Immigrants Whipsawed by Ever-Changing U.S. Laws and Regulations

The series of legal and policy shifts that immigrants in the U.S. face is seemingly unending. Or maybe “seemingly” is too mild a word.

Try Googling the terms “immigrants whipsawed,” and you’ll find headlines both recent and ancient, all saying basically the same thing: Any immigrant trying to plan his or her life in the U.S. had best be prepared for delays, turnabouts, inconsistencies, and all-around frustration.

In the latest example of this phenomenon, F-1 students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), whom DHS previously found eligible for an extra 17 months of a work status called optional practical training (OPT), may not be able to receive those extra 17 months after all. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hadn’t followed proper procedures when it created the extension. Luckily for students, it gave DHS some extra months to redo the regulation, as described in Nolo’s update, “Extra 17 Months of Optional Practical Training for STEM Students in Jeopardy.”

Non-citizens who had successfully applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status weren’t so lucky. Many of them had received three-year work permits under President Obama’s latest Executive Order. However, a federal court decision blocking implementation of that order resulted in them having to actually mail their three-year work permits back to USCIS. (These were to be replaced with two-year work permits that USCIS would send out automatically – let’s hope that worked out.) What a bother, not to mention a source of confusion for both immigrants and their employers.

But these DACA recipients are still better off than the immigrants who were hoping to receive Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). This was (or perhaps is, after it wends its way through the court system) another program created by Executive Order. But it’s still on hold, ever since a federal district court in Texas granted a preliminary injunction against it.

How ironic that one of the 100 questions on the U.S. naturalization exam, which is given to prospective new U.S. citizens, is “What is the ‘rule of law?’” Acceptable answers include, “Everyone must follow the law,” “Leaders must obey the law,” “Government must obey the law,” and “No one is above the law.” Too bad no one seems able to decide what the law says, and stick to it for more than five minutes.