COMMUNITY TAKES FREE LEGAL COURSES

The U.S. immigration application process was a hot legal course at the People’s Law School in Austin Saturday. Questions arose from how to obtain permanent residence, fees and consequences of losing the ability to apply for residence.

This photo is courtesy of Beatrice Murch (http://www.flickr.com/people/blmurch/) at Flickr.com (http://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/4262786267/sizes/m/in/photostream/)

Click the image to see a larger version.

Austin, TX

Several fees for immigration applications will increase in two months. At a free legal clinic held in East Austin, immigration and other questions about the economy trumped others.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency (http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis) announced this week that immigration application fees will increase (http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=5be73dc5cb93b210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=8a2f6d26d17df110VgnVCM1000004718190aRCRD) starting November 23.

This is also known as applying for a green card or for petitions on behalf of family or a job to obtain legal residence in the U.S.

The People’s Law School (http://www.austinbar.org/pages/PLSmain) offered free classes today on some of the most frequent legal topics and questions attorneys in Austin are facing.

“In this community, one of the biggest needs in immigration law," said Wesley Hottot (http://free.ij.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2221&Itemid=165), committee chair of the event hosted by the Austin Bar Association. “Another recurring need that people have, in the current economy, is bankruptcy law and debt collection."

Rafael Portillo attended one of the consumer law classes that cover debts, foreclosure and repossession.

“Four or five years ago we weren’t in this situation that the economy is now. We weren’t concerned about it," said Portillo. “But nowadays it’s something that you have to be concerned about it, but it’s now something you have to stay on top because otherwise, if you’re not careful, it will eat you up."“

Juan Felix Cuellar Vasquez attended the other popular class, immigration law. Vasquez is a lawyer in Mexico but wants to begin practicing law in the U.S as an immigration lawyer. He said many of his clients have a hard to time getting approved to be in the U.S. temporarily. For an immigrant to obtain a green card through employment (http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=24b0a6c515083210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD&vgnextchannel=24b0a6c515083210VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD), the company must show that no American was minimally qualified to fill the job position.

“There’s a lot of bureaucracy to go through in order to just get the opportunity to fill a position and so of he’s poorer clients, they do end up considering at least the undocumented route," he said through a translator.

Jacequline Watson (http://www.hines-leigh.com/jacqueline_watson.html), the immigration attorney who taught the class warned Vasquez and the class that the consequences for violating immigration laws can cost someone at least 10 years before they can apply again for U.S. residency. She said often children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents can be found ineligible to apply for permanent residency.

“There’s family, there’s employment," said Watson. “If you have entered the country illegally or if you’ve remained in the country illegally, you will not be eligible for either of those."

Watson, who grew up on the Texas border, said there are always exceptions but it’s very difficult to argue them. More recently, she said some immigrants are becoming eligible for residency through asylum because of the escalating violence in Mexico but even that requires considerable proof.

eaguilar@kut.org (mailto:eaguilar@kut.org)

— Erika Aguilar