AILA Quicktake #274: USCIS Eliminates Non-Military Deferred Action at Local Field Offices

On 8/7/19, USCIS field offices stopped adjudicating requests for deferred action from non-military applicants. AILA’s Policy Associate Paul Stern explains what this policy change, which occurred without public notice, means for immigrants and their families who seek to remain in the United States.

UPDATE: 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.

Video Transcript

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Last week, AILA learned that as of August 7, 2019
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USCIS has stopped accepting and adjudicating requests for non-military
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deferred action at its local field offices throughout the country.
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This includes, but is not limited to, requests based on urgent or incredibly sensitive
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medical needs of undocumented immigrants and their families.
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The change is especially harsh as it affects a highly vulnerable population
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and applies retroactively.
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That means it impacts not just those seeking to request deferred action
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but also all requests that were already pending with the agency
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on or before August 7, 2019.
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USCIS has already begun issuing denial notices for these requests.
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USCIS has been clear that this change does not affect DACA
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or other deferred action requests that are currently handled at USCIS service centers,
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such as deferred action requests for VAWA or U visa-based cases.
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Also, this change does not impact requests of deferred action
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made for members of the military, including veterans, enlistees,
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or their family members.
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Deferred action is a form of temporary relief from deportation
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for applicants and families facing complex or serious issues.
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This change in USCIS policy impacts a group of
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extremely vulnerable immigrants and family members
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seeking to remain in the United States due to specific circumstances.
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This includes people with severe medical conditions
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such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, and HIV.
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The denial of these requests means that at least for the time being
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many of these families will be without work authorization and in some cases
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a driver’s license, making it increasingly difficult to take care of the urgent issues
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that qualified them for deferred action in the first place.
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Already AILA members have shared examples of individuals and families
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that will be impacted by this change, including a case involving two parents
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who need deferred action so that they can continue providing care and support
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for their young U.S. citizen child who is currently battling
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an incurable and potentially fatal illness.
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USCIS has indicated that moving forward,
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it will be deferring to ICE to handle non-military requests.
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It is unclear if ICE will be establishing a process for making these requests.
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However, AILA is concerned that shifting responsibility for handling these requests
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to an enforcement agency will likely deter individuals from coming forward in order to
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seek life-saving protection or the ability to continue caring for their families.
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Congress intended USCIS to function as a service-oriented
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immigration benefits agency.
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But USCIS has increasingly shifted its focus toward immigration enforcement.
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By eliminating its deferred action program
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and handing over responsibility for such requests to ICE,
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USCIS has taken yet another step away from its statutory mission
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and further blurred the line between itself and DHS’s enforcement components.
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We encourage AILA members and the general public to join AILA National
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in urging Congress to demand that USCIS reverse this policy change.
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You can do so in under two minutes by sending an email
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to your member of Congress through AILA’s Take Action.
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In addition, AILA is seeking examples of impacted individuals
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to lift up to Congress and the media.
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We encourage all submissions for individuals and families
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that will be negatively impacted by this change.
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Together, we will aggressively push back on this mean-spirited policy change
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and work to ensure that vulnerable children and families
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receive the protection they deserve.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 19082830.