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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Men Charged in Human Trafficking Conspiracy for Exploiting Thai Farm Workers in Hawaii

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Friday, August 28, 2009
Three Men Charged in Human Trafficking Conspiracy for Exploiting Thai Farm Workers in Hawaii

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced the indictment of Alec Souphone Sou and Mike Mankone Sou, owners of Aloun Farm in Hawaii, and Thai labor recruiter William Khoo late yesterday for engaging in a conspiracy to commit forced labor and visa fraud. The charges arise from the defendants’ alleged scheme to coerce the labor and services of Thai nationals brought by the defendants to Hawaii to work under the federal agricultural guest worker program. Both Sou defendants are also charged with conspiring to commit document servitude.

The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, Alec and Mike Sou each face maximum sentences of 15 years in prison and William Khoo faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Alec Sou, Mike Sou and William Khoo conspired and devised a scheme to obtain the labor of 44 Thai nationals by enticing them to come to Aloun Farms in Hawaii with false promises of lucrative jobs, and then maintaining their labor at the farm through threats of serious economic harm, according to the indictment. They arranged for the Thai workers to pay high recruitment fees, which were financed by debts secured with the workers’ family property and homes. Significant portions of these fees went to the defendants themselves, as alleged in the indictment. After arrival at Aloun Farms, the Sou defendants confiscated the Thai nationals’ passports and failed to honor the employment contracts. The Sou defendants maintained the Thai nationals’ labor by threatening to send them back to Thailand, where they would face serious economic harms created by the debts. The indictment also charges that the defendants engaged in a visa fraud conspiracy by making false representations in documents filed to obtain employment-based visas.

This case is being investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys Susan French and Kevonne Small of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Q/A: What's is the difference between being "Arrested", "Charged", "Sentenced", or "Placed in Alternative Sentencing" ???

These terms are used by USICS when addressing whether a petitioner has a criminal history. Is important to understand the difference.

Arrested -- This means that you were taken in to custody by the police. Once you are taken in to custody, it will be decided if you will be charged with a crime. Someone who is arrested is not necessary charged with a crime.

Charged -- Once you are in the custody of the police, the prosecutor's office (aka state attorney, district attorney) will decide whether to charge you. If you are charged, you will be given a charging document (sometimes also called complaint or information). This charging document will state exactly what crimes (charges) you are facing.

Sentenced -- Being sentenced means that the "punishment" you got when you admitted (pled) you are "guilty" or when the judge/jury decided you were "guilty". If you were placed in jail/prison, probation, community service, or mandatory classes, you were sentenced.

Alternative Sentencing -- Sometimes called "differed sentencing". A court may require you to satisfy certain conditions (such as community service, classes, etc) in exchange for a dismissal.

Q/A: What documents should be included if you have a criminal history ?

For most petitions and applications, you will need to submit additional evidence/documents if you have been arrested, charged, sentenced, or been placed in alternative sentencing. You will want to include a "charging document" (sometimes also called a complaint, information, or traffic citation), final orders (ie what happened in the case, and some documentation that you completed any sentencing (sometimes called final disposition). Different counties, cities, and states use different terminology for the foregoing, so it is important to describe to the clerk what you are looking for.

If you have lived in different places around the U.S., it is advisable to do a national criminal history check on yourself. These are available online for a small fee. Once you have this report, which will usually include case numbers, you will then call each court clerk individually to get a copy of the file.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Criminal History Records

If you have ever been arrested, or convicted for a crime, it would have serious effect on your immigration status. Often, immigration petitions/applications will ask you for if you have ever been arrested, charged, or convicted. Having an arrest or conviction, does not automatically disqualify you, however, you will need to submit documentation of those arrests and convictions.

Be honest. You can not hide your criminal record from the USCIS. They have access to the FBI criminal database, and if you have been in trouble before, they will find it. Failure to disclose your criminal history can result in the denial of your petition/application.

Again, having been arrested or convicted is not an automatic disqualification. Depending on the particular petition/application and the nature of the crime, only recent arrests and convictions will be considered. However, you must still disclose ALL past arrests and convictions.

First it is advisable for you to run a complete national criminal background check on yourself (if you have been arrested or convicted a number of times). These are available online for a fee. Once you have an idea of all of your arrests and convictions, you will need to contact each particular court with your case number to get the file. It is important to get the “complaint” or “information”, or “charging document”. This will show what crime you were being charged with. Also it is important to get the “order”, “sentence” or any other document which showed that a case was dismissed or a sentence was imposed. Finally, if you were sentenced, you will need some type of documentation to show that you have successfully completed the sentence. This can usually be obtained from the court, police department, or probation office, in the area where you were arrested.

Collecting all of these documents can be a time consuming process, especially if you do not live in the area that you were arrested in. The courts mail out your file, if you pay a copying fee. However, this can often take weeks to months, so give your self plenty of time.

If you have been arrested or convicted of serious crimes, such as violent crimes, homicides, drug trafficking, terrorism, etc, it is advisable to consult an attorney before you file your petition/application.

Submitting Evidence/Documents

When submitting a petition or application, it is often necessary to submit evidence/documents in support of your petition or application. Commonly needed documents include birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, death certificates, criminal history records, bank statements, tax returns, etc.

Failure to provide the necessary evidence/documents can result in significant delay of your petition/application, and can ultimately lead to its denial. If you failed to provide the necessary evidence/documents, upon your initial filing, generally, you will “Request for Evidence” (or RFE) will be sent to you. The RFE will often not allow you a whole lot of time to gather the necessary evidence/documents. If you do not provide the necessary evidence/documents pursuant to the RFE, your petition or application will almost certainly be denied. To make sure that your petition or application is approved timely, it is important that you submit the right evidence/documents when you initially file your petition or application.

The types of evidence/documents that you need to submit depends on the type of petition or application you are filing (for example, if you are filing for a fiance’/j visa, and you and/or fiancé has been previously married, you will need to submit divorce decrees to prove that you and your fiancé are both currently single). Before filing out the petition or application, be sure to READ THE INSTRUCTIONS on the petition or application. The instructions will tell you the types of documents that you need to submit. If you do not have the instructions for a particular form, go to link .

If you are unable to obtain the evidence/document required by the USCIS, the instructions sometimes allow for “secondary evidence”. What is allowed for secondary evidence depends on the particular petition or application, and should be stated in the instructions. If you are still unable to get secondary evidence, you should provide a brief explanation as to why you can not obtain the necessary documents. This explanation is best done through a letter.

When submitting documents, it is always a good idea to submit certified copies (ie documents containing original official governmental seals, stamps, signatures, etc.) If you are submitting an original document, one for which you would like back, a form G-588 “Request for Return of Original Documents” should also be submitted.

If you are submitting evidence/documents which are in a language other than English, make sure that you have them translated. The translated documents should be accompanied by a certification from the translator that the translation is accurate.

Finally, make sure you make a copy of everything you submit for yourself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keeping Good Records

If you are filing immigration petitions/applications without an attorney, there is one crucial mistake that most people make. That is that they don't keep a copy of the application they send in. This includes a copy of all the supporting documents that you send in.

The USCIS (or any other governing body) is a huge bureaucracy, and often lose or misplace petitions/applications/documents that are sent to them. Sometimes, they will claim that you did not send them a particular document and subsequently delay or deny your application. This delay can be create a great deal of hardship to the petitioner. Trying to get a copy of your application/petition/documents back from USCIS can often be frustrating and sometimes impossible. For example, if USCIS asks for additional information, they will only give you 30 days to respond. The likelihood that you can request and receive a copy of your original application within the 30 days, and allow you time to craft an appropriate response, is slim. While an extension of time is possible, it is not guaranteed.

When USCIS sends the petitioner a request for [additional] documents, the petitioner is often confused about what has been previously submitted, or if the USCIS asks for a document that has already been submitted, the petitioner has to go through to the effort/time/expenses of "re-obtaining" the documents, since no copy was kept. Further, often the USCIS will question a petitioner's answers to a petition/application. Without a copy of the petition/application submitted, most petitioners have forgotten their answers. Further, having a copy of the petition/application will also help an attorney understand your case and provide a record for an appeal, if your petition/application is later denied.

Important things to have a copy of:
1. your application/petition
2. any supporting documents sent in with your application/petition
3. copies of certified mail return receipts (you should always use certified mail or some other traceable method, so that you have proof of WHEN your petition/application was sent in, in case the USCIS questions your petition/application for timeliness).
4. all letters/corespondences between you and USCIS.

James C. Tai

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Transition to U.S. Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Starting in November 28, 2009, pursuant to the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 , U.S. Department of Homeland Security will assume full control of U.S. immigration matters in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Some Key Effects (for full details, see Department of Homeland Security Page Link)

  • Includes the CNMI in the definition of “United States” under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Provides for the Department of Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to immediately resume its role as a protection consultant with regard to asylee and refugee protection, followed by full federal assumption of responsibility for these functions on the transition program effective date. The INA section on asylum, however, continues to be inapplicable to the CNMI during the transition period.
  • Amends the Guam Visa Waiver Program statute to create a Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program and extends the authorized period of stay from 15 days to 45 days, as of the beginning of the transition period.
  • Creates a nonimmigrant transitional worker immigration status during the transition period.
  • Continues lawful presence and employment authorization (if applicable) for aliens lawfully admitted by the CNMI as of the transition program effective date. Such lawful presence and employment authorization will remain valid until the end of the CNMI authorization or at the end of two years – whichever is first.
  • Provides for treaty investor nonimmigrant status for aliens with certain CNMI authorized long-term investor status.
  • Exempts the CNMI and Guam from the statutory caps on the number of H nonimmigrant temporary workers during the transition period.
  • Limits the removal of aliens lawfully present in the CNMI as of the start of the transition period on the basis of presence without admission or parole during the initial two years of the transition period or until that lawful status expires, whichever occurs first.
  • Eliminates the provision in the Covenant specifying that immigration-related fees are paid to the CNMI government, given that the Federal Government is to assume immigration responsibilities in the CNMI.
  • Specifies that prior residence in the CNMI will count as residence in the United States for a permanent resident alien who may otherwise have been considered to have abandoned residence in the United States by residing in the CNMI.
  • Authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to establish operations in the CNMI prior to the beginning of the transition period.
  • Requires the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, and Justice to recruit and hire personnel from among qualified local applicants, to the maximum extent practicable.

Important Things to Know if You are Detained

1. If you are arrested by the police, do not volunteer information about your immigration status to them. (However, if you are represented by a criminal defense attorney, make sure that you disclose your status to the attorney, so they can advise you of the immigration consequences of any plea deals that you take).

2. If you are arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you have the right not to sign any statements or documents. DO NOT volunteer any information about your status, as anything you say can be used against you at a later time. DO NOT lie to the immigration officer, as lying about your status can result in serious punishments. SAY YOU WANT TO SPEAK TO A LAWYER.

3. Once you have been processed, make sure you write down the name and phone number of the immigration officer assigned to you. You should also be given a "Notice to Appear" (NTA), which will contain the charges against you. Make sure you have your alien registration number (A11 111 1111). If you do not know your number, try to contact a family member.

4. You have the right to make a phone call. Call either your family or an attorney.

5. Always keep your legal documents with you at all times. Make sure that your documents are not processed as "personal property". Make sure that your family also has a copy of your legal documents.

6. If your family does not know where you are detained, they can call ICE headquarters at 202-305-2734, or go online at They will need your full name and your alien registration number.

7. Your family may be able to visit you while you are detained. DO NOT HAVE UNDOCUMENTED FAMILY MEMBERS VISIT YOU.

8. You should always request a Bond Hearing. Payment of the bond will allow you get out of detention pending your case. A bond is moneys paid to the government to guarantee that you return for the hearings. Some people maybe released without a bond, such as women who are pregnant. Some people are not eligible for a bond, example, if you have a previous deportation order, if you have certain criminal convictions, if you were arrested at the border or airport, or if the government suspects you of having terrorist ties. You can request that the immigration judge lower your bond, if you can not afford the amount set. The judge has the power to lower the bond to $1500.

9. At the bond hearing, you want to the convince the judge that you are not a risk to flee if bond is granted. Make sure you bring to the bond hearing any documents that show you have a permenant address, stable employment, relatives with legal status in the US, or any documents showing evidence of strong ties to the communitiy. Testimony from family members and friends is also helpful at bond hearings. Written letters of support can also be used.

10. If you have criminal record, you need to get a copy of your criminal history. This can be obtained in the Clerk's office of the County where you were convicted or arrested. If you previously had a criminal defense attorney, they will also have criminal records.

11. You do not have the right to a free attorney in immigration proceedings. Once you have been detained, the case can move forward very quickly. Therefore, you need to contact an attorney AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

12. The deportation officer should give you a list of free legal service providers. If he/she does not provide you with one, ASK.

13. When hiring attorney, make sure they have experience with deportations. Make sure that the attorney has seen your NTA before he/she makes any promises of what he/she can do for you. Always request a written contract (engagment letter or retainer agreeement) with your attorney. Always keep the engagement letter or retainer agreeement with you. Always keep all correspondences between you and your attorney.

14. There are generally 2 types of hearings after you are detained, "Master Calender", and "Individual Hearing". A master calender is short hearing where you can tell the judge whether you wish to contest the deportation. You can also ask for additional time to find an attorney, if you wish to contest. If you proceed without an attorney, DENY the charges, and make the government prove thier case. If you are applying for a way to stay in the US legally, you will have an individual hearing.

15. If you are contesting the deportation, you can ask the judge at the master calender hearing for voluntary removal. This may avoid later penalties, barring you from re-entering the US.

Detailed information about the above can be found at National Immigration Project. Link

James C. Tai

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

EB-5 Visas

Invest $500,000, score a U.S. visa

To find financing in a frozen economy, some entrepreneurs are turning to a little-known program for foreign investors. Link from

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beware of Who You Get Immigration Advice From

There are many out there who prey on the innocence, ignorance, or desperation of those who are in need of immigration services. Often people are duped in paying for thousands of dollars by "notarios", and "immigration consultants".

“The word notario in the Hispanic community has a completely different meaning than it has in the United States,” says the incoming president of the American Bar Association. "In many countries, a notario is not just the same thing as an American notary public, but the moniker can also denote someone authorized to handle a variety of legal matters."

According to an article in the Daily Business Review (link)

"An April indictment charged three Miami residents who allegedly held themselves out as immigration consultants; one said he was a Homeland Security agent who could help with documents. Ripping off the valid immigration numbers of identity theft victims from Mexico, Poland, Ethiopia and Jamaica, the team allegedly collected $425,000, charging immigrants in Miami and New York as much as $7,500 each to process Internet applications for visas. Two defendants pleaded guilty and one was convicted at trial. They face sentences of up to 25 years in federal prison."

The USCIS has this posted this informative page on their official website to help people find the necessary legal help. Link.

New Naturalization Test

USCIS has announced a new naturalization test. Link. The page also contains valuable information, including study materials.

Immigration Law Firm Charged with Visa Fraud

To read the article, follow the link.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Deportation clock ticks as advocates fight for Central Florida man's stay

'This is the only country I know,' says Walter Lara, brought illegally to the U.S. as a child" Read Full article from the Orlando Sentinel. Link

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Candor and Thoroughness in the Immigration Process

The most important thing to remember when filing an immigration petition or application is candor and thoroughness. Failure to do so may result in delay or the ultimate denial of your application. It is crucial that you disclose ALL of the information, that USCIS is asking for. Besides simple disclosure, it is also important to explain as thoroughly as possible. For example, if they USCIS asks about your criminal history, it is critical that you disclose EVERY arrest or incident, no matter what the outcome of the incident was. If your case was dismissed, sealed, expunged, etc., be sure to include that in your explaination. It is also advisable that you attach applicable documents to your application, which provides proof to the statements you are making.

A major critieria in the immigration process is the USCIS's "perception" of the truthfulness of the applicant. Whether this preception is true or not, it is what they will be basing thier decision on. If you provide them any reason to believe that you are less than truthful in your application, they can deny it solely based on on that. Although most ommissions of information are not intentional, having to explain those mistakes later can be quite burdensome.

It is imperative that an applicant thoroughly reviews his/her application before submission. Once it is submitted, can retractions or oral modifications (at interviews) can be construed as not be truthful.

James C. Tai

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Top Ten Tips for Avoiding Trouble With U.S. Immigration

From by Ilona Bray

Keep your status secure and your visa and green card applications moving along smoothly.Â

1. Plan for delays. If you are in the United States and your work permit or status needs to be renewed, realize that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly called the INS) is extremely backed up. Cope by turning in your application far in advance. This is particularly important if your legal status has an expiration date on it. If you fall out of status, the immigration authorities could arrest you.

2. Consider U.S. citizenship. If you have a green card, file for U.S. citizenship as soon as legally possible. This will not only protect you from deportation, but will also help you get a more secure status for your close family members. Most people have to wait five years after their green card approval before applying, but some people can apply sooner. For more information, see the USCIS website or the book Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview (Nolo).

3. Avoid summary removal. When arriving in the U.S. from overseas, be ready to convince the border official that you deserve your entry visa. These officials have a lot of power and they can send you back if they think you are a security risk or that you lied in order to get the visa. Tourists should be careful not to pack anything that looks like they're planning a permanent stay, such as a résumé or a wedding dress.

4. Notify USCIS of address changes. If you're spending more than 30 days in the U.S., you must notify USCIS of your changes of address, within ten days. You and every member of your family must send separate notifications. You can do so either by mailing in Form AR-11 (available on the USCIS website), or better yet, through USCIS's online change of address service. Also, be sure to send written word of your new address to every USCIS office that's handling an application of yours -- otherwise, the office might not hear of the change.

5. File multiple visa petitions. If you plan to get a green card through a family member, see if more than one member of your family is eligible to submit the visa petition for you. For example, a brother and a sister who are U.S. citizens could both file for you. That way if the waiting list in one category gets especially long, or if one person dies, you'll have another option.

6. Don't be late. Be extremely careful to arrive on time for any scheduled appointment with the USCIS, a U.S. embassy or consulate, or the U.S. immigration court. Arriving late -- or not at all -- can result in months of delays at best, and deportation from the U.S. at worst.

7. Avoid visa violations. Make sure you understand the fine print surrounding your visa, work permit, or green card, and follow the rules carefully. Violating even minor terms of your visa or green card -- for example, working while you're here as a tourist or helping to smuggle a family member over the border -- can result in your visas being canceled or your being deported. For more information on the various visas and green cards available, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy (Nolo).

8. Copy and track paperwork. USCIS is famous for losing paperwork. Send all applications and other material by certified mail, with a return receipt, and keep a copy. They're not only your proof of filing, but may become the main copies in the USCIS files if the original is never found.

9. Do your research. Be careful who you accept advice from. Rumors and friends can't be relied on -- everyone's legal situation is different. Even USCIS employees sometimes give out wrong advice, for which you pay the consequences. Do your own research where possible, and if necessary take your unanswered questions to an immigration attorney or accredited representative whose reputation you've checked out.

10. Get help from above. If nothing else is working, contact your U.S. congressperson. They can usually make an inquiry for you, which often encourages the USCIS or consulate into taking appropriate action.


Monday, June 8, 2009

When Do You Need an Immigration Attorney?

1. If you have committed or been convicted of any crime.

2. If your prior applications have been denied.

3. If you have attempted the process on your own and simply cannot figure out what to do next.

4. If you have been deported or otherwise forced to leave the United States.

5. If you have a communicable disease.

6. If you have filed your immigration forms and have been waiting an unreasonably long time for a response.

7. If you divorced your first U.S. spouse before the condition was removed from your permanent residence and you are now seeking to adjust status based on a marriage to another U.S. citizen.

8. If your marriage to a U.S. citizen failed before you were able to file your petition to have the condition removed on your residency, and you will have to file alone.

9. If you are immigrating with your family and you have a child that could reach age twenty-one before your permanent residence status is granted.

10. If you are obtaining a visa or green card based on an employment offer, but your prospective employer has not offered to handle the immigration process.

For a more detailed discussion for these issues, please see the FIND LAW article.


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