The Trump administration has expanded the list of categories for which immigrants can be sent before immigration judges to start deportation procedures against them.
Measures announced Thursday by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will tighten the Department of Homeland Security’s controls on immigrants, affecting not only undocumented foreigners but legal immigrants who lose their immigration benefits or status.
The change is tied to Notices to Appear, a document issued to non-citizens instructing them to appear in immigration court. The NTAs normally mark the start of deportation procedures.
A USCIS announcement said its officials will issue NTAs for a broader range of cases such as fraud, criminal activity or when an applicant is denied an immigration benefit.
“For too long, USCIS officers uncovering instances of fraudulent or criminal activity have been limited in their ability to help ensure U.S. immigration laws are faithfully executed,” said agency director L. Francis Cissna in a statement.
The new procedures, he added, give USCIS officers more leeway and “clear guidance they need and deserve to support the enforcement priorities established by the president, keep our communities safe, and protect the integrity of our immigration system from those seeking to exploit it.”
The initiative is part of the Trump administration’s campaign to reduce legal and illegal immigration without having to obtain Congressional approval. It comes at a time when its “zero tolerance” policy is under harsh criticism for separating children from parents.
USCIS said the revised policy will allow its agents to more easily refer cases to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency or issue NTA summonses. Those protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act (DACA) are exempt from the change.
USCIS said the new categories for issuing NTAs are:
▪ Cases in which fraud or false representation is substantiated.
▪ Cases in which immigrants have abused some of the public benefits available to them.
▪ Cases in which immigrants have been accused or convicted of a criminal offense, even if criminal conduct was not the basis for the denial.
▪ USCIS will be allowed to refer cases involving serious criminal activity to ICE before adjudication of an immigration benefit request pending before USCIS without issuing an NTA.
▪ Cases in which USCIS denies an Application for Naturalization on good moral character grounds because of a criminal offense.
▪ Cases in which, upon the denial of an application or petition, an applicant is unlawfully present in the United States.
Experts warned that the legal system for processing immigration cases, already painfully slow, will slow even further as more and more cases are referred to immigration courts.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration issues who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth.