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New York City Voting Law

 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams allowed an important bill to become law last Sunday – legislation that would grant more than 800,000 non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. This applies to DACA recipients as well as those who have been lawful permanent residents of the city for at least 30 days. The Board of Elections will draw up an implementation plan by July, and the legislation will take effect January 9th, 2023. 

New York City is the first major U.S. city to grant municipal voting rights to noncitizens, even though dozens of small communities around the country have done the same. It is a positive step, allowing individuals affected by the political processes of their community to finally take part in them. Democracy has been made stronger by the decision, and hopefully more cities will follow this lead in granting immigrants the political power they deserve. 

 

The Challenges of the Pandemic for Immigrant Communities

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a serious threat to immigrant communities around the country. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 6 million immigrants work frontline occupations, placing them at heightened risk of exposure. The United States Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the infection risk was almost double that of native-born citizens.

Before 2020, Trump’s policy set the stage for noncitizens being at higher risk for COVID-exposure and the severe consequences of COVID. In 2019, Trump changed decades-long policy regarding noncitizens ability to use public health benefits without fear of negative impact upon their immigration status. That is, Trump’s rule penalized noncitizens if they used certain public health benefits, considering it grounds for inadmissibility (ineligibility for “green cards” or visas). This policy change created great confusion and damaged trust in government among immigrant communities. Then, with the arrival of the COVID pandemic, many members of immigrant communities were fearful of seeking healthcare for COVID and later for vaccinations and boosters. Also, as COVID relief policies were established, many noncitizens were left out of benefits, despite their long and crucial contributions to the US workforce and economy. Without financial benefits available to citizens, many noncitizens were forced to continue working in unsafe conditions or were left without financial support if they lost or left their jobs due to the dangers of COVID.

As vaccines rolled out, undocumented immigrants faced identification barriers. Certain vaccination sites requested documentation such as licenses, healthcare cards, or social security numbers, even though such measures were not mandated by state or federal governments. While the government ensured that the request for documentation only applied to those who already possess it, few states communicated this clearly, leaving many immigrants with anxieties. Recently, we have learned that some noncitizens temporary visas were canceled if they obtained COVID vaccinations in the US that were fully or partially paid for by government subsidies.

Now, new problems have arisen with the Omicron variant. In immigrants in detention centers, vaccine access is limited, and sanitation measures are lacking. The infection rate within these centers is three times higher than the national average. Nondetained noncitizen are also at heightened risk for reasons including their overrepresentation in essential jobs that do not allow for remote work.

As they have been for centuries, immigrants are the backbones of our communities, our workforce, and our economy. Yet they face life-threatening discrimiation at all turns. The Biden Administration must take up the plight of noncitizens, create equal protections for them, and provide pathways for healthy, productive, and peaceful futures for them through major immigration law reform.

Changing Terminology

 

Language is a powerful tool. Certain words carry harmful connotations, and their use has major political ramifications. In recognition of this, several states have begun to drop the use of dehumanizing words like “alien” from state laws. The term –– dating back to the enactment of the country’s first naturalization law in 1798 –– implies an unjust idea of “otherness.” Colorado took action earlier this yeat, focusing on eliminating the use of “illegal alien” in public service contracts. The bill was first introduced in February of 2020 and entered law in April of 2020. California passed a similar law in September of this year. The decision echoed previous California laws from 2015 and 2016 that removed the term from state labor and education codes. In total, seven states have considered making the change, many in response to Biden’s related policy initiative. Under the Biden administration, “alien” was changed to “noncitizen” in the terminology of federal agencies, and officials have been discouraged from using the word “illegal” in reference to undocumented immigrants. Libraries and media companies have also been leading a movement towards similar changes around the country.

However, in some places, things are not moving as quickly. A similar proposal  recently failed in Texas. The two states that have made these changes in language are small compared to the larger whole of the country. Furthermore, as progressive as these changes are, they must be accompanied by strong policy plans that will help immigrants in more tangible ways.

 

House Passes Build Back Better Plan

The House passed a massive spending bill this Friday which holds major promise for immigration reform. The Build Back Better Plan would be the largest mass-legalization program for undocumented immigrants in American history. About 7 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country would be eligible to apply for work permits, protecting them from deportation, allowing them to travel internationally, and granting benefits like state driver’s licenses. The bill would also recapture over 400,000 unused green cards.

Despite the successes of the bill, it is a watered-down version of its previous form, and many concessions were made. It does not provide a pathway to citizenship, a promise made during the conception of this bill. More permanent protections must be high priority on the agenda in the future.

 

Biden Administration Expands Protected Areas

The Biden administration recently issued a new guidance barring immigration enforcement in certain protected areas. This includes places offering social services (domestic violence shelters, food banks, facilities for disabled individuals), places where children gather (bus stops, playgrounds, childcare centers, after-school programs, foster care facilities), medical treatment centers (hospitals, doctor’s offices, COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, mental health providers, urgent care centers), civil ceremonies (funerals and weddings), public demonstrations (parades, rallies, political demonstrations), emergency response shelters, and places of worship. Immigration agents cannot make arrests, conduct searches, or serve subpoenas in these places. There are a few exceptions, such as matters constituting a serious threat to national security, and enforcement officers must refer to agency headquarters to be granted an exception. The guidance is a major expansion of a previous Obama era policy, which technically remained in effect during the Trump administration but was mostly ignored. In an interview right before the official announcement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that “individuals should not be restrained or limited in their access to essential services.” The shift could improve the lives of millions of immigrants, especially those whose access to important resources have been affected by anxiety.

President Biden Wants to Address Green Card Processing Delays

 

The White House has said President Biden wishes to address the delays in the Green Card processing system. This came on Friday in White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s response to a question about the waste of about 80,000 unused employment based green card numbers. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has been unable to allocate them to the millions waiting, indicative of larger inefficiencies in the system. 

The issue is popular this week. Earlier, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks introduced the “Preserving Employment Visas Act.” This would allow the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to preserve unused employment based visas for use in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.

Processing delays are a huge issue, as well as complications related to COVID-19. At this point, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is at risk of wasting thousands and thousands of unused employment based visas. This inefficiency, when millions are awaiting Green Cards, is a major loss for all involved. The system must be reformed and more resources must be allocated to solve these delays. It is unjust that lives remain on hold as the government fails to address its own inadequacies.

 

Registration Opens for Diversity Visas

 

The United States Department of State has just announced that registration for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program will open up next week. The United States diversity visa lottery is an important part of the American immigration system. The program awards as many as 55,000 green cards to immigrants from countries around the world. It attempts to promote diversity within the United States.

The registration period is for the 2023 fiscal year. The electronic enrollment period begins Wednesday, October 6th 2021 at 12pm, and will close on Tuesday, November 9th 2021 at 12pm. Interested individuals must submit their applications electronically on the State Department’s website. Participation in the program is free and the application process is simple. Winners will be determined through a randomized computer drawing.

Individuals may only submit one entry per person during each registration period. Failure to follow this rule will lead to automatic disqualification. Officials also recommend registering early, as they predict heavy demand may cause website delays closer to the deadline. No late entries will be accepted.

There are certain simple qualifications. The individual must first be from a qualifying country, which is dependent on immigration trends in the preceding five years. The following countries are excluded:

 

Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (including Hong Kong), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, Venezuela, and Vietnam

 

Individuals must also have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Alternatively, two year’s work experience over the past five years in an eligible field requiring at least two years of training will also suffice.

 

Protests Against Senate Parliamentarian Advisory

The month began with promise. House Democrats worked on creating a pathway to citizenship through the budget reconciliation plan. This legislation aimed to allow about 8 million people (primarily Dreamers, TPS/DED holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers) to apply for green cards. Furthermore, the provision would invest $2.8 billion into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recapture unused green cards, and allow diversity visa lottery winners to reapply if they had been denied visas due to COVID or other travel restrictions. However, this past Sunday, the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough advised against the immigration measure, ruling it inappropriate for inclusion.
Rejecting MacDonough’s ruling as an end to immigration reform via budget reconciliation, thousands of immigrants appeared in Washington to push back on Tuesday. Their march began in Banneker Park, by the Potomac River, stopped at the headquarters of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and finally ended at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer talked to protestors outside the Capitol, promising them his continued commitment to the fight for a pathway to citizenship. At the same rally, Representative Ilhan Omar urged Schumer and the White House to disregard the advice of the Senate parliamentarian. The fate of the provisions is still unknown, but the people have spoken. Let’s hope their voices are heard and their demands for justice finally met.

House Judiciary Committee Marks Up Legislative Proposal for Budget Reconciliation

The House Judiciary Committee spent Monday September 13th marking up their legislative proposal for the $107.5 billion reserved for “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants” in the reconciliation package. They are trying to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. After this process, the text will be combined with the larger Build Back Better reconciliation plan and voted on in the House before moving to the Senate.

 

The first part of the legislation provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS/DED holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers. The provisions in the reconciliation bill would allow about eight million people to qualify for green cards. 

 

The second component is the recapture of unused green cards and the restoration of specific immigrant visas that were made unavailable. The former involves the recapturing and restoration of thousands of unused visas lost due to slow technical processing dating back to 1992. The majority of these will go to family-based visas, alleviating existing visa backlogs. The latter ambition will offer diversity visas to those previously selected in the diversity visa lottery but denied visas due to COVID or other travel ban restrictions. All of those unable to claim visas due to the Muslim ban will be able to reapply. 

 

The final part of the legislation is an investment in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Roughly $2.8 billion will be allocated to increase capacity at USCIS to support adjudication of applications and reduce processing backlogs.

 

This bill is essential. Undocumented immigrants have played a key role in the response to this pandemic, and the recovery of the economy in its wake is dependent upon them. A report by the Center of American Progress found that the country’s economy would expand by $1.7 trillion over 10 years if Congress were to provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated support for the move in a press conference this July, and Senator Bob Mendez of New Jersey has been a vocal advocate for it. It is for the betterment of all that this pathway to citizenship be created.

 

Haiti TPS Registration Open

 

United States Citizen and Immigration Services announced the designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status effective August 3rd, 2021 to February 3rd, 2023. This eighteen month designation allows Haitian nationals, as well as individuals without nationality who last resided in Haiti, to apply for Temporary Protected Status. This designation protects individuals from deportation on the basis of immigration status. United States Citizen and Immigration Services explains in the Federal Register that political crisis, violence, and human rights abuses are the key factors in determining this 18 month TPS designation. 

USCIS estimates that approximately 155,000 individuals are eligible to apply for TPS under the designation of Haiti. All applicants must demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since July 29th, 2021. To determine eligibility, all individuals will undergo security and background checks. All must register during the 18 month registration period, spanning August 3rd, 2021 to February 3rd, 2023. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website encourages all to register as soon as possible within this 18 month registration period. 

 

To read more about Temporary Protected Status, the application process, and USCIS reasoning for the designation, visit https://www.aila.org/infonet/uscis-advance-copy-notice-tps-designation-of-haiti?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily 

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Marriage-Based Green Card Document Guide

We work hard to make your immigration case easy for you. Use this easy guide to help you organize the documents that you would use if you are eligible to submit an application for a marriage-based green card application. You should consult with an attorney to figure out if you are eligible for a green card before you submit any applications or documents to the U.S. government.