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Gathering Necessary Documents for Deferred Action Application

As immigrants hoping to benefit from President Obama’s executive action await the publication of forms and the official start of the application process, many are now looking to collect the necessary supporting documents showing their eligibility for the immigration relief.

The President’s new initiatives, the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), are expected to protect from deportation an estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants and provide them with work permits.

The DAPA program extended eligibility for deferred action to certain parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Meanwhile, the expanded DACA eliminated the age cap of 31 years under the original program and moved the eligibility cut-off date for continuous residence in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.

Under both programs, applicants are required to prove continuous residence in the U.S. For many undocumented immigrants living in the shadows and who have, for the most part, worked “under the table,” used fake names, and tried to remain hidden for fear of deportation, the task of documenting their continuous residence in the U.S. may seem overwhelming.

Also, since the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has yet to release specific guidance as to what types of documents will be acceptable, many immigrants are finding it even harder to know exactly what documents to collect.

Fortunately, experience from the initial DACA program launched two years ago has provided advocates some guidance as to what type of documents applicants should be looking for. These include medical records, school records such as diplomas, report cards, and school transcripts, and financial records such as tax records, bank statements, credit card bills and phone bills.

The USCIS also accepted vehicle registrations, baptism records, mortgages, and postmarked letters under the initial DACA program. Because some of these documents are not readily available to the undocumented, advocates recommend that applicants make use of any evidence they might have to establish their presence in the U.S.

Advocates have used, among others, social media postings in the form of Facebook photos, movie rental receipts, and customer loyalty programs with transaction history details.

Also, applicants are urged to collect at least one document per month for each month until the application is submitted. If the applicant is not able to account for a gap during the relevant period, advocates have suggested obtaining affidavits from people who have personal knowledge of their presence in the U.S.

For DAPA applicants, they should start obtaining copies of their child’s birth certificate, naturalization certificate or green card.

Critics of the program have indicated that the system is open to fraud. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson promised to review safeguards.

The anti-fraud unit of the USCIS has been expanded and it has increased “the scope and frequency” of fraud investigations. Former USCIS anti-fraud unit head, Louis D. Crocetti, has recommended “more random interviews of applicants and periodic home visits for recipients.”

The USCIS plans to begin accepting applications for the expanded DACA program in February and the DAPA program in May.

Delays in Immigrant Visa Processing

The rapid movement of EB-3 priority dates particularly the Philippine EB-3 which advanced by 6 years and 3 ½ months last year was great news to Filipino nurses who had been waiting for many years for their visa numbers. However, this, along with the large increase of approved cases from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have created a significant backlog at the National Visa Center (NVC).

As a result of the increased number of cases being handled by the NVC, it has been experiencing delays in the processing of immigrant visa applications.

The NVC receives and handles the processing of approved immigrant visa petitions from the USCIS. If a visa number is available, the agency notifies the applicant and collects relevant fees as well as financial and civil documents. It also reviews DS-260 immigrant visa applications which are completed and submitted online.

When documents are deemed complete, the agency coordinates with U.S. embassies abroad to set up interview schedule and forwards the cases to them. Meantime, visa petitions which are not current are filed and stored until they become current.

The number of cases received by the NVC in the past year increased from about 8,000 cases per week to around 25,000 cases per week. Case creation alone took 45 days last summer. At present, processing delays of at least 60 days is expected at the document review stage. Responding to email inquiries takes about 25 days.

For fiscal year 2014, the NVC had a total of 2.6 million cases. It received from the USCIS 709,000 cases. 99,000 cases were current family-based petitions. It forwarded a total of 349,000 cases to U.S. consular offices abroad.

Previously, the NVC required original civil documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and police certificates, among others. In order to reduce processing wait times, the NVC has adopted a new policy requiring visa applicants to submit only photocopies of civil documents. Applicants who are required to submit Affidavits of Support, however, are still required to submit the forms in the original. Also, original supporting documents are required at the time of interview.

The processing delays at the NVC has caused frustration to many visa applicants. Affidavit of support issues, for instance, have resulted in the “back and forth” between the applicant and the NVC which resulted in longer wait times.

In a meeting between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the NVC, the NVC addressed the issue and confirmed that if the information submitted is “objectively complete and if taken as true would satisfy the affidavit of support requirements”, the application should be allowed to move forward.

The NVC also confirmed that where the discrepancy as indicated on the Affidavit of Support and in the supporting evidence is minimal, the examiners are encouraged to exercise reasonable judgment and permit the case to move forward as long as evidence submitted satisfies the legal requirement. The NVC is currently addressing the issue by training its examiners.

These are only some of the many issues addressed by the NVC. The agency reports that it is working diligently in its effort to reduce processing delays.

Deportations Dropped in 2014

A consolidated enforcement statistics released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows that for the fiscal year 2014, DHS returned and removed from the country a total of 577,295 undocumented immigrants. The number of deportations reported at 414,651 was down by 23,940 or 5 percent from the 438,421 deportations in 2013. 162,814 inadmissible aliens voluntarily returned to their country of origin or withdrew their application for admission.

The report also shows that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the DHS, made a total of 315,943 removals and returns. Apprehensions made by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency in charge of protecting the borders, totaled 486,651, most of which were along the southwest border.

The consolidated statistics from the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, ICE, and CBP was reported and released together for the first time in line with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s effort to promote transparency and improve the agency’s manner in collecting and reporting statistics.

Impacting enforcement operations was the surge of Central American families and unaccompanied children illegally crossing the border. According to the report, the Border Patrol apprehensions of individuals coming from Mexico dropped 14 percent while there was a 68 percent increase of individuals coming from other countries who were caught at the border, a vast majority of those coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Deportation of individuals coming from other countries require more time and resources compared to Mexican nationals. They would need to be housed while they are being processed for removal and would need air transportation to return them to their home countries.

The report also reveals that of the 315,943 individuals removed and returned by ICE, 213,719 were apprehended while attempting to illegally enter the U.S. and 102,224 were apprehended inside the country. Eighty-five percent of the interior removals and returns involved aliens convicted of crimes.

The number was significantly up from the number of criminals removed in fiscal year 2011 which was only 67 percent. Also, 98 percent of ICE Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) removals and returns were under an enforcement priority category.

This is a result of the government’s continued efforts to “refine its enforcement priorities” by focusing its resources on the removal of those who are considered threats to public safety and national security.

Because interior enforcement operations on convicted criminal aliens especially those at-large require significantly more resources and time, this contributed to the decline in the number of deportations for fiscal year 2014.

The report also noted that the decrease in the number of deportations was attributed to the refusal of state and local enforcement to cooperate with ICE detainers or request to detain dangerous criminals or priority individuals for subsequent transfer to ICE custody. 10,182 ICE detainers were not honored in fiscal year 2014 which required more resources in the apprehension of criminal aliens at-large.

Meanwhile, a total of 8,013 individuals convicted of serious crimes were apprehended by Border Patrol officers at ports of entry. A total of 223,712 inadmissible individuals were also stopped at port of entries or an increase of more than 9 percent from fiscal year 2013.

According to Secretary Johnson, “DHS’s 2014 year-end enforcement statistics demonstrate that our front line officers and agents continue to execute their critical mission in a smart and effective way, focusing our resources on convicted criminals and those attempting to illegally cross our nation’s borders.” Although they have met many challenges, he indicated that “DHS components have adjusted and continue to successfully secure our borders and protect our communities.”

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