USCIS new guidelines put ‘green card’ holders vulnerable

by Ricky Rillera

NEW YORK – As the Trump administration pushes for a crackdown on illegal immigration, the federal government, under new guidelines, will also now expand their efforts to go after immigrants who are in the US with legal residence permits, known as Green Card, who abuse “any program related to the receipt of public benefits.” They will be summoned to appear before an immigration court. This new policy is included in guidelines implemented by Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) early this month.

The main public benefits that green card holders can receive are Medicaid for people with low income or disabilities; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Supplemental Security Income (SSI); and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

In a comment provided to the Philippine Daily Mirror, Fil-AM lawyer Gabriel Dela Merced warned that “immigrants have to exercise extreme caution when applying for public benefits.”

“Under the guidelines, withdrawal, termination or rescission of benefits will not save the immigrant from removal proceedings if USCIS detects fraud,” Dela Merced said. “Undocumented immigrants who apply for public benefits are especially vulnerable since the mere filing of an application – even when later abandoned – could subject the alien to the service of a Notice to Appear (NTA), if there is evidence of fraud or abuse in the procurement of public benefits.”

According to Dela Merced, another memo just came out also, saying that “any denial in an immigration application could result in an NTA. “The noose keeps getting tighter and tighter for non-immigrants,” he said. “For instance, a denial in an extension of stay by a visitor, or for a change of status from tourist to student, could lead to removal proceedings against the alien.”

He added that employment-based applications such as H-1B are affected. “The moment the application is denied, it would lead to removal procedure against the alien and his or her family members, if any,” he said.

A Notice to Appear (NTA) is a charging document issued by the USCIS to start removal proceedings against nationals who are deemed “removable” from the US. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also have authority to issue NTAs.

Fil-Am Ferdinand Suba, another lawyer contacted by the Philippine Daily Mirror, also gave his commentary on this subject. “Those green card holders can be placed in removal proceedings after an NTA is issued if these aliens are receiving Medicaid, Supplemental Income (SSI), Food Stamps, and therefore denies them the opportunity to exhaust administrative remedies.”

But he said, “the new USCIS NTA policy will clog and overburden immigration courts and the limited resources of the USCIS will be depleted. The issuance of NTAs covering a large number of individuals will result in backlogs in the already delayed processing by the USCIS.”

Suba, however, believes that the “remedy of the USCIS is to stop the benefits and not place them in removal proceedings which will cause them to hire their attorney and spend for their representatives when they are already living in poverty.”

“I can understand that an individual who is at risk of being a public charge can be denied his/her application of lawful permanent residence (LPR) status unless the sponsoring relative has sufficient income to support the individual applicant and this is already covered by the requirement for submission of the affidavit of support,” he said.

When it comes to those who are already legal permanent residents, Suba said that they should not be issued NTAs because they already achieved that status through the approval process of USCIS. “It’s like punishing them through this NTA instead of having compassion on their economic plights.”

He added that “the other remedy is to hold those sponsoring relatives who issued their affidavits of support for them when they applied for lawful permanent residence instead of initiating an NTA and place them in harsh removal proceedings.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said that “an alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”  At present, Kirstjen M. Nielsen is the Secretary of DHS.

DHS is the third largest Department of the U.S. government. It has a workforce of 229,000 employees and 22 components including TSA, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), FEMA, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and the Science and Technology Directorate.

It is responsible for counterterrorism, cybersecurity, aviation security, border security, port security, maritime security, administration and enforcement of our immigration laws, protection of our national leaders, protection of critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, detection of and protection against chemical, biological and nuclear threats to the homeland, and response to disasters.

The USCIS is headed by Director L. Francis Cissna; ICE by Acting Director Ronald D. Vitiello and CBP by Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan.

USCIS is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. It has 19,000 government employees and contractors working at more than 200 offices across the world.  On an average day, the work of ICE is enormous.  According to its Website, ICE claims that they:

  • adjudicate more than 26,000 requests for various immigration benefits
  • process 3,700 applications to sponsor relatives and future spouses
  • process 200 refugee applications around the world and grant asylum to 45 individuals already in the United States.
  • screen 146 people for protection based on a credible fear of persecution if they return home
  • answer 50,000 phone calls to our toll-free phone line and serve 2,200 people at informational appointments in our 86 domestic field offices
  • ensure the employment eligibility of more than 80,000 new hires in the United States.
  • fingerprint and photograph 13,000 people at 137 Application Support Centers
  • approve applications and petitions to help unite 25 foreign-born orphans with the Americans who want to adopt them
  • grant lawful permanent residence to approximately 2,100 people and issue approximately 7,000 Green Cards
  • receive 335,000 visitor sessions to our website
  • welcome nearly 2,000 new citizens at naturalization ceremonies. Typically, 36 of these new citizens are members of the U.S. armed forces

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