The World of Trump: An Update

I have not written a blog post since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States until today.  I thought I would wait until it became clear exactly how he would implement his immigration policies until I wrote a summary of changes to the law.  I figured this might take a few weeks.  However, we are now a month into his administration, and the dominoes continue to fall with no sign of slowing down.  So, today, I would like to write a short summary of what has happened so far, discuss the impact of these changes on the day-to-day lives of immigrants in the United States, and talk about what changes are likely in the future.  It is important for immigrants to understand what is happening, not only to protect their rights but also because there are a lot of rumors and false information in the community.  Yesterday for example an immigrant acquaintance of mine told me she heard that ICE had detained and deported a US citizen back to his country of birth.  This is FALSE; US citizens cannot be deported (without first being stripped of citizenship, a very lengthy process which can only happen in one or two narrow circumstances).  But, I understand the climate of fear and unpredictability in which we live makes things seem possible that would have been impossible just a month ago.

Without further ado, it is time to talk about executive orders and enforcement priorities.

First, I should talk about the January 30, 2017 executive order titled “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”.  This is better known around the country as the “Muslim ban.”

In that executive order, President Trump did three main things.  First, he instituted an immediate ban on entry for individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Yemen.  This ban stopped processing of all visa applications from individuals from those countries.  Even more shockingly, it impacted individuals with valid visas and even lawful permanent residents from those countries.  This ban was set to last 90 days, until about April 30, 2017.

Second, he suspended the United States refugee admission program for individuals from ANY country for a period of 120 days.  No new refugees, in other words, would be resettled.  He also ordered that once admissions began again, “minority religions” would be given preference (presumably Christians).

Third, he stated that there would be an indefinite ban on future admissions of Syrian refugees to the United States, even after the larger refugee program restarted.

As most people know, this order is not in effect as of the moment I write this blog post.  Various court decisions found it to have serious constitutional problems, and the 9th Circuit declined to allow the ban to go forward in a decision in early February 2017.

HOWEVER, I also have heard that a new ban, written more carefully to avoid the legal problems in the first executive order, may be instituted as early as this week.  And, the reports I have read state that it may have practically the same impact as the previous ban (most likely excepting green card holders).  It is very important for any potentially impacted individuals to pay close attention to the news, and talk to an immigration lawyer as soon as possible if you or a family member may be implicated.

The other two executive orders I need to mention deal more with immigration enforcement within the United States, and relative to our southern neighbors in Mexico and Central America.  Both of these orders were issued on January 25, 2017.

The first order that day is titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.”  That order issued a number of changes in enforcement on our southern border.  The first change is ordering the construction of the long promised wall along the Mexican border.  Other changes include potentially recruiting local law enforcement to be deputized as immigration agents in a program known as 287(g); ending the program of “catch-and-release” on the border (meaning that all detainees would be put into detention, not let out to later attend court hearings); the hiring of many additional border agents and immigration judges, and the construction of new detention facilities; more restrictive attitudes towards individuals seeking asylum in the United States; and several other smaller provisions such as conducting a full review of Customs and Border Protection policies.

The second order signed that day is “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” This order had a whole long list of changes to the way ICE agents enforce immigration law within the United States.  For example: calling for stricter enforcement of the law, and detaining more individuals who previously would have been left alone; stripping funding from cities who do not turn over immigrants to ICE after they are arrested; stripping privacy protections for personal information the government has collected from non-citizens; hiring more immigration officers and attempting to enroll more law enforcement in the 287(g) program described above.

But, the biggest and most shocking change (to me at least) is a shift in the so-called “priority system.” Under president Obama, ICE officials were supposed to focus on individuals with serious criminal records, such as three misdemeanors or a single felony.  This order gets rid of that priority system, and instead states the following:

  • Removal priorities shall be addressed in the following order: aliens convicted of any criminal offense; aliens charged, but not yet convicted of any criminal offense; aliens who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; aliens who engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation toward a government agency; aliens who have abused any public benefits program; aliens who have not complied with any removal order; aliens who, in the judgment of an immigration officer, pose a risk to public safety or national security.

In other words, this could apply ALMOST ANY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT IN THE UNITED STATES.  It remains to be seen how it is applied, but there is certainly an argument that anyone here without permission is in violation of the law, making them a priority for removal.  Furthermore, even people accused of crimes but not convicted may be detained.  This will give immigration authorities the opportunity to detain pretty much anybody they want at any time, which is chilling.

The last thing I want to mention is the two memos signed by the Department of Homeland Security on February 17, 2017.  The memo spelled out the details of the two executive orders mentioned above.  The biggest takeaway from these memos I have seen is that far fewer individuals will have the right to see a judge than before.  Previously, immigrants had a right to talk to a deportation judge if they had been in the USA for more than 2 weeks, and if they were not apprehended close to the border.  Now, ANY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT may be deported without a hearing if they have been in the United States for less than 2 years.  This is an absolutely fundamental change to policy.

Other big changes in this memo include

So, what can we do about this?  The advice is mostly the same as always.  Stay out of trouble.  Don’t drink and drive.  If you have family members with lawful status, talk to an immigration attorney immediately about your options.  Now, however, if you do have to drive, carry proof that you have been here for more than 2 years.  Carry a copy of your US citizen children’s birth certificates in your glove box.  If ICE comes to your door, do not open it unless they slide a warrant under the door with your name on it and signed by a judge.

A final note I wish to make is that so far, there has been NO discussion of the DACA program in any executive order.  There were rumors that DACA would be gutted by an executive order soon after Trump took office, but the fact that it has survived this long with all the other changes to immigration enforcement priorities is very encouraging.  However, it is definitely not safe yet.  I would encourage everyone to speak to their congressmen and women to support DACA, in hopes this vital program may survive despite these other difficult changes.

And please, if you hear ANY rumors about big changes, talk to a lawyer before you panic!  In these difficult times, information is the best protection.

 

Immigration in 2017 and Beyond

As we come to the end of 2016, there is quite a bit of uncertainty about what the future holds in the immigration world.  Political and social changes, international instability, and a rapidly changing economy all make it quite difficult to predict how the immigration world may look even 12 short months in the future.  In the spirit of entering a new year, our office wants to provide a little bit of information take a few educated guesses about how things may change and how they may stay the same.

Nobody Can Predict the Future

The first and most important thing to note is that it is impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen in the future, especially when it comes to immigration policy.  Few people would have predicted the roller coaster that has taken place during the last 8 years: the introduction of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, followed near passage of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, the attempted implementation of a DACA-like program for parents of United States children, and the drama in the Supreme Court blocking that program.

One thing that is certain is that the new political order assuming power in 2017 will have a more restrictive view of immigration than the current administration.  What that will mean in practice is anyone’s guess.

Executive Authority and Immigration

possible way that a Donald Trump White House may approach immigration is by using executive authority.  There are some changes to laws that require the cooperation of congress, but other types of changes can be done by the president all by himself.  President Obama famously said when Congress would not cooperate with him that he had a “pen and a phone” and he would make all the changes he possibly could (such as implementing the DACA program).

One change that many people are predicting is that a President Trump will eliminate the DACA program altogether.  If he wishes to get rid of this program, he likely can take action on his very first day in office if he so chooses.  Again, it is not clear how this might work in practice.  He could cancel the DACA program effective immediately, or he might allow individuals to retain DACA status until the expiration date of their work permits.  Or he might allow it to continue.  The important thing is to keep in mind that he could change this program by himself if he wants to do so.

Other types of changes a President Trump might make include a decrease in the amount of refugees admitted to the United States, a change in how those refugees are screened before entering the country, and even an increased emphasis on deporting immigrants present without lawful status.  Once again, it is good to be aware of these possible changes, but it is important to remember that until the President-elect actually announces his policies nothing has changed.

Possibilities for Comprehensive Reform

One final thing to keep in mind is that Republicans will control both the congress and the presidency beginning January 20, 2017.  Because of this, it will be easier to pass comprehensive laws (greater changes, for example, then the president can make on his own).  Although many Republicans have had tough talk on immigration, there are many people in the party who would like to make changes to “fix” the problems with our immigration system.  For example, Trump has hinted that he may be open to providing a pathway to some lawful status for undocumented immigrants (after “securing the border”, of course).  It remains to be seen whether any sweeping changes will be made.

Final Thoughts

With all the uncertainty surrounding the future of immigration in this country, the most important advice we can give is to pay close attention to the news and to always try to separate truth from rumor.  Immigration law is complicated and there is a lot of misinformation about how these laws actually work.  If you have questions about the current immigration situation, or if you hear about a change to the laws and you wonder how it might impact you, please contact our office.  Thank you, and have a happy new year!

 

For more information on the topics discussed in this post, check out these links from the migration policy institute and C-Span.

USCIS Fee Increase

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) charges filing fees for most types of immigration applications.  For example, submitting a petition for a relative (form “I-130”) currently cost $420.  These fees help to pay the costs of the US government in processing the hundreds of thousands of cases that are pending at any given time.  There are dozens of different types of fees that apply to different cases.  Some are very small (for example $20 for a genealogy records request) and some are very large (for example $985 for an application for permanent residence).

However, tomorrow, December 23, 2016, nearly every single type of fee is going to increase.  Some fees will go up by a little.  A citizenship application will increase from $595 to $640, for example.  Other fees are going to go up by a lot.  An application for a certificate of citizenship is going to go up from $600 to $1,170.

Keep in mind these fee increases as you make any future plans for immigration applications.  A full list of the fee increases can be found on this website: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/our-fees

Finally, please remember that many types of cases are eligible for fee waivers.  If an individual can demonstrate low-income status, USCIS will waive many (but not all) types of cases.  For more information on these fees or on fee waivers, feel free to contact our office with any questions.