Amnesty & More Immigration Updates
Every week, we provide updates on what is happening in US Immigration. We have mentioned before that the Trump administration had put in place over 400 immigration policies and changes that the Biden administration needed to end or reverse. President Biden has started doing that on his first day in office and that continues to happen.
Since the Biden administration is much more amenable to immigration (as that is what the country was founded on), there are more people coming to the borders applying for asylum than there has been in the past.
We must remember that asylum is a legal way to enter the US and that America was founded on being a welcoming place for all.
We are also going to talk about the visa bulletin. We saw it being released earlier in March and with a greater movement for those waiting for visas. That is good news!
Finally, we are finishing up the last 20 questions in the naturalization exam. This is the civics portion that everyone who applies to become a US Citizen must take and pass. We have reviewed both the 128 questions that were in the “new” test that will be phased out after April 2021 and the 100 questions that could be asked when you apply to become a citizen.
Visa Bulletin Updates
Let’s talk about the visa bulletin for a minute. We get lots of questions on our YouTube channel such as “What’s going on with F4 or F1?” or, “My sister sponsored me, when will my visa be available?” or “I’m sponsoring my parents, when will I see them?”
When we get questions like this, we most often refer them to the Visa Bulletin.
What is the Visa Bulletin?
The visa bulletin is issued monthly by the Department of State. In it, there are charts that summarize the availability of visas (both family-based and employment-based visas) for “Final Action Date” (the date when USCIS/DOS may make a decision on your application) and “Dates for Filing Applications” (the date you can send your I-485 for your Green Card, or other applications with USCIS /DOS through the National Visa Center or NVC).
The applicant should receive a notification from NVC when they have a visa available. We have heard from people who are never notified, so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the visa bulletin. We’ve also heard that immigration attorneys and their clients are recently seeing more emails from the NVC and that the NVC is forwarding their applications to local consulates. We think this will increase as time goes on.
Visa Bulletin Changes During the Biden Administration
During the Trump administration, the updated visa bulletin (this is issued monthly) was coming out later and later each month. Currently, the Biden administration is again making this a priority. Having the visa bulletin come out sooner helps families who are trying to come to the US plan for their future.
Why You Need to Check the Visa Bulletin
The visa bulletin indicates when a visa is “current.” When you apply for a visa for a family member, it is not (always) automatically available. There must be an actual visa available, and we know that with the previous administration, the visa numbers were reduced across the board.
This is what we mean by “getting in line” with USCIS. When you apply to sponsor a relative, say a brother or sister, once you become a US citizen, this will put them in the F4 category. They will get at the back of a long line of people already waiting.
There are only 65,000 F4 visas available each year. There are also per-country limits. That is why someone from Mexico in the F4 category has been waiting since 1998 and someone from China since 2006.
What Happens Once a Visa is Available?
The visa applicant must pay a fee to the NVC, get a physical examination, have an interview with the US embassy, etc. Almost all those things cost money and take time, and that is why it is helpful to have the visa bulletin issued as early as possible, so people can gather what they need to be ready for their turn.
You also need to file before the end of the month in case the visas retrogress or become “uncurrent,” meaning the priority date goes in the wrong case. So file immediately when you can.
If you want to know if you can sponsor a family member, consult with our New Jersey immigration attorneys. We can review your family’s situation and give you directions on the best way to move forward as quickly as possible.
The visa bulletin showed more movement than we have seen recently especially with some categories like F4. It may not seem that way to people waiting for years, but when it moves 21 days on this bulletin when it only moved 7 days or less for the last two years, that is already a big movement.
We also predict that we will continue to see more movement in all visa categories. President Biden has encouraged all consulates and embassies to get back to normal processing as quickly as possible.
Update on US Visa Interviews
We previously talked about how the State Department has a backlog of 475,000 visa applications from last year. (Before the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the backlog was “only” 75,000). Due to that, there had been a waiver for those whose visa was expiring within 24 months, so they don’t have to go through an interview and wait even longer. Recently, the State Department also said that the interview waiver is extending to people whose visa expires in 48 months or 4 years.
Update on the US Citizenship Act
The US Citizenship Act is supposed to reform the immigration system and provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the US who don’t have legal status.
We know that this Act is in the Senate Judiciary Committee currently and that the House Judiciary Committee is saying they will start hearings on the Act sometime in April.
According to Representative Steny Hoyer, there were several immigration bills brought up for voting last March. The House voted on two bills last March 18, 2021, for DREAMers and TPS holders (The Dream and Promise Act) and the Farm Workers (The Farm Workforce Modernization Act). They voted to move these forward.
Now, they will go to the Senate which will be an uphill battle. The House is also set to vote on VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). These all passed through the House last voting session but need to be voted on again.
2.5 million people are DREAMers, and the majority of Americans think that they should have a path to citizenship, so it would be great if this passes. Keep in mind that even IF it passes, it doesn’t go into effect immediately. The Senate must vote it through, and then there is more that must be done such as a review of financial costs. But it’s certainly a move in the right direction.
US Border Updates
You’ve probably heard about the issue at the border with tens of thousands of people coming every day trying to get amnesty. There’s also talk about a large number of unaccompanied minor children coming as well. We know that many people are concerned about border security, so let us share some of our sentiments with you.
Coming to the US and seeking amnesty is legal. There is a process people must go through and most are trying to do this legally.
When did the US begin a policy of harboring immigrant children?
The US doesn’t “harbor” unaccompanied minors. Historically, the US did not make a distinction between a minor or an adult. That means that children were treated like any other undocumented immigrant during the deportation process.
Then in the 1980s, lawsuits were filed against INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services), arguing that children in custody were not being treated humanely.
These lawsuits resulted in the 1993 Supreme Court case of Flores v. Reno. Then the Supreme Court upheld the INS policies towards children.
Then in 1997, the parties drafted the Flores settlement agreement (under President Clinton), which said that kids should not be confined and should be released from immigration detention as quickly as possible.
In the early 2000s investigations were published by non-profit organizations like Amnesty International about the conditions of detained children in immigration custody.
The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003 (in response to 9/11), which then created the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPRA) into law which had clear positive changes for how the US treated unaccompanied minors.
The protection of immigrant children was a bipartisan issue (meaning both Republicans and Democrats were focused on making it better) prior to President Trump.
Under the Trump administration, in September 2018, DHS issued a notice to amend the regulations of the apprehension, processing, care, custody, and release of undocumented juveniles and tried to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement.
Throughout 2018 and 2019, several decisions made by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee made clear that the government was bound by the Flores agreement and refused to allow the government to make changes to it without input by other agencies and interested parties.
The Process Today
Whenever a child is stopped at the border, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) determine if the child is unaccompanied.
If the child is unaccompanied, they are held for up to 72 hours in a facility separate from adults. During that time, the agency confirms the child’s age and runs background checks.
The child has their rights explained, and if the child does not withdraw their request for admission to the US, the child is transferred to the Office of Refugee and Resettlement (ORR).
If a family member or a suitable sponsor in the US agrees to take custody of the child, ORR releases them while immigration court proceedings continue. Otherwise, they stay in the care of ORR.
We know that last March 13, 2021, DHS leader Mayorkas sent FEMA to the border to help with the influx of immigrants including unaccompanied minors. Mayorkas said that DHS is working to move the children from DHS to HHS (Health and Human Services) custody while their immigration applications are being processed.
Mayorkas also said that “As a result of the public health imperative, adults and accompanied children are subject to COVID-19 related travel restrictions and are returned to Mexico under the statutory authority of the CDC.”
We think, and hope, that the Biden administration’s response to the migrant crisis especially involving unaccompanied minors will be kinder and more humane than the previous administration’s.
Unfortunately, many Republicans see this surge at the border as a way to attack President Biden, rather than to work together to fix this issue. I hope that positive changes are made and we all can work together for the good of the country rather than individual political parties.
Contact Our New Jersey Immigration Attorney Today!
If you need help with your immigration situation, connect with an experienced immigration attorney today. Our immigration lawyers at Andres Mejer Law can help you with your visa application, paperwork, visa interviews, and more. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.