USCIS Transfers Cases to Ease Processing Backlogs

On June 17, 2019, USCIS announced that it has created a national strategy to relieve the backlog for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

In short, USCIS will shift cases between field offices to accommodate offices with heavier than expected caseloads. As a result, some applicants may be scheduled for interviews at field offices outside their customary jurisdiction.  It remains to be seen exactly how this will be implemented and whether USCIS’ new policy will ultimately prove to be a travel burden on applicants.  Only time will tell.

DOS Has Begun Requiring Applicants to Disclose Social Media Identifiers

As expected, on May 31, 2019, the U.S. Department of State implemented a new policy whereby it requests applicants for immigrant and non-immigrant visas to provide their social media identifiers.  This policy had already been spottily implemented at some consular posts, but it has not become standard operating procedure.

Many immigrant rights groups are concerned that expanding consular reviews to social media posts grants consular officers a treasure trove of possible reasons to deny applicants given the lax style often inherent in such posts.  An off-hand comment made several years in the past could now presumably be used as a reason to deny, which many suspect is the true purpose of the new policy.

DOS Releases Stats on Travel Ban Waivers

On June 12, 2019, the U.S. Department of State released a report on the Implementation of Presidential Proclamation 9645 (the “Travel Ban”) for the time period covering December 8, 2017, to March 31, 2019. It has widely been speculated that the waivers under the Travel Ban were simply for show and that no meaningful waiver option exists.  The report does indicate that some waivers have been granted, but the rates of visa issuance are quite low, as expected.  The report also confirmed that there is no separate waiver application necessary and that each consular officer has broad discretion to consider the relevant factors on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. Negotiating for Safe Third Country Agreement with Guatemala

A Voice of America Report on June 13, 2019, indicated that the Trump Administration had purportedly finalized an agreement with Guatemala that would prevent asylum-seekers from passing through Guatemala to the United States without first seeking asylum in Guatemala.  This agreement, known as a “safe third country” agreement, would presumably ease the flow of Central American asylum-seekers into the United States.  It is an open question as to whether the outgoing Guatemalan administration will sign the agreement, but VOA speculated that Guatemala had more to gain than lose by signing the pact.

That being said, VOA then reported on June 14, 2019, that the agreement had hit a snag. Allegedly, Guatemala did not understand that it would be obligated to actually process the asylum claims of individuals returned to Guatemala pursuant to the agreement, which supposedly presented legal and constitutional issues for the Guatemalan government.  As of now, this issue is still under discussion, but a true “safe third country” agreement seems to be off the table in the short term.

White House Memo Orders Enforcement of Affidavits of Support

On May 23, 2019, President Trump issued a memorandum ordering his administration to develop rules for U.S. citizens to reimburse the government for each dollar of means-tested federal benefits provided to immigrants they are sponsoring.  While there are already rules in place to prevent the use of certain means-tested benefits by immigrants, enforcement actions by the Federal government are somewhat rare.  This is likely why the Administration feels it is an area in which it can tighten the screws without much blowback.

That being said, enforcement of support obligations would be riddled with practical challenges.  It would require communication and cooperation between multiple state and Federal agencies, as well as the sharing of records that may not exist in an easily shareable format.

The Administration has asked for the proposed rules to be developed within 90 days.

Disclaimer: The ethical rules by which Alabama attorneys are governed mandate that no communication concerning a lawyer's services shall be published...unless it contains in legible...language the following: "No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers."