July 24, 2020 Roundup

Let’s start with little good news. USCIS previously had said it would have to furlough more than 13,000 employees at the beginning of August if Congress did not provide emergency supplemental funding. USCIS has now announced that “due to recent assurances from Congress that they are working to provide USCIS with emergency funding, we are able to delay the effective date of the administrative furlough from August 3, 2020 to August 30, 2020 to allow Congress more time to act.” This comes from Joseph Edlow, the deputy director for policy. This is really good to hear since furloughing 13,000 employees would effectively cripple the processing of all applications.

Now for less than good news. New ICE announcement today is that foreign students in new or initial status after March 9, 2020, will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school for the fall term to pursue a studies that are 100 percent online. And, schools are not to accept foreign students in new or initial status who are outside of the U.S. and plan to take classes fully online.

The announcement is bad news for schools and any new student planning to come for the first time this fall to study in the U.S. The ones who were already here and studying will be able to continue. Many schools, colleges, and universities rely on foreign students since those students pay much more in tuition. Prohibiting new students will likely put sizable dent in the budgets of many institutions.

I wanted to address some phone calls I have been getting from panicked people who were winners in the diversity visas lottery (DV). Many are concerned that the Presidential proclamation will prevent them from entering the country. Sadly, this may be the case. DV winners must finish all processing with visa in hand by October 1st. I had one call where the individual was scheduled for an interview at the U.S embassy but the interview was cancelled due to COVID. Even if the embassies reopen, such individuals will likely not be able to get a visa in time and will miss their chance to come to the U.S. I am aware of lawsuits that have been filed to resolve these issues but for now, the ban is in place.

Another question that callers are raising relates to work permit cards that are not being processed. In some cases, the USCIS approves the application for the work permit, but the physical card is not being printed. While the request for work permit is approved, the individual must present a valid work permit card to his/her employer. I have had callers who lost their jobs because they did not have their cards. Understandably, many employers do not want any issues with USCIS so they are laying off employees who do not have the physical card.

As usual, a federal lawsuit has been filed in Ohio to force the USCIS to start preparing the cards. The lawsuit is a class-action lawsuit since there are many such individuals. The suit alleges that USCIS has not been able to provide the cards because they terminated USCIS’s printing contract with a third party printer, without having any intention or plan to replace that printing contract with another contract or method for the printing of the cards. The lawsuit asks the Court to issue an order compelling USCIS to prepare the cards.

Lastly, there is a story that puts another sad mark on our international reputation. This one comes from Canada. The U.S. and Canada have a so-called Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). This means that if an individual in Canada wants to apply for asylum at the U.S border, he/she can be turned away and instructed to apply in Canada first. This works both ways.

Apparently, individuals, who were in the U.S., attempted to apply at the Canadian border and were turned away. They sued challenging the STCA arguing that the U.S., under President Trump, was no longer a “safe third country.” Federal Judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the agreement was in violation of Canada’s charter of rights that says laws or state actions that interfere with life, liberty and security must conform to the principles of fundamental justice.

The Judge specifically considered the process that asylum seekers have to go through in the U.S. including lengthy detention in horrid conditions. The Judge held that “the Applicants have provided significant evidence of the risks and challenges faced by STCA ineligible claimants when they are returned to the US. Although the U.S. system has been subject to much debate and criticism, a comparison of the two systems is not the role of this Court, nor is it the role of this Court to pass judgment on the U.S. asylum system. The narrow focus here is the consequences that flow when a refugee claimant is returned to the U.S. by operation of the STCA. The evidence establishes that the conduct of Canadian officials in applying the provisions of the STCA will provoke certain, and known, reactions by US officials. In my view, the risk of detention for the sake of “administrative” compliance with the provisions of the STCA cannot be justified. Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences that befell Ms. ——- in its efforts to adhere to the STCA. The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty.”

The Judge suspended her decision for six months to give Canadian parliament a chance to respond to the ruling. The ruling is not final and can be appealed to the federal court of appeal and then the supreme court if necessary.

That is very strong language coming from our northern neighbor. It is truly a sad day when another country looks at U.S. immigration polices and determines that it is not safe to return asylum seekers back to the U.S. We, in the U.S., have always prided ourselves in defending and protecting human rights. Now, the view from outside is considerably different; to a point that a Canadian Court is willing to invalidate an agreement between nations to protect asylum seekers from harm.