Feds Expand In-Person Interviews For Relatives Of Refugees
Law360 (December 1, 2020, 8:38 PM EST) –
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services revealed a new policy Monday that would significantly expand the in-person interview requirement for refugees and people who have been granted asylum who are trying to gain lawful status for their relatives.
The agency said that it needs “most” asylees or refugees, as opposed to a smaller subset under current policy, “to appear for an interview” regarding their relative’s admission in order to provide “an additional layer of in-person adjudicative scrutiny.”
“The petitioner’s participation in the interview is critical,” USCIS said. “In some instances, the petitioner may serve as the primary means to verify qualifying familial relationship or address discrepancies in the claimed qualifying familial relationship.”
The policy memorandum, dated Nov. 18, does not reference the ongoing pandemic, but it does contribute to a longer-term effort by the Trump administration to pin down in-person interviews for people seeking immigration benefits.
Nithya Nathan-Pineau, a policy attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, called the changes “another attack on fair access to asylum.”
“This another effort to delay granting derivative asylum to family members of people granted asylum,” she told Law360 on Tuesday.
Eligible spouses and unmarried children are able to obtain lawful status in the United States following a petition from a relative who has already received asylum or is a refugee. USCIS said that historically, the agency has required interviews for spouses and children seeking admission on this basis from abroad.
In 2018, USCIS began to systematically require interviews for spouses and children already in the United States.
USCIS already has a blanket interview policy covering the asylees and refugees themselves only when there are “eligibility concerns” about U.S.-residing relatives.
The new policy is set to begin a phased implementation in the first quarter of 2021 and apply to petitioners across the board, regardless of location or concerns about eligibility.
“This policy shows that, on immigration, the Trump administration is playing until the final whistle blows — this time, to the grave detriment of refugees and asylees seeking to reunite with their families,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement Monday. “Repeatedly, its policies have prioritized a misguided crusade against immigration fraud over the sacred principle that families belong together.”
USCIS said it already has the regulatory authority it needs to require in-person interviews for “any applicant, petitioner, sponsor, or other individual in connection with an application or petition for immigration benefits.”
Beginning next year, the agency will start to require interviews for petitioners whose relatives are in the United States. However, President-elect Joseph Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, has opposed the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy.
Following the first phase, a second phase will begin petitioner interviews in situations where the relative is in an area with USCIS offices, though the implementation date was not indicated in the memorandum. And a third phase will involve petitioners whose relatives are in other locations and deal with the U.S. State Department.
USCIS says it provides 30-day notice to interviewees and can “accommodate reschedule requests.”
Nevertheless, the memorandum acknowledged that many more petitioners will be subject to an “added burden,” given that interviews are conducted during business hours and may require interviewees to leave work or obtain child care.
“By allowing for detailed and targeted questioning based on the response, clarification of ambiguities, and the ability to detect deception from verbal and non- verbal cues, interviews enable officers to more efficiently address discrepancies and pursue additional lines of questioning, when needed to determine eligibility for the benefit sought,” the memorandum said.
USCIS spokesperson Dan Hetlage told Law360 in a statement Tuesday that the agency’s offices are “operating in accordance with CDC’s guidelines, which require us to follow social distancing guidelines and other health protocols designed to keep the USCIS workforce and those visiting our offices safe.”
Hetlage said the agency didn’t have an estimate for the number of additional interviews that the policy would require.
–Editing by Brian Baresch.
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