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Child Protections Added to Immigration Reform Bill

Whether documented or undocumented, immigrants are often caught up in lengthy legal actions. When immigrant parents get into legal trouble, their children can be extremely vulnerable. In the event of incarceration or deportation of an immigrant parent, the courts decide what will happen to their children.

Governmental bodies, of course, purport to have the best interests of those children at heart. But parents – the most important advocates a child can have – are often excluded from court proceedings if they are involved in immigration disputes. These are the proceedings in which parental rights and the child’s future are decided: at least 5000 children nationwide are in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported.

In recent sessions of Congress, lawmakers introduced a bill called the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act. The bill ensures a number of crucial protections for children of immigrants that find themselves embroiled in legal actions.

The bill would:

  • Allow parents, soon after their initial detainment, to make phone calls to arrange for someone to take care of their children;
  • Require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to consider the children’s best interest when making decisions on the detention, release, or transfer of immigrant parents (this moves the law in line with child custody proceedings in divorces, in which the child’s best interest is always held paramount);
  • Allow children to visit or at least call their parents during their detainment;
  • Ensure that parents are allowed to participate in their children’s family court hearings;
  • Ensure that if parents are required to leave the country, their departure can be coordinated with their children.

The legislation did not pass when it was introduced in previous sessions as a stand-alone bill. However, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) succeeded in adding the bill as an amendment to an immigration reform measure that appears to have quite a bit of momentum behind it. That bill was recently passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-5 vote. It would provide most undocumented immigrants in the United States a pathway to citizenship, reform border security, and implement new worker visa rules. And thanks to Sen. Franken, it includes vital protections for vulnerable children who are adversely affected through no fault of their own.

Franken introduced a second amendment that the committee also voted to add to the bill. It would reassign the responsibility to provide lawyers and other advocates to unaccompanied children. That responsibility currently lies with Health and Human Services, but Franken’s amendment would put it in the hands of the Justice Department, which Franken says is better equipped to handle it. According to a press release from the Senator’s office, “as recently as 2012, half of the unaccompanied children who arrived in the country were forced to represent themselves in immigration court.”

Posted on Friday, June 28th, 2013 at 9:23 am under Divorce and Family Law, News and Press.
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Foreclosure Fast-Track Bill Goes to Governor Scott

The Florida Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk that is intended to accelerate the process of home mortgage foreclosures. The crash in the Florida housing market was one of the worst in the nation.

Supporters of the legislation, HB 87, said that it will reduce the backlog of pending foreclosures and help the state’s housing industry.

On the last day of the Legislature’s 60-day session, the Senate passed the bill on a 26-13 vote. It recently cleared the House on an 87-26 vote.

Whether Scott will sign the bill is not clear. A spokesperson would only say that the governor’s office is reviewing the bill.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the bill would make banks demonstrate more thoroughly their ownership of a mortgage on which they file foreclosure. It also would enable parties other than mortgage holders, such as condo associations, to ask courts to accelerate foreclosure proceedings.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, was a prominent critic of the measure. He said it erodes longstanding property rights and does nothing to protect Floridians from losing their homes to fraud. Latvala countered that the bill has more safeguards for consumers than for banks.

One important provision would reduce the time limit for banks to try to get deficiency judgments against foreclosed homeowners from five years to one year. A deficiency exists when a foreclosed home is sold for less than the original homeowner owed on it.

Soto said that banks are deliberately slowing foreclosures in an attempt to prevent a glut of houses from hitting the market, which could cause another price crash. He said that for this reason, the bill would not produce its intended result.

A group called Jurists Engaged in Title Integrity said that the bill would put more burden on homeowners, limiting their time to demonstrate legal issues with foreclosures brought against them.

Meanwhile, the national housing market appears to be improving. The March figure for repossessed homes in the U.S. fell to a five-year low. The number was down 3 percent from February and down 21 percent from March, 2012, according to foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc.

Having an experienced bankruptcy attorney on your side during a home foreclosure is vital. This bill, if signed by Gov. Scott, would only increase the importance of this choice. Weaknesses in a lender’s foreclosure case are difficult to spot, and this bill would force defendants to bring these issues to the court’s attention much faster.

Posted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 at 8:01 am under Bankruptcy, News and Press.
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Many Americans Have No Savings and Are Stuck with High-Interest Debt

Nearly half of all Americans do not have enough savings to ride out a single emergency. And many more may be trapped in a cycle of debt on a certain type of high-interest loan. Two reports in the Los Angeles Times shine a light on the tenuous grasp many Americans have on financial solvency.

An article by Shan Li says that nearly 44 percent of American households would find themselves in financial ruin if they fell victim to one emergency. That is according to a study by the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Those families could not pay for their basic living expenses for three months if they lost their jobs or became too sick to work. Furthermore, nearly one third of Americans do not have a savings account at all.

In Florida, the rate is even worse than the nationwide average. The CFED measures the “liquid asset poverty rate,” defined as the percentage of households without enough cash or other liquid assets to live at the poverty level for three months if their income stopped. Florida’s rate is 51.9 percent, meaning more than half of Florida families fit this profile. That puts the Sunshine State 35th out of the 50 states.

Experts say stagnating wages, rising prices, and high-interest debt may be to blame for the discouraging figures.

The second article, by Alejandro Lazo, explains one widely-held form of high-interest loan called a payday loan. A payday loan is a small, short-term, unsecured loan that depends on the borrower’s ability to demonstrate that they are employed.

Although the loans are marketed as short-term, a study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows “high sustained use.” The CFPB found that the average payday loan customer took out 11 loans during a year-long period and paid a total of $574 in interest and fees. And the median number of days that borrowers remained indebted was 155.

The CFPB reports also found no real difference between payday loans and so-called “deposit advances” offered by some large banks.

High-interest debt creates a cycle of poverty that is very difficult to escape. It is important to make every effort to build a cushion of cash reserves so that you can weather a storm without resorting to burdensome debt. If you feel like your debt is keeping you from getting your head above water, it may be time to speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

Posted on Thursday, June 13th, 2013 at 8:00 am under Bankruptcy, News and Press.
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