“Is it safe?” I’ve been asked that question a lot lately. “Is it safe for me to apply for DACA?” “Is it safe for me to go to an interview on my I-130 petition even though I have a removal order?” “Is it safe for me to move while my Naturalization application is pending?” People want to know that if something goes wrong in their case that they won’t be deported since there’s a lot of scary news and information out there. I wish I had the ability to see into the future and say that everything will be okay no matter what, but I can’t. Some trends, though, are starting to emerge.
It seems as though DACA is safe for now. If President Trump had wanted to get rid of DACA as much as he talked about during the presidential campaign, I think the program would have been eradicated within the first few weeks of his administration. USCIS continues to adjudicate DACA cases and there are no hints of this changing. But DACA has changed in the last few months. People are being detained and deported despite having DACA and some recipients have had DACA taken away from them. Thankfully the number is small, but the tightening of restrictions is troubling. However, DACA is still a good option, if not the only option, for certain individuals brought to the United States at a young age.
Prior Removal Orders
If someone has a deportation order, remains in the United States, and then appears at USCIS for an interview they are at an increased risk for removal. Even under President Obama, anytime someone with a prior removal order interacted with USCIS, there was pause for concern. USCIS calls ICE when they are aware that someone with an old removal order has come in for an interview. Under President Obama, ICE mostly declined to arrest and physical deport that person since they were presumably in the process of getting their legal status stabilized. The interview was conducted and people went about with their lives. However, under President Trump, ICE is now interested in everyone and when USCIS calls and tells them about someone with a prior order of removal, odds are good that ICE will come out to investigate at a minimum and detain and deport at worst. USCIS hasn’t changed its policy, but ICE has.
Moving While Your Case Pending
USCIS has slowed down with processing applications since December. Naturalization cases used to take about four months from the time of filing to the time of an interview. It’s now taking nine months in Atlanta. It used to take about six months to get an interview on marriage-based adjustment of status case and those, too, are now around nine months. With longer wait times, the potential for applicants to move becomes higher.
Where someone lives is important because it’ll dictate where the case needs to be interviewed. Unfortunately, USCIS struggles to update addresses. There are several systems and it can take a few days (even weeks) for the new address to be put into the system. It then takes time for the case to be transferred from one USCIS office to another, so a move can often delay a case. Yet, foreign nationals have a responsibility to update their addresses with USCIS, so not telling USCIS about the move until appearing at the interview isn’t advisable.
Recently, USCIS provided a little wiggle-room for naturalization applicants. If someone moves after filing the N-400 and gets called in for an interview at the old USCIS office, the applicant can opt to be interviewed there (saving the time for a transfer) or they can ask that the file be transferred to the new office (possibly saving travel costs). The final decision, though, will be issued by the new office.
People who move while their green card cases are pending, though, should notify USCIS immediately of the move. The rules and regulations are stricter on these types of cases, though there is a little room for discretion depending on the specific situation.
So…Is it safe?
It depends. It depends on your case, your history, your situation. No matter how much I want to, I can’t promise success in any case. I also can’t predict certain outcomes if the case gets denied or what could happen if policies change while the application is pending. I can share with clients what’s happened in the past, but when everything seems to change by the minute, relying on what’s happened in the past isn’t as reliable as it once was. The only thing I can promise is that if we work together, that I will do everything I can to get you the desired outcome.