New Suit Fights Visa Rejections Over Blank Spaces On Forms
Law360 (November 19, 2020, 4:58 PM EST) — Immigrant groups filed a proposed class action in California federal court Thursday challenging the U.S. immigration agency’s practice of rejecting applications for asylum and other immigration protections over blank spaces on forms, even when those fields aren’t applicable.
Attorneys for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the National Immigration Litigation Alliance and Van Der Hout LLP argued that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services‘ so-called “blank space” policy has “led to absurd and unfairly prejudicial results,” spurring a spike in application rejections for vulnerable immigrants.
“The impact of the rejection policy on applications for immigration benefits has been significant and widespread. In many cases, the policy has led to dire consequences for exceptionally vulnerable individuals and families,” the complaint said.
In one instance, a woman applying for a U visa, reserved for victims of crimes who assist law enforcement, had her application rejected because she left a field blank for “other names,” since she did not have any, rather than writing “N/A” in the field.
But by the time USCIS rejected her application a month later, and she subsequently refiled the application, her son had turned 21, making him too old to join her application.
In another case, an asylum-seeker missed the one-year deadline to apply for protection, which starts once the individual enters the U.S., because USCIS rejected her initial application over a single blank space for an alternative travel document number since the applicant only had one travel document.
According to the lawsuit, USCIS previously accepted applications with blank fields, including in response to questions about other names and additional relatives who did not exist. However, in late 2019, the agency quietly changed its policy without going through the formal — and public — regulatory process.
Instead, the agency “buried” its instructions not to leave spaces blank on forms in alerts under website subsections and has applied the policy inconsistently to applications, the suit said, adding that the agency rejected nearly 12,000 U visa applications between late 2019 and July 2020.
“The immigration process is already complicated enough. We now know that USCIS has again created invisible barriers by inventing petty new excuses to reject legitimate applications,” Zachary Nightingale, a partner at Van Der Hout, said in a statement. “The rejections are so facially absurd, that the true purpose, to deter and prevent valid claims, becomes undeniably clear.
A spokesperson for USCIS declined to comment.
The immigrants are represented by Matt Adams, Aaron Korthuis and Margot Adams of NWIRP; Trina Realmuto, Mary Kenney and Tiffany Lieu of the NILA; and Zachary Nightingale and Helen Beasley of Van Der Hout.
Counsel information for the federal government was not yet available.
The case is Vangala et al. v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al., case number 3:20-cv-08143, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
–Editing by Steven Edelstone.
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