The wave of new instructions to immigration agents by President Donald Trump’s administration is putting the spotlight on the petitions of hundreds of immigrants who risk being deported or unable to obtain benefits, experts warn.

In the last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have issued new guidelines and regulations that make it difficult for immigrants to successfully get their petitions approved, warned Efe Fernando Romo, an immigration attorney and senior advisor to the Association of Salvadorans of Los Angeles (ASOSAL).

“They are basically ordering USCIS officials to dig deeper into cases, and the discretion not to approve is increasing so that negative things are worth more than positive things,” Romo explains.

“If we don’t pay attention to these changes this is going to cause a lot of immigrants to be at risk,” the lawyer insists.

NOT ELIGIBLE FOR CITIZENSHIP.

The attorney underscores the changes made this Wednesday to the USCIS Policy Manual, which targets immigrants who file citizenship petitions.

In a press release, the agency said that some immigrants obtained their legal permanent resident status “by mistake, fraud, or failure to comply with the law,” so they will not be eligible for naturalization.

The new guidance “states that an applicant is ineligible for naturalization in cases where the applicant did not obtain permanent resident status legally, including cases where the U.S. government was unaware of disqualifying material facts.

Romo cautions that the interpretation is very broad, and may cause a permanent resident to be disqualified from citizenship for failing to report a prior deportation, a prior offense, or even being married on petitions where he or she was declared unmarried. Also for submitting false employment letters, among others.

“Now they are going to have a magnifying glass over the cases, and they are going to consult their databases, which are now more updated and where the frauds are reported,” he emphasizes to the attorney, who warns that this could mean that many cases end up in a “nightmare.

Additionally, USCIS officials will pay special attention to ensure that immigrants have not abandoned their permanent residence status by leaving the country for long periods without permission from immigration authorities.

The agency warned that when “an application for naturalization is generally rejected, the applicant is placed in deportation proceedings.

The change came less than a week after the naturalization questionnaire was expanded, which, as activists, represents a new barrier for immigrants.

“PETTY REFUSALS”

This is not the first time the Trump Administration has imposed changes on procedures. This Thursday, a coalition of immigrant advocates filed a lawsuit against USCIS and DHS over a new policy of rejecting applications that have a blank answer field.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, plaintiffs warn that USCIS has rejected applications for leaving boxes blank even when the question does not apply, for example, when the applicant does not include a middle name response because he or she does not have a middle name.

“The USCIS rejection policy is mean, dishonest and illegal,” Mary Kenney, deputy director of the National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

“Its rejection of thousands of applications for humanitarian immigration benefits because the applicant left a blank space instead of putting ‘N/A’ has no legitimate agency purpose, but it has caused great harm to vulnerable immigrants,” Kenney said.

In that sense, Matt Adams, legal director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), said that “this policy is clearly aimed at preventing people from getting the humanitarian benefits that Congress has provided.

For his part, attorney Zachary Nightingale, a partner at Van Der Hout LLP, stressed that “the rejections are so seemingly absurd, that the real purpose, to deter and prevent valid claims, becomes undeniably clear. Shamefully, this time, the target includes some of the most vulnerable and qualified immigrants.

WITHOUT WORK PERMITS

This week the DHS also released a proposal that seeks to restrict approval of work permits to aliens with deportation orders.

The “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” which was published Thursday in the Federal Register, entered a 60-day period for comments on “Authorization of Employment for Certain Classes of Aliens with Final Removal Orders.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), under current regulations, “an alien who has a final order of removal and who is temporarily released from DHS custody under an order of supervision (OSUP) is generally eligible for an employment authorization document (EAD).

While the measure will specifically affect those individuals whose deportation has been ordered but cannot be granted because their country does not accept them, Romo warns that this measure may affect more migrants if the president-elect reduces deportations.

“In the Obama administration, those who had a stop to their deportation were entitled to their work permit, if this measure remains in effect, it will not allow them to obtain this permit,” the lawyer warns.

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