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Phoenix Immigration & Naturalization Law Blog

Immigration advocates concerned about "public charge" changes

For many Arizona residents, the Trump administration's policies and rhetoric around immigration have raised serious concerns, especially for those who are immigrants themselves or who have loved ones who are. While many of these policies have been justified by rhetoric focusing on undocumented immigration, another new regulation is taking aim at people who entered and remained in the country legally. The changes to the "public charge" regulation could make it more difficult for visa and green card applicants to win approval if they have less education or lower incomes.

In addition, they could also be penalized by using various forms of legal government assistance, like Section 8 housing vouchers, food stamps or Medicaid. People could be labeled as a greater risk of needing government aid in the future. According to the Department of Homeland Security, it could affect around 382,000 people who want to change their immigration status. However, immigration lawyers noted that millions more could be affected by the changes, which could also lead to declining public health and worse outcomes for immigrant children as people avoid accessing important programs in order to protect their future status.

New rule aims to limit asylum claims

People who are seeking asylum in Arizona may be particularly concerned at the ongoing efforts of the Trump administration to restrict access to the United States, especially at the southern border. While some of the administration's moves have been blocked by lawsuits in federal court, officials continue to introduce new measures to hinder asylum seekers' claims. On July 29, the administration imposed a rule that a claim of persecution based on threats against a family member is generally insufficient to be granted asylum. The rule was issued by Attorney General William Barr.

While the Trump administration claims that it is being overwhelmed with fraudulent asylum claims, many of the new rules it has imposed do not clearly differentiate between fraud and certain types of threats and persecutions. There have been a growing number of refugees from Central America arriving at the U.S. southern border, although many of these claimants eventually lose in immigration court. Immigration courts, unlike regular federal courts, fall under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, giving Barr the authority to set rules for adjudicating cases. However, immigrants and their advocates can still go to the federal courts to challenge these rules.

Trump administration restricts asylum for Central Americans

On July 15, the Trump administration upended U.S. immigration policy by declaring that migrants who pass through other countries to get to the southern border of the United States are no longer eligible to seek asylum. The move is designed to stop migrants from gaining entry into Arizona and other states along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the new policy, which was scheduled to take effect on July 16, migrants who travel through a third country to reach the southern United States border and fail to apply for asylum in that country are no longer eligible to seek asylum in the United States. This means that the thousands of migrants fleeing on foot from violence in Central America are now ineligible to seek asylum in the U.S. if they haven't first asked for protection from Mexico or another country they passed through. However, the new rule also claims that asylum is a "discretionary immigration benefit" that can "generally" be sought by migrants who reach the United States.

Religious worker visa policies are changing

Changes are coming to a program that provides special immigrant visas to religious workers in Arizona, including both ministers and non-ministers. People who will be hired for a full-time, paid religious position can apply for immigration or permanent residence. However, while the program will continue for ministers and their spouses, a sunset is scheduled for non-minister religious workers. Prior to the sunset, non-ministers were limited to only 5,000 such visas per year while there is no cap on eligibility for ministers and their spouses.

The visa program for non-minister religious workers was scheduled to expire earlier, but it was extended on Feb. 15, 2019, when President Donald Trump signed a bill that contained a further extension of the program. Under the revision, the program will come to an end on Sept. 30. This means that religious workers who are not ministers and want to adjust their status to become permanent residents or come to the United States must complete the process before that date.

Visa applicants now required to provide social media info

Virtually all foreign nationals who wish to visit Arizona or any other U.S. state will now have to provide immigration authorities with their social media user names or handles. Updated visa application forms now ask for this information and list dozens of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit. Visa applicants who use platforms not listed on the new forms are expected to provide their usernames along with the names of the platforms. Immigration authorities do not require visa applicants to provide their social media passwords, but they do ask them for any email addresses and telephone numbers they have used during the last five years.

The enhanced scrutiny was proposed in March 2018 and similar measures have been in place for some time for individuals who have visited, or travel to the United States from, countries that have been identified by the Department of State as terrorist hot spots. Prior to the recent rollout, the measures affected about 65,000 visa applicants each year.

Protections for immigrant children to be curtailed

Residents in border states like Arizona will likely be aware that President Donald Trump has taken aggressive steps in recent weeks to address an immigration situation that he has described as a national emergency. In late May, Trump said that he would impose tariffs on goods imported from Mexico if the Mexican government does not take action to stop immigrant caravans at the Guatemalan border. Just a day later, immigration officials announced that measures designed to protect children seeking asylum in the United States are being curtailed.

The protections, which were implemented during the Obama administration, allow unaccompanied minors to make their cases for asylum before officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services instead of in court. If their petitions are denied, they are given a second chance at asylum in front of an immigration judge. The rules were put into place to spare emotionally damaged children the trauma of court proceedings. Immigration officials say that these considerations will no longer be offered to unaccompanied minors who turn 18 before their asylum cases are heard or to children who are reunited with family members while in federal custody.

Divorce and green card eligibility

Some people in Arizona who are waiting for a green card might wonder how divorce will affect their eligibility for one. For example, one woman, a U.S. citizen from the Philippines, had a 25-year-old unmarried son for whom she filed an immigrant petition in 2005. The son married in 2010.

A U.S. citizen's unmarried adult child is classified as "First Preference". If the adult child marries, the status is changed to "Third Preference", which is for an adult child married to a U.S. citizen. There is a much longer wait time for someone classified as "Third Preference" compared to "First Preference". As of May 2019, "First Preference" petitions from on or before May 15, 2007, were being processed. For "Third Preference" petitions, it was from October 8, 1996.

Trump memorandum orders stricter asylum rules

Residents of border states like Arizona are likely paying particular attention to the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to stem the flow of immigrants from Central America. The courts have already thwarted the White House's efforts to limit asylum claims and deny petitions filed by individuals who crossed the border illegally. Most experts believe that a memorandum signed by the president on April 29 will lead to a new round of legal proceedings.

In the memorandum, Trump ordered the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to streamline the asylum process and require those seeking asylum in the U.S. to pay for an application fee. The president wants asylum petitions to be completed within 180 days. Furthermore, he has told the departments to deny asylum seekers work permits. The memorandum gives the DOJ and DHS just 90 days to comply with the memorandum's requirements.

Courts to decide fate on Trump's asylum policy

The fate of a new Trump administration policy that forces asylum seekers at the southern border to stay in Mexico until their hearings will be put to the test. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which covers Arizona and other states, will decide whether or not to halt the policy while a case impacted by the issue continues to go through the court system. A district court judge already decided that the policy was unlawful but gave the government time to appeal.

The Trump administration first implemented its 'Migrant Protection Protocols" in San Diego at the end of January 2018, and later spread enforcement to Arizona and Texas. Normally, families seeking asylum would be released into the United States while awaiting their hearing, but this new policy makes them wait in Mexico. Several immigrants affected by the policy decided to sue the government claiming that waiting in Mexico jeopardized their safety.

Data shows sharp upswing in H-1B visa denials

Many businesses, highly skilled international graduate students and technical workers in Arizona are concerned about reports that an increasing number of H-1B visa petitions are being denied. The H-1B Employer Data Hub was criticized by many when it was introduced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These critics saw it as a way for the administration to target negative attention toward businesses that make use of the program that allows companies to hire highly skilled international workers, typically in technical or scientific fields.

Further analysis of the data posted publicly indicates that USCIS is sharply restricting the number of H-1B petitions it approves. While only 6 percent of petitions were denied in 2015, 32 percent were denied in the first quarter of 2019 alone. Between 2015 and 2018, the denial rate grew by three times, from 6 percent to 24 percent. This means that the overall denial rate for new H-1B visa applications is now triple or quadruple what it was only a few years in the past. Immigration lawyers and employers say that USCIS has secretly raised the standards required for the approval of a petition.

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