Two Lawsuits Filed Today Attempt to Block Arizona’s New Immigration Law

Two lawsuits were filed today attempting to block Arizona’s new, restrictive immigration law. The first, was filed in the U.S. District Court in downtown Phoenix by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. In the suit, the organization claims that the law is illegal because it assumes the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement and the law may lead to racial profiling. The coalition represents 20,000 churches in 34 states throughout the U.S.

The second suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Tucson by a lawyer representing a Tucson police officer and additionally attempts to block the law. Three other groups are currently also planning to file suits in the near future. These groups include the ACLU of Arizona, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center, all of whom claim the law is unconstitutional and supports racial profiling.

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Many States Take Immigration Regulation Into Their Own Hands

Much of the nation is focused on the recent law change in Arizona that now allows Arizonan police officers to request proof of legal status of anyone suspected of being an illegal alien. However, Arizona is not the only state that has passed immigration-specific legislation. Because immigration changes have not happened at the national level, many states are taking immigration regulation into their own hands. In 2005, only 38 laws were enacted by state legislatures. In 2009 that rate was five times as high.

As of late last year, there have been 222 laws enacted by state legislatures, along with 131 state resolutions, in 2009. While a small amount of these have been vetoed by governors, the majority are now active regulations. The majority of the laws that passed last year focused on issues related to identification or driver’s licenses; others related to health and education. Most resolutions focused on celebrating ethnic heritage in the U.S. and immigrants and programs that support immigrants.

Arizona’s Governor Signs Restrictive Immigration Bill

*** UPDATE ***

Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, has signed into law a state bill that would require the state’s police officers to determine whether or not a person is in the U.S. legally.

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Arizona’s Governor, Jan Brewer, will announce her decision on whether she will sign her state’s restrictive immigration bill this afternoon. The bill, which directs police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if they reasonably suspect the person is an illegal immigrant, has been the cause of much dissent locally and nationally. It has been criticized by a number of immigration advocacy groups and even police organizations such as the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative.

Earlier today, President Obama additionally criticized the bill in remarks he made at a naturalization ceremony for active-duty service members:

“Indeed, our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” the president said. “And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.”

USCIS Provides Guidance for Foreign Nationals Stranded Due to the Icelandic Volcanic Activity

The Icelandic volcano last week has led to major disruptions in international air travel and many international visitors may be stranded in the U.S. due to cancelled flights and closures of European airports. Some foreign nationals may find that they are forced to exceed their authorized stay in the U.S. The U.S. government has been working to provide solutions and has announced two methods for relief for foreign nationals stranded in the U.S.

Foreign nationals at airports and traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) should contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office at the airport. They may also contact the local USCIS office. Staff at both of these offices have been provided with clear guidance on how they can help VWP travelers that are stranded in the U.S.

Foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. under a visa are asked to contact the closest USCIS office to extend their stay in the U.S. While USCIS recommends foreign nationals initiate the extension of stay process 45 days in advance, they are providing guidance to their staff on the best ways to handle cases affected by the Icelandic volcano.

U.S. and Germany Partner to Link their Trusted Traveler Programs

U.S. and German representatives this week signed a joint statement indicating their intent to integrate the U.S. and German trusted traveler programs. The two countries intend to develop processes for eligible citizens of the two countries to apply for both the United States’ Global Entry program and Germany’s Automated and Biometrics-Supported Border Controls (ABG) program.

“Integrating one of our biometric trusted traveler programs with Germany’s will facilitate legitimate trade and travel between our two nations while allowing law enforcement to focus on the most serious security threats at points of entry to our country,” said Jane Holl Lute, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Global Entry program allows pre-approved members a way to avoid regular passport processing lines, which can drastically cut down on wait times for such travelers. The ABG program is its German counterpart program and eases the process for international visitors to Germany.

More than 42,000 persons have enrolled in the Global Entry program, which uses biometrics to identify trusted travelers, since its launch in 2008. The program is available at 20 major airports in the United States for U.S. citizens and permanent residents over the age of 14 who have valid machine-readable passports and consent for background screenings.

Learn more about the Global Entry and other trusted traveler programs at http://www.cbp.gov/travel.

Arizona Passes Highly Restrictive Immigration Enforcement Bill

This Tuesday, Arizona passed a new, highly restrictive immigration enforcement bill. The new law, SB 1070, has made the lack of correct immigration paperwork a misdemeanor in the state. It also directs police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if they reasonably suspect the person is an illegal immigrant.

SB 1070 passed 35 to 21 in the State House of Representatives, but has nevertheless been the cause of much division throughout the state. Police associations were torn about the bill; police unions backed it, but the state police chief’s association opposed it and believed it could harm levels of trust the police have with immigrant communities in the state. Immigration groups, as expected, were horrified by the passing of the bill, with many stating it, in effect, mandates racial profiling and creates a police state.

USCIS Continues to Accept FY 2011 H-1B Petitions

USCIS announced earlier this week that it will continue to accept petitions for H-1B visas that are subject to the Fiscal Year 2011 H-1B Annual Cap. USCIS will accept enough petitions to ensure it is able to reach the 65,000 general H-1B cap and the 20,000 cap reserved for individuals with U.S. master’s degrees or higher.

As of this week, USCIS has received roughly 13,500 petitions counting toward the general cap and about 5,600 petitions for individuals with U.S. master’s degrees or above.

Please note that for cases that were filed during the first five-day window of this year’s filing period (April 1-7), the 15-day premium processing period began on April 7, 2010. The premium processing period for cases filed after that date will begin on the date that the petitions is received at the correct USCIS Service Center for processing.