When I think back on the immigration aspects of the year 2020, I am struck by the amount of time our firm had to regroup, revise and rethink normal ordinary immigration practices and procedures. The Trump Administration’s aggressive posturing created ever changing rules and regulations that governed the most practical aspects of practicing immigration law.
I have always said that the most important information you get from an immigration lawyer is where to file an application and what the filing fee is. In addition, it is almost impossible to gather the correct required documents using the USCIS website checklists and instructions. Hide the ball is the name of the game.
In the year 2020, immigration lawyers scrambled to ascertain what forms were required, what supporting documents were required, where to file applications and what the fees were.
Take, for example, the Public Charge Rule. This rule, imposed by the Trump Administration, requires filing an 18 page I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency. A separate Form I-944 must be filed for each applicant with approximately 6 inches of supporting documents. These documents include all manner of personal financial documents relating to all the applicant’s assets and liabilities. Due to legal challenges won and lost this year, the I-944 was required, then not required, then required, then not required. We finally just filed the damn thing because, at the end of the day, it was impossible to know whether it would ultimately be required.
While we were in a flurry of cases requiring this egregious 18 page form, the word came down that USCIS was rejecting applications that contained blank spaces. This form contained many sections that were “not applicable” and thus contained lots of blank spaces. Our paralegals and attorneys scurried around and completed all blanks with N/A. What a miserable exercise and waste of time! The latest word on this topic is that USCIS is now allowing blank spaces. It is likely that we will continue with our sea of N/A filled fields because, it is impossible to know what the requirement will be tomorrow.
When the absurd is the norm the world becomes highly unpredictable. It feels like you are standing on shifting sand.
We can only hope that the Biden Administration will, at the very least, return the USCIS to a semi-dependable agency. There will always be arbitrary decisions and human error. But, my New Year’s Wish is that the ground underfoot be returned to solid ground. When we stand on solid ground, we can do our jobs without looking over our shoulders to see what new rule or interpretation is coming to knock us off track. When the rules are known and uniformly enforced, we can serve our clients and achieve the predictable outcomes they deserve. It is absurd to decide the fate of an immigrant’s continued life in America based on whether there are blank spaces on a form.
President-Elect Biden, hear our plea. At the very least, let’s get back to the point where we know what to file, where to file it and what the fee is. Then we will feel a little less like we are standing on shifting sand.