I am pleased to serve on AILA’s national USCIS Field Operations Directorate Liaison committee. We present issues that AILA members have to the head of USCIS Field Operations for discussion. We meet twice a year in Washington, DC to discuss these issues directly.
I attended the April 10th meeting with Mr. Donald J. Monica, Associate Director, Field Operations and others national staff of USCIS. Here is a brief summary of some of the most important issues we discussed.
- Same-Sex Marriage Adjudications
On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12 (2013), held that restricting U.S. federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions, by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was unconstitutional. Following that landmark decision USCIS announced that they would recognize same-sex marriages as a valid basis to seek immigration benefits for the foreign national spouse. We praised USCIS’s handling of same sex marriage cases since there was consensus from AILA members all across the country they have been doing an excellent job in this area. We learned they reopened 154 cases that had been denied prior to the Windsor decision and all but 8 of these had been resolved.
- Interviews and Delays
AILA members have reported that wait times for interviews at USCIS field offices can vary anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, or longer. National USCIS agreed that consistent delays of over 45 minutes are a concern and should be reported to them.
We also discussed the different methods that local offices use for calling their cases, generally referred to as the top of the pile (currently used here in Seattle and Oregon) vs the bundled approach. We learned that National USCIS did a study of these different methods a few years ago and determined that there was no significant difference in the efficiencies between the two methods.
- Parole-in-Place Adjudications
INA §212(d)(5)(A) gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to parole for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit” any foreign national applying for admission to the United States. On November 15, 2013, USCIS issued guidance to ensure the consistent adjudication of parole requests (PIP) made on behalf of non-citizens who are present without admission or parole and who are spouses, children, and parents of those who are serving or have served in the U.S. military. We wanted to confirm that PIP remained available for nonmilitary cases. National USCIS confirmed that is available, but that it is used “sparingly”.
They also confirmed that PIP applicants do not have to file for or have an immediate path to adjustment of status and that advance parole is available to PIP beneficiaries.
- Matter of Arrabally/Yerrabelly Cases
In April 2012 the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that individuals who depart the U.S. on advance parole do not trigger the 3 or 10 year bar (for having been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 6 months or a year.) Matter of Arrabally/Yerrabelly, 25 I&N Dec. 771 (BIA 2011). This is a very important decision that potentially provides a way for people who are in the U.S. to depart and seek to legalize their status on their return.
AILA had received reports that some USCIS Field Offices were holding adjudication of cases impacted by Matter of Arrabally/Yerrabelly until guidance was provided by national USCIS. National USCIS advised that the field offices should not be holding cases in abeyance pending guidance related to Matter of Arrabally/Yerrabelly, with the narrow exception of cases where the applicant is inadmissible under section 212(a)(9)(A) of the Act.
- The New N-400 (Naturalization) Application Form
With AILA’s National Citizenship Day coming up at the end of April, we were very concerned about the new N-400 form. The form appeared to require that applications from individuals over 26 years of age who did not register with the Selective Service would be rejected at filing if no Selective Service “status letter” accompanied the N-400 application. We asked for clarification regarding this and National USCIS agreed that, at least for now, such applications could proceed to an interview even if they did not have a SS “status letter”. However, the applicant may be asked for the letter at his/her interview.