First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Pastor Martin Niemoller

Then they came…

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS), announced a new policy on June 28, 2018. This policy has received virtually no media coverage, and yet it may be the most harmful of the Trump anti-immigration policies.

The policy says non-citizens who apply for a benefit – such as an extension or change of status, a green card, or citizenship – would be placed in deportation proceedings if that benefit is denied.

There will be a Prosecutorial Review Panel that may, in exceptional cases, decide it’s not in the government’s interest to refer a case to deportation. This changes the long-standing policy that the USCIS is primarily an agency that makes decisions about benefits. The new policy thrusts the organization fully into the folds of the Trump deportation machine.

While the USCIS has always had some authority to initiate deportation proceedings, the last policy guidance on deportation (issued in November 2011) centered on criminals, fraud, and other negative eligibility indicators. That guidance has been canned. This new policy drastically expands the categories of “enforcement priority,” potentially snagging anyone trying to navigate the system.

Under this new policy, merely being denied the request for a visa extension or change, green card application, or naturalization can put an applicant at risk of deportation as much as being caught in the country illegally. Once in deportation proceedings, non-citizens must defend themselves against the deportation charges. Depending on the reason for the application denial, they may also be subjected to detention.

In deportation (removal) proceedings, the person won’t be provided a lawyer. He or she must represent himself or herself or hire a lawyer. Some may not be eligible for a bond. If they are eligible, they could still be denied a bond. The deportation hearing (trial) will be held before an immigration judge rather than a jury. The immigrant must prove why they should not be deported rather than the U.S. government proving why the immigrant should be deported.

While there aren’t any statistics about the percentage of immigrants who win their cases in deportation proceedings, we can infer much from the numbers of those deported. In 2017, ICE reported over 225,000 physical deportations.

Who will be affected, and how will the policy be implemented?

We simply don’t know. The policy gives USCIS wide range to use the new policy. For example, say you’re married to a U.S. citizen and are applying for permanent residence. You’re suddenly diagnosed with kidney failure. Your application could be denied under public charge even if you or your spouse have never used federal benefits and you’re both gainfully employed.

Another example: You file a change of address but USCIS didn’t properly note the change. If you miss a deadline to reply to a request for additional documents, you can be referred to a deportation judge.

If you’re a long-time resident who committed a minor misdemeanor in your youth, you could be placed in deportation proceedings.

If USCIS denies your H-1B renewal while you’re in a seemingly endless line for your green card, you can be placed in deportation proceedings.

If you file for U.S. citizenship and are denied based on lack of good moral character, you could end up in deportation proceedings for a minor offense.

The instances and possibilities are endless because the new policy is almost unlimited. From these examples, you can see even when you’ve done nothing wrong and everything right, the policy can affect you. Under the new USCIS policy change, the system becomes more unforgiving and contentious – more draconian.

You better lawyer up!

According to 2016 statistics published by the Immigration Council, immigrants represented by attorneys fare better at every stage of the court process. Represented immigrants in detention who had a custody hearing were four times more likely to be released from detention (44% with counsel versus 11% without). Represented immigrants were much more likely to apply for relief from deportation.

Detained immigrants with an attorney were nearly 11 times more likely to seek relief (such as asylum) than those without an attorney (32% with counsel versus 3% without). Immigrants who were never detained were five times more likely to seek relief if they had an attorney (78% with counsel versus 15% without). Represented immigrants were more likely to obtain the immigration relief they sought.

Among detained immigrants, those with an attorney were twice as likely as those without an attorney to obtain immigration relief if they sought it (49% with counsel versus 23% without). Represented immigrants who were never detained were nearly five times more likely than their counterparts without attorneys to obtain relief if they sought it (63% with counsel versus 13% without).

Can I do anything to stop USCIS from turning into an enforcement agency?

For U.S. citizens, it’s more important now than ever that those with a political voice speak out. Our friends, family, and all vulnerable members of our society are threatened by the anti-immigrant sentiment this administration is spreading. You can make your voice heard and help in the following ways:

  1. Vote against candidates who promote anti-immigrant rhetoric.
  2. Call and email your Senators and Representatives. Ask them to demand common sense and humane enforcement from our immigration laws that prioritize the most dangerous individuals. Tell them you’re deeply concerned about how this administration is enforcing the immigration laws.
  3. Speak to your friends, family, and colleagues about doing the same.

CONTACT AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY IN ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Are you or a loved one in need of an Atlanta immigration lawyer? The immigration attorneys at Antonini & Cohen are prepared to answer your questions and help with your concerns. You can call us at 404-850-9394 or reach out online. Schedule a consultation today to get the help you need.

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