You’ve likely seen in the news this week that the Department of Homeland Security has announced official guidelines for how they will determine whether or not an intending immigrant is, or is likely to become, a “public charge.” The Trump administration has been hinting towards plans to make the public charge policy more restrictive and more enforceable over the last several months, and their announcement on Friday does just that.

The new guidelines for determining whether or not an intending immigrant is inadmissible based on financial reasons are set to take effect on October 15, 2019. Applicants who file their Adjustment of Status or Immigrant Visa petitions before this date will not be subject to the new policy.

Until now, the definition and criteria of a “public charge” immigrant has been largely undefined and left to the discretion of interviewing officers. Beginning October 15th, an intending immigrant will be deemed likely to become a “public charge” if they have received one or more designated public benefit for more than 12 months within any 36-month period

A “designated public benefit” in this case includes any cash benefits for income maintenance, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and public housing. 

The new law would not include the following as disqualifying pubic benefits: Emergency medical assistance, disaster relief, national school lunch programs, WIC or CHIP, foster care and adoption, student and mortgage loans, energy assistance, food pantries and homeless shelters, and Head Start. 

This new policy is dangerous for families who may avoid accepting public benefits that they qualify for out of fear that it will affect their current or future immigration case. It also places unfair restrictions on what kind of immigrant is allowed to become and remain a resident or citizen of the US. The bias toward financial self-sufficiency is a major development in the shift toward the “merit based” immigration system that the Trump administration proposed earlier this year. 

Applicants worried about this development are encouraged to file immigration petitions before the change takes effect.

The Trump administration recently announced a plan to discontinue two specific parole programs which offer protection and family reunification to Filipino veterans of WWII and victims of natural disasters in Haiti. This declaration comes just a few weeks after Trump announced a likely end to the “Parole in Place” program which protects undocumented family members of current or former US military service members.

The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole program allowed veterans of the war to bring certain family members to the US to live with, and, in many cases, care for them. The program was implemented in early 2016 and has been extremely beneficial for war veterans who need aid and assistance from their families. Most qualifying individuals are currently between 80 and 90 years old and have been separated from their children for many years.

The Haitian Family Reunification Parole program began in late 2014 and allowed Haitian family members of US citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents to come to the US sooner than they would have been able to otherwise based on visa availability. 

Under these two programs, family members with approved petitions are able to enter the US on “parole” and can work and live here while their green card is processing. Before these programs were implemented, siblings and children of Haitian and Filipino nationals would need to wait years (and sometimes decades) for a visa to become available to them based on their nationality and family preference category. 

According to USCIS, the cancellation of these programs will not take effect until all of the administrative details have been confirmed and finalized. Anyone who has already been granted parole based on either of these programs, or who has recently applied for either program, will still be eligible for the period granted.

While nearly all recent immigration news has pointed to extreme delays and unprecedented challenges with USCIS and the immigration system as a whole, one recent development may actually be good news for many individuals and families awaiting immigration benefits. 

According to the most recent Visa Bulletin, spouses and children of Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) who may have been awaiting visa availability are now eligible to apply for Adjustment of Status in the United States. The F2A category on the August 2019 bulletin shows that both Date for Filing and Final Action Dates are “current,” which means that there is no additional waiting time for a visa to become available.

Spouses and children of LPRs who are in the country legally (i.e. entered on some type of visa) are now able to file for Adjustment of Status through their US citizen spouse, parent, or stepparent. This is an extremely rare occurrence, as LPR family categories are almost always given less priority than those for US citizens and family members of LPRs often have to wait 2-3 years (or longer) for visa availability.

Apparently, despite a large amount of applicants, fewer than usual are “actively pursuing” final action on their cases. The Department of State thus updated the Visa Bulletin to encourage applicants to proceed with filing their petitions and make use of the annual quota of available visas.

Individuals in this family preference category who are not otherwise ineligible for a green card can now apply for Adjustment of Status and work authorization with USCIS. Permanent resident status will be immediately available to them once the petition is approved.

In an international relationship? Cool! International couples have the best stories. (Just ask Amal and George Clooney.) Unfortunately, if they hope to live permanently in the same country, they also have to prove their relationships are genuine time and time again. At every point in the immigration process –– from fiancé(e) visa to green card, removal of conditions to naturalization –– the US government wants to know it’s real.

It’s a good idea to create a folder on your computer titled “relationship documents.” This folder should include copies of your marriage license, passports, children’s birth certificates, and other identity documents. Every now and then you should also upload photographs, utility bills, joint bank statements, and other supporting documents. 

Here’s a helpful list of some things to include in your folder of love <3

Photographs:

A picture is worth a thousand words. Several pictures –– especially if they are taken with family members –– can be worth a fiancé(e) visa, green card, or even US citizenship. Be sure to include information about where, when, and with whom the photos were taken. This should be especially easy if you have an active Instagram or Facebook account. Turns out selfies are useful after all!

Samples of texts, emails, and other communication:

Take screenshots of a few text exchanges or your call logs every few months. In addition to proving you and your partner maintain consistent communication, you may even entertain a bored immigration officer with your clever memes.

Affidavits from friends and family:

If you’ve been engaged or married to your partner long enough to want to live in the same place, you should probably know some of the same people by now. Ask your friends to handwrite or type a letter on your behalf. They don’t need to be US citizens or permanent residents, but it’s important that they sign and date the letters. They should also mention how they know you, that you are in a genuine relationship, and (if they’re up for it) something embarrassing about you and your partner.

Joint bank statements :

The government does not need to see all of your transactions. (So don’t worry –– those late night burrito purchases will be our little secret.) The important thing is for them to see that it is a joint account. A screenshot of the first page of each month’s statement should do the trick.

Other joint documents:

Save samples of pretty much anything that has both your names on it. Examples include joint tax returns, utility bills, insurance policies, lease agreements, and mortgage payments. Taking a trip? Save your itinerary and receipts! Share a Netflix account? Include that information too. 

In short, any spousal-based change in your immigration status will depend on your ability to prove that your relationship is legitimate. The easiest way to do that is to consistently add supporting documents to a folder on your computer for quick and easy access. What are your recommendations for other interesting types of joint documents? Let us know at support@passage.law!

Most pet owners would agree that they consider their dog or cat to be a member of their family. And just like any other member of the family, pets sometimes need to move or travel internationally. Accordingly, the European Union (EU) requires all pets to have a valid pet passport to exit the country along with the rest of the family.

Pet passports are primarily for dogs, cats, ferrets, and some other rodents. They contain biographic information about the pet and the owner, as well as medical history and vaccine records. Most importantly, the passport verifies that the animal does not test positive for rabies or other spreadable diseases before it exits the EU and travel to another country.

The purpose of the EU pet passport is to make traveling easier for families and their pets, as it streamlines the process of verifying an animal’s veterinary records. The passport can be used when traveling or moving to a new EU member state, as well as when traveling to many other countries (in place of traditional vaccine/medical records).

While the EU has standardized this process specifically for EU member states, there are also companies that offer pet passports for pets traveling to and from nearly any country. These passports include all helpful and required information about the pet to help simplify the process of traveling with animals.

So next time you’re planning an extended family vacation, or perhaps relocating abroad, you’ll want to consider whether or not your pets have all their paperwork in order!

When you lose your green card in the US, there are steps that you can take to get it renewed or replaced. This is usually not a big deal since your Permanent Resident status remains valid and you likely will not be asked to show your card before you can get it replaced.

In contrast, if you’re a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and you lost your green card while you’re traveling abroad, you may be panicking a bit. When an LPR travels abroad, it is very important that they have a valid green card or other proof of legal status in the US. If they do not, they run the risk of being denied entry upon returning to the country. 

So what do you do if you’re already abroad and your card has been lost or stolen?

If you’ve had some bad luck and no longer have you green card in your possession, the good news is that there is an option for establishing your residency status and returning to the US. In this scenario, you will need to apply for a “Boarding Foil” at the nearest US embassy or consulate. A Boarding Foil is a single-use document that can grant you re-entry into the US without a valid green card. 

To obtain a Boarding Foil, you must pay the filing fee for Form I-131A online and schedule an interview appointment to verify your immigration status in the US. This document can usually be obtained within 2-5 days, and it should only be used as a last-case scenario. 

How to Apply for a Boarding Foil

The instructions for obtaining a Boarding Foil may vary depending on what country you are in. In general, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Visit the USCIS website and pay the $575.00 USD* application fee.
  2. Save and print payment confirmation page.
  3. Follow country-specific instructions page for contacting the US embassy or consulate to make an appointment to appear in person.
    • You may be asked to email scans of your documents to the consulate’s email address.
  4. Complete Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation).
  5. Visit the Immigrant Visa Section of the local US embassy or consulate for your appointment and bring the following items:
    • A completed Form I-131A; 
    • Copy of payment receipt for the I-131A online (printed confirmation page);
    • Valid, unexpired passport;
    • Your airplane tickets (including the ticket showing your departure date from the U.S.);
    • Evidence of your legal status in the US, such as the admission stamp in your passport or a photocopy of your green card, if available;
    • Evidence that you were in the United States within the last 12 months;
    • Evidence/details of the theft or loss of your green card;
    • One recent passport-style photo. 

 

*Current filing fee as of 08/01/209

Trump Announces Expansion of Expedited Removals

In the wake of a new policy aimed at curtailing the influx of asylum seekers at the southern border, the White House has announced that they also plan to broaden the scope and power of “expedited removals” in the US, effective immediately. This policy change will further restrict the asylum process and will dramatically affect immigrants with strong ties and established lives in the US. 

Under the current policy, which was implemented in 1996, expedited removal is the standard process for immigrants who crossed the border within 2 weeks and who are within 100 miles of the Canadian or Mexican border at the time they are encountered. ICE officers have the power to put these individuals into expedited removal proceedings, which eliminates due process and does not allow them to present their case to an immigration judge or seek legal counsel. The only way to avoid immediate removal in this situation is to claim credible fear for returning home, in which case the individual will be assigned to an asylum officer to see if their claim is legitimate.

Trump’s plan extends and expands this process so that it can be used for any undocumented person anywhere in the country who cannot immediately prove that they have been in the US for longer than two years. Low level ICE officers will have the power to determine if someone meets this criteria and can put the person into expedited removal with only the approval of their immediate supervisor. In these cases, the individual will not have an opportunity to present their case before a judge or be given time to come up with the evidence required to keep them from getting deported.

This policy expansion is unprecedented, far-reaching, and potentially very dangerous, as there will be no checks on ICE’s ability to swiftly remove someone from the country who may in fact have a legal option to be here. There is a significant amount of room for officer discretion during encounters and a high potential for erroneous removals if someone who is stopped by an ICE officer cannot prove on the spot that they have been in the US for longer than two years or that they actually have legal status. It will be more important than ever for immigrants in this country to carry their important documents with them at all times. 

Under the new policy, immigrants throughout the country who may have US citizen children, spouses, or other relatives and who may be active and dedicated members of their communities will receive the same treatment as someone who just crossed the border. In the absence of due process, ICE officers will become increasingly powerful, working not only as police, but also as prosecutor, judge, and jury. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is already in the process of filing a lawsuit in response. 

 

Significant Changes Coming to EB-5 Investor Visa Program 

While a great deal of attention is being paid to humanitarian- and family-based immigration options in the US, policy changes from the White House are also affecting those with business and employment interests in the US. This week, the Trump administration has announced a major change to the EB-5 investor visa program that nearly doubles the cost of investment. 

The EB-5 visa is often referred to as the “golden visa.” It allows investors to obtain a two-year conditional green card simply by investing $500,000 in the US. Starting in November of this year, the price tag for this visa will increase from $500,000 to $900,000, with the minimum amount for investing in high population areas increasing to $1.8 million.

The EB-5 investment visa program became popular in 2008 following the recession and housing crisis, when real estate developers became desperate for funding. It has since continued to promote economic growth and create jobs. Despite guidelines in place that intend for the program to benefit areas in the US with low education and high unemployment (called “Target Employment Areas”), in many cases, the visa is not being used in this way. The newly-announced changes to the program aim to more clearly define and regulate issuance and use of this visa. 

The initial investment price of $500,000 was set in 1990, and this week marks the first time in 30 years that action has been taken to account for economic inflation. Going forward, the required investment amount will be subject to increase every five years. Immigration attorneys nationwide expect there to be an influx of new applicants in the next few months before the price increase officially takes effect. 

 

Undocumented Immigrants in Oregon Will Soon be Allowed to Drive Legally

In happier news, the Oregon House of Representatives has passed a bill to make it legal for noncitizens and non-permanent residents to legally obtain driver’s licenses. This is a huge step toward passing the “Equal Access to Roads Act” which would amend state law in Oregon to make it possible to get a driver’s license without producing proof of citizenship or legal residency.

Under the proposed new bill, individuals would still need to pass a driving test and prove that they reside in Oregon, but they would not be required to present a birth certificate, passport, or Social Security card. The new law would immediately benefit young recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), who grew up in the US but were not able to receive driving permits or licenses along with their peers. 

Equal Access to Roads would also benefit undocumented residents who live in rural areas and those who are currently unable to drive to work or drive their children to school, as well as those who have already applied for an immigrant benefit but are stuck waiting on unprecedented delays at USCIS. For those who have needed to drive illegally in order to keep their job or other reasons, they will now be able to purchase car insurance, leading to safer driving for all. 

The bill has passed through the House and is now on its way to the Senate, where Democratic Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the legislation. If the bill passes, Oregon will be the 14th state to allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally.

After a year and a half of waiting, you’ve finally reached the finish line: Your green card is being produced! The end is in sight and you think that you’ve made it over the final hurdle, until… your card does not arrive in the mail. You check your case status and it confirms the card was delivered, but you did not receive it. What now?

One of the worst things that can happen during the course of an immigration case is to run into additional problems or delays caused by another massive federal agency: The United States Postal Service. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. 

When you apply for an immigrant benefit, it is extremely important to have a reliable place to receive mail and to notify USCIS immediately if you move to a new address. Every milestone that will occur after you file your case will involve something being mailed to you: your receipt notice acknowledging that your case was received successfully, your biometrics appointment notice with the date and time of your appointment, a Request for Evidence (RFE) if something is missing, interview appointment notice(s), approval notice(s), and, finally, the immigration document (green card, visa, etc.). 

Unfortunately, due to the current state of things at USCIS, even providing a reliable address to USCIS or submitting a Change of Address promptly does not guarantee that your mail and documents will make it to you.

In recent months, more and more notices are being sent to an incorrect or old address, and more green cards are being returned to USCIS as undeliverable. This increase in returned cards in part due to an April 2018 policy change which requires that Permanent Resident cards (green cards), Employment Authorization Documents, and Travel booklets be mailed via secure mailing services which require ID and/or signature for delivery. According to USCIS, “Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery increases the security, integrity, and efficiency of document delivery [and] provides better tracking and accuracy of delivery information, improving service to applicants.”

While this system has good intentions, in many cases, it is causing USPS to immediately return coveted green cards and EADs to USCIS processing centers when they cannot verify the delivery address. The imperfect system often causes cards to be sent back even when the address they had was correct. 

To make matters worse, USCIS notoriously does not process Change of Address submissions adequately throughout their system, so many times the message does not get through to the facilities who produce and mail the cards. There is no guarantee that if you submit a Change of Address by phone, mail, or online that your mail will be sent to the right place, even if USCIS confirms that they have updated your address.

So what can you do given these dismal circumstances?

While there is no surefire way to avoid potential issues with USCIS and USPS, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of receiving USCIS mail consistently and reliably:

  • Provide a reliable, permanent address on all USCIS forms when submitting your packet. Make sure you correctly list your physical address and your mailing address, if they are different.
  • Do not move for the duration of your case unless you absolutely have to. If you do move, submit your Change of Address (AR-11) online and by mail within 10 days.
  • Hire an attorney and select the boxes on Page 3 of Form G-28 to have all important notices, documents, and cards mailed to the law firm’s secure address. This is a good option if you do not have secure mail at your address or if you suspect you will need to move before your case is finalized. 
  • Complete the Postal Service’s PS Form 3801, Standing Delivery Order or PS Form 3801-A, Agreement by a Hotel, Apartment House, or the Like so that someone else in your household is authorized to sign for your mail when you are not home.
  • Sign up for USPS Informed Delivery to receive delivery status notifications via email and, if necessary, arrange to have your mail held at the post office for pickup.
  • If you are considering moving out of state, notify your immigration attorney to confirm if any issues might arise. In some cases, you may want to consider maintaining a local address or having mail sent to your attorney or to a relative to avoid additional delays with your case.

First Judicial Oversight Hearing for “Crisis-Level” Delays

Over the past several months, senators, immigration attorneys, and many others have begun calling out USCIS for “crisis-level” delays. On July 16, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee held the first oversight hearing to address the problems brought up in previous reports. At the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, asked USCIS to account for the huge increase in Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and denials for H1B and other applications despite no apparent changes to policy or guidelines for filing.

Republicans and Democrats alike are pointing to changes in USCIS’s own internal policies as driving factors behind the extreme delays, massive backlog of pending cases, and increase in denials. AILA President Marketa Lindt testified before Congress and argued that changes to USCIS’s policies, such as requiring in-person interviews for employment-based green card applicants, no longer deferring to prior decisions when adjudicating an extension application for a current visa holder, and significantly increasing the number of Requests for Evidence, are to blame.

The hearing revealed an apparent disconnect between recent case outcomes and USCIS’s external policies and guidelines that have been made available to the public. The current denial rate for initial employment H1B petitions is 32%, up from 6% in 2015. Requests for Evidence are being issued at alarming rates, and the requests are being made for things that many would argue are not within USCIS’s expertise — such as requesting further evidence that an employee holding a Ph.D. is qualified for a job that they already have, or that a massive company has the financial means to sponsor an employee. 

Additionally, a new wave of RFEs are asking companies to somehow prove with hard evidence that they will have work assignments and jobs to fill in three years. Companies and sponsors are stuck coming up with documentation of future work assignments, which creates weeks or months of delays while they are desperately in need of immediate labor.

Aside from the frustration and dissatisfaction caused by these new patterns at USCIS, lawmakers, employers, and recruiters fear that skilled workers in STEM fields will start looking at companies in Canada once they realize their petitions for employment in the US are unlikely to be approved in a timely fashion (or at all). According to Rep. Lofgren, “The tech economy in Toronto is growing faster than the tech economy in Silicon Valley and Washington (state), and a lot of people think it’s because of USCIS and our immigration policies.”

These case outcomes do not appear to reflect any actual changes to USCIS policy or guidelines; rather, they reflect “invisible” bureaucratic changes, meaning USCIS officers have likely been given more discretion when reviewing cases and have likely been instructed to hold applicants to a different or more strict criteria than before.

Videos to Replace Interpreters at Immigration Court Hearings

The Trump administration has begun implementing a new system in immigration courts that could put disadvantaged individuals at an even greater disadvantage. According to recent reports, in-person bilingual or multilingual interpreters are being replaced with recorded videos at initial immigration court hearings. 

The purpose of initial court hearings is to explain to an individual what their rights are and to schedule future court dates. Asylum seekers and immigrants facing deportation will now be at a greater risk of missing important information or not fully understanding the process, especially those who cannot afford lawyers or who do not have access to a bilingual lawyer. Those who have seen the videos at pilot programs across the country report that the videos (though dubbed in Spanish) are difficult to understand and contain language and legal concepts that most people facing their first court hearing will not be familiar with.

With recorded videos replacing actual humans, those attending immigration court will not have the option to ask questions or ask for clarification unless they can access an attorney or find an available interpreter. Advocates are concerned that the new system will cause more individuals to be confused about what they are expected to do, and potentially miss future hearings, which can be immediate grounds for deportation. 

According to officials, the new video system is meant to increase efficiency and cut costs, but many worry that it will create significantly more work for the courts if cases need to be appealed due to misunderstandings or missed hearings. Speakers of indigenous languages may not understand the videos at all. 

Portland is the Place to Be

We recently wrote about how great the Portland airport is and how lucky we are to live in a city that makes traveling a bit more enjoyable. It turns out the airport isn’t the only appealing thing about the City of Roses: Recent studies show that more and more millennials and young people are relocating to the west coast, and, according to one source, the highest population are settling in Portland or the surrounding area. 

In this study, the Portland metro area beat out Seattle, Denver, and the Bay Area in attracting young people, most likely due to the beautiful Pacific Northwest greenery, abundance of great food, accessibility to the ocean, and huge population of like-minded individuals. Portland was also rated one of the healthiest cities in the US, boasting a high percentage of physically active adults and the most health restaurants per capita of any other mid- or large-sized city.

We all know that millennials have not been following in the footsteps of previous generations for a variety of reasons, and that they are unlikely to have the same priorities or goals that their parents did. We’re not surprised that many young people are choosing to make Portland their home. There are a lot of great places in the world and we’re always curious to learn what draws people to the cities (or countries) they live in!

Communicating with USCIS (or any large government agency for that matter) is a delicate art. As it becomes increasingly challenging to deal with USCIS, it is important to be strategic when reaching out, submitting inquiries, and making requests.

When you file a case with USCIS, you must balance the urge to follow up on your case constantly (out of fear that it is being mishandled or forgotten) with a fair amount of self-constraint in order not to negatively impact the processing of your petition.

There are several ways to get in contact with USCIS, but none of them is particularly easy, efficient, or worthwhile. In recent months, USCIS has made it even more difficult to check in on a pending case. Over the past year, USCIS has:

  • Eliminated the option to schedule Infopass appointments online;
  • Began refusing walk-ins at local field offices for missed appointments or other inquiries;
  • Changed the automated options when calling the customer service line to make it harder to get an officer on the phone;
  • Increased the use of “agent call back” system in order to get helpful answers to case-specific questions (with general call back times ranging from 2-9 hours);
  • Began refusing to speak to paralegals or other persons related to a case over the phone;
  • Limited the options for re-submitting or escalating service requests even if a previous request has already been processed by USCIS (but the response was unsatisfactory).

When you work in immigration law and handle a high volume of cases, it is easy to see patterns and routines from USCIS. These patterns can help you to know when delays or other errors are alarming and when they are standard or benign.

On the other hand, for an applicant with a single case with USCIS, these patterns and standard procedures can be harder to identify. This makes it much more tempting to want to check in frequently. For someone who is filing their first case with USCIS, certain activity or delays may seem abnormal or disconcerting, while an immigration firm or attorney may understand that there is no cause for concern (or can quickly identify if there is!).

In addition to recognizing processing patterns at USCIS to avoid unnecessary panic or follow up, it is important to understand how various government agencies and offices work together (or don’t work together, in some cases) to process immigration petitions from start to finish. 

Depending on the type of petition being filed, a case might pass through any of the following before it is approved: one or more national USCIS processing centers, the National Visa Center (Department of State), one or more US embassies or consulates abroad, a contracted service/support center abroad, an international USCIS field office, and/or a local USCIS field office. Each of these offices or agencies may have limited knowledge of the case or may be unable to access important information that another office or agency has on file. 

For this reason, applicants should pay close attention to where their case is and make sure any new or updated information is passed along to the correct office. There also may be limitations in correcting an error or altering information on a case if it is no longer being handled by USCIS and has moved on to another office. When cases need to be transferred back to USCIS from the NVC or from US embassies or consulates abroad, it can take many months for information to become available to the applicant.

While there are no specific guidelines for how much or how often to follow up with USCIS or other agencies involved in the process, it is important to understand that frequent check ins when a case is still within “normal processing time” will not speed up processing, but that submitting a higher level request (likely setting up an in-person Infopass appointment, speaking to a “Tier 2” officer, or having an attorney enlist Congressional assistance) once something is wrong or off track can be extremely helpful. The trick is identifying when this is necessary and when it is not. Learn more about how strike the perfect balance here.

We’ve heard some unsettling news coming from the White House this week, including plans to overhaul the asylum process, impending raids in search of undocumented folk, and controversial remarks directed at legislators.

Third Country Asylum

The White House announced a new asylum policy on Monday that could essentially make it impossible for Central Americans and many others to apply for asylum at the Southern border.

Trump’s new law will require asylum-seekers to apply for asylum in at least one of the countries they pass through after leaving their home country. This means that individuals fleeing South and Central American countries will need to apply for asylum in other Central American countries instead of heading straight to the US. Applicants from Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and Guatemala would likely need to apply in Mexico before reaching the US. Only those who apply and are denied asylum in another country will become eligible to apply in the US.

This new policy would have a huge impact on the future of the asylum process in the US, and, in the more immediate future, would make thousands of migrants who have already been waiting their turn at the border for months to lose their place in line. Their asylum claims would immediately be rendered invalid since they did not first request asylum in another country that they passed through. 

 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others have already announced they will be filing lawsuits in response to this new restrictive policy. 

ICE Raids

Fear of impending ICE raids has been spreading throughout communities nationwide spurred by Trump’s ominous Tweets. While the original planned raids were postponed in many cities and states, more recent updates suggest the raids were set to officially launch over this past weekend. So far, most news outlets are reporting the raids are coming at a slow pace and are still largely routine at this point. 

Community members, organizations, and immigration advocates have been working to spread information about the potential raids and provide resources to undocumented immigrants who may be targeted. “Know Your Rights” pamphlets and other helpful resources are being circulated with instructions to refuse to open the door to ICE agents and to plead the 5th Amendment (AKA don’t say anything) if you are questioned. This guidance is proving useful for many targeted communities.  

While many major cities are still reporting few or no raids taking place, it is likely that the agency may ramp up their efforts in the near future. Resources and advocacy groups are available in most cities and regions with large immigrant populations. 

Trump’s Tweets

President Trump sent out a series of tweets over the weekend that sent the internet into a frenzy. The tweets were directed toward “‘Progressive’ Democratic Congresswomen” who happen to be the children of immigrants.

Trump’s tweets suggest that these elected officials should return to the “crime infested places from which they came” to help fix the broken governments there instead of working to address and fix systemic problems in the United States.

While it is common for Trump to elicit anger and controversy with his tweets, this one in particular hit a nerve with a large majority of the country

Trump’s message targeted four women of color who are all elected US Representatives. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib were all born and raised in the US, while Rep. Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia but immigrated to the US when she was young and became a US citizen as soon as she turned 18. 

Despite significant differences of opinion between these “Progressive” Congresswomen and Trump, his indication that they have such ties to any other country than the one they were born in is certainly misguided and problematic.

Whether you and your significant other need to file a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, your business would like to sponsor an employee for a green card, or a family member needs a waiver, you are going to need to file an immigration petition with USCIS and you want that petition to be as strong as possible. No matter which immigration option or benefit you are considering pursuing, the current reality is that all immigration-related matters are taking longer and requiring more work than ever before.

Studies, reports, and research conducted by governmental and immigration organizations over the past two and a half years all point to the fact that, while the Trump Administration may not have made much progress building a physical wall on our southern border, it has been quite effective at building an “invisible wall” in terms of greatly increasing immigration bureaucracy.

In order to most effectively navigate the immigration system and get your case approved without becoming permanently stuck or bogged down in the process, it is important to understand two key factors about the immigration under the Trump administration and to plan accordingly.

First of all, All immigration benefits are taking longer to process or be approved, which can have major impacts on financial stability and the ability for families or businesses to plan ahead. Secondly, all immigration petitions are taking more time and work, which makes the process more expensive and overall more stressful and uncertain. 

We will explore what this means for you and your case, and what you can do to achieve the best possible outcome. 

 

All types of immigration applications are taking longer to process by the government, so families and businesses should keep this in mind when making decisions or future plans. 

We all need income to live and businesses need employees who are consistently able to work. These necessities are being hindered by current extreme delays at USCIS and the State Department. According to data compiled by AILA (American Immigration Lawyer’s Association), 94% of all case types are taking longer to process in 2018 compared to 2014.

In practice, we have seen a dramatic slowdown in the processing of Employment Authorization Documents (AKA work permits). EADs used to be issued reliably at the 90-day mark as part of an Adjustment of Status application, but are now routinely taking 5-7 months to process. This results in two or more months of lost income, which can cause extreme hardship to families and employers alike. 

In addition to delayed work permits, citizenship applications and applications to remove conditions on 2-year green cards that used to take 5-6 months to process are now taking closer to a year and two years, respectively. This extreme increase in processing time has caused many applicants to require additional services and resources from USCIS, such as emergency Infopass appointments for work or travel authorization, continual follow up with USCIS officers, and an increased need to repeat biometrics appointments, medical exams, and in-person interviews. 

 

So what can you do?

Given these dramatic delays, it is important to reset your expectations. Even if you have experienced quick processing in the past or if you have a friend, family member, or colleague who previously applied for the same immigration benefit without any trouble, there is a very good chance that you will encounter delays and other issues under the Trump administration. Those who are filing immigration petitions should be aware that their family member or employee may not be able to join them in the US as quickly as they had hoped, and should plan accordingly. 

In addition to understanding the current climate at USCIS, applicants and petitioners should be prepared to follow up on their case. In addition to delays and added scrutiny of immigration petitions, we have also been seeing an increase in disorganization and carelessness when dealing with government officers. It is crucial that you track and monitor your case and get in contact with USCIS if you notice any errors or if your case falls outside of normal processing times. Depending on the issue you are experiencing, you have the option to submit an e-request online, call USCIS, set up an Infopass (in-person) appointment, or contact your congressional liaison for assistance.

 

In addition to delays and long processing times, all immigration cases are requiring more proof and more work to get approved.

Across the board, USCIS processes are taking longer and using up more resources than ever before. In practice, we are seeing an increase in in-person interview requests, requests for additional evidence, and a more aggressive and intensive application process. These changes are causing more time and resources to be allocated to individual cases, which creates longer delays and a huge backlog of pending cases.

Removing conditions on a 2-year green card with form I-751 has become one of the most time-consuming USCIS processes. I-751 applications are taking an average of 18-24 months to process and are receiving RFEs (Requests for Evidence) and in-person interview appointments at a higher rate than ever before. In this case, a great deal of resources are being used to scrutinize relationships that were deemed bona fide as little as two years prior. These couples are required to come up with new evidence of their relationship in order to file their case, and a high percentage of them are being hit with RFEs for even more evidence 12-18 months later.

RFEs in general are being issued at a very high rate for all types of cases. These requests are often excessive or superfluous and in many cases they ask for something that was already submitted the first time around. RFEs often just feel like an extra hoop to jump through and can take a lot of time and work to respond to — sometimes as much time as compiling the original application packet. 

Finally, applicants and immigration attorneys around the country are reporting that family-based immigration interviews are becoming increasingly aggressive and intensive. In many cases, USCIS offers are subjecting applicants and their family members to more aggressive questioning and are frequently not satisfied with supplemental evidence that used to be sufficient. For cases being processed abroad, interviewing officers have begun putting cases into “administrative processing” for months, and sometimes years, following the interview with no set timeline or option to follow up.

 

So what can you do?

Keep in mind that immigration officers simply cannot approve all of their cases and, unfortunately, they have the discretion to make some applicants work harder than others to get an approval. While applicants are not officially graded on a curve, in practice it can feel that way. 

In order to get you case approved and avoid requests for evidence and other roadblocks, you need to turn in top-quality work that earns an “A” from USCIS. This means that it is better than your competition — the other applicants. For the best shot at approval, you must be a top-notch applicant. This means you should:

  • Submit a well-organized packet with lots of relevant evidence and a good cover letter to  demonstrate you are highly motivated to get approved;
  • Be well prepared at the interview with necessary documents and supplemental evidence;
  • Be professional and not overly aggressive when dealing with USCIS in person or on the phone;
  • Be persistent and keep following up with USCIS with e-requests and calls if your case is delayed. Set up an Infopass appointment or contact an immigration attorney if necessary.