How a Government Shutdown Impacts Immigration Services

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While the government shutdown ended on Jan. 25, its impact on immigration courts will be felt for months as the backlog was substantially increased. During the shutdown, scheduled immigration hearings were canceled, which means that those people will now have to potentially wait for months or years to be rescheduled. The immigration court system already had a backlog of cases waiting for hearings for a year or longer before the shutdown. With the shortage of immigration judges, the backlog can now be expected to drag on even longer.

Impact During the Shutdown

President Trump shut down the government in Dec. 2018 because of an impasse between his administration and Congress over funding for his proposed border wall. While Congress had negotiated an agreement that would have provided some funding for the border wall, Trump refused to sign it, leading to the shutdown. The shutdown was the longest in U.S. history, lasting for 35 days and resulting in many vital services, including the immigration courts, to be closed. This meant people whose immigration hearings were scheduled during the shutdown had their hearings canceled since the courts were closed.

Ongoing Impact of the Shutdown

While the government was reopened after the shutdown ended on Jan.25, the impact of the shutdown on the immigration system continues. When hearings are canceled, immigration courts reschedule them to the next available hearing dates. People whose hearings were canceled will effectively be placed at the back of the line and wait for a year or longer. People whose hearings involved deportation proceedings run the risk of getting deported before their new hearings are held. They can request a cancellation of removal if deportation would result in extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen child or spouse.

Other immigrants who were waiting on naturalization hearings may have to wait much longer to become citizens. Some also are waiting on hearings on their petitions for permanent resident status. People who are seeking asylum so they can bring their family members to the U.S. to escape dangerous situations in their home countries face especially perilous situations. The only group that may not see much of a delay are immigrants who are detained because their cases are prioritized over others. People whose cases are relatively weak may benefit from the impact of the shutdown.

Immigration in 2019: Here’s What to Expect

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The Trump Administration’s policies are likely to impact legal immigration applications for H-1B visas, family-based visas, and other types of visas in Illinois in 2019. The Administration has enacted a number of punitive measures regarding deportations and undocumented immigration. However, several changes are also likely to have a negative impact on legal immigration, making it more difficult for people to immigrate lawfully to the U.S. Here are some of the impacts that can be anticipated in 2019.

H-1B Visa Applicants

Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, indicated in testimony before Congress on Dec. 20, 2018, that the Trump Administration would continue to view highly-skilled H-1B visa holders and their employers with suspicion in 2019. There has been an increase in denials of H-1B visa applications and an increase in the amount of time that it takes to process applications, leaving many workers to fear trying to change jobs.

Some workers who apply for H-1B visas based on their new jobs may run out of time before their applications are processed, meaning that their H-1B visas could expire before they receive decisions. Part of the reason for the increased processing time is that the USCIS director, Frank Cissna, announced in 2017 that adjudicators are no longer supposed to defer to previous determinations. There are also proposed regulations that would limit who qualifies for specialty occupations and how the employer-employee relationship is defined. Another regulation would require pre-registration of potential H-1B visa applications and selection through a lottery.

Family-Based and Other Visas

Some changes could impact people who apply for family-based immigration visas as well as other types of visas. One change is that the USCIS has implemented a policy that adjudicators no longer have to send requests for evidence or notices of intent to deny before denying applications. Previously, adjudicators would send these notices to applicants whose applications were incomplete or contained errors. Applicants and their attorneys would then be given time to supplement the applications with evidence supporting the basis for them. Adjudicators can now simply deny applications without giving applicants the ability to correct or to supplement them. This means that making mistakes on an application could result in a denial followed by deportation and removal proceedings.

Legal immigration will likely continue to face obstacles. It is important for employers and applicants to take care with their applications so that they can increase their chances of approval.

What You Should Know about Expedited Removal

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The expedited removal process gives immigration officers nearly unchecked power to deport certain immigrants that they encounter within 100 miles of the border with Canada or Mexico if the immigrants have been in the U.S. for fewer than 14 days. The number of people who have been deported through expedited removal has soared since it was first passed by Congress. Since Trump encouraged Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use it even more the numbers are likely to climb higher.

What Is Expedited Removal?

Expedited removal is a process that was first introduced in 1996. It allows low-level immigration officers to deport certain immigrants without giving them any due process protections such as a hearing before an immigration law judge. The officers are able to question undocumented immigrants that they encounter within 100 miles of the border. If the officers determine that they have entered the country illegally and have been in the U.S. for fewer than 14 days, they can immediately deport them. The immigrants are detained until they are deported and do not have access to lawyers.

Why Expedited Removal Is a Problem

Expedited removal is a problem for multiple reasons. The immigration officers may fail to refer asylum seekers to asylum officers and may send them back to danger in their home countries. There have also been cases in which lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens have been erroneously deported. Some undocumented immigrants may have valid claims to remain in the U.S. that they are unaware that they have such as being the victim of a crime or a witness to a crime.

Some immigration officers have reportedly pressured undocumented immigrants into agreeing to expedited removal. The people may not be able to contact attorneys or family members.

Expanding Use of Expedited Removals

The use of expedited removals had expanded dramatically even before Trump took office. In 2013, which is the most recent year for which data is available, 193,000 people were deported under the expedited removal process. This was 44 percent of the total number of people who were deported during that year. With the Trump Administration’s hardline immigration stance, it is likely that the numbers have climbed even higher. It is likely that many people who have asylum claims or other claims to remain have been deported without ever having the chance to present them to the courts.

Applying for a Visa with a Criminal Record

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People in Illinois with criminal records might still be eligible for green cards, depending on the nature of their criminal convictions. Some criminal convictions will make people inadmissible and might subject applicants to deportation and removal proceedings. People who have convictions on their records for aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, or illegal drug crimes will be inadmissible. Other types of criminal convictions may not make people ineligible, however. Green card applicants need to make certain to disclose their arrests and convictions on their green card applications. If they fail to disclose the information, their applications may be denied.

Crimes That Disqualify Green Card Applicants

People who have been convicted of crimes that involve illegal drugs will be considered to be inadmissible in most cases. This includes possession of certain amounts of drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and others. Immigration law also states that crimes of moral turpitude make people ineligible. However, moral turpitude has been defined differently by different courts. Some examples of crimes of moral turpitude include the following:

  • Domestic violence
  • Fraud
  • Murder
  • Stealing
  • Crimes of violence

Aggravated felonies will also disqualify applicants. Certain crimes that are listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act make applicants inadmissible, including kidnapping, prostitution, money laundering, human trafficking, and terrorism. People who have multiple convictions that add up to more than five years of incarceration together will likely be disqualified and may be deported.

Exceptions and Waivers

Some people who have convictions that would otherwise make them inadmissible might be eligible for an exception or a waiver. An example of an exception might include a crime of moral turpitude that had a sentence of six months or that was committed by the person when he or she was a minor. The petty offense exception might apply when a person was convicted of a crime and received a sentence of less than one year.

Applicants who have disqualifying criminal convictions on their records might also be able to apply for a waiver of their records. A waiver might be granted by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services if the applicants are able to prove that not granting the waiver will cause serious hardship for a spouse or parent who is either an American citizen or a permanent resident.

When people complete their applications, they must disclose their criminal records. If they do not, their applications may be denied, and they may be deported.

Proving Your Marriage Isn’t Just a Mirage

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People who immigrate to Illinois on marriage visas may have to prove that their marriages are real to adjudicators with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Proving that a marriage is bona fide is crucial because the USCIS is focused on preventing immigration that is based on fraudulent marriages. When people first immigrate based on their marriages to U.S. citizens, they will go through a period of conditional residence during which the USCIS will scrutinize their relationships to make certain they are real. People should make sure they have their documents together so they can offer evidence of the validity of their marriages. The adjudicators are trained to look for signs that a marriage might be fraudulent. If the USCIS finds that a marriage was a sham, the immigrant may be deported and the citizen may face legal penalties.

Signs That a Marriage Might Be Fraudulent

USCIS adjudicators are trained to look for signs that a marriage might be fraudulent. If these factors exist, the adjudicator may scrutinize a petition more closely. Some of these signs include:

  • Substantial age difference
  • Not speaking each other’s language
  • Family members don’t know about the marriage
  • Living separately since the marriage
  • The citizen filed previous marriage petitions for others

While these signs do not necessarily mean that a marriage is fraudulent, their presence will lead an adjudicator to question the petitioner and the immigrant more closely. If there is a disparity in the answers they provide, or the documentation that they have provided is inadequate, problems can arise.

Preparing Evidence of a Bona Fide Marriage

It is a good idea for spouses to begin preparing for their petitions long before it is time for them to be submitted. When people file their I-751 petitions, they will also need to submit as many documents as they can that offer evidence that their marriages are real. In addition to a marriage certificate, as many other documents as possible should be provided. Some of these might include titles to vehicles that are in both names, deeds to property in both names, lease agreements, health, and life insurance policies, and other documents that show joint ownership or joint responsibility.

Once the USCIS is satisfied that a marriage that has lasted for two years is real, the conditional status will be changed. The immigrant will then receive a green card.