Tag Archives: USCIS

Sudden reveal of Customer Identification Verification leads immediately to public confusion

With little prior notice — at least none that our program was aware of — USCIS announced Monday a new program to bolster security and combat fraud at key immigration appointments. The initiative, called Customer Identification Verification or CIV, seems at first glance to be a sensible, appropriate step to ensure the integrity of immigration processes. But the way the news has gotten out suggests missteps in the unveiling of CIV.

The first mention our Immigration Assistance Program heard about CIV was from a panicked call from a potential client on Tuesday morning. She had been watching the noticias on Spanish-language broadcaster Univision and she came away with the impression that, effective immediately, all visits to USCIS offices would require visitors to submit to biometrics capture including fingerprinting and photo.

The reality is more benign — and most likely it is a good development. Beginning on May 6, 2013 USCIS will begin requiring fingerprint and photo processing for individuals present for an immigration interview or in order to receive evidence of an immigration benefit. What this means is that individuals who arrive for a naturalization exam or a marriage-based immigration interview will have their identity verified to ensure that someone is not testing/interviewing in someone else’s place.

Similarly, when someone goes to receive an I-551 stamp (e.g. temporary proof of Permanent Residency while a Permanent Resident Card replacement is pending) or another form of immigration documentation verification will be done to make sure that some other individual is not standing in to have his or her passport stamped or I-94 issued.

To the extent that the new CIV process can be implemented without adding undue delay or complexity to existing protocols, this seems like a reasonable development and a good way for USCIS to preserve the integrity of its procedures. Time will tell if this new layer of security will impose delays and costs that are appropriately in line with the security risks posed by brazen fraud such as is described above.

Whatever the merits of the new CIV initiative, it is worth noting that this seems to have been dropped on the public with little advance notice even to service providers. We remain hopeful that this development helps rather than hinders USCIS functions, but we are worried that the way in which news about CIV is spreading that it may reignite sentiments of fear surrounding USCIS operations, InfoPass appointments, and other key elements of the relationship between USCIS and the community of immigrants it serves.

You can see USCIS’s announcement of CIV here. A stakeholder engagement is scheduled for Tuesday, April 16 and registration goes through this portal.

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Filed under Enforcement, National News, Uncategorized

Alien smuggling could be barrier to new family unity waivers

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.

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Filed under Advocacy, Enforcement, Family-Based Immigration, Undocumented Immigrants

A possible loophole in I-601A rules

We will have to see how this develops as USCIS clarifies and revises its guidelines, but it appears there may be a loophole — albeit an expensive one — for families hoping to use the new I-601A process despite having already reached a crucial point in the consular interview process.

A big disappointment with the Final Rule is that it maintains the mostly senseless and seemingly unjust stipulation that anyone whose immigrant visa appointment was already processed for scheduling as of January 3, 2013 is shut out of the I-601A process. This seems to make things easier for DOS and USCIS at the cost of penalizing the most proactive applicants.

The prelimiary publication in the Federal Register reads:

An alien who is ineligible to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver because of a previously scheduled immigrant visa interview may still qualify for a provisional unlawful presence waiver if he or she has a new DOS immigrant visa case because 1) DOS terminated the immigrant visa registration associated with the previously scheduled interview, and they have a new immediate relative petition; or 2) the alien has a new immediate relative petition filed on his or her behalf by a different petitioner.

What this seems to mean is that an individual who had already reached the consular interview stage may choose to let his or her case and petition lapse and then re-file a new I-130, pay new fees to the National Visa Center, and then proceed with an I-601A process without leaving the U.S.

We are thinking in particular of one family that we are working with. “Alfred” is a national of Mexico who entered the United States without inspection. He has never left the country, he has a completely clean criminal record, and he is married to a U.S. citizen and they have three U.S. citizen children. When Alfred came to us, he had an approved I-130 petition and he wanted help completing the rest of his consular interview process. We finished those steps in late 2011 and then in January 2012 came the first mention of the new I-601A process. As we awaited a final rule on this process, Alfred’s consular interview came and went — he did not attend it and hoped that the I-601A process would offer him a way to gain lawful status without an unpredictable separation from his family.

Alfred cannot afford to be apart from his family for unknown months and years. He is the sole provider for his family, and his wife is not able to work. Alfred is instrumental to the wellbeing of these four U.S. citizens, and even though he has a strong case it is by no means guaranteed that he would be able to return to the U.S. quickly enough to prevent the family from suffering gravely without him. The I-601A process would allow Alfred to request a provisional waiver, gain pre-approval, and then depart the U.S. for a few days or weeks before returning to the U.S. as a Permanent Resident.

In Alfred’s case, the rules have been written in a way that leave him on the sidelines. He might choose to continue with the traditional I-601 waiver and accept the difficulty this will cause his family. Or, if this “loophole” is valid, he might choose to cancel his pending case and re-file a new one. Re-filing will come at a cost of nearly $1,000 in new filing fees, but it might be worthwhile for him.

We will await further clarification on this point from CLINIC, ILRC, and USCIS among other entities. Does the rule mean to distinguish a case in which “DOS terminated registration” from one in which the applicant chooses to have the case lapse? The language cited above is also clearly intended to permit individuals to pursue an I-601A despite having an old case pending through a previous petitioner.

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Filed under Family-Based Immigration, Undocumented Immigrants

USCIS provides monthly tallies of DACA case progress

Through its “Straight From the Source” publication and by other means, the federal agency U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is doing its part to sate the growing hunger among DREAMers to learn about how the agency handles applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). USCIS has released two blocks of data on the progress of the process, although the figures mainly paint a portrait of a badly needed form of relief for the nation’s undocumented youth without offering a great level of detail.

In the first month of application acceptance 82,361 packages were accepted and by mid-September 29 individuals had been granted Deferred Action. The stats as released by USCIS are below:

Through October 10 USCIS had accepted 179,794 applications and granted Deferred Action in 4,591 cases.

DACA statistics through mid-October

A remaining unknown is what portion of cases are being denied or issued Requests for Evidence (RFEs). The USCIS data do not speak to this and so far we have had to rely on anecdotal evidence. Most cases seem to be advancing without RFEs, but this perception is also skewed by a strong selection bias: the community we hear from is made up mostly of AILA attorneys, BIA-accredited representatives, and the rest of the CLINIC network. Because we are hearing from a group of talented, cautious, thoughtful practitioners it is likely the case that we are hearing about RFEs less often than they are being issued overall.

For the most reliable guidance on DACA you should contact a CLINIC affiliate near you. Click here to review our DACA Applicant Guide in English or Spanish.

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Filed under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Immigrant Youth, National News, Uncategorized

A quick word of thanks for USCIS

At an outreach event earlier this week we were confronted by a questioner who asked us to detail the various delays and complications and headaches created by “the government bureaucracy.” While we acknowledge that some of our work involves classic bureaucracy — centralized hotlines for obtaining basic answers, redundant information on various forms, etc — we have to give credit where it is due and say that we appreciate the work USCIS does.

In recent years USCIS, and especially our local Reno Field Office, has appeared to make major strides in improving its efficiency, clearing case backlogs, and providing improved customer service. We are fortunate to have a very responsive local field office and that allows us to be the best possible advocates for our clients.

Additionally, we have recently been experiencing a more rapid response to our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The increased centralization of USCIS records creates a double-edged sword when it comes to analyzing clients’ cases. On the one hand, all the information is in one place and once we obtain it we can feel confident that we understand most or all of a client’s immigration history. On the other hand, FOIA requests have historically taken many months, often in the range of 12-15 months.

Recently we have been experiencing more rapid responses and USCIS appears to have been devoting increased resources to clearing the backlog of FOIA requests to provide a better level of service. Even more importantly, FOIAs are now assigned tracking numbers so we can keep a pulse on the progress of our requests.

The relationship between USCIS and advocates like us will never be one of complete camaraderie, and government agencies are probably as often frustrated by our zealous advocacy for our clients as we are by perceived intransigence by USCIS. But overall we consider ourselves privileged to have a good and improving relationship with a government agency that provides a good and improving level of service and responsiveness.

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100 stakeholders sign on to immigration waiver comments

Our petition has reached its 100th signature, meaning that in all more than 150 people have taken action to urge USCIS to expand and approve its proposed rule for changing the process for adjudicating unlawful presence waivers. There is still time for you and your friends to take action as well before the June 1 deadline.

You can add your voice in seconds through http://www.change.org/petitions/approve-expand-stateside-immigration-waivers

An overview of the waiver process and proposed changes is here, and a Spanish-language version is here.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Undocumented Immigrants

Mark of a good day: three USCIS letters, three approvals

Today’s mail was a good omen — it brought three letters from USCIS bearing three pieces of good news. First was an Adjustment of Status approval for a refugee from Eritrea by way of Ethiopia. These cases are among the most encouraging in that the immigration system is generous with and responsive to some of our nation’s most vulnerable residents. The young man is a student at Reno-area Sierra Nevada Job Corps.

The next approval was a pretty “vanilla” one — a run-of-the-mill renewal of a Permanent Resident card for a Mexico national. Gaining approval for this case is no great feat, but it was a big benefit for the client that we were able to oversee the smooth and rapid approval of her ten-year renewal.

Finally, we helped a Mexico national naturalize and gain U.S. citizenship after a drawn-out process with the local immigration office. The man had struggled with alcohol addiction for over 15 years before becoming active in the Catholic Church and finding new purpose in his life. He had been sober for over five years and he has not had any repeat of the alcohol-related arrests that plagued his past. Still, the immigration officer requested substantial evidence of his recovery even beyond affidavits from friends, family, and church elders regarding his improved moral character. After submitting to medical and psychological assessments that determined his alcoholism to be in remission, he was approved for naturalization.

Throughout the process, the client remained positive and hopeful — for him, no price is too great for the pride of calling himself a U.S. citizen.

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Filed under Naturalization / Citizenship, Reno News