Featured Issue: USCIS’s Elimination of Non-Military Deferred Action at Local USCIS Offices

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USCIS Reestablishes Deferred Action After AILA and Members Campaign for Agency Accountability

On September 19, 2019, in a huge victory for the vulnerable individuals and families impacted, the Department of Homeland Security alerted members of the Oversight & Reform Committee that at the discretion of Acting Secretary McAleenan it would resume “consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, except as otherwise required by an applicable statute, regulation, or court order.”

From the first reports of this change in policy, AILA and our members have played a significant role in shedding important light on this issue and those impacted, taking action by encouraging members of Congress to hold USCIS accountable, and sharing stories of the change’s implications on their clients. Our collective efforts have been crucial to the reversal of this policy.

AILA is continuing to monitor this reversal and its implementation, and will update members with additional information as it is provided.

USCIS's Elimination of Non-Military Deferred Action at Local USCIS Offices: What It Means and How to Fight Back

Effective August 7, 2019, USCIS is no longer adjudicating requests for non-military "deferred action," a form of temporary relief from deportation for immigrants facing special and often life-threatening circumstances. Instead, ICE will assume exclusive responsibility for deferred action requests but the letters that recipients received make no mention of a process to request assistance from ICE. This policy shift—which occurred without public notice—places vulnerable individuals at risk of deportation and even death, violates principles of fundamental fairness, and will deter many families from pursuing vital immigration relief.

This webpage explains the policy change and its implications, shares ways that members of the public can take action to oppose the measure and identifies further helpful resources.

Policy Change

  • On September 2, 2019, USCIS announced that it will reopen non-military deferred action cases that were pending on August 7, 2019. USCIS indicated that letters will be sent this week re-opening these cases for adjudication. USCIS further confirmed that individuals with denied requests that were pending on August 7, did not have pending removal orders and have not been made a target for deportation.
  • Effective August 7, 2019, USCIS is no longer adjudicating requests for "deferred action," except from certain military members, veterans, enlistees, and their families. Deferred action is a form of temporary relief from deportation for applicants facing exigent circumstances such as severe medical conditions. The deferred action program is distinct from the "Deferred Action for Childhood Applicants," or "DACA," program, which is unaffected by this change.
  • It is also, according to USCIS distinct from other deferred action requests "processed at USCIS service centers under other policies, regulations, or court orders", such as deferred action for VAWA applicants or those currently on the U visa waiting list.
  • As a result of this shift, USCIS will no longer consider non-military deferred action requests made before, on, or after August 7, 2019, that the agency had not adjudicated by August 6. Instead, ICE alone will adjudicate deferred action requests. ICE has confirmed to Senator Ed Markey’s staff that it will not be updating its policies to reflect this change from USCIS. ICE further confirmed that it does not consider deferred action requests until the individual has been through removal proceedings and has an order of removal.
  • USCIS failed to provide advance public notice of this shift. An ICE spokesperson also confirmed that the agency had not been informed that USCIS would stop processing these requests. Rather, the agency directed local field offices to inform the public of the policy change on an individual case-by-case basis. AILA has posted examples of redacted denial notices issued by USCIS to deferred action applicants.

Implications of Policy Change

  • This shift puts lives in danger, including the lives of children facing serious medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, and HIV. USCIS's actions threaten such individuals with deportation and loss of access to essential treatment.
  • USCIS's failure to provide advance public notice of this policy change epitomizes the agency's growing disregard for transparency and accountability. It is fundamentally unfair to families who adhered to this longstanding USCIS application process to learn in the form of a denial letter that the agency is no longer processing these cases. It is particularly egregious that USCIS has elected to apply this new policy retroactively to cases not adjudicated by August 6.
  • USCIS's action forces vulnerable individuals in urgent need of relief to somehow request it from an enforcement agency that detains and deports hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. This shift will deter all too many children and families from coming forward and seeking life-saving protection.
  • Although Congress created USCIS to function as a service-oriented immigration benefits agency, under the Trump administration USCIS is increasingly transforming into another DHS enforcement arm. The total transfer of deferred action adjudications to ICE further blurs the line between USCIS and DHS's immigration enforcement components. It also further complicates next steps for individuals impacted by the change, as ICE will not accept these requests until an individual has gone through removal proceedings and has been issued an order of removal. This means that there no longer appears to be a process to affirmatively request deferred action.

How You Can Take Action to Oppose This Change

  • Through AILA's Advocacy Action Center — in under two minutes, you can urge your congressional representatives to hold USCIS to account for this destructive measure.
  • Provide Case Examples — by providing case examples of deferred action applicants impacted by this policy change, you can help AILA shine a light on the devastating consequences of USCIS's actions.

Share on Social Media

  • Click to tweet: On August 7 @USCIS surreptitiously stopped adjudicating requests for non-military #DeferredAction. USCIS's failure to issue public notice of this change illustrates the agency's waning commitment to transparency and accountability. #HoldUSCISAccountable. https://www.aila.org/nonmilitarydeferredaction
  • Click to tweet: .@USCIS's elimination of non-military #DeferredAction places vulnerable individuals at risk and will discourage immigrants from seeking life-saving protection. https://www.aila.org/nonmilitarydeferredaction
  • Click to tweet: .@USCIS will no longer consider non-military #DeferredAction requests. Instead, @ICEgov will adjudicate #DeferredAction requests. Contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to #HoldUSCISAccountable for this destructive measure. https://www.aila.org/takeaction#/63
  • Click to tweet: Ending #DeferredAction for non-military applicants will have life-altering implications for already vulnerable children and families. Join @AILANational in the fight to #HoldUSCISAccountable for this egregious action. https://www.aila.org/takeaction#/63
  • Click to tweet: .@AILANational is collecting examples of individuals who will be negatively impacted by the elimination of #DeferredAction requests for non-military applicants. Learn more here: http://ow.ly/jzPN30pqnKn

Congressional Updates

Media Coverage

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 19082737.