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Cyrus Mehta, Mar. 16, 2020
"Although the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is mandated by Congress to grant benefits, it has become an enforcement oriented agency under the Trump administration that has displayed remarkable hostility towards immigrants. During the period when people are mandated to stay confined and practice social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and many will unfortunately also fall sick, the USCIS ought to become compassionate and true to its mission of being a benefits granting agency.
The USCIS has admittedly made some changes in a niggardly fashion. Although the public charge rule got rolled out last month, which is intended to deny immigration benefits under a more expansive interpretation of who is likely to become a public charge, it made one small exception on March 13, 2020 by encouraging noncitizens with symptoms resembling COVID-19 to seek medical treatment or preventive services. “Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future public charge analysis,” the agency said in a statement. The exception goes beyond treatment and preventive services, and the USCIS goes onto state: “[I]f the alien is prevented from working or attending school, and must rely on public benefits for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak and recovery phase, the alien can provide an explanation and relevant supporting documentation.” The USCIS has also allowed applicants to reschedule appointments if they have travelled internationally to any country within the past 14 days of their appointment, believe they have been exposed to the COVID 19 virus or are experiencing flu like symptoms. Separately, DHS has notified that foreign students should be able to maintain status even if the program goes online so long as the school makes the notification within 10 days.
While these fixes are steps in the right direction, USCIS ought to make more bold changes to provide ameliorative relief to noncitizens that would be in the best interests of the nation. Below are some suggestions:
These are a few suggestions for USCIS to revert to its historic role of viewing its mission as providing benefits rather than being a junior partner to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other agencies also need to step up to also take appropriate actions, and this blog only focuses on USCIS fixes. If God forbid the situation goes out of hand, bolder action would need to be taken. There is statutory authority to grant mass Temporary Protected Status under INA 244(b). There is also authority to grant deferred action to large groups of noncitizens who may be at grave risk to themselves and others if they are asked to leave the US. The President has broad powers in times of a national emergency. Now is not the time for restrictionists to oppose such measures that benefit noncitizens, and it would also be perverse for them to advocate that the President use these powers to hurt noncitizens. The health and safety of everyone is paramount, and all people living in this nation, whether citizen or non-citizen, are intractably connected and the administration must take all measures to protect everyone."