How the Corona Virus Is Impacting US Immigration Today

Andres Mejer, immigration attorney and author, joined CW26 Chicgo’s TheJAM TV show to talk about how the corona virus pandemic is impacting immigrants and immigration in the US. Mr. Mejer talks to hosts, Felicia Lawrence, Jon Hansen (whose husband successfully completed his green card interview this past year) and Amy Rutledge about questions many immigrants have

Transcript (Transcripción):

Hosts All right. I think we’re ready with our next guest and really a difficult time for a lot of folks that are dealing with immigration laws and navigating through that, it’s always difficult.

Hosts But of course, here during the Corona virus epidemic, even more so. Andre Spier from I believe or Meharry, he joined us from New Jersey this morning.

Andres Mejer I am sorry. I would love to be there in person. I love Chicago.

Hosts Well, thanks for joining us. Obviously, you know, times are always tough, especially over the last few years in terms of immigration law and people navigating through that. What is the coronavirus done to folks that are trying to navigate the difficult waters of immigration law?

Andres Mejer Made life a living nightmare, and yet, like everybody else? Really, why? Why should their lives be any different than the rest of our own?

Hosts Well, we’ve talked about how this experience is exposing issues that are already happening in our community, just making them worse.

Andres Mejer I mean, look, you look at most immigrants in the United States, those that are undocumented don’t have work authorization. You know, all of the plans that we’re talking about, the monetary benefits or loans or grants, they’re not eligible for any of them. And predominantly they’re in at risk jobs because you’re for the most part, those are undocumented or low skilled labor. So you’re talking restaurants, landscape construction. How many construction projects are going on? Or had been pulled because we don’t know. They don’t know where funding is coming from. Are they going to  be able to afford it or not? So a lot of my clients are just. Well, they’re in the jam.

Hosts And then what do right. The show and then the health care alone. Like even if they think they have symptoms, where do they get health care from?

Andres Mejer So a lot of the questions that we get are they look, February, the public charge came into effect. That’s another ground that the government is now making to make someone ineligible for a Green Card. So the question is, I have symptoms. Do I go to the hospital? How am I going to pay for it? Can I qual? A question I got just yesterday, does charity care disqualify me from my Green Card process? It doesn’t, but. They don’t know.

Hosts Right. Well, what people, whole people who are immigrants, would they be concerned also of getting for lack of better where it’s getting turned down if they go to the hospital and reveal that kind of information or build their citizenship status?

Andres Mejer So really, they shouldn’t be revealing. It’s not a question for how are you feeling? Are you a U.S. citizen? Those aren’t questions that should be asked at the hospital. But to your point. Yes, there is a great deal of concern. Now, ICE said as a policy, they don’t go into hospitals, they don’t go into schools, they don’t go into churches. ICE has also said under these circumstances like Today World, they’re only going to pursue immigrants under a priority system, meaning almost what Obama did. If you’re a criminal with a significant Mittleman traffic violation, I’m not going to significant criminal charge. They’re going to come looking for you. But in the main they’re not. Now, that could change tomorrow. Right. Changed yesterday. They didn’t announce it. So, yes.

Is there a concern? Absolutely. Which is why we’re telling all our clients and frankly, anybody who’s listening. You know, do you have a path? Do you have some means to change your status if you don’t know? Find out if you do. Don’t wait. There are attorneys who are still working and still, you know, and granted, it’s all Zoom meetings, every one of my clients now Zoom meeting. I have people now in Texas, Florida, Boston. They’re so thrilled that we’re doing Zoom. I’m not sure I’m thrilled, but I’d like to know. I don’t want to be as available. It’s really challenging to change our hold system to from in-person to remote. You guys do a fantastic job by the way.

Hosts I have to say I have a very limited experience in the immigration thing where my husband was was born in Mexico, raised in Mexico, came here to get his education in Michigan, worked here without all the proper visa. It was great. We got married, went the Green Card application and still sitting down in front of that person as they grill you on question. And every sort of question was frightening, as can be. And I cannot imagine for someone that has been here for some time illegally that is trying to do the right thing. What can you what advice do you give for people that are just so scared to even start that process because they’re afraid where that road may lead?

Andres Mejer So one step at a time. One question, one issue at a time. The only way I have to combat fear is knowledge, if I know. Yes. ICE, though, how many interviews have I done? You know, with immigration? I lost track a long time ago. But even still, I know that you never know what’s going to happen. I’ll give you a perfect example. About two months ago, I had husband-wife client. They’re applying for their citizenship. He’s in. He he’s 82. His wife was seventy five. He’s deaf in one year. Has a hearing aid in the other. Doesn’t. Couldn’t. Could do it in his native language because he was eligible to do so. Wife has no issues whatsoever. They both speak some level of English. They’re not perfect. A husband who I was concerned about had no issue whatsoever.

The translator was there on the phone right in front of him. No problems. The officer was very patient. Wife comes in. Different officer. The there’s no translator in person. It has to be through language line. The phone is nine feet away from us. We can’t hear her and she can’t hear us. And the officer wants to adjourn. I had to fight and speak to a supervisor twice until they got an in-person translator. Turns out there was an officer who Spanish speaking native left and everything went through fantastically. But on paper. These people have no negatives whatsoever. You know, they’ve been here for over 20 years. And an officer, for whatever reason, decided, I’m going to make your life difficult. You going to come back another day?

Hosts That crazy. And Enrique. It was basically a full time job navigating the paperwork. We didn’t go with the lawyer and for a lot of that time I thought, what are we doing?

Andres Mejer So the good news is immigration is accustomed to dealing with people who have master’s degrees and no education and everything in between. But I would suspect that your experience might have been different, you know, if you had done it in the past two years. Right. I don’t know when it happened.

Hosts Last year.

Andres Mejer Wow. Listen, you’re a success, right? That’s .

Hosts It was like a perfect we were OK and we knew that we were OK. Even still, that was nerve racking. And I know it’s a federal building, but it was even intimidating walking into every federal building. There’s a picture of the president that everyone walks by a couple times now. That was the same under Obama. It’s been the same under every administration. But there certainly is a representation of what immigration law is. And it’s a lot different now than it used to be.

Andres Mejer So, yeah, the funny part is or maybe it’s not so funny. It isn’t that the law has changed because, you know, the law requires bills approved by Congress and signed by the president. So the laws have not changed. Right. But the mentality has changed completely. USCIS and other immigration agencies have gone from how can I help you across the finish line? Let me give you the benefit of the doubt, too. How can I deny you either on substance grounds or on procedural grounds? I just want to say no. And I’m looking for any way to say no. So I’m glad that it worked out for you, but, you know, there were no my clients not to do.

Hosts Right. Oh, it was there. It was nerve racking for me. Enrique was cool as a cucumber. I was freaking out all day. I get to that another time.

Andres Mejer You know, so it’s there. How have immigrants been affected by the coronavirus? There’s really about four different ways. It really it just depends on what their status is. So are they like John and Enrique? Are they. So Enrique was here in the United States. I’m assuming, he filed. You filed a petition for him. The two of you had an interview. So before that, he was fingerprinted. Got a notice in the mail to show up. Had to show up. Well, what happens if he gets the notice to get fingerprinted today? And it’s Closed?.

Hosts Yeah. Oh, wow. I can’t even imagine this now time

Hosts Or what happens if he goes for an interview and he’s been waiting for for a year.

Hosts Or a doctor’s office. He had to get all those forms under the doctor’s office. A lot of schools are taking people right now.

Andres Mejer That’s true. Thats a 693 form.

Hosts Are there families where where you’ve got a couple or one member of the family who has already gotten their status and they’re trying to get the rest, their family here now. The borders are shut down. And so there’s those kinds of issues.

Andres Mejer So I was saying four different kinds. So one of them is you’re in the United States and you have a process and now you’re stopped because of a because the Corona virus and you can’t get fingerprinted or you can’t go to the interview. So the notice that you receive, if you look at the bottom portion, has instructions for what if you can’t make it? What if you have to reschedule? So what would immigration have said is, listen, USCIS calls for in-person appointments up until May 3rd. Anybody with an appointment before then, they will be automatically rescheduled.

What I’m suggesting to anybody who listens is don’t wait for the government to reschedule. You put in your notice, put in your request and keep a copy of it. Because mistakes are going to be made. You’re going to want to get a denial, which will happen. So people will get outright denied for not showing up when they couldn’t show up. So document that you made that request so that when something like that happens, say, wait a minute, I did the right thing. What else did you want me to do? Right. And you know, but you may have to file an appeal for that. Which, of course, costs more money.

Hosts Yeah. It sounds like it’s like most things you’ve got to do your best to be proactive.

Andres Mejer Correct. Correct.

Hosts I want to get to the record that, well, it scared the USCIS. Everyone was very professional and courteous and all that. For the record, in case anyone is listening, that should be. And I appreciated that. But is it scare? I don’t know how much I want to say about what happened. Did you never know? But I have a broader question, kind of a zoom out.

Andres Mejer Absolutely.

Hosts So I think that there is a lot of people on both sides of the argument here, some people that want no immigration coming into the country and they’re extremely loud about it and kick everyone out here that’s ever been here illegally. There’s people that want full and complete amnesty or open borders, as you say. But I think that those people are on the vast minority of both sides. The majority of Americans, I think, have a very similar take on what needs to happen. And we got close to a deal under the last administration. Why? Politically, are we not able to move this ball forward where a vast majority of the country believe in some sort of middle ground for immigration?

Andres Mejer Well, if I was the president, let would be easy for me anyway. You know that that is the question, right? Why have we shown a lack of political will when the majority of the constituency are in favor of some kind of reform? And it’s not hard to figure out what reform it needs to be. You need five. You want security? Sure. Look, I’m an Israeli citizen. At least I was before I became a U.S. citizen. I don’t have a problem with the war. You know, you want to build a wall. Fine. How are you going to build the wall over large parts of water? That’s a separate issue. But if you want a wall, sure, we need to be safe. We need security. We need effective control of the border. Let’s use the right terminology. Right. If you want to militarize the border. Well, if that’s what it takes, I guess you can.

Is it needed? No. You should be focused on cartels. You should be focused on human trafficking, cross-border. That’s where the resources should go. Not on building a wall. But if that’s what it takes. I’m fine with it. I saw the difference it made made in Israel. You don’t hear about bombings as much anymore. Right. You hear knifes and you hear someone ran somebody over. So there is a place in the right circumstance. So build a wall. You need to deal with those that are here in the US today. So some kind of legalization. You could you could call it amnesty. That’s what President Reagan did.

Or you could do some version of what Clinton and Bush did under the Life Act, which is you apply for something, you pay something, and if you’re good, you can become a green card holder at some point. I don’t care which one of the two. As long as there’s a path. The only one that wins by not having a direct path to citizenship is attorneys, because there needs to take longer. We know there’s gonna be more fees and there’s more opportunities for people to make a mistake. So we win. But but immigrants don’t. But again, if that’s what we need as a society to make to execute some reform, I’m okay with it. Yeah, we’re gonna win future flow.

What? You know, the people who are not here. Look the world will go back to normal at some point. And when that happens, you’re gonna need labor, whether it’s skilled or unskilled. So skilled labor right now, like doctors, nurses, engineers, computer programmers. Because we’ve become a high tech society and low skilled. Whether it’s agricultural workers, construction workers. What have you. So there needs to be a mechanism for them legally to enter. You control the border so that no more illegal immigration and you need some kind of visa control system. What I mean is the majority of immigrants that are here today have in fact, entered legally like my family. We entered. They gave us six months. We stayed thirty years. So we overstayed our visa. So they need some measure to control that. It’s reasonable. It’s logical. Those are the four pillars. It’s not hard to figure out.

Hosts I see you haven’t thought about that too much here (laughing).

Andres Mejer What’s that?

Hosts I see you haven’t thought about this all.

Andres Mejer No, not at all.

Hosts Just had a 4 pillar answer

Andres Mejer The first time! (laughing) I actually did a segment in Arizona. I’m sorry. Alicia.

Hosts You’ve given us four examples of what you’re saying. A lot of people facing right now. Yeah. What are you encouraging those people to do?

Andres Mejer So for those that are here and have it and have an appointment, we talked about that request, an adjournment. For for those that are outside the United States and have a visa to enter. It could be a student visa. It could be a business visa, you know. Foreign exchange. There’s a variety of them. But the point is they had to have an interview at a US embassy first to then be able to board a plane today. The embassies are closed as of March 20th. So what you if you have an appointment now, you need to reach out to the US embassy in your in your country. Well, in the country where you’re at. Right, we scheduled it. So it will be rescheduled at some point. But the same. Don’t wait for the government to contact you. Reach out to them. Every embassy or consulate has their own website with instructions for what they are doing now. They’re closed for everything, but say they’re closed for routine visa services. They’re still open for emergencies.

So if you’re a US citizen and you want to come back in the United States and you lost your passport, for example, the embassy is still available to you to do that. Now, how are you going to get back? That’s a different story. You know, there’s only select airports that are operating and. You may be quarantined if you’re coming from China. Chances are you’re not going directly to your home right away. So depending on where you’re at, that’s that’s the second suggestion you want to come into the United States, but you can’t at the moment, your visa is not gone. You know, the fees that you paid are valid for a year. You just have to be reasonable in what you do. You can’t sit there, wait two years later and say, hey, I did this. What about now? No. The moment that it is that life goes back to normal or whatever normal becomes after this. You need to be diligent and act promptly.

Hosts When you  talk about this virus, every permutation of life is different now. And until we think about folks that are going through the things that are different than our own, it’s like, oh, my gosh, how much more complex has everything gotten?

Andres Mejer Life is challenging right now. Yes. So third group is what happens if you’re in the US with a visa. So we’re not talking about U.S. citizens. We’re not talking to lawful permanent residents. We’re talking about tourists, students. Jay, ones, you know, sports celebrities, those that came in under an old visa because they’re let’s say they’re Olympians. Now, they came here to play, let’s say, basketball in the NBA and all of a sudden it’s closed down. What do you do? You know, you have a visa for a certain period of time. Let’s say it’s about to expire and you can’t board a plane. So what you need to do is, again, be reasonable and be diligent, so today you can’t leave, but you can’t just sit back and do nothing. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that we’re talking about a German citizen that came to Chicago to visit distant relatives or for business. So because it’s a German citizen, he’s under what’s called the visa waiver program. What that means is he presents his passport. He comes in automatically 90 days. He does not need to apply for a visa. It’s given to him automatically. And so he comes here with the intention of going back home. And now we kick off. Can’t board a plane. There isn’t. You know, so. Or maybe can tomorrow. But he can’t today.

What does he do? He needs to contact. They’re called deferred inspection. And they can. If he wants leave with the next 14 days, he needs to contact them and they will give them. They will extend his visa for him to be able to do so. But today, he doesn’t know when the flights are going to open up again. So what I suggest is contact the deferred inspection in your local airport. Now, the only agency, the only office that’s confirmed that’s doing this is out of JFK. They are open nine to four. Their phone number is 7 1 8 5 5 3 3 6 8 3. I’ll repeat that 7 1 8 5 5 3 3 6 8 3. If you call them, they will tell you what instructions to do. Chicago has their own office at 5:30, 6 South Clark Street Suite 131. But at the moment, last we heard, they weren’t doing this. I’ll give you the phone number because you never know. Every airport has one? Amy, did you wanna ask something?

Hosts I’m sorry. I have a couple of friends that live not too far from me that have au pairs, one from France without one visa was scheduled to leave and they had to move her flights everywhere to get her back home.

Andres Mejer So what they do in any of those. And so the visa waiver, I’m specifically talking about those individuals. An Au pair is different. It is a different visa. They actually apply one word and were approved. Right. So that that that’s a J1, visa waiver., they’re given automatically 90 days. Perspective of whether it’s a J1 or a visa waiver, I would still contact the deferred inspection unit. They’re part of Customs, Border Patrol, the Chicago office. Their number is 3 1 2 5 4, 2, forty nine, 10. That’s 3, 1, 2, 5, 4, 2 4 9 1 0.

Hosts It sounds like the most likely thing that they’d be able to do is contact you because you know everything.

Andres Mejer I’m, of course, happy to do that. And we do have. So we’re still working. I have five people that only thing they do is answer phones today, nowadays, and they’re all working remotely. So we’re still in business.

Hosts Yes. I think you have the contact information for people if they want to reach out to you directly and have more specific questions that we may not be getting to. So make sure you take a look at the information that you should see there on your screen. There we go. Andre’s Mejer law dot com. There’s the face that Facebook Instagram handle as well. So if you have more direct questions, more specific questions. He is the man to answer that.

Andres Mejer I would suggest rather than Instagram, Facebook, we have two people that all they do is respond to people’s Facebook messages. Oh, all right. Now, the more people on Facebook than ever before. So numbers like three times as much. So we’ve invested in technology to be able to respond to them during business hours. And that’s where the majority of our conversations are actually happening right now. Facebook.

Hosts So, my goodness, first technology right now.

Hosts  Andres we got to say thank you. We appreciate your passion in this with this topic. I mean, a lot of people are actually struggling right now cell to arm them with information. It’s certainly important. So thank you for joining us.

Andres Mejer Felicia? John. Amy, I appreciate your time and, you know, keep up the Jam.

Andres Mejer Thanks, guys.