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New DHS Policies Could Make Legal Immigration More Difficult

While a crackdown on undocumented immigrants was one of the core promises of President Trump throughout the campaign trail, his administration has also made key moves that are all but guaranteed to make it harder for people to go through the legal immigration process. More recently, the Trump administration introduced policy changes allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be more stringent in enforcing immigration laws.

These changes include updates to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations and procedures in handling immigrants attempting to legally enter the country—particularly those that involve deportation processes.

The issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) also follows a new procedure that expands the list of reasons for which immigrants would be required to appear before an immigration judge and go through the deportation proceedings. Among the items in the expanded list include violations of welfare programs (particularly the reception of public benefits), criminal activity, and denials of immigration benefits (e.g. refusing visas that change their legal migrant status).

Lee Francis Cissna, Director of the USCIS, complained that the agency’s officers who happen to encounter instances of fraud or other criminal activity have for too long “been limited in their ability to help ensure U.S. immigration laws are faithfully executed.”

Under the new guidelines, USCIS adjudicators acquire full discretion to deny an immigrant’s application for immigration benefits. This covers applications for American citizenship, lawful permanent residence or green card, as well as visa extensions.

Particularly, they may do so without first sending Requests for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), which were considered courtesy warnings for applying immigrants who may fail to make the cut. Before their elimination from the process, these allowed applicants and their attorneys to fill in the necessary gaps in their applications like incomplete documentation and other errors. Now, applying immigrants may be deported for minor shortcomings.

Immigrants married to U.S. citizens who intend to obtain lawful permanent residence in the country now have to remain married and live together for a minimum of three years as a prerequisite to applying for naturalization based on marriage. This means that terminating the marriage before that period ends would make the foreign ex-spouse ineligible for citizenship as per the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Despite these changes, USCIS spokesperson Michael Bars, claims that applying for immigration is an open and accessible process.

“Each year, immigration benefits are attainable for many law-abiding individuals legitimately seeking greater opportunity, prosperity, and security as newly entrusted members of society,” Bars said in a statement. “[USCIS] is committed to rule-of-law and merit-based immigration reforms that benefit U.S. workers, the American people, and our society to the greatest extent possible.”

If you, or a loved one, are concerned about this development and what it means for the already slow immigration process, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a consultation with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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