Monthly Archives: September 2013

With Broken Promises Like These, Why Would Anyone Help the U.S. in a Conflict Zone?

Breaking pointAsk any immigration lawyer: What the law says and what actually happens in real life can be miles apart, due in large part to competing interpretations — or simply bureaucratic foot dragging — by  various U.S. government agencies.

This is nowhere better exemplified than in the case of the Afghan and Iraqi translators and other workers who helped the U.S. government or military during recent conflicts in their countries. They put their lives at risk, knowing that after the U.S. soldiers went home, they’d have to face reprisals from within their own community.

In what was meant to be a response to their plight, the U.S. Congress created visas within the “Special Immigrant” category. (By way of context, years ago, a similar visa was created for citizens of Panama who put themselves at risk on behalf of the U.S.) See “EB-4 Visa for Special Immigrants: Who Qualifies?” for a complete list of who is covered by this section of U.S. immigration law.

The U.S. government has been very careful to make sure this visa did not create an open door for anyone who might want to come to the United States. It added requirements that both the Iraqi and the Afghan workers “experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of” their employment.  In order to submit a complete application, they must come up with letters of recommendation and assessments of the risk level that they face, from U.S. supervisors and other higher-ups. In other words, they’re far from seeking U.S. entry based on their word alone!

So why is it that only a miniscule number of visas been handed out in this category, which is due to sunset — that is, drop out of the law books, leaving potential applicants high and dry — in mere weeks? The stories are wrenching, as can be seen in such articles as “America’s Afghan And Iraqi Interpreters Risk Lives But Wait Years In Danger For Visas” and “U.S. Soldier Fights For Afghan Interpreter Who Saved His Life.”

The answer can partly be found in another portion of the requirement for these applicants: that they pass a U.S. security check. Given that the countries from which they hail are among those that the U.S. suspects of supporting or sponsoring terrorism, Mother Teresa herself might have trouble passing the security check. And as described in the media coverage above, once your enemies find out you’re trying to head for the U.S., a well-placed call denouncing you may be all that’s needed to seal your fate.

An even more bizarre reason can be found in this 2011 State Department compliance report regarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It states that, “The embassy opposes the brain drain from Afghanistan of rare, highly qualified individuals. It also questions the realities of the threat environment in individual cases and highlights the extensive resources needed to implement the program.”

Excuse me? Congress saw fit to pass a law to specifically protect people whose lives are at risk, and the embassy in Kabul is worrying about a “brain drain?” I cry foul. Now if Congress would only listen, and extend the sunset date on these laws.

With Immigration Reform Comatose, At Least the Visa Lottery Remains!

enter to winAll reports seem to say that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) — which looked to be as close to becoming a reality as any similar efforts have in recent years — hit a brick wall as soon as it was passed from the Senate to the House of Representatives. (Are we surprised?) The current forecast for action on the bill is “none.” Although that will leave many people disappointed — including many with close ties to the U.S., as in already living, working, and raising families here — there’s an odd silver lining.

A random assortment of people from around the world with little or no previous connection to the U.S. will continue to receive U.S. green cards through the diversity visa lottery, which CIR had put on the chopping block! Well, perhaps not completely random. Despite the “lottery” moniker, applicants must show that they have achieved a certain level of education. And they may need the wherewithal to hire an attorney to help complete the process if they win, because the State Department always declares more “winners” than it actually has visas, and it becomes a race to finish the process before the end of the relevant fiscal year. See the articles on the “Diversity Visa Lottery Green Cards” page of Nolo’s website for details — and to help avoid the eventual scams that will pop up as they do every year.

By the way, there’s another bright spot in this year’s lottery. Same-sex spouses will now be able to accompany the winners and receive a U.S. green card, provided their marriage is legally recognized in the country or jurisdiction where it took place.

Get ready: The application period opens October 1!

One Year Later, Only 1% of DACA Applications Denied!

Themis 0010The Brookings Institute has assembled some interesting data depicting how the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has gone, a little more than one year after its inception.

Among the most interesting results is the low denial rate — running at a mere 1% of the cases that were accepted for processing. (Around 3.5% of applicants were rejected at the outset, for failing to submit a complete application.) Most people who manage to submit a complete application are approved — 72% so far. Those numbers are surprising for a program that many feared would serve as a ruse for immigration enforcement activities and lead to mass removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States.

They’re also somewhat unexpected given that this is no easy program to apply for. Applicants must, in order to succeed in obtaining this limited-term protection from deportation, provide a pile of paperwork to show that they meet all the eligibility criteria. They must include proof of identity, age, entry date in the U.S., academic record, presence in the U.S on June 15, 2012, and continuous physical presence in the United States since entering. (For details, see Nolo’s article, “Deferred Action for Young Immigrants (DACA): Application Process.”)

But you may notice that 72% and 1% does not add up to 100%. There are a number of cases that haven’t yet been processed, to the tune of 24.5% that are still “under review.” What’s up with that?

It’s impossible to know for sure, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rarely moves quickly when it denies immigration benefits, and it’s entirely likely that it has requested that many of these applicants provide more evidence, given them time in which to respond, and is perhaps still considering whether it can make decisions in these cases. USCIS is also famous for getting backlogged when its overwhelmed by a large number of applications, and both DACA applicants and attorneys have complained of cases getting “stuck” in the system.

So, let’s just say these positive percentages could change a bit. Nevertheless, now is a good time to remind people that it’s still not too late to apply for DACA, as described in, “Have I missed the DACA deadline, or can I still apply?