AILA seeks maintenance of status for non-immigrants in U.S, files lawsuit against USCIS

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Seeking an immediate suspension of immigration benefit deadlines and the maintenance of status for non-immigrants in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has filed a complaint against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of its members. AILA had earlier written a letter to the USCIS for the same and filed a complaint on April 3, 2020.

AILA Director of Federal Litigation Jesse Bless said, “USCIS has every power to immediately and temporarily toll any and all immigration-related deadlines and expiration of status to the benefit of U.S. employers, lawfully admitted foreign nationals, and the public. Many of those fighting on the front lines – our nurses and healthcare workers – are foreign nationals on nonimmigrant visas. At present, immigration attorneys seeking to effectively represent U.S. employers and foreign nationals face a dangerous catch-22: risk exposure and try to protect their clients’ immigration status or protect themselves and risk putting their clients’ cases or rights in jeopardy.”

“Across the country, immigration attorneys and their clients are being forced to choose between missing a filing deadline and violating stay at home orders and exposing themselves, their staff and their clients to a deadly illness. USCIS must join many other federal agencies in extending its filing deadlines so that lawfully present foreign nationals in the United States can maintain status during this national crisis. By refusing to do so, USCIS is needlessly endangering lives,” added AILA President Marketa Lindt.

The complaint referred to the national emergency declared by US President Donald Trump on March 13, 2020, and implementation of ‘work-from-home’ orders for the general public by the governors and mayors of all the states of US, that led to 85% of the nation’s residents staying indoors in around 30 states to slowdown the spread of COVID-19. Given the situation, the USCIS has closed all local offices until at least May 3, and left the non-immigrant workers in a fix.

” Notwithstanding the universal steps taken by other federal and state governments and agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to extend deadlines, hold cases or statuses in abeyance, and otherwise toll any time that may impair individuals, USCIS has arbitrarily and unconstitutionally refused to take measures to toll deadlines and the expiration dates for foreign nationals in the United States, including dates related to lawful status and work authorization.

The pandemic necessitates a pause across the immigration spectrum, including any and all deadlines for initial applications, responses to any and all Requests for Evidence or other responses due on or after March 1, 2020, requests for extension of status, maintenance of status, and reprieve from any expiration of status,” the complaint read.

The complaint sought extension of deadline for non-immigrants’ lawful status and dates for employment authorization.

“This Court should declare that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of U.S. employers and foreign national seeking immigration benefits, including their legal representatives, and order USCIS to toll deadlines and the expiration dates for any individual’s lawful status, including the expiration dates for employment authorization where applicable, from the date the President declared a national emergency until 90 days after the emergency officially ends,” the letter further said.

AILA further demanded that as part of the emergency provisions and extension of deadline, USCIS should ensure that all foreign nationals remain in lawful status, including but not limited to conditional lawful permanent residents, students, nonimmigrant workers, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and those Temporary Protected Status. AILA also demanded that the tolling of deadlines should include those admitted under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) and the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”), who are unable to return to their home country and unable to make a satisfactory departure request via their legal representatives at local USCIS field offices that remain closed to the public.

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