Wednesday, July 13, 2011

USCIS Getting In On The Action

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the ugly stepchild of immigration law enforcement, has decided to get in on the action of an administrative amnesty. They just don't want Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to have all the fun.

Executive Summary

For decades the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), followed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has used deferred action to provide limited relief to foreign nationals who do not qualify for other immigration benefits that are typically available to individuals in exigent circumstances. Upon creation of the DHS in 2003, the power to grant deferred action was formally delegated to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

When accorded deferred action, an individual is able to remain, temporarily, in the United States: USCIS declines to exercise its authority to issue a Notice to Appear and does not place the individual in removal proceedings. USCIS has granted deferred action to individuals suffering serious medical conditions and to persons temporarily prevented from returning to their home country due to a natural disaster, among others.

The employment authorization regulations briefly describe this form of administrative relief, classifying deferred action as, “an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority.”

Over the past year, stakeholders have expressed concerns to the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (Ombudsman’s Office) regarding long pending deferred action requests submitted by Haitian nationals following the earthquake in January 2010.4 These Haiti-related concerns led to broader conversations among stakeholders about the way USCIS processes deferred action requests at local offices.

Based on an analysis of USCIS’ handling of deferred action requests, the Ombudsman’s Office has made the following findings:

Stakeholders lack clear, consistent information regarding requirements for submitting a deferred action request and what to expect following submission of the request.

There is no formal national procedure for handling deferred action requests. Accordingly, it is difficult to track deferred action processing, in order to determine who receives deferred action, and under what circumstances.

When experiencing a change in the type or number of submissions, local USCIS offices often lack the necessary standardized process to handle such requests in a timely and consistent manner. As a result, many offices permit deferred action requests to remain pending for extended periods. Stakeholders lack information regarding the number and nature of deferred action requests submitted each year; and they are not provided with any information on the number of cases approved and denied, or the reasons underlying USCIS’ decisions.

In response to its findings, the Ombudsman’s Office recommends that USCIS take the following actions to improve the processing of requests for deferred action:

1) Issue public information describing deferred action and the procedures for making a request for this temporary form of relief with USCIS;
2) Establish internal procedures for accepting and processing deferred action requests in order to promote consistency and assist local offices in responding to urgent, periodic increases in the demand for deferred action;
3) Inventory all pending deferred action requests to verify that each request received a confirmation of receipt with estimated processing timeframes and USCIS contact information; and
4) Consistently track data related to deferred action requests and make available statistics identifying the number of requests received and the numbers of requests approved and denied.

Of course, it does not say that USCIS will be implementing the administrative amnesty, it just recommends a rational procedure for the process. Not much wrong with that, but it is the next step in an amnesty first reported here.

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