“Birth certificates, which the federal government had accepted from these immigrants when they had applied for temporary legal status under past presidents, were now deemed insufficient,” ProPublica reports. “So were expired Liberian passports—even though they were being offered as proof of nationality, which doesn’t expire.” In fact, USCIS’ rules were so unclear that even following an informational webinar by legal advocates this past summer, “[n]o one was sure what evidence the U.S. government was accepting to prove that an applicant was actually Liberian.”
That’s not by mistake, with the agency nearly furloughing 70% of its work force this year over supposed funding concerns that I guess didn’t turn out to be concerns at least for the time being after pressure from federal legislators and advocates?
“On top of locking out immigrants, USCIS has done little to nothing to address many issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic that could be easily addressed and save the agency money or bring in additional funding,” DHS Watch Director Ur Jaddou said earlier this year, “including virtual naturalization oath ceremonies, deadline extensions, automatic extensions, and deferred action for essential workers.” In fact, immigrants who were nearing the naturalization process had to sue USCIS in order to complete the process.
Trump officials, including unlawfully appointed acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, also defied court order and refused to reopen the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to new applicants (and the additional fees that would then roll in), finally reinstating the program this month. The month prior, USCIS officials reportedly ordered agency staff to not communicate with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, days after it had already been clear he’d won.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 Liberian immigrants may be eligible for green cards, with Lind reporting that more than 1,000 had applied by the time officials instituted their mind-boggling rules that are now coupled with some outrageous inaction from the agency. “Several lawyers pointed out to ProPublica that USCIS already had thousands of home addresses of eligible immigrants from their latest filings for temporary status, and could have sent them letters informing them of the new program; it did not,” the report continued.
The application period for eligible immigrants is now closing in just days on Dec. 20. Even that’s coming with fine print, because USCIS is saying that applications have to be received by that date, when in the past it has accepted a postmark for a certain date. “Some members of Congress are working to add an extension to the end-of-year omnibus spending bill,” the report said, but it could end up coming down to the incoming Biden administration to do this, adding to the mountain of anti-immigrant and anti-asylum policies it already has to clean up.