Immigration Weekly Round-Up: “Remain in Mexico Policy” Ends; Bipartisan Calls to Protect Afghan Allies; USCIS Softens Unlawful Voter Registration Penalties
White House Terminates “Remain in Mexico” Program
On Tuesday, the Biden administration formally ended the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program, which had imposed potential asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their applications for asylum processed in the U.S. immigration court system. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, issued a memo stating that the policy had not helped with border management.
The policy had not been enforced by President Biden since he took office but had not been officially revoked until this week. The move comes on the heels of a separate decision of the Biden administration to bar the separation of families to prosecute immigrants for unlawful border crossings.
White House Faces Call to Protect Afghans Who Defended U.S. Military Efforts
The Biden administration is facing increasing pressure to help secure U.S. visas for Afghan nationals who assisted the U.S. military during the war in Afghanistan and whose lives would be at risk when the U.S. completes its full withdrawal of troops on September 11, 2021.
Currently, Afghans who have been employed by the U.S. government can apply for protection in the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa program. However, there are more than 18,000 Afghans on the waitlist and processing faces inordinate delays.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have been pushing the Biden Administration for weeks to make changes to accommodate these visa applicants – Representative Adam Kinzinger (R – Ill.), a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, sponsored a bill to authorize 4,000 new special visas, although he acknowledged that “more needs to be done to clear the backlog at the Department of State before the United States withdraws” all troops.
Fearing horrific results if nothing is done, former national security officials are resorting to more dramatic efforts to help, such as evacuating Afghans to a safe location while the applications are being processed, or simply to protect them from immediate reprisal once the U.S. has left. A move like this could aid thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. or its allies but otherwise would not qualify under the requirements of the Special Immigrant Visa program.
New USCIS Policy Alert Regarding Naturalization Eligibility and Voter Registration
Last Thursday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated their policy manual with respect to how naturalization applicant’s good moral character is affected if that applicant registers to vote or votes in a U.S. election.
A U.S. resident must be an American citizen to vote in a federal election. Any noncitizen who registers to vote, votes, or claims to be an American citizen is a temporary bar from applying for U.S. citizenship for five years (in addition to potential criminal penalties). However, the USCIS has now clarified that it will not penalize an applicant who registers to vote unknowingly or without intent to do so. Specifically, the USCIS does not consider an applicant to have unlawfully registered to vote if they did not complete or sign the voter registration section in the motor vehicle or other state benefit application, even if a state department of motor vehicles subsequently registers them to vote.
Furthermore, the USCIS does not consider an applicant to have unlawfully claimed to be a U.S. citizen if they did not affirmatively indicate that they are a U.S. citizen at the time they were registered to vote; however, the burden is on the noncitizen to prove the registration form did not ask a question about the citizenship status. The new policy has immediate effect.