USCIS is processing naturalization applications at a slower rate than usual. That means that many persons who had expected to be able to vote this November might not be able to do so.
The Coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the delays, but the Trump Administration had slowed down the process well before 2020. In 2016, under President Barack Obama, the naturalization process averaged 5.6 months. President Trump became president in January 2017. By 2018, the average processing time was 10.3 months.
USCIS maintains that when they reopened field offices in June 2020, they focused on conducting naturalization oath ceremonies, and by the end of July 2020 they cleared the backlog of ceremonies. But overall, July 2020 had only about one-twelfth of the number of naturalization ceremonies that typically occur in a month.
Although USCIS might have “cleared the backlog” in ceremonies of persons already approved for citizenship, the truth is, USCIS continues to delay the processing of many persons still stuck in the naturalization application process. There are currently more than 700,000 people waiting for their naturalization interviews.
One research group estimates that the naturalization delays will mean that nearly 400,000 persons will not be able to vote.
Diego Iñiguez-López of the National Partnership for New Americans states, “It’s part of the larger anti-immigrant agenda that the Trump administration has pursued over the last few years. Keep immigrants feeling unwelcome, keep them afraid, keep them intimidated, and keep them away from knowing and asserting their rights, including their right to vote.”
On July 29, 2020, a federal court blocked the Trump Administration’s new “public charge” rule.
In earlier posts, we have discussed the new rule and its harmful effects on thousands of people who have recently applied for permanent resident status. Anyone who has had to prepare an application for permanent resident status under the new “public charge” rule knows the enormous amount of work involved, the need to provide reams of very sensitive personal financial data to USCIS, and the frustration of facing yet another enormous obstacle to legal status that the Trump Administration has created.
Well, for now, at least, the “public charge” obstacle has been put on hold, both for persons applying for permanent resident status in the United States, before USCIS, and for persons applying for immigrant visas at U.S. consulates throughout the world.
Judge George McDaniels, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued two separate opinions that block further implementation of the new “public charge” rule: one decision affects USCIS, while the other decision affects the U.S. Department of State, which runs U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. The main reasoning behind the judge’s decisions was the negative effect that the new rule had on persons struggling to maintain health and safety during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The judge indicated that the new public charge rule spread fear among immigrants that the new rule would label them as a “public charge” if they obtained medical care or other benefits related to the fight against Coronavirus. The judge concluded that the new public charge rule harmed the United States and immigrants who were making choices that they believed would help them avoid “public charge” problems but that would place them at greater risk of harm as a result of Coronavirus.
It is expected that the Trump Administration will appeal the judge’s rulings. But for now, both USCIS and the U.S. Department of State have indicated that they are no longer implementing the new “public charge” rules.
On July 14, 2020, the Trump Administration backed down from its proposed plan to deny and rescind visas from students studying online at U.S. schools.
On July 6, 2020, ICE announced that foreign students who plan to take fully online courses will not get student visas, and online-only students already in the United States need to leave the country or risk being deported.
Analysts viewed the move as an attempt by the White House to pressure universities to reopen their campuses to in-person classes, instead of the approaches that many schools have spent months in planning to try to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.
At least three separate lawsuits seeking to block the new rules have already been filed. On July 8, Harvard and MIT filed a lawsuit. The following day, the State of California filed its own legal challenge. And on July 13, a group of 17 states and the District of Columbia filed a legal complaint.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey noted that the “Trump administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses.”
To date, more than 200 universities have presented briefs in support of the legal challenges to the proposed restrictions.
It appears that the Trump Administration succumbed to the overwhelming criticisms and legal challenges to the new rule, abruptly abandoning its position only 8 days after announcing it.
USCIS has announced that they plan to reopen some field offices to the public beginning June 4, 2020. USCIS had closed offices to the public on March 18, 2020, in response to the Coronavirus health emergency. USCIS plans to implement procedures in an attempt to protect the health and safety of everyone. USCIS appointment notices will contain information on safety precautions that all persons will need to follow.
Safety procedures may change as the situation develops, so you should check the USCIS website for updates.
USCIS will send you notices for interviews and biometrics appointments. Please understand that there will very likely be significant delays in scheduling, both because of the number of applicants currently waiting for appointments, and because of the limited number of persons that USCIS will be able to accommodate because of social distancing and other safety precautions.
At this time, USCIS guidelines indicate that you may not enter a USCIS building if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been in close contact in the last 14 days with anyone suspected of having COVID-19, or if you have been directed to quarantine or self-isolate within the last 14 days.
You may not enter a USCIS building more than 15 minutes before your appointment.
You must wear a mask or other facial covering that covers both your mouth and nose. If you don’t have one, USCIS might reschedule your appointment.
You are encouraged to bring your own black or blue pens to your appointment.
For those waiting for a naturalization oath ceremony, USCIS will send notices to you. Guests are not permitted to attend, and the naturalization ceremonies will be shortened, both to minimize risks to everyone.
The Coronavirus pandemic continues to affect all parts of the country including United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for administering the country’s immigration system.
The pandemic has led to a large drop in the amount of applications submitted by immigrants for lawful permanent resident status, naturalization, as well as other programs. The budget that USCIS uses to operate is derived from the filing fees for these types of applications.
USCIS is now seeking $1.2 billion from Congress as well as planning to implement fee increases in order to continue its operations. Per the New York Times, USCIS “receipts could plummet by more than 60 percent by the close of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.”
A spokesman for the agency has stated that USCIS “would be unable to fund its operations in a matter of months.” In addition to the $1.2 billion dollars sought from Congress, “The agency plans to impose a 10 percent ‘surcharge’ on applications, on top of previously proposed increases, that it is expecting to implement in the coming months.”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, USCIS had already experienced a dramatic drop in applications due to the current admiration’s goal of decreasing immigration to the United States. Per CNN, “Between the end of fiscal years 2017 and 2019, USCIS received nearly 900,000 fewer petitions, according to Pierce, who added that the decrease was largely driven by the administration’s own decisions, such as ending Temporary Protected Status for nationals of several countries or drastically decreasing the number of refugees admitted to the United States.”
Due to the pandemic, USCIS suspended all in-person appointments and interviews on March 18, 2020. USCIS plans to reopen on June 4, 2020 at this time. However, whether the date will change remains to be seen as the coronavirus pandemic continues to plague the country.
The spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to have devastating impacts on immigration to the United States. On April 22, 2020, President Donald Trump signed a new executive order that restricts certain immigrants from entering the United States for 60 days, with some exceptions. The full order can be read here.
The Executive Order states that its aim is to suspend entry of certain immigrants to the United States due to the negative impact that foreign workers can have on the labor market during the Coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump states, “I have determined that, without intervention, the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand.”
Pursuant to the order, suspension and limitation on entry applies to immigrants who are:
- are outside the United States on the effective date of this proclamation;
- do not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation; and
- do not have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter, an appropriate boarding foil, or an advance parole document) that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission.
The order does not apply to “lawful permanent residents, spouses of United States citizens, immigrants entering pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, or any alien who is under 21 years old and is the child of a United States citizen, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications.” There are other immigrants who are exempt from the order; a full list can be found here.
Although the Executive Order expires in 60 days, the President can extend its application if necessary.
There has been a lot of criticism of the new order by immigration advocates. According to Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU, “While the order is limited in scope, President Trump’s transparent attempt to distract from his own failures with this unwarranted suspension will cause real pain for families and employers across the country.”
There are many prospective immigrants outside the United States who have been waiting for years to obtain their visas and enter the country. They will be unable to do so for the next 60 days, or possibly longer.
Throughout his tenure, President Trump has taken many steps to limit immigration to the United States, resulting in damaging consequences for immigrants and their families. While all efforts must be taken to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, a valid question is whether this order is aimed to do so or is rather an attempt to further the anti-immigration agenda of the Trump Administration.
Over the past few weeks, Coronavirus (or COVID-19) has wreaked havoc all throughout the United States. One highly vulnerable population at this time includes immigrants who are currently being held in detention.
While Attorney General William Barr has ordered the release of medically vulnerable federal inmates, there has yet to be a nationwide effort by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to do the same for the more than 34,000 immigrant detainees around the country. Sixty percent of these detainees do not have criminal records and are only detained for immigration violations.
The Trump Administration is putting immigrant detainees at great risk by not mandating their release. According to Amnesty International, “ICE and its detention facilities have failed to adequately provide soap and sanitizer or introduce social distancing. Nor has it halted the unnecessary transfers of people between facilities in the interest of public health, routinely transporting thousands in and out of facilities.”
ICE has also continued to understate the number of detainees who have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19. Amnesty International has received reports of “suspected COVID-19 cases and lockdowns in multiple ICE facilities, where lawyers said ICE officials refused to comment on the health situations.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has filed a federal lawsuit this week, demanding the release of immigrant detainees in Calhoun, Monroe, and St. Clair County Jail. Senior Staff Attorney, Miriam Aukerman, has said that “social distancing and strict hygiene are virtually impossible in a detention setting.”
One of the detainees who provided testimony for the lawsuit is Gener Alejandro Chinchilla-Flores, a 36-year-old Costa Rican national who has been detained at Monroe County Jail since Feb. 25, 2020. He has reported “numerous inmates are coughing and have reported an infestation of maggots.”
Jose Nicolas Chavez-Vargas, a 50-year-old Mexican national who has been detained at the Monroe County Jail since February 20, 2020, also provided testimony, stating, “Everyone sleeps in dormitories that house approximately 100 people, with about 50-60 bunk beds per dormitory. The beds are only 3 to 4 feet apart from each other. People continue to eat their meals communally, multiple times per day.”
While ICE continues to hold immigrants in detention, other county jails including Wayne have released all prisoners without felony cases and who do not pose a risk to public safety.
While it is clear that immigrant detention could lead to the deaths of many detainees due to the spread of COVID-19, it remains to be seen what measures ICE will take, if any, to protect the health and safety of this vulnerable population.
Over the past few weeks, the spread of the Coronavirus (or COVID-19) has caused major upheaval all around the world. Every facet of life has been impacted in the United States including immigration. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020. His complete proclamation can be found here.
One of the measures that President Trump has taken is to suspend entry of all foreign nationals who were present in countries with COVID-19 outbreaks within the prior 14 days including China, Iran, and the Schengen area of Europe. This temporary ban only applies to foreign nationals and does not include lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
In addition, this week, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) cancelled all non-detained Master Calendar and Individual Hearings that were scheduled to take place from March 16, 2020 to April 10, 2020. These hearings will be rescheduled for later dates. Detained hearings are still taking place at this time. These measures are being taken to combat the spread of COVID-19, which is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets caused when a person coughs or sneezes. Immigration courts may be filled with hundreds of immigrants, attorneys, staff, and judges daily, and to ensure their safety, limiting the amount of people in each court is a necessary precaution.
While many immigrants have been waiting for their hearings in courts for several years, the importance of combatting the spread of the virus is of utmost priority.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also suspended all in-person services including biometrics appointments and interviews until at least April 1, 2020. These appointments and interviews will all be automatically rescheduled for later dates. In special circumstances, USCIS will conduct emergency appointments.
In our own effort to ensure the safety of our clients, we urge clients to schedule phone and video appointments as an alternative to in-person meetings. Our office is still open for clients who wish to drop off documents as well as to sign forms. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We wish you good health and safety in this difficult time.