* Dramatization
* Dramatization
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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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With the H-1B cap season in full swing, the Trump administration continues make a number of policy updates and changes that will substantially affect this year’s H-1B processing flow and, in particular, the family members of migrant workers applying for H-1B visas.

H-1B Processing Will Begin with “General” Pool Before “Master’s”

U.S. employers can fill positions by sponsoring H-1B visa applications with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of foreign workers who meet the requirements of these roles.  Only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued every fiscal year with an additional 20,000 slots specifically allotted to migrant workers with graduate degrees (or their equivalent) acquired from institutions in the United States. These limitations, known as the “cap,” are set by Congress.

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In an effort to catch students enrolling in graduate programs after not being selected in the H-1B lottery, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been discreetly operating a number of fake universities targeting these migrant students abusing the system.

Immigration officials have been monitoring universities for students whose only intentions for enrolling in graduate programs is to obtain additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Enrolling qualifies them for work authorization and allows them to extend their lawful presence in the U.S despite not being picked in the H-1B lottery.

The standard U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) protocol would be to issue Requests for Evidence (RFE) regarding H petitions of suspect students. USCIS, however, appears to have turned to more drastic enforcement measures, putting up nonexistent universities to entrap students.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is cracking down on unconsenting child brides, announcing on Friday that it will be following a new set of rules in assessing petitions from individuals seeking to bring their migrant spouses into the U.S.. The announcement comes after thousands of such requests involving minors were found to have been approved last year.

This effort, however, will not be an indiscriminate crackdown. USCIS elaborated that it had updated its guiding policies to adjudicators, emphasizing that marriages involving underage spouses required further scrutiny. To ensure this, the marriage in question must be found to have been lawful where it was celebrated and will remain so in the state where the incoming child spouse plans to reside, freely consented to by the minor involved, and duly certified by adjudicators as bona fide.

The Associated Press reported last month that among the numerous petitions from individuals in adult-minor relationships, at least 5,000 were of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and 3,000 were of minors attempting to petition their older spouses into the States.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has updated the forms used for the extension or change of status for H-4 and L-2 dependents, which will apply to applications filed on March 11, 2019 and afterwards. The agency has so far provided no grace period for the continued use of the now-obsolete versions of the immigration forms, with no preview of the new versions available to the public.

Beginning next month, USCIS will require the use of a new version of the Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) for applications requiring the form. The agency said it has also updated Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

The updated forms come with a number of significant changes to the application process. Specifically, applicants and co-applicants now have to attend a biometric services appointment for fingerprint taking at a scheduled date at the Application Support Center (ASC) located nearest to the applicant’s address.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a final rule that will change the process for choosing H-1B visa petitions that are subject to the annual “cap” on applications. The immigration rule is set to take effect in April 1, 2019 and will see the DHS changing the order by which it allocates available cap-subject slots

Specifically, the DHS will soon allocate H-1B visa petitions in reverse, first running the random selection process for the 65,000 slots against all cap-subject cases, then allocating the 20,000 slots against the pool of foreign nationals with advanced degrees from American educational institutions. The agency predicts that this will lead to an increased selection of up to 5,340 petitions filed by foreign nationals who possess U.S. postgraduate degrees.

H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals qualified in highly specialized fields like biotechnology, computer science, and the like. Being subject to an annual cap, only a limited number of visas are approved every year. This cap is set at 65,000 with an additional 20,000 H-1B slots available to foreign nationals with advanced degrees acquired from U.S. universities and colleges. Before the rule change, the advanced degree slots were allocated first, followed by the rest of the applicants.

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The idea of court hearings done through a TV screen or monitor may have an Orwellian ring to it, but it’s how many undocumented immigrants are currently being processed for deportation, replacing conventional in-person court hearings. Understandably, this practice has drawn flak from immigration rights advocates and is now being challenged in court by the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defender Services, and Bronx Defenders.

The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven undocumented immigrants, argues that in-person hearings had long helped ensure that detained immigrants were granted the opportunity to have fair and full access to the courts in order to participate in their deportation proceedings. The plaintiffs add that the ICE NY Field Office had never before broadly refused to produce individuals for in-person hearings.

Moreover, the switch to CCTV-only hearings at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City in June last year happened without warning.

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Although first seen as an amendment to the spending package before the government shutdown, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act has been reintroduced in the 116th Congress by both members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

The bill, introduced in 2017 with 300 co-sponsors, would eliminate the caps on lawful permanent residency (i.e. green cards) for each country and ease the green card processing backlog. In particular, this would speed up processing times for Chinese and Indian foreign nationals who face tremendously long waiting lines.

On top of expedited processing, foreign nationals covered by the bill would also gain a number of benefits with their immigration applications. For one, they and their employers would no longer need to worry about renewing their H-1B visas. Consequently, the spouses of these qualified foreign nationals would also be allowed to get employment authorization documentation based on their green cards rather than the H-4 visa. Additionally, their children would be much less likely to face “ageing-out,” which is a challenge foreign parents face as they get green cards for their children as well.

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