September 4, 2020 Roundup

First, a small victory. There was a lawsuit filed to force USCIS to produce work permit cards. USCIS had been approving the applications for work permit, but had not been sending the physical cards. Finally, parties filed a lawsuit, and the Court agreed that USCIS must produce the cards in a timely manner and send them to applicants. The lawsuit also forced the USCIS to post a note on USCIS site that the approval letter should suffice as permission to work until the cards are produced and sent out. Hopefully, the 75,000 applicants who have been waiting will receive their cards.

Another victory was for asylum seekers. The Trump Administration had initiated a policy to allow border patrol agents to do initial screening of asylum seekers’ claims. This was a quick means to deny cases right from the get go if the interviewing agent did not find a viable/credible claim. The judge found that border patrol employees get two to five weeks of distance and in-person training, while asylum officers, who ordinarily do these interviews, get at least nine weeks of formal training. Also, the judge was skeptical that a law enforcement agency employees could do screenings in a non-adversarial manner, as regulations require. The Court put a stop to this policy.

Now, for less than good news coming from Massachusetts. A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that barred ICE from arresting people suspected of living in the U.S. illegally if they show up at Massachusetts courthouses. Advocates and even prosecutors had argued that such arrests would scare away victims and witnesses. Unfortunately, the appeals court did not see it that way.

Lastly, DHS made an announcement this week that it will expand its use of biometric data and DNA to verify family relationships during the immigration process. According to CNN, DHS will have the authority to require biometrics for any application or petition. Currently, biometrics are required only for applications involving background checks. The proposed rule would further allow DHS to collect DNA to confirm genetic relationships in cases where that is an eligibility requirement. The rule also eliminates the age requirements, currently set at age 14 and up.

Immigrant advocates and advocates of civil liberties fear that DHS will be gathering immense amount of personal data that the government (and perhaps even non-governmental agencies) can use to surveil and target immigrant and non-immigrant communities alike.