Man oh man…what a year. Does anyone else feel like their hair is on fire?! Before diving into law and numbers, I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reach out, to allow us to be part of their immigration story, and to our friends and family who give us much-needed support in these trying times. I love my job because of the people I get to work with and for, not because I necessarily love picking apart statutes and completing forms! So, yes, 2018 has been a challenge, but there have also been countless moments of joy. Thank you for being part of that.
Do you remember what we were talking about in January 2018? TPS was coming under fire (Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador were all set to lose their designation until a judge blocked the decision in October 2018; Nepal and Honduras both lost their designations, though), we were hoping Congress would take up DACA (they didn’t), and there was a government shutdown (history is doomed to repeat itself.
In the spring, we saw the backlog of cases grow tremendously – work card renewals that traditionally took three months started taking five months or longer and the time it took to get an interview scheduled in Atlanta nearly doubled.
We also had a lot of action in Georgia when SB 452, a bill that would have led to increased profiling, jurisdictional confusion, and increased referrals to ICE was introduced, but eventually defeated.
During the summer months, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions started issuing decisions that have dramatically altered how Immigration Judges run their courtrooms. He nearly stopped judges’ ability to order Administrative Closure, Termination, and even to issue Continuances. It didn’t matter that a case was pending with USCIS, if the court couldn’t rule on it, it wasn’t a factor and people with good relief available started being ordered deported.
USCIS also issued a series of memos that have had a chilling effect for people seeking to gain a benefit in the United States. Denying cases instead of asking for additional information; issuing a Notice to Appear and starting the removal process for denials; confusion over “public charge” and the validity dates of medical exams; getting rid of the local liaison relationship, it all added up to create an atmosphere of hostility and secrecy. Thankfully, though, most officers we’ve interacted with continue to be decent, fair and kind.
Then came the winter and asylum-seekers found themselves out in the cold. Not only have decisions made it more difficult for those fleeing domestic violence or gang violence from receiving asylum, but even getting to the United States to ask for protection has become nearly impossible. Young children were torn from their families. Asylum-seekers are held in deplorable conditions – both in and outside of the United States. People are dying as they wait to present their cases. My heart absolutely breaks thinking about the two Guatemalan children who have died while in the “care” of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
There’s so much more that’s happened, but these are the highlights (lowlights?). For me, it feels as though every case we take on right now is significantly more work than the same case would have been even just a year ago. There are no easy questions, no fast solutions. And the wrong answer or advice can have dire consequences.
I mentioned talking about numbers, earlier, right? In 2018, Klinke Immigration successfully closed 169 cases and opened 206 cases. Of course, these aren’t just “cases,” but lives forever changed. We helped people become U.S. citizens and permanent residents. We helped victims of domestic violence regain independence through immigration. We helped reunite families with approved waivers. We helped a DACA recipient get out of detention and regain his status. We help people live without fear…and in this day and age of what feels like constant fear, those successes mean more than ever.
What will 2019 be like? Let me check my crystal ball…it says “answer appears foggy.” That sounds about right. Whatever the year brings, we’ll be here, doing our absolute best to help immigrants and their families navigate the increasingly unpredictable and crazy world of U.S. immigration law and policy.