Trump Relying on Memos to Make Legal Immigration System More Challenging

During his campaign for the presidency, and ever since he moved into the White House, most of the immigration talk surrounding President Trump has been about undocumented immigrants and the “huge” wall he supposedly is going to have built between the United States and Mexico. What has perhaps made for less compelling television, however, has been the President’s rampant attacks on legal immigration. And, while he has failed to strike a deal with Congress to pass any substantive immigration legislation, he has succeeded in using memoranda issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to erect barriers within the legal immigration system.

In recent months, the USCIS has released three memos designed to makes lives of foreign nationals in the U.S. more difficult. First came the May 2018 unlawful presence memo, which targets foreign national students and has the potential to impose harsh penalties for even minor, unintentional infractions. Six weeks later, a notice to appear (NTA) memo was issued; implementation of this memo has been delayed, but if it is put into effect, it could result in foreign nationals being placed in removal (i.e. deportation) proceedings through no fault of their own. Finally, less than a month later, came the release of a memo making it easier for the USCIS to deny an application or petition without first having to issue a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID).

Looking at the content of these memos, it is hard not to see nefarious intent behind them all. The first memo on foreign national students is especially galling, as it serves to treat this population – many of whom are in their late teens or early twenties – more severely than virtually any other group of nonimmigrants who are lawfully in the country.

In response to the memos, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), a national association of immigration lawyers that advocates for reasonable immigration policy, drafted a letter to select members of Congress, encouraging them to intervene against the draconian USCIS memos. As aptly noted in its letter, “These memos are yet another policy which makes the United States less attractive to talented foreign students, scholars, and exchange visitors and undoubtedly will encourage them to look elsewhere to do their groundbreaking research and build diplomatic ties.”

The letter, dated August 14, 2018 and addressed to Chairman of the Judiciary Charles Grassley and Ranking Member of the Committee on the Judiciary Dianne Feinstein, asks Congress to draft a veto proof act, prohibiting extreme regulatory memos from the USCIS. Given the current state of politics in America, it seems highly unlikely for such an act to be passed by Congress in the foreseeable future. Still, the letter from AILA is an important rallying cry on behalf of immigrants all over the nation who are being unjustly persecuted by Trump’s Administration.


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