As the nation's attention has focused on ICE and its role in the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy, another immigration agency has quietly been making drastic changes to its mission and policies.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal agency traditionally charged with managing benefits and services for immigrants to the U.S.
In February, USCIS published a new mission statement, considerably shifting the direction of their organization.
This month, we saw the impact of this new mission statement play out as the agency released two memos announcing new policies which could endanger almost any immigrant seeking to adjust their benefits.
Bushra Malik is an immigration attorney with Butzel Long's office in Bloomfield Hills. Malik joined Stateside’s Cynthia Canty to discuss the impact of USCIS’s actions.
Until February 21, the USCIS’s mission statement read:
“USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”
The next day, the statement had been updated to say this:
“US Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”
The first memo
On July 5, USCIS announced guideline changes allowing it issue to a "Notice to Appear" through mail to immigrants applying for benefits or visa extensions. A Notice to Appear — or NTA — requires the individual to appear before a judge, and begins deportation or removal proceedings.
Previously, Malik said, if someone applied for an extension of their work or student visa and that request was denied, that person could make an appeal or decide to return to their home country.
Now, he said, if an individual’s request for an extension of their visa is denied, they will be issued an NTA. If a person fails to appear for their deportation hearing, they will be barred from entering the U.S. for five years.
If someone remains in the United States after receiving this extension denial, the country considers it "unlawful presence." If they remain in the state for more than one year, that person will be barred from entering the country for 10 years.
According to Malik, immigration hearings are currently so backed up an individual will likely have to spend at least a year in the U.S. just awaiting trial, and while they do, accrue unlawful presence.
“In effect, these are individuals who will be subject to 10-year bars because they are probably going to have to wait certainly for more than a year at least to have their deportation case heard,” Malik said.
The second memo
Previously, if USCIS received an application or petition that was missing information, the agency would issue a request for more information. This allowed people the opportunity to correct any mistakes.
The agency's most recent memo, released July 13, states USCIS can now outright deny applications missing information without requesting any follow up information.
Malik said these new policies directly target those trying to legally immigrate to the U.S.
“It’s not the people who are crossing in to the United States illegally,” Malik explained. “These are people who are trying to follow the proper immigration system and do everything legally, but it seems that the Trump administration is making even that more and more difficult as well.”
Malik’s advice to her clients
Since the changes, Malik has been instructing her clients to file applications and apply for permanent citizenship as soon as possible.
She is also suggesting individuals file everything through premium processing. That is an extra $1,225 fee you can pay to get your USCIS case processed in 15 calendar days.
A hefty price to pay, but Malik said some can't afford to wait six to eight months for their application to be processed.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry.