AILA Conference 2020 Day 1 Session 2: Hot Topics & Banzilla

2020 AILA Conference: Day 1, Session 2: "Banzilla" Hot Topics

Categories: Resources
Published: July 23, 2020

Tags: AILA

2020 AILA Conference Hot Topics from “Banzilla” Summary:

In this video, Attorney Joseph Tsang discusses 5 hot topics in the AILA community that have come about because of changes by “Banzilla” (Trump administration) which can negatively affect your ability to get a green card or other immigration papers. These  hot topics include everything from the southern border of the US to DACA to changes with the USCIS.

Learn more by watching the full video.

Full Video Transcript

[Tsang Intro Splash]

Hi! Welcome to Tsang & Associates. It’s an exciting week. It’s AILA’s 2020 virtual conference. I’m going to do a review for each session, well not every session, but the sessions that I’m attending, and we’re going to be sharing it with you.

Now, if you’re not familiar with AILA, it’s the American Immigration Lawyer Association. It’s the largest immigration lawyer association in the United States, probably in the world. Each year, thousands of attorneys around the world will be gathering to discuss the pressing immigration issues of the day, discussing strategies and tips, and AILA will be inviting the top immigration lawyers on these subject matters to present their findings.

Now, before we get started, a quick disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this video are solely mine. Even though I am an AILA member, my opinions do not represent the opinions of AILA organization, nor even the opinions of the speakers themselves. You can download the original video and presentation from AILA University, so you can fact check everything I’m saying. My goal is to present a short condensed summary of the presentations that I witnessed and also express some of my opinion. If you like this kind of video, please subscribe, follow, and you can also look to AILA University. They provide awesome content. Now, let’s get started.

[1:12] Here we go, Day One Session Two: Hot Topics. Another term for this session could be called “Banzilla” because the government wants to ban everything. 

Now, AILA each year during these hot topic sessions invites the leading immigration scholars and thinkers and practitioners to discuss the hot topics and issues that’s affecting the nation, the agency, and the world as a whole. They discussed a lot of key things, but it can all be summarized under the banner of “Banzilla.” Basically, each speaker went down the list, talking about all the different things that this (Trump) administration has banned, and what AILA is doing in response to that. It’s super exciting, let’s dive into it.

[1:47] The first thing is the southern border. This is probably one of the biggest things the Trump administration has done to prevent people from coming into the country, preventing people from going up to the border and filing for asylum. Out of 20,000 applications typically they review, they’ve only allowed two. In the name of the pandemic, in the name of safety, they are rejecting these applications so people cannot even do it. And that’s assuming they even made it to the border.

Now, if you guys remember from the news not too long ago, the U.S. and Mexico wanted this agreement so that Mexico would block off people from getting to the border. So after being dissuaded over and over, all these refugees trying to make it to the border, trying to apply for asylum based on international law, now they’re being turned away in the name of the pandemic. So, that is one of the biggest things that they have done, and out of 20,000 applications, only two have been reviewed.

On top of this, USCIS has canceled a lot of their field offices around the world. And in the past, another way to apply for asylum is you could apply at a USCIS field office overseas without having to physically be at the border or fly into the U.S. and apply at the airport. You can apply overseas. Well, with those offices closed, now you don’t even have the opportunity to do that. So pretty much Banzilla number one from the Trump administration is basically canceling asylum as the entire field altogether because if people can’t apply, if people are turned away, then this entire field is basically gone.

[3:11] All right, Banzilla number two: USCIS shutdown. USCIS is the government agency that processes all immigration paperwork. If you’re getting a sibling green card, if you’re getting a spouse green card, if you’re getting H1B, if you’re getting a travel permit, if you’re getting a green card, it all goes through USCIS.

Recently, USCIS has requested a 1.2 billion dollar bailout because they ran out of money. The official reason is that it’s because of the pandemic, but there are words on the street, and also my personal opinion, and also many of my colleagues think that it’s not because of the pandemic. There are many other reasons that went into why the agency has run out of money. It’s been the most profitable in recent years. They have hiked up the immigration costs by 20%, and then they’re going to increase it by a potential 20% and another 10%. The application fee largely funds the immigration paperwork.

The reason why it has completely run out of money is because of the past four years, they have doubled the size of USCIS. They have hired so many more workers. I don’t know if it’s exactly double, but we know they hired a lot of people. And the reason they hire so many people is because they’re going to do a lot of fraud checks and duplicating and denying cases. The reason is that they are claiming that USCIS is not a benefit organization, it is a vetting organization, which means they are not here to try to give you a lot of benefits, they’re trying to deny you all these benefits.

Now the problem with that is every benefit agency is a vetting agency, right? You have to look at the document to see if they qualify. And every vetting agency, you’re vetting them from something, which you are a benefit. It’s the same coin, different sides. Any skew on that is actually incredibly wrong. But the point is that this administration has hired tons and tons of people to USCIS, and the application size has actually gone down because they made it more difficult. And the processing time has gone longer.

[4:59] Alright, so let’s do the math: less application fees, double the amount of cost of human capital to process all the applications, a longer time to process the applications, really leads to an agency running out of money, right? And so just like all the companies that have gone bankrupt, so USCIS is going bankrupt, and they’re asking for a bailout. They for sure will get the funds.

What AILA is doing is they’re trying to get Congress to put a condition on the bailout so that USCIS itself as an agency will be more accountable to how they are spending the money. Where is it going? Where is it going to all these vetting agencies, all these fraud inspectors? How are you spending the taxpayer money? And is it actually achieving what you wanted to achieve? Right? You can’t just be splurging the money, hiring all these people, and let them do nothing or double-checking the application for things that don’t need to be double-checked.

[5:46] The third banzilla is actually super concerning. USCIS is canceling attorney representation at interviews. This is huge. Okay, to be fair, we don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic or because of the furlough. But basically, attorneys are no longer able to represent their clients at these interviews. Now, if it’s just a pandemic, a temporary situation so that we don’t have a lot of people get together in one room for social distancing purposes, okay, we understand that. But not even allowing them to be on the phone, that seems kind of off, right? 

So the AILA speakers are urging all clients and attorneys to fight for their rights so that they are represented at these interviews, at least on a phone call or FaceTime or Zoom, so that they can be there during the interview when the officer is challenging the client on all of these things. right? I mean, if you waive the right, it’s like going to a court tria and the prosecutor is not allowing your attorney to represent you, to speak on your behalf, to present your case, and then they’re directly challenging you and cross-examining you. And that’s not your ability. And that’s just insane!

[6:46] These interviews are critical and they’re super important. And it’s not like having an attorney talk on your behalf. At the interviews, attorneys are not allowed to speak on your behalf typically. They typically sit behind you, and you have to answer all the questions. But the use of an attorney is when there’s something that’s slightly confusing, even for the officer. The attorney can help clarify.

Personally, I’ve been to a ton of these interviews, and it’s just so helpful having a third party just to explain the situation. For example, I’ve had an officer ask a client, ‘Hey, do you own a company in the U.S?’ And the client’s like, ‘No, I’m getting my green card through my family member.’ And they’re like, ‘No, you’re a liar. You applied for EB-5 years ago, and when you apply for EB-5, you own a company.’ And that’s why you own a company.’ And I had to jump in and explain a little bit like, ‘But that’s not really owning a company, right?’ He did an EB-5 investment, somebody else is managing it, he owns a small share of it. It’s like if you buy stocks, you buy stocks in Disney, you don’t really own Disney. You don’t really own a company. Nobody will think about that that way. My client owns actual other companies in Asia, but they don’t think about owning a small portion of a company in the U.S as owning a company. Just to help explain the situation a little bit and diffuse it is so important.

And sometimes, you know, these are foreigners coming to the U.S, they’re being challenged, they might not be fluent in English, and having to explain is just difficult. And so, not even allowing an attorney to be on the phone and explain is hugely detrimental to the fair adjudication of a case. And that is a huge problem.

[8:14] Banzilla number four: Immigration judges. This administration is putting in 26 new immigration judges, and a lot of their background is questionable. They have affiliations to hate groups and different groups that with really not impartial positions. And you would hope that if the administration does something wrong, the judicial branch would be able to hold them accountable. But if the immigration judges themselves are placed there by the same administration that’s pushing this agenda, that’s actually pretty wrong, isn’t it?

Now, historically, immigration judges have always been part of the executive branch. For them to kind of place them there, it is not a third-party judiciary like what we know typically. And that’s why AILA is fighting really hard to try to get the immigration court system to be its own independent judicial system, like the bankruptcy courts. It totally makes sense, and we really should have a separation of powers here. But right now, it isn’t.

Without an independent judiciary, this administration is putting in 26 new immigration judges and waiving the probation period. They’re immediately able to execute their philosophy, their values, and their beliefs, and they’re really anti-immigration. And that’s a really bad position for an immigration judge or any judge, for that matter, right? As a judge, you should show your loyalty to the Constitution, and you should try to firmly uphold the law. Now, judges can differ on opinions, but it should be independent from politics. We believe that as a country. Why don’t we put that in place with the immigration court system? It’s insane.

[9:40] Banzilla number five: DACA. If you watch the news, you will know how important DACA is to the immigration community and how important it is to this next presidential race.

Recently, the Supreme Court shut down Trump’s efforts to cancel DACA, and basically, DACA has allowed many people to come out of the shadows to work legally. For all intents and purposes, these people are just like any other U.S. citizen, except when they were young, they were brought here unlawfully. But they’ve gone through the entire U.S. education system, they’re in college or they’re in grad school, and they are ready to enter the workforce. But they cannot get their immigration papers, so they cannot work legally. 

While the Obama administration allowed them to apply for a work permit to work and pay taxes like everybody else, the Trump administration really didn’t like that. So they wanted to cancel it. The Supreme Court shut that down. So now technically, USCIS should be able to continue to accept applications, but they’re not.

So the AILA speakers are urging all new DACA applicants to include the Fourth Circuit ruling, Casa de Maryland, in their application because they will argue it will show that USCIS is mandated to accept these new applications and adjudicate them accordingly based on the Obama-era DACA rule because Trump’s rule was actually null and void.

[10:55] So that’s my takeaway from watching the hot topic discussion. You can actually download the full thing and watch it for yourself. There’s a lot of other really good points that I just have to skip for the time being.

Now, after watching it, I hope you don’t feel too discouraged. I actually feel very encouraged. Even though the government is so big and there’s ICE and there’s immigration judges that have alterior agendas and all these different things that’s cramping up the system, that’s not even allowing you to apply for the rightful benefit that international law dictates and all these different ways to prevent you from getting what you deserve, after hearing the speakers, it’s actually super incredible that there’s this entire body of lawyers trying to make it right. We’re not just trying to fix a system a year from now. We’re not just telling you that there’s all these problems. But anytime you see a problem, AILA immediately jumps in and fights on behalf of their clients, on behalf of its members, and trying to fix the system as a whole. Personally, I’m constantly seeing AILA do different things to improve the system and making USCIS accountable for their actions.And there are a lot of successes that come out of it, right? Like the Supreme Court ruling, the Harvard/MIT lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, and every single district in this country. AILA attorneys are constantly challenging things that are not right, unjust, unfair.

[12:12] Now, what’s really important for you to know, and this is something that I learned in law school, is that you are the one that’s changing the law. It’s not the attorneys, it’s not the judge, and it’s not the lawmakers. If you see something that’s unjust, if you are suffering something that’s not fair, that’s not right, you have to voice it. You have to bring that claim to an attorney and an attorney can take that and argue it zealously as much as possible so that it can go before a judge, and then the judge can then rule on it, and so it can become a precedent.

If the attorney doesn’t bring the case, the judge can never rule, and it never becomes a precedent, and it cannot, therefore, change the system, right? The administration can put out its agenda, USCIS can adjudicate it according to those principles and deny applications, but until and unless, you the applicant itself, brings the case before the courts, there’s no way to effectively change the system. And it’s still a fair system, it still could work, you just have to bring the case.

And we know you have to wait years and years through this application process, and then when something goes wrong, you have to wait years and years for it to be corrected through the immigration court system. We thank you for your patience, we thank you for your faith in this country to be better, we thank you for even wanting to be here and not just give up. You are making America great again.

[13:30] If you’ve never been to AILA’s National Conference before, after each session, typically all the attorneys will get together and ask the speaker questions, they will ask each other questions, they’ll discuss the issue at hand. It’s a super fun time networking event before the next session starts.

Now, since we’re not at the conference, but I’m pretty much treating it as if I’m at the conference for the next four days, if you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment below or email us or call us, just let us know your thoughts, and we’ll be happy to engage with you. 

Again, a huge shout out to AILA University for putting together this conference on such short notice, especially given the pandemic, as well as all the speakers that carved out their time and prepared this presentation to help educate the rest of the AILA community on these important topics. I know I personally gained a lot from it, and I go every single year.

Now, for the viewers, if you like this video or are interested in more videos like this, please subscribe, leave a comment, let us know what other things that you want to see. We’ll be happy to create more videos that are like this.

Have a great rest of the conference. Take care. Bye-bye