"If you are in need of an above the edge immigration lawyer, I can only recommend Grace Alano. I had worked with three different immigration lawyers on three different visa typs -all successfully-, before Grace Alano was recommended to me. Grace Alano was very considerate and truly accurate in the
way she dealt with my then green card process. Her thoughtfulness as well as her calmness in a process of such magnitude for a client involved was the icing on the cake. Grace, the Oscar goes to you. Without a doubt! Thank you very much und vielen Dank." FB
"If you need an immigration lawyer, Grace is someone I wholeheartedly trust for competence, compassion, and getting the job done! Plus, she's a sincere, a very nice lady. She has been working in my case for many years untill i got my Green Card, She is great in keep following
"I can't even begin to thank Grace Alano for her outstanding and timely work on my case.  I had a very convoluted case and required very personal attention, which is what Ms Alano can do very well.
I was greeted very warmly for a one-on-one consult in her office.  She would follow up on all the developments of my case within a couple of hours (max).  She managed the communication with all other lawyers involved in the case very very well.  She was always available (during reasonable
In the end, she prepared an beautiful brief to be sent back to US CIS, which came back with a my status granted back to me!!!! (after almost 9 months of being out of status).
Due to the extremely complicated nature of my case, Ms Alano did something which impressed me.  She hired a colleague of hers (the attorney fees I paid were just for Ms Alano), so that my case can have a second pair of eyes in preparing, reviewing, collecting all cases' precedents,
"Throughout my immigration case it was clear my husband and I were in capable hands. We came through the experience with our sanity intact; Grace Alano's patience and wisdom made every step of the way easier." DA
“I had a complex and difficult case.  Attorney Grace Alano explored all my options, got second opinions and fought for me.  Her suggestions worked and I won my case.  I am so grateful to her.”  MT

The ImmiGRAtion Blog

How will YOU make the next day better?

Sunday, 17 August 2014 5:22

http://www.nextdaybetter.com/

http://www.nextdaybetter.com/

Last weekend I attended the Nextdaybetter-TFC Speaker Salon.  TFC is The Filipino Channel, and Nextdaybetter is a “culture platform that builds and activates diaspora communities to create a better future.”  “What in the world does that mean?” you may ask.  Well, in last Saturday’s context, it meant working with leaders in various areas within the Filipino-American community to help share their work and spread their ideas for social and technological change for the better.  Three of the speakers and their projects that make the next day better were particularly inspiring.

 

One was a Google and USAID fellow (I did not even know that there were Google fellows!) who is working on crisis mapping.  Examples she used included Typhoon Haiyan and Haiti earthquake hotspots.  Ultimately, one of the goals or uses of the map is to be able to coordinate resources for help with people who need the help.  I believe the program is still in beta testing.  I thought that it would also be useful for people to check on the areas their loved ones are in when there are natural disasters or other crises.  For my line of work, I thought it would be useful as supporting evidence for humanitarian legal work such as political asylum, where we need to document country conditions.

 

Team Rubicon was another spotlighted program that helps veterans reintegrate into civilian life and be able to use their organizational, logistical, and other military skills for “constructive rather than destructive” purposes by providing aid, medical attention and other relief to areas struck by natural disaster.  Two areas Team Rubicon provided disaster relief for were the areas struck by Hurricane Sandy in New York and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

 

And finally, another project I learned of was filamthropy.  It is an organization that helps promote philanthropic causes in the Fil-Am community through social media, awareness building, and giving circles.

 

During the event, we were fed by Chef Tim Luym, who owns Attic and Frozen Kuhsterd, and who will be starting a special breakfast menu at Breakfast at Tiffany’s in San Francisco in September, and Flan Flan Ta Tas!, a yummy flan company.

 

We were also approached and asked how we would make the “next day better.”  I tried my best to give a sound bite, at first about my personal philosophy, and then about the work that I do.  It is harder than it sounds.

 

The idea of the giving circle and filamthropy’s idea of promoting causes through social media really resonated with me.  I have been thinking about particular causes I would like to promote, such as fundraising to provide stipends for solo and small firm immigration attorneys to provide legal assistance in times of humanitarian crisis – for example, the current border children crisis.  There is a need for immigration attorneys to provide legal assistance and be watchdogs at the Artesia Detention Center in New Mexico.  There is so much to think through, though.  The simple questions to promote the cause are the hardest to answer, such as “Why should people care?” and “How is this going to help my community?”

 

This leads me to ask you – what is your story?  What is your soundbite, if you will?  How do you make the next day better?  Is there some goodwill or a cause that you would like to cultivate?

 

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

The “Rocket Docket” and humanitarian crisis at the border

Thursday, 14 August 2014 1:33

Photo: Jennifer Whitney/New York Times

Photo: Jennifer Whitney/New York Times

What it is:

The “rocket docket” is fast-tracked removal hearings for minors who have crossed the border on their own (“Unaccompanied Alien Children” or “UACs”), and families, mostly comprised of women and their minor children.

Why you need to know:

This humanitarian crisis is being responded to with potential due process violations, further clogging of the court, and reports of human rights abuses taking place at detention centers within our borders.  This is not a sound policy for the U.S.

What you can do:

Donate to non-profit organizations who provide basic needs and housing for these refugees, and/or donate to legal organizations to provide stipends for attorneys who take pro bono cases.

 

The “rocket docket” in the immigration courts are fast-tracked removal proceedings (more commonly known as “deportation proceedings”) for UACs and families.  In recent years, there has been a surge of unaccompanied minors, as well as women and their children, escaping the gang and drug cartel violence of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, as well as Mexico.  What has been happening is that people are either coming with their children, or sending their children alone, on treacherous journeys from their countries to the U.S. to escape being killed.  The journey they go through to get here is unimaginable and unfathomable.  Yet they leave because they have often been harmed themselves and have relatives who have been killed.  This particular wave of people is not coming for welfare or to send their children to public school – they are coming to escape violence and for sheer survival.

 

I recently volunteered as a pro bono attorney at a couple of initial master calendar hearings.  This is where the immigration judge meets with the people in court to find out what relief they might be available for and to set their case for an individual hearing.  I’d done this before for normal dockets.  Until volunteering recently, everything about the crisis was somewhat academic to me, even though I had been wanting to help.  I had attended some trainings to understand what was happening and how best to help children, who are difficult to represent because they cannot articulate and do not know how to process what has happened to them.  However, that is why it is so important to protect them and give them a voice.  There are so many cases on this docket that there were two of us volunteer attorneys there.  I had to start with doing initial intake and screening so that I can refer these cases to non-profit groups who may be able to help them.  These groups, needless to say, are as overwhelmed as the court system, maybe more.  Because of the time constraints of having so many people in court and needing to assist all of them, I could not go in-depth into each of their cases.  However, the story was the same countless times.  All were escaping horrible violence, had survived a great deal, and wanted to protect their children and take them out of that situation.  Many of the people from Mexico were from the Michoacan region, which is supposed to be especially violent.   I assisted with the family docket, and can’t imagine what it would be like to assist with the juvenile docket.  I was told there was an unaccompanied child who was four years old.

 

At court, the room was filled with mostly mothers and children.  Some women breastfed their babies.  A couple of the women had blank looks on their faces.  It wasn’t boredom.  You can tell when someone has been through trauma when she gets that distant, unemotional look on her face.  I saw the trauma.  I will say that the immigration judge, especially the first day I was there, was exceptionally caring and gentle while being efficient and maintaining the decorum of the courtroom.  It is not any judge’s fault that this is happening, rather, it is the system.

 

Currently, I am debating whether or not to take one asylum case pro bono (actually two cases – for a mother and child).  It is not as easy as it sounds.  With asylum cases, it can take four or five hour-long sessions – at least – to get a good detailed declaration in support of the application.   It can take longer with children, who may change details and not be able to express themselves.  The applications themselves are often thick and filed in triplicate, with bibliographies for accompanying articles taking hours to do.  I also don’t take representing someone in court lightly and am extremely selective about it.  This is because once I notify the court that I am the representative, I cannot withdraw my representation unless the judge allows me to and I can be stuck in court proceedings for several years. With this new rocket docket, I haven’t yet grocked how the new timeframe is going to apply to these cases.

 

However, it’s important that these children and families have attorneys, and more lawyers are needed to assist with the border crisis.  An immigration judge states that 90% lose their potentially winnable cases because they do not have an immigration attorney.  Immigration law is one of the most complex, counter-intuitive laws aside from tax law.  I have heard through the immigration lawyer community grapevine that the Obama administration is creating a legal group through justice AmeriCorps.  However, the rate of pay for these attorneys is $20,000 for one year with an education stipend.  That is less than the minimum wage here in San Francisco and is unlivable.  Also, this is more of a training program; while the new attorney may be brilliant, he or she may not understand the nuances of immigration law as much as a seasoned attorney.  Alternatively, legal groups are creating stipends for attorneys to take be able to take on pro bono cases.  This would be especially helpful for solo or small firm attorneys who do not have a lot of resources or support system to take on time-intensive cases for free.  I am trying to find out if and where such programs exist.  If not, maybe I need to create one – not for me, of course.

 

Lawyers, even non-immigration lawyers, can take on these refugee cases pro bono.  Non-profit groups are providing trainings and support for these types of cases.  There is an overwhelming need for legal help.  Immigration lawyers, through the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), have also been volunteering their time at the Artesia Detention Center in New Mexico, and more are needed.  The public can help by donating to non-profits providing stipends for attorneys, and directly to organizations helping these families.  There have been reports of human rights abuses at these detention centers, so the more watchdogs that can be sent there to assist, and the faster children and families can be relocated, the better.

 

This is particularly true because the consequence of these children and families losing their cases is that they will be deported back to the countries they are trying to escape.  There is also a fundamental lack of due process as it is “patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”  An English-speaking adult has little chance of winning a case in the immigration court without an attorney, much less a child.

 
 By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

Underwater Dreams Airs Today

Sunday, 20 July 2014 7:01

Photo from www.underwaterdreamsfilm.com

Photo from www.underwaterdreamsfilm.com

Underwater Dreams airs on Mun2 and KSTS Telemundo today and tomorrow.  Watch this movie!  You won’t regret it. It is on at 1:00 p.m. on Telemundo today. This is a condensed version of the documentary film about undocumented high school teens in Arizona who give a team from MIT a run for their money in an underwater robotics competition. It’s inspiring, heartwarming and FUNNY. I saw it earlier this week because I was invited by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which is allied with comprehensive immigration reform and wants to continue to attract more tech companies and innovation to San Francisco. How many brilliant minds are being held back because they can’t go to school or get an ID? Undocumented students generally pay out-of-state or international student tuition rates in college. When they apply for jobs, they don’t have social security numbers and IDs. Yet they’ve been here since they can remember.  These are issues that most Americans don’t even think of, but are everyday obstacles that have a heavy impact in a person’s life.  The film is written and directed by Mary Mazzio, an Olympic athlete (rowing), attorney and now, filmmaker.  One of the producers is Jeb Bush, Jr.  Interestingly, one of the creators of the Apple earbud is also in the movie.  The story is also being made into a film by Lionsgate Pictures, and should come out next year.  If you have time today on your Sunday afternoon, please watch or DVR it. I think that you will find it entertaining and insightful.

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

What Happens When a Person is Detained by Homeland Security?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014 7:32

This morning, undocumented journalist, filmmaker, and activist Jose Antonio Vargas was detained by the Department of Homeland Security at McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas.  He has been in McAllen Texas with a film crew interviewing children and families who have been detained at the border after escaping the drug cartel and gang violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America.  Via Twitter (@joseiswriting), Vargas compared the Texas border to a militarized zone.  He revealed that the city has checkpoints around a certain radius, including a checkpoint at the airport.  Those who are undocumented are effectively trapped within a certain radius.  The use of the words “militarized” and “checkpoints” reminds me of asylum clients from Myanmar (Burma) and the West Bank describing their countries, not the U.S.

 

Vargas’s high profile and public support protect him, unlike the average person.  It is unknown how the events will play out today.  Could he be kept and questioned for a few hours and released on his own recognizance?  Will there be phone calls on his behalf from prominent people urging DHS to release him and reminding them of the public relations backlash it can face if it chooses to continue to detain him and prosecute him?  No doubt he also has an excellent immigration attorney or team as well.  I am hopeful that the government will exercise its discretion and that he will be released.

 

What normally happens when someone is detained by DHS?  Vargas’s scenario is unusual as he has been detained traveling within the U.S.  Interstate travel is a fundamental right under the constitution, and that is why there are no checkpoints between U.S. states, for example.  People may be detained at the airport after travel abroad, or of course, after an arrest outside of the airport for various reasons. Usually by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or “ICE” after being processed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).   At the airport, a person who is a lawful permanent resident can be detained because CBP sees that he or she has a conviction for an aggravated felony.  Outside of the airport, a person could be at the right place at the wrong time and be detained for being undocumented, or be arrested after a traffic infraction and turned over to ICE.

 

The average person could face a number of scenarios.  He could be released on his own recognizance.  Perhaps he has a U.S. citizen spouse and will apply for permanent residence based on that marriage.  He may be released after paying bond to ICE.  ICE may or may not choose to issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) in the Immigration Court for removal proceedings.  He may be detained and issued an NTA, and may then have a bond hearing before an immigration judge.  The judge would want to determine that he is not a danger to the community, has ties to the community, is not a flight risk and will appear at all immigration court hearings.  If the person is subject to mandatory detention for a particularly violent or serious crime, he may not be released on bond at all.

 

Once in the Immigration Court, the Respondent, as he will now be called, either himself or through an attorney, will have to inform the judge of the relief that may be available to him.  Unlike criminal proceedings, immigration proceedings are under administrative law, and it is not required that the government provide him with an attorney.  He will apply for some sort of defensive form of relief such as cancellation of removal, political asylum, a U visa, or adjustment of status.  If there is no relief available, he may be able to take an order of voluntary departure rather than an order of removal.  The problem with voluntary departure is, how does one return?  Will this person face a 10-year bar to returning for being an overstay?

 

Another option is for the government to exercise prosecutorial discretion and terminate proceedings, which is what the government should do if Vargas’s case were to go that far, for whatever reason (and it shouldn’t, as there would be too much backlash and political pressure in his case).  He is not high priority for deportation in the sense that he has no criminal convictions and is not a threat to national security.  He has resided in the U.S. for a long time and since he was a minor.  His services as a journalist and filmmaker are also important national contributions and are a significant equity.  Negative factors are that he doesn’t have any immediate relief available and has previously claimed to be a U.S. citizen, which is unfortunately a huge transgression in U.S. immigration and nationality law for which punishment is severe (including the inability to apply for permanent residence if he ever marries a U.S. citizen in the future).  However, the government would weigh the totality of the circumstances and make an individual determination.

 

For now, I am anxiously awaiting the news of Vargas’s release.  Tonight, friends in New York City are holding a vigil for him at Union Square Park.  Across the country, people are standing in solidarity with him, and with the refugee children of Central America whose plight he was documenting.

 
UPDATE: Mr. Vargas was released on his own recognizance and issued a Notice to Appear in immigration court.
 

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+