* Dramatization
* Dramatization
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The new administration has a completely different focus on immigration than the last administration. On just his first day in office, President Joe Biden, according to the Los Angeles Times, introduced a major immigration initiative that was sent to the US Congress. At the center of his plan is a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million immigrants who currently don’t have legal status.

The package also aims to provide a short path to citizenship for the hundreds of thousands of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigrants who have temporary protected status. DACA beneficiaries are immigrants who were brought to American illegally as children. The short path to citizenship goal also applies to certain front-line essential workers. Many of these courageous pandemic workers are immigrants.

The proposed legislation differs from prior immigration bills (previously enacted) – in that the proposal does not have any requirements directly linking immigration expansion with security steps and increased law-enforcement – according to Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and its Immigrant Justice Fund. Ms. Hincapié said that the legislation doesn’t link law enforcement with immigration because prior efforts to do so in the Obama administration – failed to appease the Republican party.

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As of December 1, 2020, becoming a United States Citizen just became much harder for immigrants. Specifically, immigrants who file their N-400 Application for Naturalization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on or after December 1, 2020, will have to pass a longer and much more challenging civics test than in the past.

Previously, the applicant only needed to study 100 questions about American government, history and geography provided by USCIS on their website. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer would ask the applicant 10 out of the 100 civics questions and the applicant only needed to answer 6 out of the 10 questions correct. Once the applicant answered 6 questions correctly, the civics test would end even if not all 10 questions had been asked.

The new 2020 version of the civics test requires each applicant to study 128 questions about American government and American history, focusing more on the U.S. Constitution and the rights of U.S. Citizens, and less on geography.  During the interview, the immigration officer will ask the applicant 20 questions from the list. The applicant must answer 12 out of the 20 questions correct. Even if the applicant answers the first 12 questions correctly, the USCIS officer must continue to ask the applicant all 20 questions.

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The Trump administration’s “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Rule” places an extra layer of difficulty on immigrants seeking green cards through an Adjustment of Status or through consular proceedings. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) published an Inadmissibility Rule on August 14, 2019. Since that date, several federal courts have enjoined the implementation of the rule. The U.S. Supreme Court removed those injunctions, which means that all applications and petitions submitted after February 24, 2020, must comply with the rule.

A broad public charge rule dates back to the Immigration Act of 1882. The Trump administration’s Inadmissibility Rule defines explicitly what information USCIS can request. The 2019 rule also states that a person will be considered a public charge if they receive one or more public benefits (as set forth in the new rule) for more than 12 months in any 36-month period. The new rule means many applicants are inadmissible even though many immigrants who have received benefits in the past have become productive residents and citizens.

A federal district judge Northern District of Illinois, in November 2020, ruled that the 2019 Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Rule violates the Administration Procedures Act (A.P.A.). The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) stayed that judge’s ruling.

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Starting January 20, 2021, a Joe Biden Administration (if confirmed) will likely propose several changes to immigration law and other federal laws. As of this writing, it appears the President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris will select a new Cabinet and work with a Democratic-led House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate’s make-up won’t be clear until after the two runoff elections for Senator in Georgia in January.

In addition to legislative proposals, many changes to federal rules and regulations are likely to be created through Executive Orders and administrative oversight.

Some immigration law changes will come quickly. Some changes will require the consent of enough Republicans. Many changes may need to go through a procedural rules process. The changes in the immigration rules will be affected by America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other nations’ responses.

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Immigrants and the businesses who hire them can expect numerous changes in a Biden/Harris administration. Restrictions on immigration were a hallmark of the Trump administration, starting with the processing and eligibility for workplace visas and for green cards. The Trump administration rolled back many protections for immigrants – to focus on hiring and retaining American workers.

The main change will be one of tone – one of saying that immigrants are valuable contributors to the American economy. Many changes can be made immediately through Executive Orders by the President. Changes in legislation will be very difficult unless there’s a change in tone in the federal legislature. The Biden administration will likely review many other administration and court challenges to the immigration process – to make the process more friendly to immigrants and their families.

Executive Actions

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The Trump administration drafted a rule that made it harder for legal immigrants in American to obtain their green cards. That rule requires that immigrants be denied a green card – if they receive any public benefits such as food stamps. The idea behind the controversial rule is that people who use public benefits may not be an asset to America.

The position of the Trump administration is that only immigrants who are self-sufficient should be able to apply. Opponents argue that many citizens use public benefits at some stage of their life – and the benefits are just a stepping-stone to becoming able to contribute to the American success story.

The court cases

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According to a report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department have increased their denial of family, student, and work visa applications since fiscal year (FY) 2017, coinciding with President Donald Trump’s crackdown on lawful and unlawful immigrant entry through the U.S.-Mexico border.

The NFAP, a non-partisan organization dedicated to research on immigration and other matters of national concern, found that the number of immigrants being deemed “ineligible” for acquiring lawful permanent residence in the U.S. has increased by 39% between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018. In addition, temporary permits for nonimmigrants like the H-1B special working visa have seen a 5% increase in refusals.

But that’s not all the NFAP report has to say.

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A recent federal court ruling may be key to preventing the government from deporting immigrants seeking asylum at the border should they fail the mandatory initial screening.

In 1996, Congress passed a law essentially barring asylum-seekers from accessing U.S. courts to appeal the decisions of asylum officers and immigration judges on their case. However, as was established in this unanimous ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit court of Appeals, these limitations are unconstitutional.

Writing for the unanimous court, Judge A. Wallace Tashima argued in the 48-page ruling that that law offered “meager procedural protections” to asylum seekers and that it prevents further review of whether the rejection of an asylum claim was based on proper legal standards.

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Tens of thousands of foreign nationals from countries under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a temporary immigration status, can continue seeking employment authorization until January 2, 2020. This status extension specifically applies to nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. It does not, however, not include countries not covered in the Ramos v. Nielsen suit, namely Honduras and Nepal.

Temporary Protected Status is provided by the Department of Homeland Security to nationals from foreign countries (or parts thereof) that have extraordinary conditions threatening the safety and lives of its people. These conditions include civil unrest, a natural calamity, an epidemic, or other temporary conditions. Nationals from these countries may be allowed to stay, work in, and travel from and to the United States for humanitarian reasons, until the conditions in their home countries have passed, at which point they should ideally return.

This was the rationale behind the Trump administration’s move to terminate the TPS designation for the five aforementioned countries announced in 2017, an order that took effect last year.

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The Trump Administration announced that it will no longer be hiring additional immigration judges and will implement a number of cost-saving measures to the U.S. immigration system, despite the tremendous backlog the court system is currently struggling to resolve.

According to a Justice Department email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the federal government is pausing all hires of immigration judges, slowing down hiring of support staff, and canceling a training conference. These moves are supposedly designed to cut costs until there is enough funding to resume hiring of judges to handle the backlog of immigration cases.

Steven Stafford, an official with the Justice Department, says the decision is not a full hiring freeze but is instead a slowdown in the pace of hiring judges.

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