Latest COVID Relief Bill
On Tuesday, December 22nd Congress passed the newest COVID relief bill. It was the longest bill Congress has ever passed at 5,593 pages.
There were two parts to the bill.
One was to provide relief for COVID, meaning a stimulus check for 80% of people in the US. This time, it includes families who have a member who isn’t a US citizen. There were also other items such as a federal unemployment benefit on top of state benefits, rent assistance, and money to distribute the vaccine.
The other part funds the government through September 2021. There are also some tax cuts and increases in military spending.
Congress stayed in session for long hours to try to get this passed. On Tuesday evening, President Trump released a video saying if congress didn’t increase the stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000, he would veto the bill.
Trump refused to participate in any negotiations for the bill. If he vetoes the bill, Congress has the votes to override that but time is running out. The Democrats have suggested that the House can pass a standalone bill for $2,000 stimulus payments. When we wrote this up, there hadn’t yet been a final decision on the bill, if that changes we will do our best to update you.
Relief for families with undocumented members
One part of the bill that immigrants are happy to hear about is the part that allows for families with members who aren’t documented to receive relief.
We talked about this back in the spring when the CARES Act did NOT allow for undocumented immigrants, or those with an undocumented household member, to get a stimulus check. If there was an undocumented family member, the entire family was left out from getting one.
In this new agreement, US citizens and green card holders will be able to get $600 in aid even if they filed a joint tax return with an undocumented person. They will also get an additional $600 for each dependent child.
The better news is that this new bill also allows those in that category with a Social Security number to receive a check for $1,200 per household and $500 per child that they missed in the previous check issuance.
You must have a Social Security Number. If you’re undocumented and don’t have a Social Security number unfortunately you’ll still not be able to receive a stimulus check. Even if you have an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) and pay your taxes, it has to be a Social Security number. Even if you have a US citizen child, if you don’t have a Social Security number, you won’t get a check.
If you file for taxes yearly with ITIN and qualify for DACA but for some reason didn’t file for DACA, do so now. With DACA you can get employment authorization and a Social Security number. Even if you don’t get a stimulus check, you will be able to get the payment when you file for taxes.
We’ve talked about DACA and Advance Parole a lot this year. Based on recent court decisions. We recommended that anyone eligible get their applications for both ASAP.
The Texas DACA case and what it means
You’ve probably heard in the news that there is a case in Texas that might impact Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Judge Andrew Hanen is a judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Judge Hanen was appointed by President Bush – is very conservative and a Trump supporter. In the past, Judge Hanen has said that DACA is likely illegal.
Texas and other GOP-led states began this lawsuit in 2018 and asked for the Judge to stop new DACA applications from being accepted and to bar renewals and to eventually end the program saying it placed an excessive financial burden on the states.
You’re probably saying to yourself “wait, didn’t a Judge in New York just say that DACA could continue and had to accept new applications?”
Yes, he did. However, this lawsuit in Texas is based on a different argument. Rather than asking if Trump can end DACA this lawsuit asks the Judge to decide if Obama put it in place legally.
In 2015, Hanen blocked the Obama administration from expanding DACA eligibility and starting a new program called Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA) which was to provide deportation relief to parents of DREAMers.
This lawsuit was filed after the Trump administration’s attempt to wind down DACA was stopped by several courts. The Trump administration and the Justice Department refused to defend against this lawsuit since they want DACA to end. So, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and New Jersey intervened in the case and have been arguing for DACA to be upheld.
In late August 2018, in response to a request to stop DACA from continuing, Hanen issued a strongly worded 115-page opinion saying that those trying to end DACA had shown they were likely to win. He said that DACA was contrary to federal law and that the Obama administration appeared to have violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) because they implemented DACA through a memo rather than a rule-making process with public comments.
However, Hanen didn’t end the program because he said that Texas and other states had waited too long to ask for a preliminary injunction. Arguments were heard by the Judge from both sides. We don’t how or when the Judge will rule but we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as we find out anything more.
President-Elect Biden could enact DACA when he officially takes office through a rule-making process and make the lawsuit moot. He could also bring back DAPA in a similar way
Holiday slowdowns for immigration processing.
Even normally, USCIS had always been very slow. Add in COVID, and we have had anything but a normal year.
In the past, people would submit their application and get biometrics appointment notification for their fingerprints and background check within about a month of their application being accepted by USCIS. This is an important step in the process because USCIS wants you to have a background check done before they will continue to process your application.
Now, people aren’t getting their biometrics appointment for 5-6 months or longer after USCIS says their application was received, depending on where in the country you are and where you filed your application. USCIS has delays in processing the initial acceptance of cases, putting them in the computer, and mailing out receipt notices.
Processing times across the board have also increased. This always happens during the holidays, but it increased this year due to COVID. If you go to the USCIS website, you can check the processing time for each type of application and for the processing center that has your application. You can check for your case through this link here. We also have a video about how to check your case status which you can watch here. Note that you can’t use this without a receipt.
The reason you want to be aware of the processing times on their website is that often people ask what they can do since USCIS is taking so long to process their case. If your case is taking longer than the processing times listed, you can ask an office to submit a case query or service request for you.
Also, there is a lawsuit you can file, called a mandamus action, that we have used to speed up getting a decision on your application.
Some current processing times as of December 2020:
I-129F (fiancé petition) at the Vermont service center is 18.5 – 21.5 months. This has more than doubled since the beginning of the year when it was 4-6 months.
I-130 (Family Based Petition) varies depending on your preference category. We recommend that you look for your category to know how long it might take for your application.
Processing time also varies per state.
- In Nebraska, it is taking 7.5 – 9.5 months for every preference category
- In Potomac, it varies for the preference category ranging from 1 week to 11 months.
- In Texas, it is 9.5 – 11 months for most categories.
- California, which decides many of the I-130 applications, is even more backed up. If you’re a US citizen applying for unmarried children over 21, the wait is over 4 years long. If you’re filing for a brother or sister it is up to 9+ years.
Some examples for the I-485 (change of status to a Green Card Holder)
- Vermont times are over 19 months to almost 3 years.
- In Mt. Laurel, the processing time is 10 – 18 months.
You can also check the processing time for work authorization.
- The National Benefits Center is currently processing applications from June 2020. That’s almost 6 months.
- At Vermont, it is 4.5 – 6 months for most though some form types it is over 14 months
- At Potomac, it’s 3.5 – 5.5 months
For removing conditions on your green card (Form I-751), it’s 10 – 16 months in Vermont.
If you want to apply for citizenship, we looked at the times at the Miami field office since that historically is one of the slowest. That takes Miami 8.5 – 18.5 months.
With all that information, I hope it helps you understand why it’s so important to get your application asap. When your application is received by USCIS it is given a “priority date.” That is the date the application was received by USCIS and when you check the processing times, that is the date you look at to determine if your papers are close to being processed.
Have you ever gone to a store and they give you a number to “hold your place in line?” This is what your priority date is, and the sooner you get your application in, the better off you are in getting your application processed quickly.
If you need an immigration lawyer, call our office. Andres Mejer is an immigration attorney in New Jersey with clients all over the US. He was an immigrant who came to the US as a child. His family was the victim of immigration fraud and it took him over a decade to become a citizen. His goal is to help people so they don’t have the same stress and frustration in achieving their immigration dreams.
If you’re struggling to get the status you want, call us. We’ve often been able to help clients who were referred by other attorneys – when the other attorneys said they couldn’t do anything more. Contact us today through Andres Mejer Law or call us at 888-421-9942.