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In this post, we summarize all of the major and recent developments taken by USCIS, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These developments directly impact immigration in significant ways that will be discussed in further detail below.

As this situation evolves, we will continue to update this post for your benefit. You may also read all of our COVID-19 related posts here.


USCIS Field Offices, ASCs, and Asylum Offices Temporary Closed to the Public

To combat the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic, on March 18th USCIS announced the temporary closure of field offices, application support centers, and asylum offices, to the public until at least May 3rd.

We suspect that this closure will be further extended given the current public health crisis we are experiencing nationwide.

Applicants who were scheduled to appear for an interview, biometrics, or asylum interview from March 18 to May 3rd will receive a notice in the mail regarding impacted services, as well as a notice rescheduling the appointment.

ASC appointments will be rescheduled once offices are re-opened to the public.

At this time, please continue to be patient and monitor your mail closely.


USCIS Field Office and Service Center Operations Continue

Although USCIS is closing field offices to the public, the agency has stated that office employees will continue to perform mission-essential services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public.

Furthermore, USCIS service centers and facilities continue to operate and will continue to adjudicate petitions filed nationwide.


USCIS Expands RFE/NOID/NOIR/NOIT/I-290B Deadlines

On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced that it will consider any response to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, or NOIT received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice before any action is taken by USCIS.

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On February 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States by a vote of 5-4 stayed the remaining statewide injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which prevented the government from enforcing the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds rule also known as the “public charge” rule in the State of Illinois. A “stay” is a ruling made by a court to stop or suspend a proceeding or trial temporarily.

What this means

The Supreme Court’s ruling means that the government may now enforce the “public charge” rule in the state of Illinois, while it appeals the District Court’s decision.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has spoken. In their unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel of judges held that the President’s decision to rescind the DACA program by way of executive order was arbitrary and capricious.

After a long and contentious hearing in the case, Regents of the University of California v. the United States Department of Homeland Security, the judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, were ultimately convinced that the government’s decision to rescind the DACA program, “was motivated by unconstitutional racial animus in violation of the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment.”

The Court further decided to leave a preliminary injunction in place to give the district court an opportunity to consider whether the Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection claim against the government.

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Today, March 30, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii extended a court order blocking the President’s new travel ban from being enforced. In a 24-page decision, Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii issued a preliminary injunction bringing the President’s executive order to a screeching halt indefinitely. Judge Watson first gained national attention two weeks ago, following his issuance of a temporary restraining order or TRO, which prevented the federal government from enforcing all provisions of the travel ban for a 14-day period. Watson’s TRO was meant to provide temporary relief pending further litigation. The state of Hawaii asked the judge to convert the TRO into a longer-lasting form of relief known as a preliminary injunction, at least until a higher court could issue a permanent ruling. The President’s embattled executive order sought to prevent the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim majority countries including Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Libya and Yemen, for a 90-day period as well as the admission of Syrian refugees for a 120-day period.

In his decision Judge Watson wrote that he based his grant of the preliminary injunction on the strong likelihood that the state of Hawaii would succeed in proving that the travel ban violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution which protects freedom of religion. In addition, the state of Hawaii successfully argued that absent the provisional relief, citizens of the state would be irreparably harmed. Attorneys for the state added that the state’s national economy would suffer in the absence of relief, and that its state universities would also be harmed by the President’s executive order in both the state’s ability to retain and recruit foreign born students and faculty.

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On Wednesday March 15, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order in opposition of President Donald Trump’s new executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” which was set to go into effect today Thursday, March 16, 2017. This will be the second time the President’s executive order has been blocked by a federal court. Among its major provisions the new executive order which was set to go into effect today, called for a 90-day travel ban on non-immigrants of six Muslim countries including Syria, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, and a 120-day travel ban on the admission of refugees into the United States. The executive order had been re-drafted by the Trump administration following the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling invalidating all provisions of the executive order nationwide. To salvage the provisions of the executive order and make good on his campaign promise to eradicate terrorism, the President and his administration attempted to improve the order by removing controversial provisions within the order, affecting legal permanent residents, as well as non-immigrants with valid U.S. visas, otherwise authorized to gain admission to the United States. The order also removed Iraq as one of the countries affected by the order and removed a provision terminating the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States.

In what seems like déjà vu, the new executive order has once again been opposed first by a federal judge in Hawaii, and in a separate action by a federal judge from the state of Maryland who has blocked the 90-day travel ban from being implemented on citizens of the six Muslim majority countries nationwide. In their decisions, both judges mentioned President Trump’s statements during his presidential campaign which called into question the constitutionality of the executive order and its violation of the Establishment Clause. Specifically, President Trump has previously said that terrorism is linked to the Muslim religion, and his administration has identified the six Muslim countries outlined in the order as countries whose citizens have committed terrorist crimes in the United States. The Court has been concerned with the discriminatory effect of the executive order in targeting Muslims. The federal judge from the state of Hawaii noted that the state has “met their burden of establishing a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Establishment clause claim, that irreparable injury is likely if the requested relief is not issued, and that the balance of the equities and public interest counsel in favor of granting the requested relief.” For those reasons, the Court found that a Temporary Restraining Order blocking all provisions of the order was appropriate.

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Following a dramatic turn of events, on Friday, February 3, 2017, a federal judge from the Western District of Washington, issued a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) halting enforcement of the President’s Executive Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” nationwide. The temporary restraining order was issued in response to an emergency motion filed by the state of Washington and Minnesota. The states collectively filed the motion seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the controversial executive order which bans the entry of immigrant and non-immigrant foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) for a 90-day period, suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a 120-day period, and terminates the Syrian refugee program indefinitely.

In his ruling, Judge Robart stated that after hearing arguments, the States adequately demonstrated that they have suffered immediate and irreparable harm because of the signing and implementation of the order, and that granting a TRO would be in the public interest. In addition he stated “the Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States. . . are significant and ongoing.” A three-judge panel from the Ninth Court Court of Appeals is expected to issue a final ruling on the Executive Order tomorrow.

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At the Law Offices of Jacob J. Sapochnick we work closely with clients to address their specialized immigration needs, making their success our number one priority. Many of our clients have experienced immigration issues that could have easily been eliminated with the help of an experienced immigration attorney. Such was the case when our client, we will call him Ernesto, visited our San Diego office to discuss his naturalization case that had gone from bad to worse.

Ernesto had gained permanent residence through marriage to his U.S. Citizen spouse and was ready to apply for naturalization, having remained married to his spouse for at least 3 years before filing his application. Ernesto’s first problem was that he had relied on the assistance of a foreign attorney to prepare and file his application—an attorney who was not licensed to practice law in the United States and was not well versed in immigration law. The attorney had filed his naturalization application without carefully assessing his situation and pin pointing any potential issues he might experience. As a result of his foreign attorney’s incompetence, Ernesto’s application for naturalization was denied and his appeal—also filed by the foreign attorney– was also denied, leaving Ernesto in a very difficult position.

In the Notice of Intent to Deny Ernesto had received USCIS explained the reasons why he had been denied. The main issue was that USCIS was not convinced that he entered his marriage “in good” faith. Furthermore, USCIS argued that Ernesto had failed to present documented evidence proving that he had lived in marital union with his spouse for the 3 years preceding his examination. Due to the fact that USCIS had doubts about the legitimacy of the marital union, they conducted a home inspection at a time that Ernesto was not at his home. During the inspection, the field officers searched the bedroom he shared with his wife and discovered that his clothing was not present. Upon further examination, we found that the officers that conducted the home inspection failed to check the other bedrooms in the home and did not see that his clothing was located in an adjacent bedroom, and not in the room that he shared with his spouse. Ernesto had perfectly legitimate reasons for why he had not been at the home at the time of the inspection, and why his clothing was located in a different room of the house. Ernesto was a businessman and was typically out of town on business trips. On the particular day that the home inspection was conducted, he was out of town on a day business trip. Ernesto had also been traveling to the East Coast frequently for 4-5 months to pursue potential business investments and proposals, leaving his wife behind. Ernesto had been toying with the idea of starting a business on the East Coast, but was not certain if the plans would come to fruition, for that reason his wife had stayed behind across the country while he weighed his options. As a businessman, Ernesto maintained a non-traditional schedule that required him to work long hours, in addition to being apart from his wife. Due to the differences between his schedule and his wife’s schedule he decided to move his clothing to another bedroom so that he would not disturb his wife while he was preparing for his jam packed business schedule. In the end Ernesto’s business plans in the East Coast fell through and he returned to the state of California where he lived with his wife.

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Last week our very own managing attorney Jacob Sapochnick, Esq., and associate attorney Yingfei Zhou, Esq. had the pleasure of attending the 2016 American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Conference on Immigration Law in Las Vegas, Nevada. Together, they bring you the most up to date information on the new N-400 online filing system and new N-400 form, the new customer service tool EMMA—a computer-generated virtual assistant, information regarding delays in adjudication of H-1B extension/transfer applications and Employment Authorization applications, filing tips for H-1B extensions, updates on EB-1C Multinational Executive/Manager green cards, Employment Authorization eligibility for spouses of E-2 and L-1 visa holders, and updates on Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) Decisions.

New Naturalization Form and N-400 Online Filing System

  1. USCIS recently published a new N-400 form on 04/13/2016. Applicants may use the previous 09/13/2013 version until 08/09/2016. Any naturalization applications received on or after 08/10/2016 containing the old form with revision date 09/13/2013 will be rejected and returned to the sender.
  1. USCIS is currently testing a new N-400 online filing system. This system will be available to applicants without legal representation and will eventually become available to applicants represented by an immigration attorney.

New Customer Service Tools EMMA

  1. USCIS is introducing a new customer service tool called EMMA – a computer-generated virtual assistant who can answer your questions and even take you to the right spot on the USCIS website. EMMA is USCIS’ version of ‘Siri’ and is designed to help you navigate the USCIS website. EMMA is available in the Spanish language. So far, EMMA has managed to answer 80% of questions asked.

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Today the Supreme Court of the United States dealt a strong blow to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration issuing a single one-line decision on the ruling “the judgment of the lower court is affirmed by an equally divided court.” Nearly two years ago, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration after the Republican controlled House of Representatives refused to tackle the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. As part of his executive actions on immigration, President Obama announced the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and introduced a new program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, (DAPA) designed to shield nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Following these initiatives, USCIS announced that applications for expanded DACA and the new DAPA program would begin to be accepted on February 18, 2015.

The DACA program would have expanded the population eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to people of any current age who entered the United States before the age of 16 and lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010, and extending the period of DACA and work authorization from two years to three years. The new DAPA program would have granted parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents the opportunity to request deferred action and employment authorization for a three year period, on the condition that they have lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010 and pass required background checks.

On February 16, 2015 just two days before the programs were scheduled to go into effect, Texas along with 25 other states, filed a temporary court injunction ultimately suspending both programs from going into effect. This action prompted the Obama administration to intervene. For months, the federal government and the State of Texas battled one another in federal court. The court ultimately determined that Texas and at least 25 other status had sufficient ‘standing’ to challenge these programs. In response, the federal government filed an emergency motion to stay, however the motion was eventually denied by the court. This led the government to file a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court. The fate of Obama’s executive actions grew all the more uncertain with the sudden death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13th.  President Obama made desperate attempts to fill the vacated seat by nominating Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Efforts to fill the seat were unsuccessful as Republicans vowed to keep Garland from sitting on the bench. Thus, Scalia’s death left behind an eight-person bench, and with no one to fill his seat, the growing possibility of a deadlock within the Supreme Court.

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The Supreme Court justices are currently in deliberations, to decide the fate of Barack Obama’s expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) announced November 2014, as part of the President’s executive actions on immigration. At issue is whether or not the Court will hear arguments for and against lifting the temporary court injunction, which prevented the expanded DACA program and the new DAPA program from moving forward as initially anticipated.

The extended DACA and DAPA provisions were scheduled to go into effect on February 18, 2015, but were quickly blocked by a temporary injunction filed by Texas and 26 other states, just three days before applications for extended DACA and DAPA would have been accepted by USCIS. What has resulted has been a near two-year legal battle between the federal government and the states in question.

Timeline of legal action between the federal government and plaintiffs: