Trump’s Executive Orders a Slap at Bush-Era Enhancements to Visa Security?

Donald J. Trump stated, in the introductory material to his January 27, 2017 Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” that “while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks . . . these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.”

The order doesn’t mention which attacks Trump thinks could have been prevented, but here’s a handy article on “How Many Terrorist Attacks in the U.S. Have Been Carried Out by Immigrants from the 7 Banned Muslim Countries?”.

The Executive Order goes on to call for a “uniform screening standard,” suggesting that Trump and his advisers think that what’s already in place is haphazard at best.

Interesting, given that at the time, the changes to visa screening procedures were considered so severe that some worried they were causing a decline in travel to the United States and “hurt businesses by straining relationships with customers and hindering opportunities for new business.”

Let’s take a look back at what new immigrant-screening measures were implemented after September 11, initially by President George W. Bush and then followed up on or adjusted by President Obama:

  • Creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which brought together 22 separate agencies, including all immigration and border-related ones, into a single, Cabinet-level department.
  • Requirement that airlines send passenger lists in advance of flights, for review by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). (See Aviation Security.)
  • More scrutiny of fingerprints, names, and other records before approval for visas for tourists, business visitors, students, and others, thus adding 50 days to visa approval times in many cases.
  • Creation of machine-readable, tamper-proof visas.
  • Enhanced use of technology and data sharing between federal agencies.
  • Requirement that all visa applicants from certain countries undergo an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate before visa approval.
  • Additional training of U.S. consular officers who review visa applications to help them identify fraud and terrorist links.
  • Increased visa fees.
  • Creation of US-VISIT, a program that captures biometric data from foreign nationals both at visa-issuing U.S. consulates and embassies and at U.S. ports of entry. (It’s now called “Office of Biometric Identity Management.”)
  • Implementation of the SEVIS database, an online tracking system under which schools are made responsible for tracking foreign students enrolled there.
  • Implementation of the Alien Absconder Initiative, which involved interviewing non-citizen men from “MASA” (Muslim, Arab, and South Asian) countries.
  • Creation of the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) special registration program), under which adult males from 25 predominately Muslim countries were required to register and be fingerprinted and photographed at ports of entry or present themselves at immigration offices inside the U.S. for fingerprints and photographs. This was later ended.
  • Other changes that were not publicly disclosed.

This information was compiled from various resources, such as an American Bar Association Article on “9/11 and Immigration Law and Policy,” and this DHS report on Implementing 9/11 Commission Recommendations.

And although it’s a long list, I may have missed a few. One wouldn’t think that one Republican president would so easily forget or dismiss such significant efforts by another. But then, a list of forgotten lessons of history would be even longer than the list above.

Selling a House in 2017? What to Consider

If you’ve already decided that this is your year to sell, you’ve probably been monitoring the housing market and enjoying the steady price appreciation that the last few years have brought to most parts of the United States.

That appreciation is projected to continue through 2017—albeit not as dramatically. The National Association of Realtors’ Senior Economist Joe Kirchner says that, “Nationally, home prices are forecast to slow to 3.9 percent growth year over year, from an estimated 4.9 percent in 2016.”

Part of the issue, according to Kirchner, is that interest rates will likely go up to 4.5 percent, driven by inflation.

The rising interest rates reduce the buyer pool somewhat, which isn’t good for sellers like you. On the other hand, with some homeowners changing their mind about selling (as they wait for prices to move up again), inventory may go down, and your house may become the plum that the remaining buyers are seeking.

As always, remember that in the final analysis, it’s your local market that determines how quickly and profitably your home sells—and there’s nearly always something new happening there, with or without a new calendar year.

As Las Vegas-based Realtor Rob Jensen (who contributed to the recently issued second edition of Nolo’s book Selling Your House) explains, “You’ll want to look carefully at your nearby competition including new builds.  Some people would rather buy a new home than a resale, so you are competing with new construction as well as resale homes. Comps tell the past of what has sold, but what’s for sale now? Regardless of how special or amazing your home is, buyers have choices, so do your best to look objectively at all the competition.”

How a Repeal of Obamacare Could Affect Persons With Disabilities

The Affordable Care Act’s ban on preexisting condition exclusions was a big benefit to those with disabilities: they were allowed to purchase insurance despite having preexisting medical issues, without having to pay higher rates or suffer through waiting periods. But the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has also had a positive effect on Social Security disability, Medicare, and Medicaid. Repealing it, or reversing course on preexisting conditions, could be a big setback for these programs.

The Affordable Care Act undeniably helped lower the number of people on Social Security disability and disability-related Medicare. Since it went into effect, annual applications for Social Security disability have decreased by over 12%. And 150,000 fewer people are receiving disability benefits today then were in 2014. While there were economic factors at play, affordable health care played a role. Historically, many folks with preexisting conditions who lost their work-based health coverage applied for disability benefits so they could get health care benefits. They knew that an approval for Social Security disability meant they could either qualify early for Medicare, or, if they had very low income (or somewhat low income and very high medical expenses), for Medicaid. After Obamacare was passed, some of these folks undoubtedly were able to buy insurance on the health care exchanges—or get coverage through their state’s Medicaid expansion—and didn’t have to file for benefits.

Not only that, better-health-more-likely-employedbut since the Affordable Care Act gave persons with disabilities or chronic medical conditions access to good health care and reasonably priced medications, more of them were no doubt able to work despite having physical or mental impairments; fewer of them may have needed to apply for disability benefits.

And because of better health care and access to medications, those who couldn’t work due to a temporary illness or injury might have been less likely to need to be off work indefinitely. They might have recovered sooner, thanks to regular doctors’ visits and proper medication, and not have had to apply for disability benefits.

A repeal of the Affordable Care Act and/or the preexisting condition exclusion could reverse these improvements. In addition, taking health care away from people with severe disabilities makes it harder for them to get approved for the benefits they need. Disability applicants who aren’t able to see a doctor for treatment regularly, and who don’t have lab results or MRIs to prove their disability, are often denied. When applicants have poor medical records, Social Security spends more money to send applicants to consultative medical exams—and then often denies them anyway. In short, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act or the ban on preexisting condition exclusions is likely to affect the disabled more than others.

 

Minimum Wage Increases for 2017

With the start of the new year, the minimum wage has increased in 19 states (along with a few increases scheduled for later in the year). The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25; this is the lowest hourly amount that employers can pay employees in the United States. However, if a state has a higher minimum wage, the employer must pay the higher amount. Likewise, if a city or county has a higher minimum wage than the federal or state rate, the employer must pay the higher amount.

As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage increased to the following amounts:

  • Alaska: $9.80
  • Arizona: $10
  • Arkansas: $8.50
  • California: $10 (employers with up to 25 employees) and $10.50 (employers with 26 or more employees)
  • Colorado: $9.30
  • Connecticut: $10.10
  • Florida: $8.10
  • Hawaii: $9.25
  • Maine: $9
  • Massachusetts: $11
  • Michigan: $8.90
  • Missouri: $7.70
  • Montana: $8.15
  • New Jersey: $8.44
  • New York: $9.70
  • Ohio: $8.15
  • South Dakota: $8.65
  • Vermont: $10
  • Washington: $11

On July 1, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following states:

  • Maryland: $9.25
  • Oregon: $10.25

On December 31, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following state:

  • New York: $10.40

Employers and employees should check with their city or county to find out if there is a local minimum wage. For more information about the rules in your state, see Your Right to Minimum Wage.

Losing the Home Office Space Means Losing the Tax Deduction, Too

Overtime2A recent article in Bloomberg reported that dedicated space for a home office is “less of a selling point” than it once was for home sellers. It’s appearing less often in real estate ads and marketing, and new-home developers are shifting toward open-floor plans containing flexible spaces, workspace nooks, and lots of handy electrical outlets.

That’s all very well as a reflection of how modern connectivity allows many people to work from their sofa, in their pajamas, or at just about any time and place in their home. But if you’re operating some sort of business principally from your home, it’s worth also considering what you might lose out on when tax time rolls around if you don’t have a dedicated home office space.

The home office tax deduction lets people who meet various legal requirements deduct a percentage of their home-related costs, such as utilities, rent, insurance, depreciation, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and certain casualty losses, repairs, and improvements.

But here’s the key thing to remember: the deduction applies only if you regularly use part of your home exclusively for your trade or business. The IRS can be a stickler on this point–if, for instance, your office is also the family TV room, an auditor who notices that might not allow the deduction.

Any shared use of a room or equipment can be problematic. So if it gets to the point where you can’t point to ANY part of your home that’s solely used to run your business, say bye bye to the deduction.

Check out Nolo’s articles on Home Deductions for more on the exact rules and benefits of the home office tax deduction.