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Will “Extreme Vetting” of Immigrants Hurt or Help America?

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During the Presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump railed against immigrants, deploying a tactic as old as the Republic to link immigrants with crime, disease, drugs, terrorism and other domestic problems. Playing to the worst fears of his supporters, Trump promised his supporters that, if elected, he would implement something he called “extreme vetting” of immigrants.

Well, he’s been elected and is now in a position to order agency heads to do just that. In recent months, the immigration community has been served notice that Applications for Non-immigrant Visas will be expanded to require applicants to include contact information for social media and even more background questions. Additional pages have been added to applications for marriage-based permanent residence – the most common and routine kind of immigration application – with questions about the U.S. citizen sponsor. And since January 2017, the immigration service (“USCIS”, not “INS” which was abolished in 2003) has significantly increased the length of fifteen of its applications including over-20 page application for U.S. citizenship. The new applications are full of questions with vague wording which advocates say simply complicate the forms and increase the likelihood of an error on the form. Will the additional paperwork make America safer? If you believe that applicants will disclose their intent to engage in terrorist activities by checking the “yes” box, then the new applications will certainly make you feel more secure.

This week brings a new announcement from the Administration that it will start to interview employment-based applicants for permanent residence and their spouses. Until now, interviews for these applicants were normally waived unless the application or pre-screening raised questions that warranted an in-person interview. Now, as of August 28, 2017, USCIS will interview all applicants for employment-based green cards, regardless of how “clean” the application is. This interview requirement is also being imposed on family members of asylees and others who – though subject to stringent screening through multiple databases to ensure public safety and national security – are now going to be subject to mandatory, in-person interview.

These changes will undoubtedly cause tremendous backlogs in an already-overloaded system. These changes will also add cost for applicants, many of whom already struggle to pay $1,000 filing fees for routine family-based applications. Immigration attorneys and advocates familiar with the process harbor strong concerns over the negative impact of these changes and deep skepticism over whether they offer any benefit to public safety or national security. For more information about the changes to length of immigrant applications click here. For more information about the in-person interviews for lawful permanent residents click here

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