Candice Yi

An Overview of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

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Temporary Protection Status, or TPS, is a temporary status given to foreign nationals that are currently unable to return to their country safely due to the conditions of their country. Some of these conditions include:

  • Ongoing armed conflict, such as civil war
  • An environmental disaster, such as an earthquake or hurricane
  • An epidemic
  • Other extraordinary and temporary conditions

Those who are granted TPS are given the following benefits:

  • They cannot be removed from the United States except for serious crimes
  • They are able to receive an employment authorization document (EAD)
  • They may be granted travel authorization
  • They cannot be detained by the Department of Homeland Security based solely on their immigration status

However, TPS is only temporary, and does not lead to lawful permanent residence. But, it is sometimes possible to:

  • Apply for a nonimmigrant status, such as an employment-based visa
  • File for an adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident if someone has submitted an immigrant petition on your behalf
  • Apply for any other immigration benefit or protection that you are eligible for

Who is eligible?

You are eligible if you:

  • Are from a country designated for TPS
  • You do not have a nationality, but last resided in a country designated for TPS
  • File for TPS during the open initial registration period
  • Have been continuously physically present and continuously residing in the United States since your country was last designated for TPS

What to file?

Along with your TPS application (Form I-821) and Employment Authorization application (Form I-765), you must submit the following:

  • Proof of identity to show that you are from a country designated for TPS
  • Date of entry evidence to demonstrate when you entered the United States
  • Continuously residing evidence to demonstrate that you have been living in the United States since the date specified for your country

Countries Currently Designated for TPS:

  • El Salvador
  • Guinea
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Liberia
  • Nepal
  • Nicaragua
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

These are some general guidelines and information concerning TPS summarized from USCIS. Our office has many years of experience representing those seeking TPS, so if you feel you may be eligible, feel free to contact us.

For further information about the application process and TPS designation and expiration dates, please visit the following USCIS page:

https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status

Changing Your Address with USCIS

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It is important to notify USCIS of any change of address within 10 days of moving. This way, USCIS is able to continue to send you correspondence and any other documents in connection to your case.

You are able to notify USCIS of a change in address by completing Form AR-11, which can be done online except when the following conditions apply:

  • You are a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident and have an approved relative petition
  • You are a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident and have financially sponsored someone who has immigrated
  • You have an appeal pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)

When using the online form to complete your change of address, USCIS will ask for the following information:

  • Your receipt notice number
  • Your new address
  • Your former address
  • The names and personal information for the person(s) for whom you have filed
  • Your Alien number (if applicable)

If you have an approved relative petition, there are instructions on your relative’s approval notice that will tell you who to notify about the change of address and how to notify them.

If you have submitted Form I-864 and financially sponsored someone who became a permanent resident, you must notify USCIS of any change of address within 30 days of moving. You can do this by filing a Form I-865, which you can download from the USCIS website. You can also find the instructions to file this form on the USCIS webpage.

If you have been placed in immigration court proceedings or have an appeal pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), you must notify the court or BIA within 5 days of moving. To do this, complete Form EOIR 33/IC for a case pending with the immigration court, or Form EOIR 33/BIA for a case pending with the BIA. These forms are available on the Department of Justice Website, www.justice.gov/eoir/formslist. Do keep in mind that you will still be required to file Form AR-11 separately.

If you are working with an attorney, you should always let your attorney know about any changes of address with as much anticipation as possible. Some attorneys will file the change of address for you as part of their service, so make sure to ask your attorney before you go ahead and file a change of address on your own.

Immigration Issues on the National Platform

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With the Democratic and Republican Platforms having recently passed and the elections coming up just around the corner, here are some of the main points concerning immigration from both of the parties.

On one hand, Democrats want to:

  • Reform the quota system for various immigrant groups
  • Repeal the 3- and 10-year bars, which prohibit applicants from returning to the U.S. if they were previously in the U.S. illegally
  • Improve the system and decrease the current backlogs
  • Keep the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
  • Implement the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans
  • Make DREAMers eligible for driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition
  • End raids and roundups of children and families in immigrant communities
  • Create faster paths to citizenship for veterans
  • Guarantee government-funded counsel for unaccompanied minors in immigration court

On the other, Republicans propose to:

  • Build a wall along the entire southern border of the U.S. – one sufficient enough to prohibit both vehicular and pedestrian traffic
  • Protect all ports of entry from illegal immigrants’ crossing
  • Implement the E-verify program nationwide
  • Create tougher penalties against immigrants who engage in identity theft, deal with fraudulent documents, or traffic human beings
  • Expedite deportations of criminal immigrants
  • Allow states to enact their own individual laws to prevent illegal immigrants from residing in said states
  • Bar refugee-seekers from countries with higher prevalence of terrorism from entering

These points were taken and summarized from the Democratic and Republican’s Platforms. To read the full platforms, please follow the links below:

Democratic Party:

https://www.demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Democratic-Party-Platform-7.21.16-no-lines.pdf

Republican Party:

https://prod-static-ngop-pbl.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/DRAFT_12_FINAL[1]-ben_1468872234.pdf

Backlog of asylum cases at USCIS and the immigration courts

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Currently across the world, the number of people being displaced from their homes due to violence and other problems has increased greatly. Many of these people are fleeing to other countries seeking to escape from threats to their lives. The United States has received many asylum seekers in recent years. However, we lack the resources to deal with the high volume of refugees, which has created an enormous backlog at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Division and within the immigration courts.

A refugee or asylee is legally defined to be a person unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Human Rights First, a non-profit organization which helps coordinate legal representation to refugees in partnership with pro-bono attorneys, has published a report concerning the state of the immigration courts and USCIS in regards to these asylum cases, which make up approximately 20% of cases in the immigration courts. They found that at present, over 620,000 removal and asylum cases are pending in the immigration courts. Additionally, asylum seekers typically wait between three and six years for a resolution of their asylum claim – an exceedingly long time and which often detrimentally affects these potential asylees.

The systemic delays in both USCIS and the immigration courts have created a backlog; the number of cases that are backlogged at the Asylum Division at USCIS has more than quadrupled since 2013. That is, in 2013, there were 32,560 cases pending; that number has increased to 144,500 by March, 2016. This backlog is growing at a rate of approximately 20,000 cases every three months, and if nothing changes, USCIS is estimated to have over 200,000 pending cases by the end of 2016.

The delays are largely caused by an increase in credible and reasonable fear interviews, which are given to potential asylum applicants upon arrival at a US port of entry. In credible fear interviews (CFI), the USCIS officer determines if there is a “significant possibility” that the petitioner can establish an asylum or withholding of removal claim before a judge. In a reasonable fear interview (RFI), the officer determines whether there is a “reasonable possibility” of future persecution based on one of the five protected grounds under the refugee definition – the number of CFIs and RFIs have increased nine fold and seven fold, respectively, since 2009.

The average wait time for an initial asylum interview exceeds two years. Of the eight USCIS offices handling these cases, six are now scheduling interviews for applications filed over two years ago. This wait time is incredibly far behind the statutory requirement, which requires USCIS to conduct an initial interview within 45 days and have a complete initial adjudication within 180 days of the case being received.

Besides the CFIs and RFIs, another reason why the Asylum Division is so backlogged is because it lacks funding to hire a sufficient number of asylum officers necessary to adjudicate the cases in a timely manner. In order to completely eliminate the backlog, USCIS needs to increase its staff to 700 or 800 officers from its current size of 447.

The immigration courts also have a huge load of backlogged cases. In early 2016, the number of backlogged cases reached 480,815. If more judges are not hired, the backlog is predicted to reach 500,000 cases by the end of the 2016 fiscal year, and 1,000,000 cases by fiscal year 2022. The court is severely understaffed with a mere 254 judges, when 524 are needed to handle the large caseload. Because of this issue, delays can cause potential asylees to wait over six years in total for their cases to be adjudicated. It can take over two years for the initial interview with the USCIS Asylum Division. If USCIS denies the case, it then refers it to immigration court, where it can take more than another three and a half years, at best, to have the case heard. The problem feeds on itself, as many judges have retired due to the deteriorating working conditions, while not enough judges are being hired to cover this loss.

While these two divisions remain underfunded and understaffed, Congress has disproportionately increased the budget for immigration enforcement – the budget for enforcement agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has more than quadrupled, increasing from $4.5 billion in 2002 to $20.1 billion in 2016, whereas funding for the immigration court increased by a mere 74%. This has also contributed to the backlog – the US now has a greater capacity for apprehending and prosecuting immigrants, but this creates cases and without a proportionately increased budget for the systems handling these cases, the number of pending cases has skyrocketed.

At present, the number of people seeking asylum is at an all-time high. The chronic underfunding of USCIS and the immigration courts has caused the backlog to grow since 2008. Many refugees are fleeing from violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the volume of unaccompanied children and families has increased dramatically recently. This has exacerbated the backlog, as these refugees’ cases are given priority over other asylum seekers. While these cases are, in large part, meritorious (that is, approximately 90% of Central American asylum seekers who are lucky enough to be represented by an attorney are eventually granted asylum), the priority given to them has resulted in tens of thousands of cases being rescheduled for as late as November, 2019.

The impact these backlogs cause on the refugees can be highly detrimental. While potential asylees wait to be approved, their family members remain separated and in danger. Their families often are in hiding and face persecution, sometimes as a direct result of their loved one petitioning for asylum in the US. Furthermore, the long wait can harm the refugee’s mental health. The constant fear of not knowing what will happen, whether they will receive asylum, and their concerns about their family members’ safety, impedes many asylum seekers from being able to fully recover from their past trauma. Oftentimes, they struggle with worsened symptoms or develop new symptoms such as heightened stress and depression. In addition, many seekers have difficulties supporting themselves since they are not authorized to work for many months after first filing their asylum claims. They are also often unable to pursue an education since it is expensive – most forms of financial aid are not available to asylum seekers.

The long wait additionally has a negative impact on pro-bono legal representation. Almost 75% of pro-bono coordinators have said that the delays in the immigration courts play a significant role in their ability to take on a pro-bono case. However, access to legal representation is a substantial factor for the petitioning refugee, and can make the difference between deportation or relief.

Human Rights First proposed a few steps that could be taken in order to adjudicate these cases in a timely and fair manner, the main one being to increase funding for the Asylum Division at USCIS and the immigration courts.

In summary, if nothing changes from our current situation, the number of asylum cases will continue to exponentially increase and place stress on our resources. USCIS and the immigration courts will continue to be overly burdened and asylum seekers will have to wait for even longer periods to get their cases settled, which will harm their relationships and mental health. As Human Rights First explains, we are in a state of crisis, and this poor and unfair treatment of refugees needs to be rectified quickly.

All information in this post was obtained and summarized from the report published by Human Rights First. If you are interested in learning more about the backlogs in the USCIS Asylum Division and the immigration courts, please follow the link below to access the full report:
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/HRF-In-The-Balance.pdf