Embassy Updates and New ICE Policies


US Immigration Updates

Which U.S. Embassies are Open

Embassy Opening Information. ICE Updates – arrests and deportations are down – by a lot! The refugee admissions cap was increased by President Biden. Let’s talk about all of those and a little more (including who President Biden wants to head ICE) in US Immigration. 

 

ICE Updates

ICE and DHS will not fine those who have failed to depart. Most people didn’t know this, but for over 20 years ICE could fine people who were non-citizens and were ordered to depart from the US but didn’t. 

Even though the law allowed them to do this, it didn’t happen until 2018. After January 20, 2021, they stopped again but it wasn’t announced to the public that they were stopping this practice until April 23, 2021. They’ve also said they’ll work with the Treasury Department to get rid of any fines that were imposed that people still owe. 

 

New Priority for ICE

I know I’ve mentioned in the past that the Biden Administration is changing the enforcement focus of ICE. During the Trump administration, they focused on deporting everyone, now they are going to focus on deporting criminals (which has been part of Biden’s immigration agenda since he was a Senator).

Let me give you an example of how much this “change of focus” has impacted immigration. In March 2021 – ICE arrested 2,214 people. In December 2020 they arrested over 6,000 people. In December 2020 they deported over 10,000 people and in March they deported 2,866. 

One thing to keep in mind, even though there’s a new President and the agency heads have been changed, there are a large number of strong pro-Trump ICE employees which leads to resistance against what Biden is trying to put into place. The culture at the agency is very much pro-enforcement. Later, I’m going to talk about the person that Biden has proposed as the new head of ICE, I hope he will be approved by the Senate and he will have a positive impact on changing the culture of ICE asap. 

 

Limited Power of ICE to Arrest

GOOD NEWS: On Tuesday, April 27, 2021, DHS said that ICE will no longer arrest people who are at court. 

Why is that good news? 

I know I’ve shared before that my office handles many U Visa cases. That is when you are a victim of a crime. One of the parts of that is that you need to work with law enforcement and this may mean you need to testify against the alleged perpetrator (that’s the person who committed the crime). However, during the Trump administration – since we heard about undocumented immigrants being arrested throughout the US at court – many were afraid to go to court because they were worried they would be arrested there. 

The policy change will allow ICE officers to make civil immigration arrests in or near a courthouse only when it involves a national security matter, a risk of imminent death or harm to anyone, or a hot pursuit involving a public safety threat. Officers may also make an arrest at a courthouse if it appears evidence in a criminal case will be destroyed, and they may request to make an arrest of a public safety threat if there is no safe alternative and they get approval from agency leaders.

The policy will also apply to interviews, surveillance, and subpoenas handed out at or near courthouses.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement to BuzzFeed News “Ensuring that individuals have access to the courts advances the fair administration of justice, promotes safety for crime victims and helps to guarantee equal protection under the law, the expansion of civil immigration arrests at courthouses during the prior administration had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement. Today’s guidance is the latest step in our efforts to focus our civil immigration enforcement resources on threats to homeland security and public safety.”

The policy states: “The courthouse is a place where the law is interpreted, applied, and justice is to be done. As law enforcement officers and public servants, we have a special responsibility to ensure that access to the courthouse — and therefore access to justice, safety for crime victims, and equal protection under the law — is preserved.”

This policy also applies to Customs and Border Patrol so neither agency should be arresting people in courts which will hopefully help both the immigrants and the justice system. 

 

American Families United Act

We had someone on our YouTube channel ask us to talk about the American Families United Act. Don’t confuse this with the American Families Plan which was introduced by the White House and deals more with taxes and tuition for the American people.

The AFUA or H.R. 8707 provides protection from deportation for some members of mixed-status families. It gives the US Attorney General and DHS discretion to allow certain individuals to remain in the US. 

The AFUA was introduced by Representative Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) on October 3, 2020, and it was co-sponsored by Representative Darren Soto (D-Florida) and former Representative Rob Woodall (R-Georgia). It was originally introduced in 2013 by former Representatives Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico).

It is estimated that nearly 1.3 million spouses of U.S. citizens live in the U.S. without authorization and approximately 4.1 million U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 live with at least one undocumented parent.

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which eliminated certain defenses against deportations. It made more crimes (including certain non-violent crimes) automatically punishable by deportation, made it more difficult for unauthorized immigrants to get legal status by restricting access to waivers of inadmissibility, and established lengthy bans for extended periods of unauthorized stay. 

Under IIRIRA, immigrants who remain in the U.S. without authorization for more than one year are subject to a ten-year ban on access to legal status. If an undocumented immigrant falsely claims to be a U.S. citizen, they face a lifetime ban. 

Since IIRIRA was enacted, 270,000 spouses of U.S. citizens have been deported and an additional 340,000 legal immigration applications for spouses of U.S. citizens have been refused. Between 2015 and 2017 alone, ICE deported 87,351 parents of U.S. citizen children.

The American Family United Act intends to stop that. 

Under AFUA, DHS would have the discretion to waive grounds for deportation or inadmissibility, decline to issue or reinstate removal orders, and grant permission to reapply for immigration status for (1) the spouse of a U.S. citizen or (2) the parent of a U.S. citizen child if the other parent is either a U.S. citizen or was a U.S. citizen at the time of his or her death.

DHS or the Attorney General would also have the discretion to provide relief from deportation in cases where doing so would (1) serve humanitarian purposes or (2) preserve family unity for U.S. citizens.

For those who get upset that we are letting anyone stay in the US, the bill lists a series of criminal offenses and other grounds that would deny access to discretionary relief from either DHS or the Attorney General, including if the individual has been convicted of an aggravated felony, charges associated with drug and human trafficking, or money laundering.

So what that means is the people who are convicted of really bad crimes wouldn’t be able to get a waiver and remain in the US. I think we all agree that is the way it should be. But for many, who haven’t committed a crime, it would allow families to stay together to keep the families strong. 

As with all immigration reform, there is an uphill battle with Republicans wanting to show they support Trump by being very resistant to allowing for any changes to existing policy. As things move forward, I’ll be sure to tell you here. 

If you like to find out about that and other updates on immigration in the US, be sure to subscribe to or follow our channel and hit the bell on YouTube so that you’re notified when we produce new videos. 

 

Raising the Refugee Ceiling

A few weeks ago, I talked about how many (including us) were upset with President Biden for saying he would not raise the cap on refugees allowed into the US from what President Trump had set it at. President Trump set it lower than it had been in the 1980s to only 15,000. Well, there was immediate pushback, and the next day Biden said he would raise it but didn’t indicate what that number would be. I am happy to report that on May 3, 2021, President Biden announced he would raise the refugee ceiling to 62,500. 

Many within the immigration community were ecstatic to hear this news, here is a quote from one of them: Michele Suffridge, Executive Director, Refugee Hope Partners, Raleigh, North Carolina said: “I am thrilled that President Biden has raised the refugee cap to the 62,500 that he promised during his campaign. The legacy of refugee resettlement is strong.  These families arrive in our country having weathered unfathomable tragedy, giving up everything they have ever known for the possibility of a safe future. Many churches are activated and ready to welcome new neighbors to our city. Refugee Hope Partners exists to love our refugee neighbors with the hope of the gospel in partnership with the local church. We are privileged to walk alongside them as neighbors and friends so that ALL may thrive.”

I do want to talk about refugees for a minute because I feel like people hear this number was increased and they immediately think that hundreds of thousands of people will be over-running the US. 

 

Who is a Refugee?

First, let’s talk about who a refugee is. 

A refugee is a person outside the U.S. seeking refuge. The U.S., based on international law, defines “refugee” as a person outside the country of his or her nationality, who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  It is the same standard as Asylum which is only offered for those already inside the US.

The legal basis for humanitarian admissions of refugees and asylum seekers to the United States began with the Refugee Act of 1980, which defined a refugee, established the Reception and Placement (R&P) program for initial resettlement under the U.S. Department of State, and created the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

There were approximately 26 million refugees worldwide as of fiscal year (FY) 2020, the U.S. currently resettles just a tiny portion of that number. Less than 1 percent of the total number of displaced people in the world have been resettled to one of 37 current resettlement countries each year.

The cap represents the maximum number of refugees that may be resettled in a year. During the Trump administration, this cap was reduced every year and the Administration only resettled 11,814 people as refugees in FY 2020 even though the cap was 15,000. 

In 2016 the US resettled 85,000 refugees, in FY 2017 54,000. In FY 2018 the cap was reduced to 45,000, then in 2019 further reduced to 30,000 and 2020 to 15,000 but as I said they resettled a little under 12,000. Now, I would love to see Biden move the cap back to 85,000 or higher.

It takes an average of two years to screen and vet a refugee. This was BEFORE COVID and USCIS have said to expect a doubling in the time to process applications due to COVID so that could now be four years or longer. 

For those who are worried that anyone can enter as a refugee that is simply not true. Every refugee must go through several rounds of background screenings and interviews under USRAP (United States Refugee Admissions Program). 

There is an initial screen by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and then one of the nine Resettlement Centers around the world collects the biographical information. 

After the State Department makes a preliminary approval, the application is reviewed by USCIS. 

There is an in-person interview with USCIS before they allow someone to re-settle in the US. 

They must also go through a health screening and before entering the US they go through a cultural orientation. 

When they enter the US they are checked by CBP (customs and border patrol) to ensure they are the person who was approved. 

 

Domestic Resettlement Agencies for Refugees

There are nine domestic resettlement agencies that work with DHS and DOS. They arrange for housing, furniture, clothing, and transportation to their new homes. Refugees are given a loan to come to the US but they must start repaying it once they arrive. Upon arrival, refugees are given an EAD (employment authorization document) so they can start working immediately. All refugees must apply for a green card within one year of arrival and after five years they are eligible to apply to become a citizen. 

As you can imagine this takes a while, and I’m sure to those applying – doesn’t seem fast at all. I continue to hope that the Biden administration figures out a way to speed up the processing for refugees and all immigrants. 

 

New Leader for ICE

Let’s talk for a minute about Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Who is that you might be asking.  

That is the person that President Biden nominated to direct ICE. But who is Ed Gonzalez? 

He is currently a sheriff in Harris County, Texas. He is also co-chair of the Law Enforcement Task Force. Sheriff Gonzalez has lived in Houston his whole life. He worked for the Houston Police Department for 16 years (until 2009) before serving on the Houston City Council for six years and then being elected as the Sheriff in 2016 – and being sworn in in 2017. 

While Sheriff Gonzalez was on the Houston City Council he chaired the council’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee and served as Houston’s Mayor Pro-Tem. 

During the Trump Administration Sheriff Gonzalez was a very vocal critic of the practices put into place against immigrants and carried out by ICE.

During his first term as sheriff Gonzalez ended a program with ICE that trained 10 Harris County deputies to determine the immigration status of prisoners, and hold those in the country illegally for deportation.

As sheriff, he also opposed Texas legislation requiring local law enforcement to determine individuals’ immigration status, according to The Texas Tribune. The legislation was viewed as targeting so-called “sanctuary cities.” Gonzalez, like many in law enforcement, said the approach would destroy trust and make their job protecting communities more difficult.

I think Sheriff Gonzalez is a good choice for this position. He will still need to be confirmed by the Senate and it isn’t clear when that will happen. 

Ali Noorani, President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum had this to say about the nomination: “The nomination of Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to lead ICE is an excellent choice that would bring much-needed permanent leadership — and a risk-based, more humane, measured approach — to our nation’s immigration enforcement. 

His proven track record of pushing for smarter immigration enforcement, as well as advocating for Dreamers in his community, is an encouraging sign that he would run ICE with both practicality and compassion.

For too long our approach to immigration enforcement has only driven immigrants further into the shadows as families are separated and law-abiding community members are targeted for deportation. With Sheriff Gonzalez’s leadership, we are optimistic that ICE’s approach can instead be one that focuses valuable law enforcement resources on threats to public safety, prioritizing community trust. Such a shift will make all Americans safer.

 

US Southern Border

Let’s talk a minute about the border as this seems to be on everyone’s mind. 

On April 22nd a bi-partisan bill (that means one with both Democrats and Republicans) was introduced to help address concerns at the US/Mexican border. 

The bill, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), seeks to improve and expedite the processing of recent arrivals, including asylum seekers while providing additional resources and facilities along the border.

I’m sure you’ve heard in the news how families that have been apart for months are being reunited and children are moving out of DHS custody. 

I hope these positive steps continue along with quicker processing for all immigrants. 

 

Embassy and Consulate Updates

Almost daily we are asked about embassy and consulate openings. As I’ve mentioned before you should check that particular agency’s website for updates on their openings.

I think sometimes people might wonder why I interchange the words embassy and consulate so I wanted to take a minute and explain how they are different. Then I’m going to talk briefly about a lawsuit against Manila and Moscow because they aren’t issuing visas as they should. 

 

What Is the Difference Between an Embassy and a Consulate?

Both embassies and consulates are diplomatic offices. Embassies are usually larger. They are most often located in the country’s capital city. An embassy is responsible for representing the home country, for handling major diplomatic issues (such as negotiations), and for preserving the rights of its citizens abroad. The ambassador is the highest official in the embassy and acts as the chief diplomat and spokesperson for the home government. Ambassadors are typically appointed by the highest level of the home government. In the United States, ambassadors are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Usually, if a country recognizes another as being sovereign, an embassy is established to maintain foreign relations and aid traveling citizens. 

A consulate is a smaller version of an embassy and is most often found in the larger tourist cities of the country, but not usually its capital. Consulates (and their chief diplomat, the consul) handle minor diplomatic issues such as issuing visas, aiding in trade relationships, and taking care of migrants, tourists, and expatriates.

In addition, the United States has Virtual Presence Posts (VPPs) to assist people around the world in learning about the United States and the areas in which the VPP is focused. These were created so that the United States could have a presence in important areas without physically being there. The areas with the VPPs do not have permanent offices and staff and are run by other embassies. Some examples of VPPs include the VPP Santa Cruz in Bolivia, the VPP Nunavut in Canada, and the VPP Chelyabinsk in Russia. There are about 50 VPPs worldwide.

I know that many people are very frustrated by the delays in processing visas. Countries have opened back up but the embassies and consulates are not processing applications and are not doing interviews. In fact, we had someone on our YouTube channel ask us why Manila (that’s in the Philippines) was only having two interviews a month. We can’t usually answer questions about individual practices, unfortunately. We can pass along the knowledge that we have from the immigration community but as this may change daily we recommend that you check the local website for the most up-to-date information. 

 

Embassy Openings

As of April 29, 2021, this is what we know about different embassies:

 

Philippines

The U.S. Embassy Manila has resumed certain nonimmigrant visa services, including in the F, M, and certain J categories, C1/D, E, I, O, an P visas, and certain immigrant visas including IR1, IR2, CR1, CR2, and EB3 nurses.

 

Mexico

Visa services are limited and vary by city. 

 

United Kingdom

The U.S. Embassy in Belfast and the U.S. Consulate in Belfast currently are open for emergency visa services only. 

 

Dominican Republic

The U.S. Embassy in Santa Domingo is offering limited routine immigrant visa services. Limited routine work and student visas services have resumed. Tourist visa services remain suspended. 

 

Thailand

The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General in Thailand has resumed routine nonimmigrant and immigrant visa services. Applicants are also able to renew their visa by mail.

 

Brazil

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Brazil have suspended routine nonimmigrant visa appointments. Immigrant visa services currrently are offered on an emergency basis only.

 

Nigeria

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja and Consulate General in Lagos are offering limited non-immigrant and immigrant visa services.

 

Colombia

The U.S. Embassy Bogotá has suspended routine nonimmigrant visa operations. A limited number of immigrant visa services are available.

 

India

The U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata have suspended all visa services until May 15 and at the Consulate in Mumbai until May 28.

 

China

The U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou has resumed processing of fiance(e) and immigrant visa applications. Nonimmigrant visa services are suspended at the U.S Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. Consulates General in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.

 

Ukraine

The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is currently offering immigrant visa appointments in every category, and a limited number of nonimmigrant visas, mostly for C1/D crew members.

 

Russia

Routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa services are currently suspended.

 

Vietnam

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City are offering all nonimmigrant and immigrant visa services.

 

Indonesia

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta is offering immigrant visa services in all categories. The United States Embassy in Jakarta and Consulate General Surabaya have resumed limited appointments for all nonimmigrant visa categories.

 

Canada

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada have resumed certain non-emergency nonimmigrant visa services. The U.S. Consulate General in Montreal is open for immigrant visa appointments and will prioritize immediate relative visas of U.S. citizens

 

You can check the schedule for visa wait times at the DOS website. You can go to their site and type in a city and it will tell you the processing times for different visas. If it says 999 days as it does for visitor visas in Manila, that means that the embassy is only providing that service on an emergency basis. 

 

Manila and Moscow Embassies Facing Lawsuits

That brings me to my next update, because Manila has been so very slow, and isn’t issuing K1 visas as they are supposed to a lawsuit was filed against the DOS specific to this embassy and the one in Moscow, who is also not processing K1 visas. 

Now, this is probably going to be impacted by worsening relations between the US and Russia. On April 30th, 2021 Russia retaliated against the US and said they would stop processing visas starting May 12, 2021, due to the US’ “unfriendly actions.” 

What is going on you might be asking. The US Embassy in Moscow said it was cutting staff and would stop processing visas for most Russians. The embassy said it was cutting consular staff by 75% and that from May 12 it would stop processing non-immigrant visas for non-diplomatic travel after a new Russian law imposed limits on how much local staff can work at foreign diplomatic missions.

This means that people in Russia who are not diplomats or green card applicants will no longer be able to apply inside their country for visas to visit the US for tourism or other purposes. The video part 2 stops here

The United States imposed sanctions on Russia this month for an alleged malignant activity, including interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, and “bullying” neighboring Ukraine.

Moscow retaliated with sanctions against the United States and has rejected U.S. criticism of its treatment of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. When Putin signed the law limiting local staff employed at diplomatic missions last week, he also told the government to draw up a list of “unfriendly” states to be subject to the restrictions.

A draft list published by Russian state TV suggests the United States is one of the countries that will be on it. “We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular workforce by 75%,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement. This statement is on the State Department website and says, in part: “Effective May 12, U.S. Embassy Moscow will reduce consular services offered to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas…

If you are resident in Russia and require a new U.S. passport to remain legally present, or if you require an emergency U.S. passport for a demonstrable, life or death emergency (booking travel with an expired U.S. passport does not qualify) please send an email to [email protected] and we will work to accommodate your request. Providing emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia may also be delayed or limited due to staff’s constrained ability to travel outside of Moscow.

If you are a U.S. citizen present in Russia and your visa has expired, we strongly urge you to depart Russia before the June 15 deadline set by the Russian government. If you plan to remain in Russia past this deadline, please visit your local Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) office to start the necessary paperwork as recently suggested by MVD.  Embassy Moscow is unable to answer any specific questions about Russian residency or Russian visas, as this process is managed entirely by the Russian government.”

So, there’s a lawsuit of K1 applicants against Moscow and Manila for not issuing K1 visas. At this time I don’t know how the reduction in staff will impact this lawsuit but as I find out more I will keep you updated. 

 

Travel Restrictions in India

You may also be wondering about the travel restrictions from India. These went into effect on May 4, 2021, due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases there.

Are there any exemptions? The US has an exemption for US Citizens, permanent residents, and their families. Even if you are exempt from the restriction, you will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test.

The US is accepting all temporary residents, permanent residents, and citizens traveling to the US from India. If you fall under one of these categories, you may still face issues at the US border due to the restrictions. 

Now I want to answer one question I got on my YouTube channel that I thought was very interesting and thought others might be interested in. 

 

Should I Live with A Family Member that I Sponsored to the US?

We had a viewer who asked if they were sponsoring a family member when that person comes to the US, do they need to live with them. 

Let’s talk about that. 

When you sponsor someone – which could be a spouse, child, parent, or sibling – you are agreeing that you will be financially responsible for that person for a certain period of time. This means if they need government assistance you may have to pay the government back for any assistance they receive. 

But does that mean they have to live with you? No, it does not. Of course, if you were sponsoring a spouse, I would recommend that you live together while you are proving that you have a bona fide relationship. Remember, the burden is on YOU to prove you have a bona fide relationship, and living together (and having bills together) is one way to do that. 

 

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