Category: Immigration Reform

Politics Sends DACA Bill to the Back of the Line

Republican and Democratic members of Congress responded quickly to President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on March 5, 2018.

Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Durbin held a press conference to announced their re-introduction of legislation intended to protect the so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. without inspection as children and who have lived here ever since.

But a series of events has pushed immigration reform for DREAMers to the bottom of the legislative pile.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and now Irma has landed in Florida, causing massive damage and requiring significant federal resources.

Members of Congress are now scrambling to obtain needed federal benefits for their respective districts and disaster relief is first and foremost on legislators minds.

The President and members of the Republican leadership in the Capitol are looking for tax reform.

Finally, some member of the President’s own party are angry that he has joined Democrats on the complicated issue of the debt ceiling.

The result: little appetite for DREAMer legislation and a number of other topics calling for legislators’ attention.

According to a recent piece by the McClatchy wire service, immigration is low on the list of most legislators priority list:

Conservative Republicans are demanding that significant border security measures are included in any proposal that deals with Dreamers, and House Speaker Paul Ryan is well aware that angry conservatives conspired to oust his predecessor, John Boehner, over immigration.

In addition, there is the general problem that Democrats and Republicans do not agree on the best path forward for immigration.  Republicans want increased border security, Democrats want to still push for comprehensive immigration reform.  It is unclear as to whether the parties will reach consensus on the issue, especially in light of the six month window provided by the President.

What is Extreme Vetting

What is extreme vetting and how is it going to affect my immigration case?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer, practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri.

With the election of President Donald Trump, he threw around the phrase “extreme vetting” in the immigration context. We’ve had a lot of clients ask us what does extreme vetting mean and how is it going to impact my case? We thought we’d shoot this short video to discuss it.

One thing you need to know about the immigration process, I think we can all agree it takes a very long time, that when you’re dealing with agencies like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, Customs and Border Patrol, that there are a lot of steps for the process and no one would ever accuse the Federal Government of moving quickly on immigration cases. This is cases that take place within the United States, like adjustment of status or citizenship and also involves cases overseas where a U.S. citizen or an employer is trying to bring over a foreign national to come to the United States and have to go through the State Department and the Embassy. No one would ever say that these cases go by lickety-split, in fact, they take a very long time. The reason that they take a very is because the government is already doing an extreme amount of vetting.

Just in the last five years, we’ve seen forms balloon in size. For instance, the application to adjust status used to be six pages long. It is currently 20 pages long and growing. The same for citizenship, citizenship used to be just a few pages long, and now it is many, many pages. In the spouse visa context, we use an I-130. That form used to be two pages and now it is not two pages, but it’s much longer. It actually involves two different forms, one for the spouse, who is a U.S. citizen and one for the overseas spouse. The federal government knows how to make things grow and especially when it comes to forms and making things more complex.

Add to all this, President Trump claiming that he wanted to increase vetting to cause extreme vetting to occur when someone applies for an immigration benefit. We’ve already seen the results of this as these forms are slowly implemented. Things are slowing down at the Immigration Service. Things are slowing down at the State Department. We have cases that use to take four or five months that now take eight or nine months and they’re really being nitpicky and they’re coming up with ways to slow things down. We think that the Trump Administration has brought in experts in Immigration Law and they’ve come up in ways that are pretty devious and pretty creative to really make it harder for you to bring your loved one to the Untied States, to keep your loved one in the United States, to help them get lawful status, to help them get citizenship and we’re really seeing the consequences of this with the delays.

The other thing is that when you have an agency that’s own heightened alert like this and that wants to make things harder for everybody that we’re really seeing that denials are increasing, frustration is increasing. We’re getting a lot of people who come to see us having filed for themselves and they screwed up their case. We do what we can to help them, but this is a new era. The Trump Administration has brought a new sense of scrutiny to the Immigration Service with a harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric. The people that work at the Immigration Office seem to have slowed things down and we’re really seeing clients that are frustrated.

If you need help with this, if you’re wondering how is extreme vetting going to hurt my case or slow down my case? How could I do things to make things better, how can I increase the chances of success? How can I make sure that I do everything possible to speed my case along? You’re probably going to need to talk to an experienced immigration attorney. You’re probably going to need help. It’s a new day. It’s a new time. There’s a new President and he has made immigration one of his focus issues. He has decided to have his Administration do what they can to slow things down, especially for people from particular countries, from the Middle East, from predominantly Muslim countries. These cases are going to take a lot longer, a lot harder.

We see this too in the asylum context, that it’s going to be a lot harder and a lot longer to get asylum. The Immigration Courts are backlogged, everything’s slowing down and that is by design. The Trump Administration wants to slow down immigration to the United States. They want to make it harder for people to come here and stay here. We’ll do what we can to fight for you to help you, to help smooth line the process, to help you not have to worry so much.

We hope you liked this video. Be sure to give us a call if you need some help. (314) 961-8200 or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com. If you liked this video, be sure to click “Like” below to share it with your friends and to subscribe to our YouTube and Facebook channels, so that you get updated whenever we shoot a video like this.

Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

Indian Doctors Face Deportation Due to Paperwork Error

Two Indian physicians who reside in Houston, Texas, face imminent deportation from the United States due to a paperwork error.

Dr. Pankaj Satija is a neurologist who helped found the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas.  His wife, Dr. Monnika Ummat, have resided in the U.S. for many, many years.  Dr. Ummat is also a neurologist.  She specializes in treating epilepsy at Texas Children’s Hospital.  They are the parents of 2 U.S. citizens, 7-year-old Ralph and 4-year-old Zoeey.

The pair faced removal last week after immigration officials refused to extend Dr. Satija’s and Dr. Ummat’s temporary permission to stay in the U.S.  The decision by Homeland Security may cause dozens of Texans who suffer from neurological disorders to be without their doctors.

“I have 50 patients today and 40 patients tomorrow,” said Dr. Satija. “I’m just concerned they’ll be left in a lurch. They could land up in the emergency room.”

The Houston Methodist Hospital System sponsored Dr. Satija for a green card (lawful permanent resident status) in 2008.  Dr. Ummat would be eligible to adjust status as his spouse.  But because the couple are from India and because USCIS has a nearly decade-long backlog for Indian professionals to adjust status, they have not yet received their LPR status.

The couple regularly renewed their travel documents and work authorizations.  But last year, their permission to travel abroad was extended for only one year instead of two years, which had typically been what they received.  Later snafus by Customs and Border Patrol contributed to the confusion.

The couple never noticed the problem.  Then Dr. Satija’s brother called from India to tell him that their father had been admitted into intensive care and was gravely ill.  The entire family flew to India.

When they returned to the U.S., they learned that they had left the U.S. on expired advance parole documents (the formal name for the travel documents).

CBP allowed the couple to enter the U.S. on deferred inspection, which means they were allowed in but would have to explain how they believed they were entitled to stay at a later date.

When they brought their paperwork back to CBP, they were initially told that everything would be okay.  But the next day, they were told “[s]omebody up there has decided you have to leave the country in the next 24 hours.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, in two expansive immigration memos the Trump administration issued in February, it directed the nation’s three main immigration agencies to “sparingly” use the practice of parole, though it hasn’t yet detailed the new regulations.

At the end of last week, DHS did agree to give the couple another 90 days to try and sort out the situation.

This story demonstrates a few themes we talk about at the Hacking Law Practice on a regular basis.

First, it is absolutely ridiculous that we have an immigration system that takes nine years for a pair of super-qualified doctors from India to get lawful resident status.

Second, it is absurd that we are even talking about the possibility of deporting these people who serve sick Americans every day of their lives.

Third, immigrants are awesome and help this country every day.

 

Trump to Ban Refugees & Prohibit Visas for People from 7 Predominantly Muslim Countries

According to recent news reports, President Donald Trump is planning to sign an executive order on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, which would institute a “temporary” ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

 

These countries are predominantly Muslim countries.

The ban is expected to stop Syrian refugees from coming to the United States immediately.  In addition, news reports indicate that the State Department will be prohibited from issuing some types, or even all types, of visas for people from the countries listed above.

During the Presidential campaign, Mr. Trump called for an outright ban on Muslim immigration to the United States.  The executive orders seem to be an attempt by the Trump administration to make the Muslim ban more politically acceptable and, perhaps, more legally defensible.

Banning people based on their religion would be harder to defend from a legal perspective than a ban on people from a particular country.

Last night, the President tweeted that he had a “big day” planned on national security today.

Many wonder whether the President’s action is legal.  According to Professor Stephen Legomsky of Washington University and a former legal advisor to President Obama, Trump’s ban is most likely legal.

“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” Legomsky explained.

The Constitution and federal law give the President wide-ranging authority in deciding who gets into the United States and who does not.

Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council are awaiting the exact wording of President Trump’s executive order.  They and other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are exploring legal challenges to the order.

Our office is currently handling many immigrant visa cases for relatives from the above-listed countries.  We will be following the executive order and any litigation over the ban on a daily basis.

For now, we will continue to process these cases and to keep doing the next possible step in each case.

This proposed ban is so offensive and such a blatant act of stereotyping and scapegoating that it can hardly be put into words.  There have been zero reports of any Syrian refugees getting into any kind of terroristic trouble and our office works with people from these countries on a daily basis.

They are some of the finest people that we know.

But for now, as a reminder once again that elections have consequences, we are left to wait, watch and to prepare to fight.

If we can litigate on behalf of any of our clients, we are ready, willing and able to do so.

 

House Incumbents Already Working on 2017 Immigration Reform Bill

Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) are already at work drafting immigration reform litigation for after the 2016 elections.  Their efforts are aimed at passing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform in 2017.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for President, has promised to introduce legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for our nation’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants within the first 100 days of taking the Presidency (assuming she defeats Republican nominee Donald J. Trump).

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Gutierrez believes that Trump’s harsh rhetoric will cause immigrants to vote in record numbers, particular Hispanic voters.  If so, the theory is that Congress will have a mandate for significant immigration changes.

Many Republican leaders in Congress do support immigration reform, but the devil is in the details.  The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in 2008, but hard-liner, anti-immigrant Republicans like Steve King and John Boehner refused to allow the Senate bill to be considered in the House.

The other problem is that the Republicans in Congress did not want to give President Obama a legislative victory as significant as comprehensive immigration reform.  The relationship between the White House and Congressional Republicans has been described as toxic.

It is unclear as to whether relations would be any better with Hillary Clinton as President.  As Republican representative Mario Diaz-Balart explains: “What I think happened to Obama is he just wanted to play politics with it. I’m fearful that Hillary will do the same thing. But maybe not.”

The issue of immigration is technically complex and politically charged.  But much of the details of what immigration reform would look like have been contained in prior draft legislation.

In the meantime, Gutierrez and Lofgren are meeting with immigration stakeholders and “using [their] past experience to craft and carve a proposal for consideration by the transition team.”

Time will tell.  The Democrats had control of both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House and could not get immigration reform passed.  Hopefully, a different outcome will occur next time this important issue is considered.

Immigrant Justice – Arbitrary and Capricious

Arbitrary (adj.) – subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion.

Capricious (adj.) – subject to, led by, or indicative of a sudden, odd notion or unpredictable change; erratic.

When I attended law school, the professors taught us that justice was supposed to be distributed evenly.  We learned how precedent – prior decisions – was to dictate how judges decide matters in real time.

They also taught us that the law was NOT supposed to be arbitrary or capricious.  The law should not turn on the tendencies of a particular judge, but rather applied uniformly across the country.

The law should not be left to the “individual will” of a judge.  The law should not be “unpredictable” or “erratic.”

I think of these old law school lessons whenever I see statistics regarding the granting or denial of asylum relief in our nation’s immigration courts.

Asylum cases involve a claim by a foreign national that if he or she return to their home country that they will be persecuted for something about them that they can’t or should not have to change – their religion, their nationality, their race, their political opinion or their membership in a particular social group.

One would hope that if we took the same asylum case and presented it to an immigration judge in Cleveland and in Phoenix and in Seattle, the same result would be reached.

But the statistics from our nation’s 58 deportation courts show that this is definitely not the case.

Generally, the approval rate for asylum court cases is about 48 percent.  But after the recent surge of asylum cases stemming from the violence in Central America, the numbers in our nation’s immigration courts are all over the map.

According to a recent piece in The Washington Post, the approval rate for asylum at the New York immigration court is 84 percent.  The approval rate in Chicago is 45 percent.  But in Houston, only 9 percent of asylum seekers obtain relief.  The number in Atlanta is even worse – amazingly, the immigration judges in Atlanta only approve 2 percent of the cases that appear before them.  Two percent!

This is no way to run an immigration system.  Asylum is one of the most important forms of immigration relief that there is.  These judges are literally making life and death choices.  Due to the overworked and overloaded immigration court system, the judges have very little time to review these cases.

How in the world can immigration judges in New York approve 84 percent of the cases, but judges in Atlanta only 2?

The Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Board of Immigration Appeals must make uniformity in the rule of law a guiding principal and reign in these judges with ridiculously low approval rates.

Too much is at stake.

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New report asks “What Does Immigration Actually Cost Us?”

As one of the hottest topics in the upcoming election, immigration policy has been receiving an increasing amount of attention by voters, politicians, and scholars alike. If you were to ask ten different people the effects of immigrants on American society, you would more likely than not receive ten different answers from ten confident people.

With this in mind, how are we to know what immigration actually costs us as Americans? To help with this answer, the National Academy of Sciences issued a 509 page report titled “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration (and appearing in the New York Times) ” While the report is incredibly detailed and informative, it is multifaceted enough to allow competing interpretations. These competing and drastically different interpretations come from the left, with liberal advocacy groups like America’s Voice, as well as from the right, with conservative groups like the Center for Immigration Studies.

At this period in history, the report issued by the academy is especially important as the November election approaches and the public continues to be fed radically different views from politicians. After the ideas highlighted by the report are properly understood, it will then be time to apply that information to the views of the candidates. Let me first save you the time of reading a 509 page report full of large scholarly words by summarizing the pros and cons of immigration as highlighted in the academy’s report. Following that, we will review the two candidates aspirations for immigration.

First, Pia Orrenius, VP of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and member of the academy, says that immigration fuels the economy because of the obvious notion that increased labor equates to increased productivity. Not so obvious though is the fact that the increased inflow of labor that immigration brings targets industries and areas where there is a relative need for workers and where shortages would damper economic development. In addition to this, the inflow of labor that immigration brings compensates for a problem that every other economy in the world is facing: unfavorable changes in demographics. These unfavorable changes include an aging workforce in almost every developed economy as well as a reduction in consumption by these older residents; young hardworking immigrants make up for these.

Furthermore, the willingness of less-skilled immigrants to work for lower pay, which is a common criticism of immigrants by the right wing, actually reduces consumption costs for millions of Americans. If a company is paying less to staff its business, it is more likely to decrease prices.

Pia Orrenius also conceded though and recognized the costs of immigration. She said in the report that immigration does lower the wages of competing workers; however, it raises the wages of complimentary workers, which would be workers in fields that are accelerated by higher immigration populations, rather than fields competitive between immigrants and native citizens. For this reason, the overall surplus that higher immigration populations bring is not equally split among everyone, it is primarily for the owners of capital and complimentary workers.

An important note made by VP of the Dallas Federal Reserve, Pia Orrenius, was that the adverse wage effects of immigration are only felt in the transition period as the economy adjusts. Furthermore, those effects are more concentrated on previous immigrants in low skilled jobs rather than native citizens.

One of the largest focuses of immigration based economics is on remittances, which are transfers of money from an immigrant in the United States back to his or her family or friends in his or her home country. Conservative organizations like Limits to Growth claim that these substantially decrease consumption and therefore drain the economy. The academy on the other hand says that there is are only small adverse economic consequences and that they actually speed up global growth and reduce cross-country inequality.

With the information from the report in mind, we can now examine the two opposing stances encountered in this presidential election. Hillary Clinton, Democratic nominee, promotes a comprehensive immigration reform that she believes is not only the right moral thing to do, but also something that will strengthen our economy and country as a whole. Policies that include a path to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants is crucial to winning the hispanic vote, so it is no surprise that Clinton has clinched the majority of latino voters. In fact, democratic support for immigrants and those who say they “strengthen the country through hard work” has risen to 78%.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, on the other hand is against any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, saying they need to “go home and get in line,” in his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. He claims that immigration benefits corporations and the wealthy rather than the working people. Trump’s supporters are 87% white and relatively hostile towards immigrants; majority of them say immigrants are “a very big problem” and that “immigrants take jobs from Americans.”

Clearly, there is not a concrete definitive answer for the economic effects of immigration. We can gather reliable information from reports like “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration,” but these reports really demonstrate anything, it’s that immigration is not a clear-cut issue with a right or wrong answer; there are costs and benefits. As citizens of this country it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and take civil steps to express our opinions and push for change.

 

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New Border Chief to Address Internal Corruption, High Number of Fatal Shootings

There is a new sheriff in town.

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Actually, we are referring to a new chief of the U.S. Border Patrol agency.  Mark Morgan, a former FBI supervisor, recently became the head of the agency charged with securing our nation’s borders.

Morgan is the first “outsider” to ever take the helm of Border Patrol and people are beginning to take notice.

Border Patrol has faced a series of setbacks and public relations black eyes in recent years.  Claims of an overly confrontational approach that has resulted in multiple fatal shootings, a long history of internal corruption and a lack of accountability in investigating misconduct have persisted.

Morgan spoke of the perceived environment at Border Patrol – “it was a culture of not getting out and talking about issues, not being transparent about the process that drove the perception there was a culture problem.”  Morgan toured half of the 20 Border Patrol outposts that cover the 6,000 miles of our Canadian and Mexican borders and spoke with front line agents at each of those locations.

He has also implemented new “use-of-force” policies to train new recruits in de-escalating mechanisms to try and cut down on the number of fatalities along the border.  An improved review system for officer involved shootings is also being implemented.

“The piece we need to get better at when a shooting happens is, what happens now?  I don’t think we were very good at all about making decisions like whether the use of force was within our guidelines.”

Morgan is a civil servant as opposed to a political appointee so it is expected that he will stay in the role no matter the outcome of the November presidential election.  During a recent Congressional hearing, Morgan was asked what he thought of Mr. Trump’s grand plan for a border wall.  He noted that the federal government already spends a tremendous amount of money on the existing border security fences and that a wall “isn’t the answer.”

 

20-Year-Old Immigration Law Signed By President Clinton Continues to Harm Immigrants

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In 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the harshest immigration bill that this nation had seen in decades.  The effects of this bill linger and hang over any efforts for “immigration reform.”

Interestingly, Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act has not been discussed much this election cycle, despite the fact that IIRIRA established the deportation machine that has been humming along for two decades now.

Regular readers of this website know that we have been super-critical of Republican hard-liner Donald Trump and his harsh anti-immigrant, xenophobic presidential campaign.  But this does not mean that Democrats get a pass here.

The truth is that the “centrist” Bill Clinton signed the most draconian immigration bill of our lifetime.  President Barack Obama has deported more people than any President in the nation’s history.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton promises immigration reform, but what exactly would that reform look like?

Lost in all of this is IIRIRA.  According to a recent article on Vox:

The ’96 law essentially invented immigration enforcement as we know it today — where deportation is a constant and plausible threat to millions of immigrants.  It was a bundle of provisions with a single goal: to increase penalties on immigrants who had violated US law in some way (whether they were unauthorized immigrants who’d violated immigration law or legal immigrants who’d committed other crimes).

IIRIRA greatly expanded the types of crimes that could result in the deportation of a foreign national.  This included lawful permanent residents.  And the Clinton bill made those changes retroactive, thereby boosting the number of possible (probable) deportations.

The law also made many immigrants subject to mandatory detention while their immigration cases were being decided.  This pre-trial hammer was used to make frustrated, imprisoned immigrants give up their effort to stop deportation and simply go home.  An underfunded deportation judicial system only meant that these immigrants had to wait longer and longer while in lockup for their day in court.

Immigrants convicted of certain crimes or those caught within 100 miles of the border were given summary deportation orders without ever having the chance to see an immigration judge.

Finally, the 1996 law made it almost impossible for undocumented immigrants to receive cancellation of removal.  This is a form of relief for longtime undocumented immigrants who had not committed crimes to stay in the country.  IIRIRA made it almost impossible to obtain such relief.

Proponents of immigration reform and immigration advocates are understandably appalled by the harsh rhetoric coming from the Republican party on this issue.  But it cannot and should not be lost on any one who follows this issue that the Democrats have a lot of blame for our current situation as well.

 

USCIS Attempts to “Go Digital” are Abysmal Failure

A decade ago, the U.S. government began a push to move all of their immigration forms from paper to digital.  Today, there is only one of those forms online and one way to pay a certain fee electronically.  Meanwhile the 94 other forms can be filed with paper.

Originally, this project was expected to cost a half-billion dollars and be completed in 2013.  The project, which is run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is now expected to cost roughly $3.1 billion and be completed around 2019.  According to interviews with federal officials, this will make immigration policy reform much tougher, slow down the process of citizenship for current immigrants and hurt detection of national security risks.  

The state of the project can be blamed on poor management.  It wasn’t until three years after IBM received a $500 million contract, that officials completed basic plans for the computer system.  

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security knew about hundreds of defects in the software by 2012.  The agency continued to use the software because of pressure from the Obama administration.  This happened, in part, because of the administration’s push for reform and the officials wanting to please them.

The only form that is digitally available for filing is an application for renewing or replacing a misplaced green card, which is the document given to legal permanent residents.  According to government documents, many immigrants that applied online have waited as long as a year or never received their new cards.  This made it hard for many of these immigrants to work, travel, and attend school.  

Former president of the union that represents employees at immigration , Kenneth Palinkas said, “You’re going on 11 years into this project, they only have one form, and we’re still a paper-based agency. It’s a huge albatross around our necks.’’

“In 2012, we made some hard decisions to turn the Transformation Program around using the latest industry best practices and approaches, instead of simply scratching it and starting over.  We took a fresh start — a fix that required an overhaul of the development process — from contracting to development methodology to technology,’’ said a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services.  

The spokesman, Shin Inoye went on to say, “Since making these changes, we have been able to develop and deploy a new system that is able to process about 1.2 million benefit requests out of USCIS’s total annual work volume.  Our goals remain to improve operations, increase efficiency, and prepare for any changes to our immigration laws. Based on our recent progress, we are confident we are moving in the right direction.”

If Congress votes to implement immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security would be able to easily make significant changes to immigration documents.  Currently, immigrants and their lawyers have had to deal with a very flawed process.  They often have to ship documents and even face problems with these documents being lost.  

An immigration attorney is quoted as saying, “It’s in­cred­ibly slow to use the few forms they put online.  Most immigration lawyers have concluded the system is half-baked.’’

Millions of immigrants have to suffer with this archaic process on a daily basis.  Immigrants often miss deadlines due to lost paperwork, which leads to the loss of jobs, traveling and schoolwork.  These immigrants have lost homes and countless opportunities.  

“If there are some bad apples in there who should not get a green card, who are terrorists who want to do us harm, how on earth are they going to find these people if they’re sending mountains of paper immigration files all over the United States?’’ said a D.C. immigration attorney.   

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