USCIS recently announced that it will stop handling requests for non-military “deferred action.” Deferred action is a form of temporary relief from deportation for immigrants facing special and often life-threatening circumstances.
It is reported that deferred action was granted for 20,000 immigrants from 2012 to 2016. Deferred action does not confer lawful status on an immigrant and does not lead to permanent residence. But those with deferred action will not have removal proceedings initiated against them and will be considered lawfully present in the country. A grant of deferred action also does not excuse any past periods of unlawful presence. Deferred action requests are handled on a case-by-case basis and can be renewed and terminated at any time.
USCIS did not give advance public notice for this change in policy. Instead, people who have long relied on this form of immigration relief or had recently filed requests for deferred action received denial letters in the mail from USCIS, stating that the agency is no longer processing such requests. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) will now assume responsibility of these deferred action requests even though the denial letters sent by USCIS did not state this fact. Moreover, ICE is an enforcement agency that detains and deports countless immigrants each day. People without lawful status in the United States will understandably be hesitant to request deferred action from the same agency that could detain and deport them.
It is important to note that this policy does not affect deferred action related to military members or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Nevertheless, this policy will negatively affect a vulnerable population of immigrants who are unlikely to have any other form of immigration relief available to them, including children facing serious medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, and HIV and who cannot return to their home countries safely. These individuals will now be at risk of facing deportation.
This sudden shift in policy is yet another targeted attack by the Trump Administration on legal immigration. Policy changes like this continue to place vulnerable immigrants, including persons with life-threatening illnesses, at risk of deportation. Only time will tell the lengths that this administration will go in order to unjustly limit the avenues of relief for immigrants in the United States.