Although the Trump administration has done some work to improve existing barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump’s promised wall has failed to materialize. The administration, though, is building an invisible wall via regulation and policy to make the immigration process more difficult. Some of these measures are subtle and concern internal policy. Others, however, constitute major process changes that adversely affect foreign nationals. This is the second blog in this series highlighting the most egregious bricks in Trump’s invisible wall.

USCIS PROCESSING DELAYS

In 2014, USCIS took approximately 5 months to render a decision on the average application. In Fiscal Year 2018, the processing time doubled to nearly 10 months. In other terms, 94 percent of all immigration applications took longer to process than it took in 2014. How does this doubling of processing time affect foreign nationals and U.S. businesses applying for immigration benefits? It keeps families separated, jeopardizes people’s lives, often results in job loss, negatively impacts business operations, and increases the possibility of being placed in removal proceedings for some. In essence, this administration is restricting legal immigration by slowing things down. Many applicants for a green card through marriage are not receiving work authorization before their interview.

An example of one policy resulting in this slowdown is that for certain types of applications, USCIS officers conduct duplicate reviews of past decisions, adding unnecessary work to each case. Another policy prevents USCIS officers from approving qualified applications at the interview, instead requiring secondary review.

What can you do to ensure your case is adjudicated as quickly as possible under current conditions? Make sure you give your attorney accurate information. If your attorney files your application with incomplete or erroneous information, it potentially can result in delay, denial, and even being placed in removal proceedings.

USCIS NOW OPERATES AS A BLACK BOX WITH NO ACCESS TO INFORMATION REGARDING CASE PROCESSING. INFOPASS HAS BEEN NEARLY ELIMINATED.

In the past, a foreign national could make an appointment at USCIS at a local field office with an Information Officer through the INFOPASS portal on the USCIS website. Although it was often difficult to find an open time slot, the INFOPASS system allowed clients and attorneys to make an in-person inquiry regarding the status of their case.

In March 2018, USCIS rolled out a new program for scheduling INFOPASS appointments. The Atlanta Field Office has adopted this system that now requires a call to the USCIS Contact Center – 1-800-375-5283. After calling the number and navigating through several voice prompts, the caller will speak with a Tier 1 representative (likely a USCIS contractor) who will determine if an in-person appointment is needed. If deemed appropriate, the Tier 1 representative will escalate the issue to a Tier 2 officer (USCIS Officer). The Tier 2 Officer is supposed to call the person back within 72 hours.  Attorneys using the new system report that callbacks are often made outside business hours and on weekends. Also, many times the callback was never made.

The CIS Ombudsman indicated that USCIS has identified several scenarios that justify an INFOPASS appointment including, but not limited to, requests for proof of status and emergency advance parole.

Coupled with a policy of excluding entry into the USCIS office unless one has an appointment, the new system makes it infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, to inquire about the status of a pending application or any other issue. Although USCIS posts case status online, the information is often inaccurate and outdated.

USCIS HAS SHIFTED INTO A MORE ENFORCEMENT-ORIENTED AGENCY RATHER THAN ITS LEGALLY MANDATED ROLE AS AN ADJUDICATION AGENCY.

Prior to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), both enforcement and adjudications were administered by a single agency, INS. In 2002, with the creation of DHS, adjudication became the responsibility of USCIS with enforcement administered by ICE. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has enlisted USCIS to assist ICE with enforcement in several ways. Three examples are listed below.

First, in 2016, USCIS adopted a rule allowing undocumented immigrants with removal orders to file waivers (“provisional waivers”) of their unlawful presence while here in the U.S. The first step in the process was to file an I-130 visa petition. This year, USCIS sent ICE lists of I-130 beneficiaries who had previously been ordered removed, scheduled interviews at ICE’s convenience and then in certain cases alerted ICE to the foreign national’s arrival at USCIS for the interview. In many of those cases, ICE arrested the foreign national who was at USCIS for an interview in the normal and legally prescribed process of moving toward filing a provisional waiver. These actions do not reflect USCIS’ mission to focus exclusively on administering immigration benefits.

Second, USCIS announced in June 2018 a policy widely expanding the circumstances in which it will issue a Notice to Appear (“NTA”) to place a foreign national in removal proceedings. USCIS traditionally limited the issuance of NTA’s to a narrow range of circumstances, normally leaving the decision to issue an NTA to ICE. Now, “…[i]nstead of referring cases to ICE so they can issue the NTA, we will, upon full implementation of the new NTA PM [policy memorandum], and for categories of cases expressly laid out in the NTA PM … issue NTAs directly.” The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) concluded “[t]his change effectively puts USCIS on equal footing with ICE in controlling who is placed into [removal] proceedings and when.”

Third, and most telling, USCIS removed the phrase “nation of immigrants,” as well as referring to applicants as “customers,” from their mission statement. This clearly is inconsistent with the purpose of USCIS’s creation as a DHS agency dedicated solely to providing immigration and citizenship services, as reflected in the agency’s name – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

SPEAK WITH AN ATLANTA IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY ABOUT YOUR IMMIGRATION OPTIONS

The immigration attorneys at Antonini & Cohen will prepare your application correctly to ensure the case is filed with USCIS and adjudicated without any self–imposed delay. To schedule an appointment with one of our family immigration attorneys, contact us online or by calling 404-850-9394. We look forward to guiding you efficiently and quickly through the process of applying for immigration benefits. 

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