoval-Moshenberg said.

After Trump took office in 2017, immigrant families in Arlington began withdrawing children from food stamps, stopped filing domestic violence protection orders in court and kept kids home from school out of a fear of deportation, according to Sandoval-Moshenberg. When the Legal Aid Justice Center organized the “Know Your Rights” events two years ago, attendance was up — between 100 and 200 people.

Sandoval-Moshenberg noted it’s too early to tell if families are reacting similarly now but, “our phone is ringing off the hook, that’s for sure.”

Read More

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Last Week of School — The 2018-2019 school year is concluding this week for Arlington Public Schools. Today is the last day of school for high schools, while Friday is the last day of school for middle and elementary schools. [Arlington Public Schools]

Park Service Advances Boathouse Plan — “Plans to establish a community boathouse on the Potomac River in Arlington just passed a major milestone. The National Park Service completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which sets up the project to move forward.” [Arlington County, Twitter]

State of the County Address — “Christian Dorsey began his State of the County address by thanking the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and the Arlington business community for their partnership ‘on specific issues from the transient occupancy tax, to dedicated funding for the Metro, to helping us put our best foot forward in the competition for  Amazon’s HQ2.'” [Press Release]

Arlington Public Safety Awards — “Following the State of the County address, awards were presented to honor Arlington County’s public safety personnel…  Stories of their heroic actions include two firefighters rescuing a person trapped inside a vehicle that was fully submerged in water, a detective dismantling a large, local cocaine trafficking organization with limited investigative leads, and a police officer saving two unresponsive passengers in an overturned, burning vehicle on the roadway.” [Press Release]

Fraud Alert from Arlington Police — “The Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are warning the public about a telephone scam that uses the threat of arrest to extort money from potential victims.” [Arlington County]

Metro Studying Second Rosslyn Metro Station — “After decades of discussion, Metro kicked off a study this week of a new, second station at Rosslyn and other changes that could overhaul the way trains on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines run throughout the system.” [WTOP]

ACPD: No Plans for ‘Mass Deportation’ — “The Arlington County Police Department called the plan ‘political’ and said they have no intention on working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fulfill [President] Trump’s mass deportation plan. The Fairfax County Police Department said it doesn’t participate with ICE on civil enforcement either.” [Fox 5]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick

0 Comments

Morning Notes

Crystal City BID Proposes Expansion — “The Crystal City Business Improvement District has submitted its proposal to Arlington County to officially expand its borders into Pentagon City and the county’s portion [of] Potomac Yard as Amazon.com Inc. prepares to establish its second headquarters in the area collectively branded as National Landing.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Planning More Housing Initiatives — “Even by its own estimation, the Arlington County government’s success rate in stemming the exodus of affordable housing in Arlington has been hit-or-miss, and the local government at times has been viewed as unimaginative and overly bureaucratic by those who want to see more aggressive efforts at building and retaining housing accessible to lower- and middle-income residents.” [InsideNova]

Twilight Tattoo Begins Tonight at Ft. Myer — “Our 2019 Twilight Tattoo season is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, and run through Wednesday, July 31, with exception to July 3 and July 10, 2019… Twilight Tattoo is an hour-long, live-action military pageant featuring Soldiers from The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band ‘Pershing’s Own.'” [Military District of Washington]

Stressed Out Judges at Crystal City Immigration Court — “One of the most backlogged immigration courts in America is in Arlington… 7 on your side witnessed and heard of additional tense exchanges in court from multiple judges stressed with the ever-increasing caseload.” [WJLA]

Nearby: ‘Woodchuck’ Scam in Falls Church — “The City of Falls Church Police are investigating a “woodchuck” scam that has cost a victim thousands of dollars. Police caution City residents to be aware of predatory services, especially for tree removal, landscaping, roof and chimney work, and other home services.” [City of Falls Church]

0 Comments

Arlington officials are proposing a $12,000, mid-year funding bump for a program aiding the county’s undocumented residents.

Last week, County Manager Mark Schwartz published his recommendation to the County Board that they give an extra $12,250 from the county’s current budget and transfer the funds to the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC). The Board is set to the weigh the issue this Saturday at its monthly meeting.

The funds are earmarked for the undocumented residents the Justice Center is providing with immigration assistance, such as visa consultations or asylum petitions as part of a program called “200 bridges.” Twenty-eight out of the 50 participating families have undocumented members, Schwartz wrote in the proposal.

If approved, the $12,250 would be a funding raise for the Justice Center — the county already granted $40,000 this year to fund legal rights workshops and counsel for individuals and families. Last fiscal year, the county allocated $100,000 to the Justice Center.

Since the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration enforcement, Arlington officials have acknowledged they want to remain “inclusive” to undocumented residents, but that they cannot provide “sanctuary” from federal agencies like ICE. Residents responded by raising thousands of dollars of their own money to cover the cost of local immigrants’ citizenship applications.

The county has taken steps to make some services (like public schools, health clinics and employment aid) available by not requiring users to show proof of residency.

Last week’s proposal suggested moving money out of Department of Human Services’ general fund for fiscal year 2019 and giving it to the legal aid provider to “bolster its provision of legal consultation and representation for undocumented Arlingtonians and mixed-residency status Arlington families.” (The current fiscal year ends in June, meaning the funds would have to be spent before then.)

About 23 percent of all 234,965 Arlington residents were born outside the United States, according to the latest Census data.

There are no data for the total number of residents who are undocumented, but in 2014 the American Immigration Council estimated 300,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Virginia, making up approximately 28 of the total immigration population.

A 2016 research study by the Pew Research Center estimated 25,000 people live without immigration documentation in the total Greater Washington Area.

Schwarz’s proposal would allocate the $12,250 to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Arlington office, not its other offices in Charlottesville, Petersburg and Richmond.

Image via Youtube.

0 Comments

Police are investigating a suspicious package at a Crystal City office building.

Initial reports suggest that the package was inside an office on S. Bell Street belonging to the Dept. of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompting an evacuation of that office. A federal immigration court is on a lower floor of the building.

The scene has since been cleared and Arlington County police officers that were standing by outside have left, according to scanner traffic.

A photo posted on social media (below) Tuesday afternoon shows Dept. of Homeland Security police on scene and a number of office workers standing outside.

ICE has attracted considerable controversy recently for its enforcement of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies, with even those tangentially connected to the agency facing political scrutiny.

0 Comments

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be big news that some kids and their parents plan to sell some lemonade around Arlington on a late-July day — but the lemonade stands popping up around the county this weekend come with a bit more of a message than most.

Activists with the group “Lawyer Moms of America” are setting up several stands in Arlington and other locations around Northern Virginia tomorrow (Saturday), as part of a national demonstration dubbed “Kids Take a Stand.” Parents and kids alike plan to use the event to raise money to hasten the reunification of families separated at the Mexican border.

While the Trump administration has managed to reunite roughly 1,400 children, from ages 5 to 17, with their families ahead of a court-imposed deadline, hundreds of other kids remain in government custody without any connection to their parents.

Though public outrage over the Trump administration’s since-reversed family separation policy has died down, Lawyer Moms of America is hoping to use Saturday’s demonstration to re-focus attention on the issue by putting their own kids in the spotlight.

“The women who founded Lawyer Moms of America heard first-hand accounts from lawyers who knew what was happening with these families at the border,” Natalie Roisman, an Arlington resident and member of the group’s national organizing team, wrote in a statement. “The immediate response was, ‘We have to do something.’ The next step was to think about how we – as lawyer moms – could uniquely contribute and do something effective. We have focused on education, advocacy and fundraising, and now we wanted to do something that would allow our kids to be directly involved.”

Roisman says the group will set up one stand at the intersection of N. Harrison Street and 8th Road N. in the Bluemont neighborhood, with another planned for Arlington Forest. She adds that stands will also be set up in the Waynewood area of Alexandria, at the Falls Church Farmers Market and in Reston, and more could pop up by the time Saturday arrives.

All proceeds of the lemonade sales will go to Project Corazon, an effort organized by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation to provide immigrants at the border with legal services.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list