Lee Francis Cissna, the Director of USCIS, is building an "invisible wall" to compliment his boss's "big beautiful wall" along the U.S./Mexico border. The "invisible wall" consists of bureaucratic barriers to prevent people from obtaining immigration benefits in the United States. Ostensibly, the plan is to make America more secure and to protect our country's workforce. From my perspective, though, much of it seems like gratuitous cruelty, which especially impacts families who don't have the resources to hire a lawyer.

The bureaucratic changes at USCIS also impact attorneys, increasing our work load and our stress level. It's now harder to advise our clients, since many USCIS decisions seem arbitrary. While cases are mostly still successful, the environment is decidedly less pleasant. And so without further ado, here are the top ten things I hate about the "new" USCIS:

(1) Asylum Seekers Must Report Arrests on the I-765 Form: The new I-765, a form used to request an employment authorization document ("EAD"), requires that asylum seekers--and only asylum seekers--indicate whether they have ever been arrested. Other EAD applicants, such as people waiting for a green card based on a family or work petition, are not required to report prior arrests. Why are asylum seekers so special? I have no idea, but it's clear that the current Administration is no fan of asylum, and so perhaps this is another way to punish those who have the temerity to ask our country for protection. What's wrong with asking about prior arrests? Aside from the arbitrary decision to single out asylum seekers for this additional burden, there are a couple issues: First, many asylum seekers have been arrested back home for their political opinion or religion (hence, they are seeking asylum). USCIS wants documents on all arrests, but it is often impossible to obtain documents for these "illegal" arrests, and this could potentially result in a denied EAD application. Another issue is delay. It takes extra time to process applications if there is more to review. We can expect this new requirement to slow down cases where the person has a prior arrest, and since extra resources will be devoted to such cases, we can expect a ripple effect for all EAD applicants. Finally, the new requirement might necessitate some EAD applicants to hire lawyers, which can be burdensome. And for those with lawyers, the extra work might result in higher fees. At its heart, this is an access to justice issue: In many cases, you receive the justice you can afford, and that is not fair.


{"data-align":"none","data-size":"full","height":"273","width":"185","src":"http:\/\/www.asylumist.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/2018\/10\/Mime.png"} A French immigrant is blocked by the invisible wall (and frankly, in this case, I'm good with that).


(2) Delayed Work Permits After an Asylum Grant: I am not sure how widespread this problem is, but we've seen a number of examples lately where a person is granted asylum, and then waits months to receive her new EAD. The delay makes it more difficult to get or keep a job, and it can also block people from receiving a driver's license.

(3) Disappearing Cases at the Texas Service Center: Most of our office's affirmative asylum cases are filed at the Texas Service Center ("TSC"). But sometimes, cases are received at the TSC, and then vanish, like dignity from the Oval Office. This happens if the applicant had a prior asylum application, which we did not know about (sometimes, an applicant was a dependent on a prior case and did not know about the case), and it can also happen if we accidentally send an application to the TSC when it should have been sent to a different service center. Why the TSC can't simply inform us about these errors, or just reject the application, I do not know (though there is an email to contact the TSC, and they recently assisted in one of our cases - Thank you, TSC!).

(4) Rejected Cases at the TSC: The TSC is also notorious for rejecting cases for small, insignificant errors. We once had a case rejected because we did not list the applicant's siblings. He had no siblings (now, we make sure to write "n/a" in any empty boxes on the I-589). We've had instances where we forgot to check a box, and the application was rejected and returned to us. Now-a-days, we triple check the applications in the hope of avoiding such issues, but I imagine for pro se applicants, this is more frequently a problem. The shame of it is, most of these small errors could be resolved at the asylum interview; there is no reason to reject the entire case, causing additional delay and stress.

(5) Refusal to Accept Birth Certificates: Lately, we've seen examples of USCIS refusing to accept birth certificates that were not created at the time the person was born (we have not seen this problem for asylum cases, but we have seen it for asylees who are filing for a green card). It is common practice in many countries, that when you need a birth certificate, you request it from the local office. They look it up in a registry, and issue a birth certificate. This used to satisfy USCIS, but no longer. Now they want hospital records, letters from people who knew you when you were born, old school records, and lots of other difficult-to-obtain information about your birth. For me, the best evidence that a person was born is that the person currently exists. Shouldn't that be enough?

(6) Denial of Advance Parole for Asylum Seekers: To get Advance Parole ("AP") as an asylum seeker, you must show a "humanitarian" need for the travel. In the past, this was basically a formality. But now, all sorts of evidence seems necessary to obtain AP. In one of our recent cases, the client was seeking AP to visit her mother, who was ill. We submitted a doctor's letter about the mother's condition, but USCIS denied AP because the mother was not sick enough (the doctor's letter indicated that the mother's condition was "stable"). What was the purpose in blocking our client from visiting her sick mother? To me, this is simply another way to punish people seeking asylum in our country.

(7) Limitations on Advance Parole for Asylum Seekers: We have also seen examples of USCIS issuing AP for very limited periods of time. In one case, we received the approval, but AP was only valid for two days, thus making travel impossible. We try to avoid this outcome by requesting multiple trips, and timing the trips so that USCIS issues the document for a longer period, but what is the harm in issuing AP for one year (or longer)? Why make travel difficult for people who are already enduring difficult circumstances?

(8) The Four-Page Form G-28: Maybe this is a quibble, but why does it take four pieces of paper to enter my appearance as a lawyer using form G-28? All USCIS should need is my name and contact information, the client's name and information, and space for some signatures. The form used to be two pages, which already seemed too long. Now, every time we enter our appearance, we have to waste four pieces of paper. The G-28 is just one example of USCIS form proliferation. The I-485 went from six pages to 18 pages. The I-130 went from two pages to 12 pages plus another six-page form for marriage cases. The Lorax would not be pleased. Neither am I. Also, of course, longer forms increase costs.

(9) Less Requests for Evidence, More Denials: A new USCIS policy memo makes it easier for the agency to deny cases, instead of issuing requests for evidence ("RFE"). Aliens are paying big bucks for a lot of their applications, and previously, if the applicant made a mistake, USCIS would issue an RFE to allow the person to correct her application. Now, USCIS will deny some such cases. As a result, some aliens will hire lawyers (and endure additional expenses that should have been unnecessary); others may have their cases denied, thus losing their fees and potentially jeopardizing their ability to remain in the U.S.

(10) Slower and More Unpredictable Processing Times: All the changes at USCIS have inevitably affected processing times. Applicants often want to know how long their cases will take, and how long they will have to wait to be reunited with loved ones. These days, processing times have become longer for most applications. Also, processing times have become more unpredictable. For example, if you are applying for a green card in Baltimore, Maryland, the processing time is between 11.5 and 27 months. That's pretty long, and pretty unpredictable. It's hard to plan your life in the face of such uncertainty.

I could go on, but I am sure you get the point. USCIS's "invisible wall" is having its desired effect: It is making it more expensive and more difficult for people to come to the United States. People with fewer resources will suffer the most (as usual), but everyone is affected. Cases are still being approved, but these days, applicants need to be prepared for a more difficult journey to reach their goal.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.