Recapping US Immigration Changes Since 2017, And What to Expect in 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several drastic changes have been made or proposed to U.S. immigration laws since 2017 which has serious implications for the Caribbean-American immigrant community, and people who are living in the Caribbean and interested in migrating to the U.S.

As 2020 commences, we think it’s necessary to review the status of these changes, and look forward to what the immigration landscape could look like in the new year.

The following changes have been implemented by the Trump administration since January 2017:    

Overall Trump Administration Strategy: Extreme processing delays of residential immigrant status, increased USCIS requests for evidence, escalation of application denials and deportations.

Reduced Family-Sponsored Immigration: Early on in 2017, President Trump proposed dramatic changes to the existing immigration system, which would cut family sponsored immigration by 50 percent and move to a merit-based system. These proposals were later embodied in the RAISE Act Bill, introduced in the Senate, which would eliminate most current categories for family-sponsored immigration, including those for parents, adult children and siblings.

The bill failed to pass Congress, but the administration nevertheless tried to implement as many policies as possible to reduce family immigration using existing laws,  including:

Public Charge rule – In August 2019 the Department of Homeland Security issued  a directive to implement a controversial new “public charge” rule which gives the government broad discretion to deny immigration benefits to applicants, including those applying for residency. The rule greatly expands the types of prohibited government benefits and introduces factors which USCIS officers must use to determine whether immigrants would be likely to need public aid in the future, allowing them to deny residency to those including: young and old immigrants, those with low education and those who lack English fluency.

The policy was set to be implemented in October 2019 but was temporarily stopped by several federal courts.

Health Insurance – On October 4, 2019, President Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation to deny entry of immigrants who are unable to prove they have the financial ability to pay for health insurance within 30 days of entering the U.S. The measure would allow consular officials to deny immigrant visas to thousands of family members unable to provide proof of financial resources available to pay for such health insurance. The new policy called “Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States Healthcare System,” was set to take effect on November 1 but has also been temporarily blocked by a federal judge from being implemented.

DACA Termination:  President Trump cancelled the DACA, (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program in 2017, which was implemented in 2012 by President Barack Obama. Lawsuits were filed to prevent termination of the program and several Federal courts later issued temporary orders to force the USCIS to continue to accept DACA renewals until the cases were resolved.  Recently the Supreme Court heard arguments on the DACA issue. Indications are that the majority of conservative justices agree that the administration has the power to terminate all DACA benefits. The court is expected to issue its ruling in the Spring of 2020.

Travel Ban: After several attempts in 2017 the Trump administration was successful in enacting a travel ban on certain categories of individuals from eight countries (Chad, Iran,  Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela (government employees & families) and Yemen).

USCIS Mission Statement Changed: On February 2018, new Trump appointee, USCIS Director Francis Cissna, changed the agency’s mission statement, taking the term “nation of immigrants” out, saying “The old mission statement did not accurately describe the full scope of what USCIS does [and it] eroded the dignity and importance of the work of USCIS while confusing employees and the public about who USCIS serves.”

NTA Rule: In June 2018 the USCIS issued a new rule which requires USCIS officers to issue a “notice to appear” in deportation court to immigrants who are denied for nearly any type of immigration case. This makes the filing of any kind of immigration application risky for the applicant.

 What to Expect In 2020!

Here are a few of the major immigration-related policies and initiatives expected to emerge or continue during 2020:

Increase Immigration Fees: In November 2019, the Trump administration announced plans to dramatically increase USCIS filing fees, in some cases by more than  60 percent for example Naturalization fees would jump from the current $725 fee to $1,170 and Residency filing fees to adjust status inside the U.S. will go from $1,760 to $2,750. The new fees are expected to begin in early 2020.

The Public Charge rule and Health Insurance Presidential Proclamation: which are temporarily on hold have been appealed and are currently being considered in several Federal appeals courts which may rule in the administration’s favor. If this happens, both restrictive measures could quickly be implemented very quickly.

Elimination of “Concurrent Filing” To Prevent Many Family Members From Adjusting Status In The U.S.: The Trump administration is expected to announce a new rule in the coming months to eliminate “concurrent filing” and prevent many spouses, children and other immigrants from obtaining green cards inside the U.S.. The term “concurrent filing” means the “filing together” of applications. The proposal is expected to prevent many family members from filing an immigrant petition (form I-130) and residency application (form I-485) together along with work and travel permit applications. Instead, sponsoring family members would be required to file and obtain approval of the I-130 family petition first, before the spouse or child would be allowed to file for residency. This may take one year or more.

DACA Termination: The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the continuation of DACA benefits in the Spring of 2020 which will very likely allow the Trump administration to terminate the DACA program, affecting over one million young adults who will be at risk, without legal status or work authorization. If this is the ruling, it will then be up to Congress to pass legislation to protect Dreamers.

Ramped-up Immigration Raids & Enforcement:  During the past several years, the level of immigration arrests have skyrocketed as part of sweeping ICE raids throughout the U.S., targeting businesses and immigrant communities. These raids are expected to continue with more frequency in 2020.

Increased Application Denials and Notices To Appear (NTA): The USCIS continues to deny applications at a staggering rate. For H-1B work visas, the denial rate has skyrocketed to an astounding 33 percent, up from only 6 percent in 2015. In addition, in accordance with the NTA directive issued by the USCIS in 2018, Notices To Appear in deportation court are authorized in most immigration cases where an application is denied.

Virtual Elimination Of Asylum Protections: Under President Trump’s so called “Remain in Mexico” (formally named Migrant Protection Protocols) program, over 55,000 asylum-seekers who fled South and Central America have been turned away at the southern U.S. border, and have instead been required to wait in Mexico for a future asylum court date. Asylees lucky enough to apply inside the U.S. have also been affected by new policies which have eliminated expedited processing of work permits and require certain applicants to wait for one year instead of 150 days after filing for asylum to apply for permission to work.

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