We previously shared some initial thoughts on the “Gang of 8” U.S. Senators who unveiled a framework for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Most observers know that in the days since both President Obama and the House of Representatives have identified their own starting points for such a discussion. The national debate is taking shape with hearings and many major issues remain up in the air. It will be an exciting and important few months to come.
In the meantime, immigrant families and the advocates who try to shepherd them safely through a complex and often changing web of immigration laws are digesting what new policies such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the new Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver (PUPW) have in store. These policies will matter in the interim and if CIR again comes up short this time around these policies will remain some of the most important tools in practitioners’ toolboxes.
One major disappointment of the Final Rule on PUPW was the administration’s decision to not permit individuals with inadmissibilty other than that arising from § 212(a)(9)(B) to utilize the new I-601A process. Our program and clients submitted two hundred comments among several thousand and advocated for consideration of waivers for other grounds of inadmissibility. This seemed fair because most waivers share the “extreme hardship” standard for overcoming § 212(a)(9)(B) or even use a lower standard of proof such as “family unity”; therefore a case that passes muster for waiving unlawful presence inadmissibility should also suffice for other problems.
It would have been understandable for USCIS to draw a line between unlawful presence (a relatively innocent inadmissibilty) and inadmissibility based on fraud or criminal convictions. But instead USCIS chose to draw a single, bold line with unlawful presence on one side and everything else on the other. Therein lies the problem.
Drawing from anecdotal experience, USCIS has recently ratcheted up its screening for an often-overlooked ground of inadmissibility: § 212(a)(6)(E) for alien smuggling. While the words “alien smuggling” smack of human traffickers and hard-nosed coyotes who help unauthorized immigrants to cross the border, the definition also includes families that travel across the border together. Here’s the statutory language:
Any alien who at any time knowingly has encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided any other alien to enter or to try to enter the United States in violation of law is inadmissible.
This is a very broad definition of “alien smuggling” and the only exception is for certain individuals who were in the United States in 1988, prior to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990. There is a waiver available, however. Here’s the relevant language:
[The government] may, in [its] discretion for humanitarian purposes, to assure family unity, or when it is otherwise in the public interest, waive application of [the alien smuggling rule] in the case of [certain Permanent Residents] and in the case of an alien seeking admission or adjustment of status as an immediate relative or immigrant under section 203(a) (other than paragraph (4) thereof), if the alien has encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided only an individual who at the time of the offense was the alien’s spouse, parent, son, or daughter (and no other individual) to enter the United States in violation of law.
That’s quite a mouthful. Here’s what it means: if you are seeking an immediate relative visa you can also seek a waiver (with a low hardship standard) if you are inadmissible for alien smuggling and the person who you helped enter was your spouse, parent, or son/daughter.
In practice, these waivers are something of a formality. In fact, this rule seemed to have been forgotten about until recently, and we have seen a spate of cases being flagged for potential alien smuggling. Even where the case is so flagged, the hardship standard is so easy in most cases that it just adds a short delay to the overall process.
But here’s the snag — § 212(a)(6)(E) inadmissibility is not § 212(a)(9)(B) inadmissibility, and therefore individuals who entered the U.S. without permission and brought with them spouses or minor children are not eligible for the new opportunities offered by the I-601A process. In our experience this is frequently the case, and it is disappointing to explain to a client that this new opportunity — which USCIS acknowledges is intended to help families remain together throughout the process — is just out of reach because of an old, historically overlooked rule.
We will keep an eye on this issue to see if it presents in practice the headaches that it promises in theory.