Changes to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy over the last few months have prompted Undocumented Student Services to recognize their impact on the Cal Poly Pomona community and virtually assist undocumented students during this time of uncertainty.
USCIS policy changes include a proposed increase in filing fees, and scaled back protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients. There are also several lawsuits currently challenging the termination of the Temporary Protected Status program, which provides a work permit and stay of deportation for countries that are comforting on going armed conflict, an environmental disaster or extraordinary and temporary conditions.
CPP and eight other California State University campuses partner with the nonprofit legal team CARECEN to provide free legal immigration assistance to students, staff and faculty. Recently, services were extended to include immediate family.
“Personally, as an attorney I want to bring a holistic approach to the way I lawyer so if the student doesn’t need immigration help themselves, but their parents do I still want to be able to offer that help,” said CARECEN Staff Attorney Elda Rosales.
Previously, CARECEN offered filing fee support but will no longer have the state allocated funding to do so. In response, Undocumented Student Services is working to create a legal assistance fund where mutual aid can financially support CPP’s undocumented community.
“Financially, it is a lot of pressure on the campus community but also for our program,” said Undocumented Student Services Coordinator Mecir Andre Ureta Rivera. “We are always trying to find ways to support students with that.”
USCIS fees were on track to be increased by a weighted average of 20% until an injunction by the U.S. District Court of Northern California interrupted the final rule just three days before the Oct. 2 implementation date.
The policy changes published by USCIS on Aug. 3 removes fee exceptions, changes fee waiver requirements, establishes new fees for asylum seekers, and increases filing fees anywhere from 5%-83%. The injunction halted the final rule from being implemented; filing will continue under the pre-final rule filing fees, until litigation is finalized.
Rivera recalled the many times he has witnessed students forced to choose between paying filing fees or paying for basic necessities.
“If we think about USCIS fees already being high, especially during this time, there is always a purpose behind the increases,” Rivera added. “It is to suppress or give people a hard time to become citizens and to me that sounds discriminatory. How difficult are they making it difficult to become a resident or to just hold a little bit of status in this country?”
The turn of events may leave the current state of immigrant protection in limbo, but Undocumented Student Services at CPP will continue to support students, staff and faculty, as well as their immediate families.
Rosales believes increased fees and changes to waivers will negatively impact communities already facing financial stress due to COVID-19.
“These kinds of things are viewed as being very restrictive and trying to limit who has access,” Rosales said. “Families either are going to have limited access to this, maybe just decided they are not going to be able to do it or they are going to have to give up either food, rent or other necessities so they can file the application.”
Though the USCIS filing fee increase was halted by an injunction, changes to DACA took affect July 28.
Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf issued a memorandum late July that lessened the protection given by the DACA policy. Following this summer’s Supreme Court decision ruling the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to end DACA improper, this memorandum called for the rejection of all new DACA applications and work permit requests and limited the period of protection from two years to one.
Bronco Dreamers Resource Center Marketing Specialist Carla Castillo, a fifth-year international marketing student, expressed frustration at the state of immigration policy in America, citing the illegal hysterectomies that are being performed on migrant women, the abuse children are experiencing locked in cages and concern over where the money from the fee increases will be going.
“When I think of my situation, I don’t want to minimize my struggle, but I have to stand back and be grateful for where I am; although, it worries me that I cannot fight as hard for that community,” she said. “While I am glad they didn’t exactly increase DACA fees, I am disappointed they didn’t lower it because it is not the same protection. It is unfair we have to pay more and have less protection. It makes no sense. It makes you wonder where the money is going.”
Just as the Supreme Court ruled the ending of DACA violated the Admirative Procedure Act, lawsuits from across the country are claiming the decision to end Temporary Protection Status for several countries also violated this policy
Since 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has terminated Temporary Protection Status designations for several countries, effectively ending protections for Temporary Protection Status holders from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and Nepal. As a result, TPS holders and children of TPS holders filed lawsuits challenging the termination of Temporary Protection Status for affected countries.
While these lawsuits are still in litigation, the Sept. 14 decision in the Ramos v. Nielsen case repealed the injunction that halted the de-documentation of hundreds of thousands of families. Temporary Protection Status holders from these six countries will continue to have protection until the extended authorization date Jan. 2, 2021. After that, they will be left without protection unless determined otherwise by the courts.
Questions regarding a student’s status or that of their immediate family can be posed confidentially to Undocumented Student Services. To stay updated on changes to USCIS, connect with the Bronco Dreamers Resource Center on social media. CARECEN hosts monthly presentations to update attendees on the most up to date legal information.
Feature image courtesy of Georgia Valdes.
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