Consulate Selection for LGBT Immigrant and Fiancé Visa Applicants

LGBT rainbow streetSince the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v. U.S. ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) holding it unconstitutional, many same sex couples have been able to marry and petition their spouses and fiancés. One cause for concern, however, is fear for the safety of the spouse or fiancé when applying for a visa based on a same-sex relationship in his or her home country. For example, many people apply for political asylum from their home countries if they have been persecuted for being homosexual, or fear being persecuted if they come out openly as homosexual.

In light of this, the State Department has set up procedures for requesting to consular process through another country if applicants fear that they will be persecuted by their government, family, or community in their home countries. This practice has been in place for immigrant visas since earlier this year, and will now be implemented for fiancé visa applicants as well.

The applicant must make a case for why he or she should be allowed to visa process in another country, and list alternative consulates. He or she should also keep in mind that a visa may be required to enter that country. A request will be made to the consulate, and if accepted, the applicant will be informed.

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at Alano Immigration in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

[Photo by Murrur.]

Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents

Photo: Jim Bourg (AP)
Photo: Jim Bourg (AP)

One of the initiatives outlined in the Immigration Accountability Executive Action of November 20, 2014 is deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (“DAP”).

DAP will benefit millions of undocumented individuals living in the United States who are parents of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and who meets the following DAP eligibility guidelines:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency under the Department of Homeland Security that will be handling the fee-based applications where people will apply for DAP status notes that it will consider each request for DAP status on a case-by-case basis. Also, enforcement priorities include national security and public safety threats.

Benefits include employment and travel authorization. One thing native-born Americans take for granted is the ability to apply for work and to be able to travel abroad. Having an employment authorization document (“EAD”) allows a person who is not a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or in a temporary worker visa category to apply for a social security number, driver license, and, of course, employment! It also appears that people granted deferred action stauts will be allowed to apply for a travel document so that they can travel abroad. Ability to travel has not been detailed to my knowledge, but mentioned generally. Before traveling outside of the U.S., people will need to apply for permission to travel or will jeopardize their status and may not be allowed to return. This requires a long legal explanation in and of itself, which I will not go into here.

Benefits do not include lawful permanent residence, much less U.S. citizenship. What it grants is deferred action status – meaning that the government will not seek to deport the individual granted that status for a period of three years.

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at Alano Immigration in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

Obama Immigration Accountability Executive Order

#turnitpurple.  From Define American: "Instead of concerning ourselves with whether this action helps the “blue team” or “red team,” let’s paint America purple, showing one loud unified voice."
#turnitpurple.  From Define American: “Instead of concerning ourselves with whether this action helps the “blue team” or “red team,” let’s paint America purple, showing one loud unified voice.”

President Obama’s Immigration Accountability Executive Action is a welcome, albeit temporary, relief to our broken and cumbersome immigration system. The President acted within his legal authority, as presidents from both political parties have taken similar steps in past decades – particularly Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. Yesterday, President Obama announced his plan, which includes some of the following initiatives:

  • Deferred Action for the parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children who fit the eligibility requirements (“DAP”).
  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to remove the age cap and move the continuous presence date up to January 1, 2010. DACA will now be granted for 3 years (including those with pending renewal applications).
  • Ensuring that job-creating entrepreneurs have legal means to enter and operate in the U.S.
  • Allowing spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to apply for unlawful presence waivers from within the U.S. and ensuring appropriate standards for adjudicating those waivers.

These actions will keep the U.S. safer because removal enforcement will focus on people who are a danger to public safety and national security. Those who register will have to undergo biometrics. It will boost the U.S. economy with increased income tax revenue and opportunity for entrepreneurship and job creation. It will prevent the loss of loss of talent and job creation to other countries. It will keep families together, which prevents needless trauma which can lead to criminal behavior.

The applications for these forms of relief are also fee-based, so will not cost U.S. taxpayers anything. Those interested in applying should take care to avoid immigration scams and notarios or immigration “consultants”, especially those who are already taking payment to process applications as it is not yet possible to apply.

Information is available from USCIS’s Information on Executive Action page, which provides eligibility information. It is important to note when applying that the government will review the applications on a case-by-case basis and determine whether the applicant is an enforcement priority. This means that those who are felons, misdemeanants, very recent entrants to the U.S., or who have existing orders of deportation will be prioritized for removal and could be placed in removal proceedings if they apply. Reading the fine print of the enforcement priority memo, applicants should also take care if they have previously misrepresented themselves to an immigration officer or used fraudulent documents. Basically, unless you are squeaky clean, take care and seek legal advice before submitting an application.

By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at Alano Immigration in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+

The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano is now Alano Immigration

Cindy Gonzales Studio
Cindy Gonzales Studio

I am happy to announce that I have changed my business name from The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano to Alano Immigration. My office has continually made changes for the better over the years, and my office rebranding is one of those changes. My previous business name served me well in establishing my solo practice and getting my name out to my clients and colleagues. In making my practice and services better, I am always trying to simplify and modernize. Two of my favorite phrases are “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (attributed to Leonardo da Vinci), and “Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.)”. I was also reading Martha Stewart’s book, The Martha Rules, 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Build, or Manage a Business,” and Martha writes that a business name should state what it does. “Alano Immigration” is much more direct in stating what I do and easier to say. As I was reading the book, I was also working on updating my logo and website to something more user friendly and modern; it felt like the right time to make the change.

I wanted to take this opportunity to say “Thank you” to my clients, colleagues, friends and family for your continued support of my practice. As many of you know, it is my calling, and I truly enjoy empowering people as their counselor and advocate – and even just making their lives a little easier by guiding them through the immigration maze. I am looking forward to many more years in practice and our continued mutual success at our endeavors.


By Grace Alano.  Grace Alano is an immigration attorney at Alano Immigration in San Francisco, CA. Find Grace Alano on Google+.

How will YOU make the next day better?

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

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” at 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

Photo from
Photo from

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+