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Your Voice Matters

The anti-Semitic domestic terrorist targeted the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh partly because of its outspoken support of immigrants.  Undeterred from the violent attack on a faith community, the next day, the First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles spoke out in support of immigrants.  I was proud to give the sermon to dispel the myths that fuel hatred of immigrants.  Communities like the First Unitarian Church and the Tree of Life Synagogue pride themselves on offering support for these vulnerable people.

I continue to support immigrants and communities who support them.  One way to do this is to distinguish fact from fiction in the immigration debate. The next step is to become politically engaged this November.  To help with this, the American Immigration Council has created a state-by-state immigration fact sheet for voters to use. The fact sheets include information on the financial contributions and demographics of immigrant communities in each state.  I urge you to visit the website and educate yourself on these important issues.

Further, First Unitarian Church has raised money to help post bond for deserving immigrant detainees.  To contribute to the fund, please visit the Church’s website. Many immigrants do not yet have the right and privilege to vote for issues affecting their lives and need your support now more than ever.Church Photo - Blog

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to Start Removal Process After Denying Certain Immigration Applications

The current administration continues its crackdown on immigration through a new policy memo. The guidance instructs USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear after it denies certain immigration applications.  A Notice to Appear is a document that requires an individual to appear before an immigration judge to argue his or her case.  It is the first step for the government to start the removal process of an individual immigrant.

USCIS may now issue a Notice to Appear after it denies applications such as adjustment of status (green card applications), B visitor extensions, and other non-employment-based applications to extend or change nonimmigrant status.  USCIS will still first issue a denial letter, which will explain the reason for the denial and provide applicants with notice of the decision.  If these applicants then remain in the U.S. without authorization, USCIS may issue a Notice to Appear.  USCIS will continue to prioritize cases of applicants with criminal records, fraud, or national security concerns. The new guidance does not apply to employment-based petitions or humanitarian applications at this time.

As we previously discussed in a recent blog, it is very important to make sure you submit a complete and thorough application to the government to avoid a denial. Now, it is equally as important to understand what could happen if the government denies your application.  A denial under this new policy could mean that you have to fight your case in front of an immigration judge in order to stay in the United States. With such high stakes, we recommend talking to an experienced immigration attorney to make sure you understand all of the potential outcomes when applying for an immigration benefit.

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Iranian Refugees

A Federal Court has stepped in again to stop the Trump administration from breaking U.S. immigration law.  The Department of Homeland Security violated immigration laws because it issued a blanket denial for Iranian refugees, rather than providing specific reasons for the denials. The federal judge in California ordered the administration to reconsider the refugee requests of nearly 90 Iranians. Though the government may still deny the applications, it must at least provide a reason. This will give the claimants an opportunity to file an appeal. Now that applicants will have a specific reason for the denial, they will be able to appeal based on those grounds and fight their case.

These refugees are part of a specialized refugee program expanded in 2004 to include persecuted religious minorities in Iran. The program has been extremely successful since its expansion, but its future now hangs in the balance, as no new applicants have been accepted since January 2017.  As the government continues to clamp down on immigration, many would-be immigrants face growing uncertainty. We will continue to speak out against these injustices and fight for the immigrant community.

New USCIS Policy Targets Incomplete Applications

USCIS recently issued an updated policy memo giving adjudicating officers more discretion to deny an application. This guidance took effect on September 11, 2018 and applies to all applications received after that date (except for DACA applications). The government is taking aim at what it views to be frivolous or meritless claims that delay the processing of applications. Previous guidance encouraged first requesting more evidence before denying those applications that are ineligible on their face. Officers should have only denied applications if there was no possibility of approval. Now, officers have the discretion to deny incomplete filings at the outset. It is meant to discourage placeholder, skeletal filings.

This policy change is an alarm bell for those who quickly assemble an incomplete application package with the hopes of fixing the problems down the road.  Fortunately, our clients’ applications have always been prepared thoroughly.  Therefore, they are not impacted by this policy change.  As the government continues to clamp down on immigration matters and make the process more difficult through policy changes, it is as important as ever to submit a complete and accurate application.

Apply for Green Card Lottery!

The Department of State has released details for the 2020 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, more commonly known as the “green card lottery.”  For fiscal year 2020, 50,000 diversity visas (DV) will be available for immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. The electronic entry/registration window is open between noon (EDT) on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 and noon (EST) on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Do not wait until the last week of the registration period to enter, as heavy demand may result in website delays.

Eligibility to enter the lottery is based primarily on country of birth. People born in the following countries – which are deemed to be already well represented in the U.S. – are not eligible to enter: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan are eligible to enter. Even if an individual is born in one of the excluded countries, one may still be eligible to enter based on one’s spouse’s country of birth.  In some circumstances, one can also enter based on a parents’ country of birth.  In addition, there are minimum education/work experience requirements in order to register.

To enter the lottery, go to www.dvlottery.state.gov. Entering the lottery is free, but be very careful to read all the specific requirements, directions and guidelines — each year thousands of applicants are disqualified for failing to follow the correct registration procedures. Individuals with more than one entry will be disqualified. For detailed instructions, visit the Department of State website.

Beginning May 7, 2019 you will be able to check the status of your entry by returning to www.dvlottery.state.gov. Once there, click Entrant Status Check and enter your unique confirmation number and personal information to see if you have been selected for DV-2020.  The government will not notify you directly, rather, checking your status online is the only way to determine if you have been selected. From there, you will be given further instructions.

Please also be aware that “winning” the lottery does not guarantee a green card. If successful, all winners must then wait for their allotted number to become available and then submit a full green card application, including evidence of their background, qualifications and eligibility. We therefore strongly recommend that winners retain legal counsel to help navigate the complex process to apply for a green card.

Good luck to all who dare to take a shot at the American dream!