Category Archives: deferred action

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

On day five of his Administration, January 25, 2017, President Donald Trump issued his first executive order on immigration, titled, Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. It prioritizes the detention and removal of unauthorized immigrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here is a description of Trump’s executive order on border security and immigration enforcement, including the potential effects and impact: 

Authority: In the order, Trump cites to the Constitution and federal laws, such as the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA), the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, as grounds for his presidential authority.

The president may set the policy and practices of immigration agencies and officials, in compliance with federal law set by Congress and the U.S. Constitution.

Purpose: The order directs departments and agencies to “deploy all lawful means to secure the Nation’s southern border, to prevent further illegal immigration into the United States, and to repatriate illegal aliens swiftly, consistently, and humanely.”

Policy Highlights: 

1. Physical Wall. The executive order instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to take steps to immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border. The Secretary must identify and allocate federal funds for planning, designing and constructing the wall.

“Wall” means “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.” The “southern border” means “contiguous land border between the United States and Mexico, including all points of entry.”

2. Detention Facilities. The executive order instructs the Secretary to allocate resources to immediately construct, operate, control, or establish contracts to construct, operate or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico. The Secretary shall immediately assign asylum officers and immigration judges to detention facilities for the purpose of conducting reasonable fear determinations and removal proceedings, respectively.

3. Detention for Illegal Entry (End “Catch-and-Release”). The executive order instructs the Secretary to take immediate, appropriate actions to ensure the detention of aliens apprehended for violating immigration law, pending the outcome of their removal proceedings or their removal from the U.S. The Secretary shall issue new policy guidance to all Department of Homeland Security personnel on detention use, including the termination of “catch and release,” which involves persons being released in the U.S. shortly after their apprehension, and while their removal proceedings are pending.

4. Additional Border Patrol Agents. The executive order instructs the Secretary to take appropriate action to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and ensure they are assigned to duty as soon as is practicable.

5.  Foreign Aid Reporting. The executive order directs all executive departments and agencies to quantify federal aid or assistance to the Government of Mexico on an annual basis for the past 5 years.

6. Federal-State Agreements. The executive order instructs the Secretary to immediately engage with the Governors of the States, as well as local officials, to enter into INA 287(g) agreements. This allows for State and local law enforcement officials to perform functions of the immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension , or detention of aliens in the United States under the Secretary’s direction and supervision.

7. Parole, Asylum, and Removal.  The executive order instructs the Secretary to take immediate, appropriate action to ensure the parole and asylum provisions of immigration law are not exploited to prevent the removal of otherwise removable aliens.

8. Priority Enforcement. The executive order instructs the Attorney General to establish prosecution guidelines and allocate resources to ensure federal prosecutors give high priority to prosecutions of offenses connected to the southern border.

Effects and Impact:

1.  Building the wall 

The estimated cost of building the wall is at least $10 billion. During his election campaign, Trump stated Mexico will pay for it.  But his  executive order calls for the allocation of federal funds to plan, design and construct the wall. Congress must approve funding for any new physical barrier along the southern border. This means American taxpayers will front the cost for the wall.

Trump says Mexico will pay the money back later. His Administration suggested imposing a 20% tax on goods imported  from Mexico to pay for the wall. But experts say this will lead to higher prices for American consumers, result in trade wars, and jeopardize U.S. jobs.

Another idea floated by the Administration is seizing or taxing remittance payments from immigrants sending money earned in the U.S. (their country of residence) to their families in Mexico (their native country). Trump has said the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law may be used to accomplish this feat, but such an action will likely be met with legal battles, logistical obstacles, and economic drawbacks.

Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. taxpayers spent $90 billion on border security. The costs involve deploying National Guard troops to the border, paying U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, building barriers, employing drug-sniffing dogs, and using predator drones.

In 2006, under the Bush Administration, Boeing and other companies were awarded a federal contract, named Secure Border Initiative Net (SBInet), to build a high-tech, “virtual fence” along the southwest border. Most of the 2,000-mile border between Mexico and the U.S includes desert plains, steep hills and other natural barriers that are hard to cross. At the time, about 88 miles of physical fencing existed and the U.S. government planned to increase the physical fences to 370 miles by the end of the following year.

The Obama Administration embraced SBInet, but cancelled the project in 2011, following mounting questions from Congress regarding feasibility, viability, cost and effectiveness. By that point, about $1 billion had been spent.

Skepticism concerning Trump’s proposed wall is warranted. John Kelly, who was recently sworn in as Secretary of Homeland Security, said a physical barrier is not enough. In his confirmation hearing, he stated, “If you build a wall, you would still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, by observation devices.”

2. Increasing Detentions and Expedited Removals

Enormous amounts of manpower, resources, and technology are already dedicated to securing the nation’s borders. In 2014, the number of Border Patrol agents grew to nearly 21,000, over a 500%  increase from 1992 when there were about 4,000 agents.

In July 2006, then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, announced the  end of the”catch and release” policy. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began detaining more individuals while they wait for their immigration court dates. On average, in 2006, DHS detained 21,450 people on a daily basis, compared to over 40,000 this year.

DHS also increased the issuance of expedited removal orders to persons caught at the border, rather than allow them to return without the legal consequences of a removal. In 2014, DHS removed 414,481 persons, compared to 280,974 persons in 2006.

Trump’s executive order aims to increase the size of the enforcement agencies, create more detention facilities for persons apprehended along the southern border, and end “catch and release.”

Although the “catch and release” policy ended under the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration issued a Policy Memorandum on the apprehension, detention and removal or undocumented immigrants, which some labeled as “catch and release 2.0”. The policy divided enforcement priorities into three general categories: Priority 1: Aliens who pose a threat to national security, border security, or public safety. Priority 2: Aliens who are misdemeanants and new immigration violators.  Priority 3: All other immigration violators.

The Policy Memorandum instructed the agencies to focus on priority one and priority two offenders, instead of wasting resources on arresting and detaining priority three offenders. Because Trump’s executive order does not make these distinctions, it gives immigration enforcement agents more freedom to apply the detention and expedited removal process to all persons who they find ineligible for relief, particularly those apprehended at the border.

Federal funds must be allocated to operate detention facilities and detain hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year. The use of detention facilities is a very costly way to deter illegal crossings or other immigration violations. More affordable alternatives include parole/release on own recognizance, bonds, regular check-ins with immigration agents, regular home visits and check-ins, telephonic monitoring, and electronic ankle bracelet monitoring.

The executive order, which claims abuse of parole and asylum provisions, could also result in due process issues for asylum-seeking families fleeing to the border. This includes women and children from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) with credible asylum claims. Human rights groups and immigration advocates have raised concerns about detaining individuals escaping violence and persecution in their home countries. There are more humane and cost-effective alternatives to detention.

3. Deputizing State and Local Law Enforcement Officers to Perform the Duties of Federal Immigration Agents

Section 287(g) of the INA allows delegation of immigration authority to state and local law enforcement officers.  The 287(g) program permits a state or local law enforcement entity to partner with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), under a joint Memorandum of Agreement, to enforce federal immigration law in their jurisdiction.

The 287(g) program was criticized for damaging public safety, being prone to racial profiling, and lacking oversight.  In 2009, ICE revised the 287(g) program to prioritize the arrest and detention of undocumented immigrants with criminal histories. In a December 2012 news release, ICE announced it would not renew any of its agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies that operate task forces under the 287(g) program.

At that point, ICE concluded that other enforcement programs, including Secure Communities, are a more efficient use of resources for focusing on priority cases. Introduced in 2008, Secure Communities was a DHS program designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are removable under immigration law. Participating jails sent the arrestee’s fingerprints not only to criminal databases, but also to immigration databases. No local law enforcement agencies were deputized to enforce immigration laws and ICE had only a technological presence in jails and prisons.

In November 2014, then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, issued a memorandum discontinuing the Secure Communities program, and replacing it with the Priority Enforcement Program to focus on convicted criminals and others who pose a danger to public safety. The memorandum instructed ICE to replace requests for detention (i.e., requests that an agency hold an individual beyond the point at which they would otherwise be released) with requests for notification (i.e. , requests that state or local law enforcement notify ICE of a pending release during the time that person is otherwise in custody under state or local authority).

Trump’s executive order promises to revive the 287(g) program, which allows states and localities to engage in immigration enforcement to supplement federal efforts. This practice can create mistrust of local law enforcement and involve the use of limited resources to detain and subsequently remove persons with only traffic stops or minor infractions.

With over 500,000 removal cases pending in fiscal year 2017, and immigrants facing years long delays before a judge makes a final decision on their case, the immigration court system is already heavily backlogged. 287(g) agreements fail to prioritize dangerous criminals over undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to public safety. They also tend to reduce cooperation from immigrant communities, which is crucial to preventing and investigating crimes.


Building a wall, increasing detention, and deputizing state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law are consistent with Trump’s campaign promises. But they could very well backfire in the form of wasted taxpayers’ money, squandering of limited resources, unbearable pressure on the already backlogged immigration court system, and reduced cooperation between immigrant communities and their state and local law enforcement entities.

For information on Trump’s other executive orders on immigration, read:

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States

Effects & Impact of Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Clive Darra

The Trump Factor on Immigration: To Fear or Not to Fear?

Donald Trump’s Administration will begin when Barack Obama’s ends on January 20, 2017. The risk of deportation is expected to get higher for unauthorized immigrants, particularly those with illegal entries and certain criminal histories. A Trump Administration could also repeal Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) and set the stage for H-1B (professional worker) visa reform.

These are just some of the potential changes in U.S. immigration, if you accept Trump’s rhetoric at face value.

Here’s how the Trump Factor could affect immigration if his 10 Point Plan to Put America First and election campaign promises are carried out: 

1. “Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one.”  (#1 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

“Build that wall! Build that wall!” was a popular chant at Trump’s campaign rallies. According to Trump, the wall would cover 1,000 miles of nearly 2,000 miles of the southern U.S-Mexico border, with half of that protected by natural barriers.

As of today, there are already 700 miles of border fencing and some of it includes metal wall. There are also U.S. Border Patrol agents, drones, scanners and cameras protecting the border. A record number of removals and returns occurred under Obama.

Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. taxpayers spent $90 billion on border security. The costs involve deploying National Guard troops to the border, paying U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, building barriers, employing drug-sniffing dogs, and using predator drones.

Whether “an impenetrable physical wall” is built will depend on various factors, including who pays for it. Trump says Mexico will foot the bill. Otherwise, it might take an act of Congress to obtain funding for the wall.

A wall is mostly symbolic. It’s not enough to keep out unauthorized immigrants, especially those possessing fraudulent travel documents or those misusing their visas or the visa waiver program. Border security requires constant monitoring by properly trained CBP agents.

2. “End catch-and release.” (#2 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Ending the so-called “catch-and release” policy will bring more serious immigration consequences to noncitizens stopped at the border. Trump’s plan is to detain anyone who illegally crosses the border until he/she is removed from the country.

In November 2014, the Obama Administration issued a Policy Memorandum on the apprehension, detention and removal of undocumented immigrants. The policy divided enforcement priorities into three general categories:

Priority 1: Aliens who pose a threat to national security, border security, or public safety.

Priority 2: Aliens who are misdemeanants and new immigration violators.

Priority 3: All other immigration violators.

The Policy Memorandum instructs the agencies to focus on priority one and priority two offenders. If the Memorandum is withdrawn by Trump, each local ICE agency will have more freedom to decide who it wants to remove from the U.S.

Policy Memorandums are opinion letters from agency heads instructing CBP, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) how to enforce current law. The Trump Administration may readily revoke Policy Memorandums, and replace them with new, hard-line ones – consistent with laws already passed by Congress

While the Obama Administration prioritized the removal of criminal non-citizens and repeat offenders, Trump has vowed to detain all persons who enter the U.S. illegally and spare no group of unauthorized immigrants. This spells an increase in immigration detention, removal proceedings before immigration courts, and expedited removal at the border or ports of entries.

Resources are limited. If there is no formal prioritization for immigration enforcement, more immigration judges and prosecutors will be needed to prevent increased backlog in the removal system.

3. “Move criminal aliens out day one, in joint operations with local, state, and federal law enforcement.” (#3 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Criminal aliens” is a very broad term. “Aliens” include lawful permanent residents (green card holders) because they are not U.S. citizens. Criminal offenses range from misdemeanors to felonies.  There are various types of crimes, such as DUI, assault, drug possession, theft, fraud, domestic violence, and murder.

Criminal convictions can lead to a non-citizen being deported from the U.S., denied entry (or reentry) into the U.S., and stripped of immigration benefits, including permanent residence. The immigration consequences continue long after the person has already served his sentence.

But under current immigration law, not all non-citizens with criminal offenses are subject to removal or denial of entry on crime-related grounds. For example, a noncitizen is deportable if convicted of a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (other than a political offense), but only when it was committed within five years after the date of his admission to the U.S., and for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed.

In addition, the U.S. Constitution provides due process and equal protection to all persons, including “criminal aliens. ” In a 2001 case, Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the due process clause applies to aliens whose presence may be or is “lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.”

Existing immigration law also permits defenses against removal and applications for relief from removal before the Immigration Court, if the person is eligible.

Due to Constitutional rights, legal obstacles, and limited cooperation from certain local law enforcement agencies, it will be very difficult for the Trump Administration to move criminal aliens out day one.

Still, Trump will get help from the U.S. Attorney General, who is in charge of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, including the immigration courts. The office sets standards for hiring and selecting immigration judges, and for training them on how to apply immigration law.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been picked by Trump for Attorney General and, if confirmed, will influence immigration policy. The Attorney General may issue legal opinions to promote executive actions; hire more hard-line judges for federal immigration courts; and challenge the legality of state immigration policies.

4. “End sanctuary cities.” (#4 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Since Trump’s election, many “sanctuary” counties and cities, like New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco and Seattle have vowed to limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. They won’t stop immigration authorities from enforcing federal law within their boundaries. But they will focus on local law enforcement so residents don’t avoid talking to the police out of fear of deportation risks.

An “immigration hold” (detainer) is one of the key tools ICE agents use to apprehend individuals who come in contact with local and state law enforcement agencies and place them in the federal removal process.

An ICE detainer is a written request to a local jail or other law enforcement agency to detain persons for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after their release date to permit ICE to decide whether to take them into federal custody for removal purposes. ICE detainers are not followed in some counties and they have been challenged in federal courts.

Threats to cut federal funding to “sanctuary” counties and cities do not make an effective long-term strategy.

5. “Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.”  (#5 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

During his two-term Administration, Obama has never granted “amnesty” – at least not to the extent that President Reagan did when he signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that permitted 3 million undocumented immigrants to apply for lawful immigrant status.

Through executive policy, Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on June 15, 2012. DACA was made available to undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 31 and who came to the U.S. before age 16. Certain other eligibility requirements also have to be met, such as no conviction of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and no threat to national security or public safety.

While DACA provides relief from removal, work authorization, and authorized stay in the U.S., it does not offer a path to permanent residence or citizenship or provide lawful immigration status in the U.S. Moreover, USCIS may share the information in a DACA request with national security and law enforcement agencies, including ICE and CBP, for purposes other than deportation, including to identify or prevent fraudulent claims, for national security purposes, or for the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

The expanded DACA and new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs, that were expected to kick in on February 18, 2015 and May 19, 2015, respectively, were put on hold by a federal court injunction.

In a February 16, 2015 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas sided with the Texas-led coalition of 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the expanded DACA and the new DAPA. Then in a June 23, 2016 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgement in a 4-4 decision, effectively blocking the programs from being rolled out.

DACA and DAPA were intended to protect undocumented immigrants in low-priority categories from removal and bring them out of the shadows. But in his 10 Point Plan, Trump notes, “Anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws in this country.” Taken literally, this statement reveals that even undocumented immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, and who grew up in the U.S., do not have to be considered low priority for removal.

There is a growing fear of detention and removal among DACA recipients, who listed on the DACA applications all their residential addresses from the time they entered the U.S. Locating DACA recipients is easier than finding undocumented immigrants who never applied for the relief.

Some immigration attorneys are advising DACA recipients to avoid filing for renewals at this time, until the future of the program is decided after Trump takes office. Others recommend DACA renewals be filed while the program is still intact.

During his campaign, Trump promised to rescind such executive actions and orders by Obama. He may revoke DACA altogether or issue an order preventing new DACA applications or renewals. Whether the Trump Administration will use the addresses on the DACA applications to initiate removal proceedings is a concern. But for practical, political and financial reasons, Trump will likely prioritize removal of unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal records, just like Obama.

A repeal of Obama’s executive actions does not prevent immigrant relief passed by Congress. On December 9, 2016, Sen. Dick Durbin (D. Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation called the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow Our Economy (BRIDGE Act), to protect persons who would otherwise qualify for DACA.

6. “Suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur, until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.” (#6 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

The President sets the number of refugees who will resettle in the U.S. each year. The Obama Administration met its target of settling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. by the end of fiscal year 2016. On the other hand, Trump expressed his intent to halt the Syrian refugee program and “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur.” The regions include Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, which produce half of the world’s refugees.

The Trump Administration could also implement additional security protocols to make it harder for applicants who are Muslim, believed to be Muslim, or from Muslim-majority countries to obtain visas, especially tourist/visitor visas and other nonimmigrant visas. Trump may issue an executive order to temporarily suspend or cancel entry to the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas from target countries. Even if such a policy is eventually struck down by the courts, it will slow down visa processing for all applicants.

The processing of I-130 (family-based) and I-140 (employment-based) immigrant petitions, which is the first step in obtaining an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate, is unlikely to be affected by a Trump Administration. Filing fees, not tax dollars, provide funding for USCIS’ review of immigrant petitions. The availability of immigrant petitions in the family-based and employment-based categories is also governed by statutory law, not by the President.

Immigrant-based visas such as the F-1 fiance visa and CR immigrant visa already have strict requirements. Nevertheless, the Trump Administration could suspend the issuance of such visas until more vetting mechanisms are implemented.

6. “Reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, keeping immigration levels within historic norms.” (#10 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Legal immigration is governed by regulations and legislation, not by a President’s executive action. The President’s immigration policy must operate within the bounds of existing law. The President has limited power to regulate and deregulate. Only Congress has power to introduce and pass immigration laws.


A regulation is much harder to rescind than an executive order. The Administrative Procedure Act requires all regulations to be published in the Federal Register, undergo public notice-and-comment, receive financial consideration by the Office of Management and Budget, and be finalized for rulemaking. The I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver is one example of a regulation.

Under statute passed by Congress, a person is generally barred from reentering the U.S. for 3 years if he accrued more than 180 days to less than 1 year of unlawful presence before leaving the U.S. The bar to reentry is 10 years if the unlawful presence lasted 1 year or more. The 3/10 year bar is triggered when the person departs the U.S. (without advance parole) to apply for an immigrant visa. The unlawful presence waiver, which is available under statutory law, excuses certain eligible persons from the 3/10 year bar.

On March 4, 2013, the Obama Administration introduced the I-601A regulation modifying the process for applying for the unlawful presence waiver. It allows eligible immigrant visa applicants to file for the waiver while they are still in the U.S. if the 3/10 year bar is the only ground that prohibits reentry to the U.S. The final rule expanding the I-601A waiver to all statutorily eligible applicants went into effect on August 29, 2016.

A new President may suspend the effective date of regulations that have yet to take effect. During the suspension, the Administration decides whether to begin a regulatory process to repeal the regulation and prevent it from taking effect. For regulations passed in approximately the last eight months of the prior Administration, the new Administration may ask Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn a recently issued regulation. The Act, however, may not be used on any regulations issued before May 2016.

If Trump wants to change or cut the I-601A waiver process, he will have to introduce a new regulation, have the regulation go through public notice-and-comment, make adjustments, and then have the final rule published. While elimination of the I-601A process is possible, this does not seem to be a high priority for Trump.


Legislation, passed by Congress, is the toughest to repeal and replace. Comprehensive Immigration Reform has been discussed extensively, but no new broad bills have been enacted for decades. Although the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, they do not all agree with Trump’s proposed plans.

Permanent changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs legal immigration, including which persons are eligible for permanent residence, naturalization, or relief from removal,  requires an act of Congress. Legislative changes require approval of bills by both the House and Senate.  The President has limited veto power.

Trump’s 10 Point Plan promises to return U.S. jobs to U.S. workers. He vowed to suspend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a three-country accord negotiated by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., which went into effect on January 1994. The treaty contains the TN visa category for professionals from Mexico and Canada.  If Trump suspends NAFTA, the TN visa could also go away.

Trump has also criticized the H-1B professional program. With an annual cap of 65,000 per year, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher, the H-1B program is subject to legislative changes by Congress.

With U.S. business interests at stake, and general support of the H-1B program from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the nature of H-1B reform (if any) is uncertain. An expansion of the H-1B visa program is unlikely if the Republican-controlled Congress falls in line with Trump’s promises. Instead, Congress could introduce an American-worker-first element that requires recruitment of U.S. workers prior to filing an H-1B petition for a foreign worker.

To Fear or Not to Fear? 

Trump’s 10 Point Plan and campaign promises are a legitimate source of fear for immigrant communities. But campaign talk is not always followed by action. U.S. Presidents lack unfettered power, fail to carry out plans, and do the opposite or a watered-down version of what they said they would do.

No one can fully predict the impact of a Trump Administration on immigration. Uncertainty breeds fear. But the fear is not necessarily based on reality.

If you are an undocumented immigrant or noncitizen with concerns about removal from the U.S. or being denied entry into the U.S., your best step is to consult an immigration attorney about your options under current law, regulation or policy. An experienced and attentive attorney can also guide you through immigration changes under a new Administration.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: BBC World Service

Why hire an immigration lawyer?

Why hire a lawyer when there is lower-cost help available through immigration consultants and online immigration services?  Do you really need a lawyer when you could fill out the forms and follow the instructions yourself?

The reasons are many, from ensuring you fully understand the process to avoiding unnecessary delays.

The main advantages of hiring a trusted immigration lawyer, instead of depending on an immigration consultant or online immigration service or working on the case yourself are:

1. You receive guidance on which forms and documents to submit

A lawyer is not required to fill out application forms for immigration benefits. Anyone can complete the forms, which are, along with the instructions, available for free on U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State’s websites.

But U.S. government agencies are not your advocates and do not consider your individual situation when providing resources and information to you. Only an immigration lawyer, who truly understands the eligibility requirements, can give you the most reliable advice on which forms and documents to submit to receive immigration benefits.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can certainly help you complete forms and submit the paperwork to USCIS and DOS at a much lower cost than what lawyers charge.

Nevertheless, your knowing which forms and documents to submit is not always clear by just reading instructions or doing your own research. Immigration consultants and online immigration services are prohibited from giving any legal advice concerning your immigration case, including which forms and documents to submit. Rather, you yourself have to make this determination before they then fill out the forms with your answers and prepare the documents you have given them for filing with the appropriate U.S. government agency.

Even qualified immigration consultants and highly-rated online immigration services are just document preparers. While they are distinguishable from shady Notarios who prey on vulnerable immigrant groups and engage in immigration scams, they provide limited service that does not always meet your immigration needs.

Questions on applications forms and questions from immigration or consular officers might seem simple, but often relate to legal issues that can result in denials and setbacks in your case. Immigration consultants and online immigration processors cannot counsel you on how to best answer a question or cross-check or verify your answers on the forms. All they can do is replicate and type out your responses to the questions asked on the forms.

When non-lawyer immigration consultants or online immigration processors advise you on which immigration benefit to apply for and how to prove you qualify for it, they essentially engage in unauthorized practice of law.

In contrast, immigration lawyers advise you on which exact forms and documents to submit for a particular immigration benefit. They will cross check your answers on application forms with your biographic and immigration records to help ensure accuracy and completeness. They will also counsel you on the implications of your answers to questions, as well as the effects of providing or not providing certain documents.

2. You get legal advice on how to best present your case

A good lawyer will counsel you on eligibility standards and evidentiary requirements, including those that are not spelled out in the instructions for forms or are otherwise readily known.

For instance, while an immigration consultant or online immigration service will accept your marriage certificate and divorce decrees for prior marriages as sufficient in an I-130 spousal immigrant petition, a lawyer will counsel you on additional documents to submit to prove your marriage is valid and bona fide.

A lawyer might be unnecessary in very simple cases, where the bare minimum is all that’s required to get the case approved. But in many cases, a high volume of documentary evidence, as well as credible testimony, are needed to achieve a favorable outcome.

One of the fastest growing online immigration processors, RapidVisa, states specifically that it does not give legal advice or representation, but offers a service similar to TurboTax for visa applications. At a low price, they provide online processing of K-1 fiancée visas, spousal visas, parent visas, green cards (adjustment of status), removal of conditions, citizenship (naturalization), joint sponsorship, and deferred action (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, under President Obama).

RapidVisa boasts an approval rate of 99.7% and 4-hour turnaround time. But it’s fair to say that these cases most likely had no complications to require the work of a lawyer, and could have been handled just as well by an applicant who was willing and able to deal with the paperwork alone.

Reputable immigration lawyers, who have the expertise to deal with the worst types of cases, are best equipped to help you present the strongest case possible. They can steer you away from pitfalls that lead to complications in your case, such as USCIS issuing a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny Petition. They are trained to spot issues and weaknesses that can tank your case. Unlike immigration consultants and online immigration processors, they do not merely rely on generic templates and checklists that do not account for unique situations.

3. You obtain verification on whether you actually qualify for the benefit sought

An immigration lawyer will gather facts and review your record to confirm whether you are eligible for the immigration benefit you seek. For example, under current law, you cannot apply for a marriage-based green card within the U.S. if you were not lawfully admitted to the U.S. with inspection, and you do not qualify for 245(i) benefits. If your immigrant petition is not in the immediate relative category, you may not file for adjustment to permanent residence unless you are maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status after entry as an F-1 student, H-1B worker, etc. or certain narrow exceptions apply.

Immigration consultants and online immigration processors are not equipped or authorized to verify your eligibility for a benefit sought. They cannot give advice as to which immigration status you should seek. These are legal issues that requires a lawyer’s guidance, especially when there are complications in your case.

Complications include previous marriage(s)/divorce(s), a history of visa denials, visa overstays, unlawful presence, prior removal orders, illegal entries and re-entries to the U.S., immigration fraud or willful misrepresentation, false claims to U.S. citizenship, a criminal record, and being from a high-fraud country.

In June 2016, the State of Colorado passed a law that forced RapidVisa to relocate out of Colorado Springs, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada, where regulations related to the document-preparation industry are favorable. Known as Immigration Consultants Deceptive Trade Practice, the Colorado law targets deceptive “notarios”, which are small operations common in Hispanic communities, but it further forbids any person from offering any immigration service, regardless of whether it involves practicing law, unless that person is a lawyer.

In a press release, Ben Ives, President of RapidVisa, stated “this was simply a case of lawyers protecting their income.” He noted, “Petitioning for a family visa is a benefit request, not a legal issue. Do you hire a lawyer to apply for your driver’s license?”

Contrary to Mr. Ives’ claim, applying for an immigration benefit involves many legal issues that determine whether a person can live, study or work in the U.S., and even visit the country. Filing for an immigration benefit has a much more serious and broader impact than applying for a driver’s license.

A U.S. citizen’s decision to bring a fiancée, spouse,  or parent to the U.S. , for example, affects the fate of the family and their reunification.  An applicant’s mistake in filing for an immigration benefit, such as a green card or citizenship, for which he does not qualify can sometimes lead him into removal proceedings and get him deported from the United States.

4. You have comprehensive counseling from start to finish

In the initial evaluation of your case, and during the course of representation, an immigration lawyer can identify your priorities and pinpoint issues to help you achieve your objectives. They can lay out your various options and describe the pros and cons of pursuing each path.

An immigration lawyer can guide you on how to avoid complications or address them as they arise, such as responding to a Request for Evidence, a Notice of Intent to Deny, a Notice of Intent to Revoke, an inadmissibility finding, or a denial decision. He or she can intervene on your behalf to resolve problems.

An immigration lawyer can also prepare you for interviews before USCIS and the U.S. Consulates by describing what questions to expect and which issues are likely to arise. Although they should not “coach” you on what to say, they may advise you on how to best present both positive and negative information.

A lawyer may appear with you at green card interviews and naturalization interviews to help protect your rights, present documentary information, and ask clarifying questions. They can further prepare and submit a legal brief to stave off concerns and persuade the officer to approve your case.

Lawyers must keep up with changes in the law, the risks (not just the benefits) of applying for immigration relief, and the nuances in the immigration process, and advise you accordingly.

A non-lawyer immigration consultant or online immigration processor cannot perform these vital services.

5. You get legal help from a licensed professional who is held to the highest ethical standards

When an immigration consultant or online immigration processor overlooks critical pieces of information or documents — which results in an avoidable revocation process, denial or delay — there is generally no recourse. You typically have to rectify the harm through their channels or file a consumer complaint with the state attorney general.

Lawyers, on the other hand, are held to ethical standards in their state rules of professional conduct. They can face disciplinary action, such as a suspension or disbarment, for failing to perform duties owed to clients. As a licensed professional, a lawyer has obligations and responsibilities that go above and beyond those of a non-lawyer immigration service.

Consult an immigration attorney at the very least 

Some states, such as California, Minnesota, and New York regulate the conduct of immigration consultants, instead of forbid them from performing any immigration service. While they may provide document preparation, they cannot offer legal advice in any situation.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can ease the stress that comes with handling the immigration paperwork yourself. But realize they do nothing more than document preparation. A complete reliance on non-lawyer immigration services gives you a false sense of security and could open you up to making mistakes and bungling your immigration matter.

Reliable legal representation may be more affordable than you assume. There are solo practitioners and small firm lawyers who charge reasonable fees for high-quality, comprehensive service. There are also non-profit legal service providers and pro-bono attorneys who will accept your case for sliding scale or reduced fees or no fees.

Almost everyone can gather funds to consult an experienced immigration lawyer at least once, or retain unbundled legal service to address the complicated parts of the case. Before you file for an immigration benefit, talk to a reputable immigration lawyer about the eligibility standards, documentary requirements and filing process. Relying on immigration consultants and online immigration processors can save you money upfront, but cost you a lot more in the long run.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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Expedited Removal: How Does the Process Work at the U.S. Port of Entry and What Are the Main Concerns?

When you present yourself for admission into the U.S. at a designated port of entry (e.g. international airport), you may be denied entry and issued an expedited removal order if the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) finds you inadmissible on certain grounds.

The CBP must complete several steps before it issues an expedited removal order (Form I-860).

What Are the Steps in the Expedited Removal Order Process? 

The expedited removal process is governed by federal statute and regulations, plus the CBP’s policy outlined in the Inspector’s Field Manual (IFM). The CBP has broad authority to expeditiously remove you if it finds you inadmissible under sections 212(a)(6)(C)(i) (fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefit, section 212(a)(6)(C)(ii)(false claim to U.S. citizenship), and/or section 212(a)(7)(lack of proper travel documents).

Before issuing an expedited removal order, the CBP must perform several procedural steps:

1. CBP Conducts Primary Inspection Upon Your Arrival at the Port of Entry

When you arrive at a designated port of entry, you will join the appropriate customs line for a CBP officer to review your passport and travel documents. U.S. citizens, permanent residents and visitors typically have different waiting lines.

You may be at your final destination or transiting to another U.S. destination or non-U.S. destination. Either way, you will have to request admission to the U.S. at primary inspection. The CBP officer will scan your passport or enter the number into the computer. The officer will also examine your visa(s) and may review the pages in your passport reflecting your travel history. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will also have your photograph and fingerprints taken.

You can further expect the CBP officer to ask for details about your trip, including its purpose, where you will stay, with whom you will stay, how long you will stay, and whether you have any immediate relatives in the U.S. and their immigration status (if any).

If the CBP officer finds you are absolutely admissible to the U.S., your passport will be stamped for lawful entry. But if you are not clearly admissible, you will be referred to Secondary Inspection.

2. CBP Conducts Secondary Inspection (One) if You Do Not Clear Primary Inspection

The primary CBP officer will note in the system why he or she believes you are inadmissible and you will be escorted to Secondary Inspection. You may have to wait a long time (several hours) to be called for questioning by another CBP officer, usually at an open counter. The CBP officer might also check your personal belongings, including review your messages and communications on electronic devices (cell phones, laptops and tablets).

[UPDATE: On November 12, 2019, in Alasaad v. McAleenan, the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, ruled the CBP and ICE policies for ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ searches, as presently defined, are unconstitutional because they do not require reasonable suspicion that the devices contain contraband for non-cursory searches and/or seizure of electronic devices. The Court, however, denied the request for injunctive relief to prevent the agencies from “searching electronic devices absent a warrant supported by probable cause that the devices contain contraband or evidence of a violation of immigration or customs laws,” and “from confiscating electronic devices, with the intent to search the devices after the travelers leave the border, without probable cause and without promptly seeking a warrant for the search.” The ruling does not outright prohibit CBP from checking electronic devices. Furthermore, Plaintiffs in this case included 10 U.S. citizens and one permanent resident.]

If you are admitted at Secondary Inspection — after CBP confirms you have no grounds of inadmissibility and you have the proper travel documents — you may then claim your luggage and clear customs.

If you are found to be inadmissible at Secondary Inspection due to lack of proper travel documents, immigration fraud or misrepresentation, prior U.S. immigration violations, criminal history, or other grounds, you will be referred to Secondary Inspection Two.

3. CBP Conducts Secondary Inspection (Two) if You Do Not Clear Secondary Inspection One

Secondary Inspection Two is the last opportunity for you to be admitted to the U.S. or be denied entry, detained, and sent back to your country – with or without an expedited removal order.

During Secondary Inspection Two, a CBP officer may search and inspect your personal belongings and luggage, and ask you questions about your trip and travel history. Another, more experienced CBP officer will usually conduct the formal interview and interrogation.

4. CBP Determines Whether Other Options, Besides Expedited Removal, are Available if You Are Not Admitted

If you are not admitted at Secondary Inspection Two, the CBP has several options besides issuing an expedited removal order.

Deferred Inspection

You may be granted Deferred Inspection if the CBP believes you are probably admissible, but lack complete documentation to be admitted at the port of entry. The CBP may schedule you to report to a Deferred Inspection Site at a future date in order to present the necessary documentation and/or information. You will be given a Form I-546, Order to Appear-Deferred Inspection, explaining what information and/or documentation you must present to resolve the discrepancy.

In deciding whether to grant Deferred Inspection, the CBP will consider several factors, such as the likelihood of your establishing admissibility; the type of documents needed and your ability to obtain them; your identity, nationality, age, health, and family ties; the likelihood you would appear at deferred inspection; the nature of the ground of inadmissibility; and the danger you will pose to society.

Being paroled into the U.S for Deferred Inspection is not the same as a formal admission. If you fail to appear for Deferred Inspection, you will be issued a Notice to Appear in Removal Proceedings before an Immigration Judge and your name will be added to the National Automated Immigration Lookout System.

At Deferred Inspection, the CBP officer will review the Form I-546, review your documents, and decide whether to formally admit you, continue your parole, permit you to withdraw your application for admission, or issue you a Notice to Appear in Removal Proceedings before an Immigration Judge.

Permission to Withdraw Application for Admission

You may be given the opportunity to withdraw your application for admission and leave the U.S. immediately (e.g. on the next available flight). The withdrawal spares you from being issued an expedited removal order. But the withdrawal is noted in your record and your visa may still be cancelled, which could affect future visa applications.

The regulations allow CBP in its discretion to permit you to withdraw your application if you intend to and are able to depart the U.S. immediately. CBP officers are instructed to balance the favorable factors and unfavorable factors to reach a fair decision.  Factors to consider are (1) the seriousness of the immigration violation; (2) previous findings of inadmissibility; (3) intent to violate the law; (4) ability to easily overcome the grounds of inadmissibility; (5) age and poor health of the applicant; and (6) other humanitarian or public interest considerations.

5. CBP Completes Expedited Removal Process if it Determines No Other Option is Available to You

If the  CBP does not grant Deferred Inspection or Withdrawal of Application for Admission, it must create a record of the facts of the case and statements made by you. The CBP officer will take your sworn statement, in a question and answer format, using Form I-867A & B, Record of Sworn Statement in Proceedings under Section 235(b)(1) of the Act.

The CBP officer shall read (or have read) to you all information contained on Form I-867A, including a warning that expedited removal carries a 5-year bar to reentry.

You will be asked questions regarding your identity (name, aliases and other biographical data), alienage (citizenship, nationality, and residence), and inadmissibility (reasons for coming to the U.S., information on facts of the case and information on suspected grounds of inadmissibility). The officer will also ask if you have any fears about returning to your home country.

Your responses to questions will be recorded on the Form I-867B and Form I-831, Continuation Page. You shall have the opportunity to read (or have read to you) the sworn statement. You may ask for corrections to be made. The CBP officer will then instruct you to sign and initial each page of the statement and each correction.  By signing the Form I-867B and Form I-831, you affirm that you have read your statement, your answers are true and correct, and the statement is a complete, true and correct record of your interrogation.

The CBP officer must advise you of the charges against you on Form I-860, Notice and Order of Expedited Removal, and you shall be given an opportunity to respond to the charges in your sworn statement.

After obtaining supervisory concurrence, the CBP officer shall serve you with Form I-860 and you sign the reverse of the form acknowledging receipt. The CBP officer must use an interpreter, if necessary, to communicate with you.

What Are the Main Concerns with Expedited Removal? 

There are several concerns with the expedited removal order process, including:

1. You Have No Right to Representation by Counsel

At the port of entry, you have no right to counsel. You have very limited due process rights in an expedited removal proceeding before the CBP, unlike in a regular removal proceeding before the Immigration Court.

You may not ask the CBP to allow you to have representation during the inspection or expedited removal process. The CBP may allow you to speak with a family member or friend by telephone call, but this is completely within their discretion.

During the interrogation and the taking of your sworn statement, you are alone with the CBP officer. The Form I-867A & B, Record of Sworn Statement in Proceedings under Section 235(b)(1) of the Act, serves as official documentation of the questions and answers during  the process. It is critical that you read (or have read to you) the sworn statement and that you fully understand the contents before you sign it.

2. You Will Normally Be Detained Until You Are Removed From the U.S. 

An expedited removal order subjects you to detention and to be held in custody by CBP until you are able to leave the U.S.  In the meantime, you are not eligible to be released on bond unless you have a medical emergency or you are needed for law enforcement purposes.

If you are unable to depart in the near future, you will be handed over to the Detention & Removal Operations (DRO) unit of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). You will be held at a detention facility and returned to the airport for the next available flight.

Otherwise, you will have to wait at the airport in the Secondary Inspection office until your next available flight, which could be 24 to 36 hours later. CBP will fine any airline that is unwilling to transport you back to your country or departing city.

3. You Have No Right to Further Review, Except in Limited Circumstances

Once an expedited removal order is issued, there is no further hearing before an Immigration Court or review before a higher agency or appellate court. There are two main exceptions.

Seek Asylum. If you state an intention to apply for asylum under section 208 or a fear of persecution in your country, you will be referred for a “credible fear interview” before an asylum officer.

If you establish a credible fear of persecution, you will be allowed to apply for asylum before an Immigration Judge, either while in ICE custody or after you are released on a bond. If you are unable to establish a credible fear, you may request a review of this decision in a hearing before an Immigration Judge, while in ICE custody.

Generally, there is no review of the Immigration Judge’s determination that you do not have a credible fear of persecution or torture. You will be removed from the U.S. if you are denied asylum (or withholding of removal).

Claim Lawful Status. When you claim lawful status in the U.S. such as U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residence or refugee or asylee status, the CBP will review its records to verify your claim.

If the CBP finds such proof, it may then admit you to the U.S. or place you in regular removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge. If the CBP finds no such proof, it will allow you to make a statement under oath regarding your claim of lawful status, issue an expedited removal order, and give you the opportunity to have your case reviewed by an Immigration Judge. You will be removed from the U.S. with no opportunity for further review if the Immigration Judge affirms the expedited removal order.

4. You Will Be Subject to a Minimum Five-Year Bar to Re-entry, as Well as a Lifetime Bar in Certain Circumstances

An expedited removal order automatically carries a 5-year to reentry under INA 212(a)(9)(A)(i). You may not receive an immigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa, or otherwise enter the U.S. for a minimum of 5 years from the date of expedited removal.

In addition, if you are found inadmissible under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) (fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain immigration benefit), you are barred from the U.S. for a lifetime.

An inadmissibility finding under section 212(a)(6)(C)(ii)(false claim to U.S. citizenship) also triggers a lifetime ban.

Avoid an Expedited Removal Order or Develop a Strong Basis to Challenge or Overcome It

Because an expedited removal order carries serious consequences, you should do your best to avoid it. At a minimum, you need to develop a strong factual record to later challenge it through a motion to the CBP or to support a Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States after Deportation or Removal, an I-601 immigrant waiver under section 212(i), or a nonimmigrant waiver under section 212(d)(3).

Generally, you have only 30 days from the date of the expedited removal order to request further review by the CBP Field Office that issued the order. The CBP has authority to reopen, reconsider, and rescind the expedited removal order based on new documentary evidence. Such motions, however, are rarely filed and rarely granted.

Otherwise, to be excused from the 5-year bar, you may file the request for Consent to Reapply or Form I-212 application at any time, in connection with an immigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa application. The same goes for I-601 immigrant waiver or 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver requests to overcome a fraud or willful misrepresentation finding under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i).

If you are issued an expedited removal order, you should timely consult an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your options. You will also likely need an attorney to help you pursue a rescission of the expedited removal order or obtain the necessary waivers.

To learn more, read our other articles:

Expedited Removal: When Does it Apply and What Are the Consequences?

Expedited Removal: How Do You Avoid, Challenge or Overcome It? 

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


Photo by: Russ Thompson

I-601A, Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver: Expansion Possible

luggage 5-31-15Back in November 2014, the Obama Administration proposed an expansion of the Form I-601A, Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, to a larger pool of immigrant visa applicants.

If USCIS issues new regulations for this proposed change to take effect, the sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (regardless of their age) and spouses and children of lawful permanent residents will be able to apply for the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver (assuming they meet the other requirements).

What is the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver?

Unless they qualify for 245(i) benefits, persons who entered the U.S. illegally may not apply for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status, but must travel abroad to a U.S. Consulate to apply for an immigrant visa.

Persons who accumulate more than 180 days to less than one year of unlawful presence after age 18 and after April 1, 1997, and then leave the U.S., are barred from re-entering the U.S. for 3 years. Persons who accumulate one year or more of unlawful presence after age 18 and after April 1, 1997, and then leave the U.S., are barred from re-entering the U.S. for 10 years. This is commonly known as the 3/10 year bar.

To re-enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa before the 3/10 year bar expires, applicants must receive a waiver of inadmissibility for their unlawful presence.

On March 4, 2013, USCIS introduced the  Form I-601A, Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver to allow certain immigrant visa applicants to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility for their unlawful presence before they depart the United States. The provisional waiver provides several advantages, but has many limitations.

Previously, such applicants could only file the Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility, after they departed the U.S. and attended their visa interview at the U.S. Consulate abroad.

Like I-601 applicants, I-601A applicants must show their absence from the U.S. will cause extreme hardship to their qualifying relative, i.e. a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent. (NOTE: U.S. citizen or permanent resident children are not qualifying relatives.)

What Does the Proposed Expansion Include? 

The 2013 regulations extended the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver only to the spouses, minor children (under age 21), and parents of U.S. citizens.

On November 20, 2014, the Secretary of Homeland Security directed USCIS to issue new regulations expanding the waiver to all statutorily eligible applicants, i.e. the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents and the adult children of U.S. citizens (assuming they meet the other criteria to obtain the waiver).

USCIS was also directed to clarify the meaning of “extreme hardship,” which is hardship that is unusual or beyond what would normally be expected. The term is not specifically defined by statute or by case law. Additional guidance on the definition could make it easier to determine what documents and information to present with the waiver application.

What Process Will USCIS Use to Expand the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver Program? 

Expanding the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver Program requires new or amended regulations. This means the agency must follow the notice-and-comment rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Public notice is issued when a US government agency wishes to add, remove or change a rule or regulation.

On April 2, 2012 — before introducing the Form I-601A in March 2013 –  USCIS published a Notice of Proposed Rule that described the provisional unlawful presence waiver process. After gathering and reviewing public comments, the Homeland Security Department published the final rule on January 3, 2013.

The agency’s discretionary authority to waive the ground of inadmissibility for unlawful presence is based on an immigration statute passed by Congress in 1996. The new regulations did not change the law or the substance of the legal standards. Rather, they changed the process for seeking the unlawful presence waiver when the applicant is in the U.S. and is the spouse, minor child, or parent of a U.S. citizen petitioner.

USCIS Expected to Take Steps to Expand Program 

Compared to the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), the expansion of the waiver program stands a better chance of being implemented because it will arise from changes in regulation, not by changes in policy.

The Obama Administration came under fire when it attempted to roll out the expanded DACA and new DAPA by new policies related to the use of deferred action. A Texas-led coalition of 26 states filed a lawsuit challenging the implementation of these programs.  In response, Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction stopping the expanded DACA and new DAPA from going into effect. The judge found that the agency should have used the notice-and-comment rulemaking process of the APA, but did not.

In contrast, USCIS was directed to issue new regulations that would expand the waiver program and clarify the factors it considers when determining whether the “extreme hardship” is met.  This means the agency must complete the rulemaking process before it can expand the program.

Although no timeline or deadline has been set, USCIS is expected to issue public notice on the proposed changes. The agency also stated that applications under the expanded program may be filed after it completes the rulemaking process and issues new regulations and guidelines.

If USCIS adopts the proposed changes, a larger pool of immigrant visa applicants will be able to apply for the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver before they depart the U.S. for consular processing.  Applicants will also have a better understanding of the factors USCIS considers in deciding whether they meet the extreme hardship standard.

[UPDATE: On July 29, 2016, DHS published a final rule expanding the I-601A waiver. As of August 29, 2016, the provisional waiver is available to all eligible applicants.]

The grant of a provisional waiver gives applicants some assurance they will be able to return to the United States on immigrant visas, despite being subject to the 3/10 year bar for unlawful presence.

While pre-approval of the “extreme hardship” waiver before departing the U.S. does not guarantee the applicant will receive the visa, it increases the likelihood that they will. It further reduces the uncertainty that comes with consular processing, as well as shorten the time applicants will be separated from family members living in the U.S.

* * *

If you do not qualify for the Form I-601A waiver under the existing regulations, watch out for new regulations expanding the program. Otherwise, you might qualify for the regular Form I-601 waiver, which you can request after you depart the United States and attend your immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Consulate.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney to help you determine whether you are eligible for the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver and what information and documents to submit with your application.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.


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