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Entering 2021 as an Immigrant in America
Happy New Year everyone! What a year 2020 was! An understatement to say the least. I’m happy to see it left behind in the rear view mirror. Along with the fourth (and mercifully the last) year of the Trump Administration, we “welcomed” a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to our shores and all the misery that came as a result of it.
As I reflect back on 2020, there’s no doubt that the human toll, and specifically the death toll, was awful. Most experts say it’s going to get worse before it gets better. That said, I think the toll on our collective mental health has been equally as bad, and some might argue worse.
And as bad as it’s been for you and I, imagine the uncertainty of being an immigrant in America, whether you’re here lawfully or not. Combine that with a pandemic that has thus far taken the lives of almost 350,000 souls in the United States, and infected (as far as we know) more than 20 million, it’s not hard to imagine the stress that immigrants are under during these incredible times.
Trump’s legacy will include many things. It will also be long-lasting. The mark he has left on U.S. immigration policy will be indelible in some cases. Plain and simple, President Trump and his minions like Stephen Miller have been more hostile to U.S. immigration policy and the immigrants that policy is meant to serve than any other administration I can think of, making it unnecessarily more difficult for people to visit friends and families, and to live or work in our communities.
I recently saw an interview that Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), gave on FOX News in 2019. I quote: “First of all, I see USCIS as a vetting agency, not a benefits agency,” Cuccinelli said. He went on to say, “[w]e have benefits that we give when people meet legal thresholds but it’s on them to prove they’ve done it and it’s our job to make sure those are going to people who have in fact met those thresholds, and we’re protecting America by screening people trying to come in and stay here a long time.”
I don’t disagree that USCIS must do its job responsibly, and vetting an applicant for an immigration benefit like permission to work or getting Green Card is part of that process. But that’s part of how USCIS effectuates its mission, which is to adjudicate benefits for foreign nationals. Mr. Cuccinelli’s viewpoint is symptomatic of the larger Trump Administration view that immigration is a bad thing for our country.
Over the past four years, we have recommended to our clients, contrary to our practice pre-Trump, that if they are eligible, they should apply for citizenship in the United States. I think it’s a very personal thing for someone to give up citizenship to their original country in order to become one in ours. We’re apparently not the only ones who make this recommendation now. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of naturalization applications filed annually has increased in recent years.
Most credit this to the President’s anti-immigration rhetoric during the 2016 election cycle which continued into and throughout his administration. No one was spared. Legal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and applicants for citizenship. Also not spared were individuals seeking to extend their temporary status in the United States where that benefit had previously been “vetted” by USCIS. Go figure. These are but a few of dozens and dozens of examples.
Citizens of the United States have so many more protections under our law than someone who is not. Hasn’t that proven to be the case over the past four years (at least within the immigration context)? But still, how did we arrive at this point?
We’re now into a New Year, and in a couple of weeks, we’ll have a new president. Although we may be in the midst of a dark winter as far as COVID-19 is concerned, even with COVID-19 we can now start seeing the hint of a light at the end of the tunnel. President-elect Biden has a lot of work ahead of him, if nothing else, to try to get our immigration system back to where it was before President Trump was sworn in (imperfect as it was even back then). I hope he’s up to the task.