U.S. immigration policy has changed quickly and substantially in the past two years. While a handful of policies have received the majority of media attention—such as the separation of families at the border—the Department of Homeland Security has implemented numerous, far less visible changes that have dramatically impacted the ability to seek immigration relief in this country. These policy changes have transformed the way in which lawyers and their pro bono clients must navigate the immigration system.
Accounting for Unpredictability
As a result of the exceedingly fast changes to immigration policy, it has become increasingly challenging to predict a client’s likelihood of obtaining certain types of immigration relief or to assess the risks associated with attempting to do so.
For example, in October 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began implementing a new policy that mandates USCIS to issue Notices to Appear (NTA) in immigration court removal proceedings upon making an unfavorable decision on an immigration application where the applicant is an undocumented immigrant. This far-reaching guidance would, for instance, encompass vulnerable undocumented victims of domestic abuse seeking humanitarian-based relief, thus creating a perverse disincentive for them to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement. In June 2018, the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of A-B- purported to make it harder for immigrants to qualify for asylum based on gang or domestic violence, a decision that was, in turn, blocked in December by a federal judge in Washington, D.C.