Every year the firm sends a few lucky attorneys to the annual American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conferences. This June I was pleased to attend the San Francisco conference.
The conference was perfectly timed. It started June 26, the day the Supreme Court issued its decision in two seminal cases on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which we will discuss in depth in a later post. On this day, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of DOMA which denied federal benefits to couples in same-sex marriages. The same day, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court, in striking down Proposition 8, held that a same-sex couple had the right to marry in California. The net result of these decisions is that the federal government must grant the same benefits to same-sex couples that different-sex couples receive. From an immigration perspective, the impact of the decisions is that U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor their same-sex partners for permanent residency (i.e. green cards). Same-sex spouses can also be included as derivatives in their partners’ family and employment-based green card applications. Same-sex couples will also be able to apply for dependent visas (such as L-2, O-3, and H-4) very shortly. USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, in his keynote speech at the Conference, confirmed that USCIS will move forward with granting green cards for spouses in same-sex marriages. Mayorkas also said that USCIS has kept records of all the I-130 family petitions that were denied because the marriages were of same-sex.
Within a few days of the Supreme Court decision, I-130 green card applications were being granted. And on July 2, the Secretary of Homeland Security stated: "...I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.” USCIS also confirmed it will look to the law of the place where the marriage was performed when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes.
Another new development discussed at the conference was I-94 automation (which we will also be posting more about later). Starting April 30, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ceased issuing paper I-94s. Foreign nationals will now only receive a passport admission stamp indicating their date and place of entry, category of admission (H-1, O-1, AOS, WT, WB, and so on), and date of expiration of stay. Foreign nationals can then print off a record of their admission at www.cbp.gov/i94. CBP has created a video to show how to do this. Paper I-94s will still be issued at land borders. As with any major transition, there have been some hiccups. I've heard reports that people cannot find their admission record in the system. When they have been able to find their admission record in the system, some people are noting the incorrect status or expiration date has been entered or that their names have been spelled incorrectly. As CBP works out the kinks in the system, they suggest that the foreign national check their admission information carefully and if there is an error, return to Deferred Inspections (usually at the airport) to get the admission information corrected. Since the record or admission is crucial in obtaining a Social Security card and driver’s license, among other things, it is essential the correct information is recorded.
During the conference, on June 27, 2013, the Senate passed the immigration reform bill. This was a momentous step in the progress towards immigration reform. There are many things to be excited about in the bill (again, more discussions to follow) but it will be interesting and probably a bit frustrating to see how things play out in the House of Representatives.
I am always looking
for ways to improve my management skills, and so I attended a panel called “Common Staffing Nightmares.” This wasn’t just about
terrible staffing situations, but also about practical solutions for managing a
growing staff and building a good firm infrastructure that supports the clients
and staff equally. It always helps to
hear stories from other practices--although it can be a bit of a roller coaster
of emotions and thoughts, from "Been
there, done that!" and "We are pretty thoughtful for offering that benefit to
our staff," to "Great idea, we should try to do that!" to “Thank goodness we
never did that!" and “WOW, that is such an awful story!” One attorney mentioned having to call the
police and change all the locks to the office when the firm discovered the
paralegal was not who they thought her to be. Needless to say, I feel lucky with the staff I have. Not a criminal among them! Knock on wood.
Another interesting panel covered various smartphone apps (not necessarily immigration-related) and other technology that helps make us more accessible and efficient in an increasingly mobile world. Several apps were noteworthy:
PassportCAM: Allows you to take passport style photos for a variety of countries. All you need is the paper to print them out. When I got back to the office in New York, we tested this on my colleague Manny and it seemingly works well.
Evernote: A central place to keep all the stuff you don’t know where else to keep. Since I am always making lists and jotting down things (and often lose these lists), I am intrigued.
LastPass: An app that keeps track of all the passwords we have. I am sick of having to re-set passwords so I have high hopes for this one.
In addition to all the panels, I also was able to meet up with some colleagues and go to some excellent restaurants:
cuisine. It was packed but we were able
to wait across the street at a wine bar and they called us when the table was
ready. The food is organic and simple
but very good. Sadly I don’t remember exactly what we ate--too upset from Roger Federer’s
loss that day in the second round of Wimbledon--but I do remember it was
very good. I hear they have an
excellent custard French toast for brunch as well.
Café Jacqueline: I was craving a good soufflé, which happens to be one of my favorite desserts, and I read about this place where the owner makes every soufflé to order. The menu is predominantly savory and sweet soufflés. We had the cheese and garlic soufflé followed by the strawberry soufflé. Both were excellent. Since Jacqueline is making each and every soufflé by hand and to order, you do have to wait but a good bottle of wine and some good conversation made this one of my favorite meals in a long time.
Rich Table: Excellent
seasonal menu. Casual and friendly service. Rustic reclaimed wood walls and closely (though not by my New York standards)
spaced tables. Highlights of our meal
included the porcini doughnuts, an excellent burrata appetizer and innovative
pastas. The cocktails were unusual but excellent, especially the Silk Road.
Slanted Door: Vietnamese. As good as ever. Fantastic that
they have managed to keep up the standard all these years. Everything from the spring rolls to the
shaking beef and cellophane noodles was excellent. But save room for desert: the doughnuts were
amazing. I had to walk up one of the hills to work them off!
All in all, a good trip. The weather was fantastic and we managed to add in some fun activities. I have been attending AILA conference for many years (I sound more and more like an old lady every day) and even though the panels can get a bit repetitive, I always learn something new.