Even though immigration policies and debates take center stage there are many new policies and practices that don’t get reported that negatively affect our work at the Carolina Immigrant Alliance. What are these policies and what can you do you to help?
1.) There is an increased connection being formed between US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In short, USCIS is the arm of the Department of Homeland Security tasked with taking immigration petitions and deciding cases while ICE is the branch tasked with enforcement and deportation.
Traditionally, there has been a sort of firewall between these two branches, meaning that failed petitions were not referred immediately for deportation. The reasoning behind this is that many people who are undocumented and are trying to rectify their status in the United States will not feel safe seeking a status if it will expedite their deportation instead. So to encourage people, especially victims of crime and trafficking, to report these crimes and seek immigration benefit, USCIS did not report failed petitions to ICE. That has changed. Now, many the standard practice is becoming to report all failed cases to ICE.
This has had a real chilling effect on our practice, with victims of crime and domestic violence withdrawing their cases from us for fear of deportation. This kind of policy does not serve to strengthen our communities but by disincentivizing the reporting of crime and attempts to gain legal documentation, communities are actually made less safe.
2.) The majority of immigration cases are done on paper. A client submits a petition with supporting documentation and an adjudicator makes a decision. Rarely does one have a chance, in person, to argue their case or to speak to doubts or misgivings an adjudicator may have. To rectify this, policy had been that a case that was about to be denied would be issued a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). This would give the applicant and their legal representative one more chance to argue their case and answer any questions.
Now, RFEs and NOIDs are no longer required or maybe even encouraged. Instead, our clients will have one shot to get their case right or risk, at best, the expense of having to file again from the beginning or, at worst, deportation as discussed above.
3.) In addition to the above, we have seen an across the board delay in the processing of immigration petitions. Recently we won a case for one of our clients. We had that case for about 2 years. Most of that time, the file was “processing” with immigration. Some case processing times are almost double what they were simply a couple years ago. Longer processing times mean longer times that families spend separated. Longer processing times mean longer times that people who have potential documentary statuses have to wait and remain in the shadows as undocumented migrants. Longer processing times mean people lose jobs because their work authorization didn’t renew on time. What sounds like an inconvenience actually has the ability to keep families separated for years and ruin economic stability.
So what can you do? There are several things, actually. First, and perhaps the most obvious, would be to reach out to your representatives in the federal government, and bring these issues up. Let them know that it creates a negative effect in our communities and that you would like to see it addressed. Second, and perhaps less obvious, is to put your name on our volunteer list. Especially with the new policies regarding Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny, we have to make sure that every case is rock-solid before we submit. Therefore, our clients have to amass a lot of documentation, and sometimes they could use help going to hospitals, doctor’s offices, schools, and police stations to request those documents. Volunteers can go with them, give them a ride, and help them explain what it is they are in need of.