Category Archives: Uncategorized

DACA Renewal Guidance in Light of USCIS Office Closures and the Forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court Decision (The Torch)

DACA Renewal Guidance in Light of USCIS Office Closures and the Forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court Decision

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec
APRIL 3, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has clarified its process for handling Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal requests. According to USCIS’s website, its offices will remain closed until at least May 3.

The Home Is Here campaign’s Informing DACA Recipients and Practitioners Working Group, composed of advocates and immigration legal service providers, has updated guidance for DACA renewal requestors in light of USCIS’s clarified process, which will remain in place while USCIS offices remain closed.


Here’s what you should know:

1. “Wet signatures” (your non-photocopied signature, which you wrote with a pen) are temporarily not required on renewal applications. A person requesting DACA renewal may work with their attorney electronically (for example, using email and video or telephone conferencing) to complete their application, which can then be sent to USCIS by mail, since neither the applicant’s nor the attorney’s signature has to be “wet”; rather, it can be a copy of a signature on a form that was scanned, then emailed or faxed.

2. Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) deadlines have been extended.

3. USCIS may now use previously done biometrics to process work permit (employment authorization) renewal requests.

We can’t know for sure how USCIS’s office closures will affect the processing of DACA renewal requests, but we expect this closure may affect processing times. If you decide to apply now, we encourage you to send your application via certified mail to have proof of postmark date and confirmation of when your application arrived to a USCIS lockbox. For more information, we encourage you to read this guidance from Home Is Here.

Nobody knows what will happen with DACA in the next few weeks and months. We are still expecting a Supreme Court decision on the DACA cases by the end of the June 2020, but we don’t know when or how the Court will rule. The COVID-19 pandemic creates an additional layer of fear and uncertainty. Tens of thousands DACA recipients are on the frontlines responding to COVID-19, according to a new Center for Migration Studies report, and they’re unsure if they’ll be able to keep their jobs in a range of fields, including health care, transportation, warehousing, retail, pharmacies, and waste management, if the Court’s ruling leads to the end of DACA.

Advocates and some governors, such as Colorado governor Jared Polis, have asked Congress and the Trump administration to automatically extend work permits to alleviate the stress many are experiencing right now.

In the meantime, for DACA recipients, it feels like it did in June through August 2012, the three months between the announcement and implementation of DACA. During that period, we had some questions answered by USCIS but didn’t know what the program would be like moving forward, and we relied on practitioners with years of experience in other areas of immigration, such as temporary protected status (TPS), for guidance. We learned by doing. We learned by monitoring how USCIS was handling DACA requests and the experiences of our clients, so we’ll do the same now, given these new changes, and share any insights we learn along the way.

Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec is NILC’s immigration policy advocate.

COVID-19 Doesn’t Discriminate — Neither Should Congress’s Response (The Torch)

COVID-19 Doesn’t Discriminate — Neither Should Congress’s Response

Congress must fix its failure to include millions of people in testing and relief

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Avideh Moussavian and Manar Waheed
APRIL 2, 2020

Congress’s third bill addressing the impacts of COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was a necessary attempt to respond to this public health crisis, but its exclusion of immigrant communities is downright racist and xenophobic. Immigrants were cut out of provisions to ensure COVID-19 testing and care as well as economic relief, undermining our collective safety and economic future. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate; Congress’s response shouldn’t either. It’s essential that another bill — one that encompasses everyone — be introduced and passed as soon as possible.

There are three major ways in which immigrants were left behind in the CARES Act: testing and care, cash rebates, and unemployment insurance. If recent weeks have highlighted anything, it is just how interdependent we are in confronting a virus that does not discriminate. Our country’s ability to contain this pandemic and the sustainability of our future depends on Congress closing the gaps created by the relief bills enacted to date. Immigrants are serving so many vital roles at the frontlines of our recovery from COVID-19, including the 1.7 million immigrant medical and health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and the 27,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients working as doctors, nurses, and paramedics. It is both irresponsible and morally unforgivable to pass relief bills that fail to recognize that every person’s health and financial stability are critical.

In its next bill, Congress first must ensure that everyone who needs it receives testing and treatment. This should not even be up for debate. Yet the second COVID-19 relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), left out tens of millions of people — including DACA recipients, people with temporary protected status (TPS), certain survivors of crimes (people with U visas), undocumented people, and many lawful permanent residents (people with “green cards”). This bill includes money to support testing for those who are uninsured and not covered by Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Affordable Care Act marketplace, or any other individual or group health plan, but it kept immigrant eligibility restrictions in place.

The Families First Act should have made COVID-19–related services available under emergency Medicaid, so that it would not include the same immigrant eligibility restrictions as nonemergency Medicaid. It should also have ensured that these services would not be counted against a person in assessments of whether they are likely to become a “public charge,” which are effectively wealth tests of people seeking admission to the U.S. as lawful permanent residents or on an immigrant visa.

Unfortunately, both the Families First Act and CARES Act fail to address these gaps, leaving out tens of millions of people from testing and treatment. Some states, such as New York, are including COVID-19 testing, evaluation, and treatment as a part of emergency Medicaid coverage. Community health centers may also help fill this gap. But they may not be able to and shouldn’t have to — the federal response must be as holistic as possible in developing a national policy.

Second, Congress must include all immigrant workers and tax filers in the tax rebate so people can receive vital cash assistance. In the CARES Act, Congress funded cash rebates for recent tax filers based on their taxpayer identification numbers, but limited this to those using Social Security numbers (SSNs). However, many people file their tax returns using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Under the bill, if ITIN users file jointly with a spouse or child with an SSN, everyone in the household will be denied access to the cash assistance. While Congress did create an exception to allow military families to be able to use an ITIN number, this narrow exception only demonstrates that members of Congress understood that they created this cruel carveout and still deliberately chose to leave out millions. As a result, many immigrant workers are put in an increasingly difficult position, cut out of cash assistance and risking their health for essential work without even having access to testing and care.

Third, the bill must provide unemployment insurance for as many people as possible during this crisis. Under federal law, individuals must be work-authorized both for the period of time for which they are claiming unemployment insurance and at the time of filing their claim. However, many immigrant workers awaiting adjudication of immigration benefits or at risk of the looming threat of a loss of immigration status may experience a lapse in their work authorization — perhaps due to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office closures during this crisis. Congress should ensure an automatic extension of work permits for people with DACA or TPS and nonimmigrant visas for the same duration of time as a regular renewal of that work permit, i.e., a two-year extension for DACA recipients. Exacerbating financial hardship will likely make it impossible for these workers and community members to survive, thus harming our short- and longterm recovery efforts.

Congress can and must take up another relief bill to address these significant gaps in order to ensure the well-being of people, families, and communities across the country — and for the future of our nation. And they need to do it now.


  • There may be other options for testing and care. While many immigrants have been left out of the relief packages thus far, there are some options available for immigrants to get tested and treated for COVID-19. Community health centers provide health care to all patients regardless of immigration status typically at a reduced cost or free of charge. Find the closest health center to you at Call the community health center prior to going in person to ensure they are providing COVID-19 testing and care.
  • Testing and care will not impact immigration benefits. USCIS recently posted an alert notifying the public that it will not consider testing, treatment, or preventive care related to COVID-19 of noncitizens as a public charge, so such assistance should not impact their Lawful Permanent Residency or visa applications.
  • Immigration enforcement should not take place at or near health care facilities. On its “Guidance on COVID-19” website, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stated, “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.” ICE will not carry out enforcement operations “at or near health care facilities such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” per the agency’s previously issued sensitive locations memo and reiterated public statement on March 18, 2020. As always, it’s important to know your rights. Learn more about your rights here.

Avideh Moussavian is legislative director for advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center. Manar Waheed is senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the ACLU.

Federal COVID-19 bills fall short of meeting the basic health care and economic needs of millions of Americans (The Torch)

Federal COVID-19 bills fall short of meeting the basic health care and economic needs of millions of Americans

APRIL 1, 2020

Today, NILC published a policy brief summarizing the impact that key provisions of recently enacted COVID-19 relief legislation — federal legislation — will have on low-income immigrant communities. Our policy brief focuses on access to health care, economic supports, and employment protections.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion economic relief bill, builds on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to provide economic relief and health care options amidst the growing global COVID-19 public health crisis. Nevertheless, these bills fall short of meeting the most basic health care and economic needs of millions of Americans, including immigrant workers and families who are on the frontlines caring for our communities by providing crucial services while others are able to shelter at home.


For example, the CARES Act builds on a provision of FFCRA that allows states to use their Medicaid programs to provide free testing to uninsured people. However, the FFCRA does not alter Medicaid eligibility for immigrants; therefore, many immigrants remain excluded under this option.

Likewise, the CARES Act provides for the issuance of an advanced Recovery Rebate to help taxpayers recover from the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. The maximum rebate amount is $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for taxpayers filing taxes jointly. Unfortunately, the bill excludes many immigrant and mixed–immigration status families from receiving this financial assistance.

The current global public health crisis is a reminder of how interconnected we all are — and how our collective health and well-being are thoroughly interdependent. COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should our public health response and economic relief efforts.

As Congress considers additional measures to bolster our economy and communities across the country, it must deliver relief that eliminates barriers to testing, diagnosis, and treatment and that supports other basic needs of low-income immigrants and their families.

Read the full policy brief.

Trump’s Public Charge Rule Created Harm Even Before It Was Implemented (The Torch)

Trump’s Public Charge Rule Created Harm Even Before It Was Implemented

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
MARCH 2, 2020

In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new set of regulations that would make drastic changes to determinations regarding which immigrants are eligible to be admitted as lawful permanent residents in the United States. The final rule, which has taken effect for applications submitted within the U.S. on or after February 24, 2020, substantially changes the criteria by which “public charge” determinations are made and, as a result, who has access to permanent lawful status in the country.

Previously, an individual’s likelihood of being designated a public charge — that is, deemed likely to become primarily dependent on government support in the future — was based on reliance on public cash assistance for monthly income or long-term institutionalization at government expense. Widely regarded as a wealth test, the new rule expands public charge determinations to include several new criteria, including new income thresholds, age, health, education, and use of noncash benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamp” benefits), nonemergency Medicaid (with some exceptions), and housing assistance. Litigation challenging the rule is ongoing.

An estimated 26 million people could be chilled from accessing nutrition, health care, or housing programs because of fear and misinformation related to this rule. In fact, there is evidence that the DHS rule has already chilled immigrant families’ participation in benefits programs for which they are eligible. Shortly after the rule was proposed — more than a year before it was implemented — a survey found that more than 20 percent of adults in low-income immigrant families had avoided participating in benefit programs.


In a new report, the National Immigration Law Center draws on accounts from service providers across the country to document how immigrant communities reacted to media reports, rumors, and other information circulating about “public charge” even before the Trump administration began implementing its new rule. The report describes how individuals who are not subject to a public charge test — including people who are already lawful permanent residents, members of exempted humanitarian groups, and even U.S. citizens — have already been impacted by the rule.

Providers interviewed for this study shared examples such as a working mother in Wisconsin who canceled food stamp benefits for her U.S. citizen children and planned to take on a third job, lawful permanent residents choosing not to enroll in health coverage programs in North Carolina, and a cancer patient in California who considered stopping treatment because she believed getting treatment could jeopardize her immigration status. Service providers reported that their clients were concerned not only about accessing programs that the new rule lists as being considered in public charge determinations — such as SNAP and Medicaid — but also programs that are not listed — such as Affordable Care Act Marketplace health coverage, county health programs, school lunches, and WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. These accounts demonstrate how fear and misinformation about public charge harm the health and well-being of immigrant communities.

The DHS rule is also making it harder for service providers such as benefits enrollers, health care providers, and outreach workers to do their jobs. For example, providers have taken on extra responsibility to research the rule, understand its implications, and explain it to their clients — even when they have no formal training in immigration law and policy. Providers must also overcome misinformation from media, social networks, and immigration attorneys. In some cases, they are doing so successfully, going above and beyond to make sure that their clients receive the programs and care they need.

But in other cases, even when service providers shared accurate information with their clients about whether they would be impacted, fear still made people decide to avoid programs and services that could significantly improve their lives. As an advocate for human trafficking survivors in Kentucky noted, “People feel like we can’t be confident that it won’t change again or become more restrictive, or that we still won’t get in trouble … [T]here’s just a realistic fear that there’s this constant changing, so how can I be sure?”

These findings identify a disconnect between the DHS public charge rule as written and the way it is being interpreted in immigrant communities. They illustrate that the rule negatively impacts not only people who are actually subject to its public charge test but also others, including people with lawful permanent residence, U.S. citizen children, and survivors of crime and human trafficking. As the rule has moved into the final stage of its implementation, it’s clear that the health and well-being of immigrants and their families are at stake.

The report is titled “Documenting through Service Provider Accounts Harm Caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule.” For more information and resources related to public charge, visit

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.

Know Your Power. Consider Renewing Your DACA Today (The Torch)

Know Your Power. Consider Renewing Your DACA Today

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Ignacia Rodriguez and Diana Pliego
JANUARY 17, 2020

Earlier this week, on January 13, 2020, we marked the two-year anniversary of the first injunction that reopened the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal application process. The first injunction and the injunctions that followed were results of brave decisions made by DACA recipients across the U.S. to share how the termination of DACA by the Trump administration affected them.

Thanks to their bravery, well over 600,000 people have been able to apply for renewal since the DACA renewal application process reopened. This is no small victory, and their bravery and this victory are worth keeping in mind as we continue working toward an America that honors all people and families — no exceptions.


As the fight continues, however, the new year brings with it a number of possible new developments and uncertainties. For one thing, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision that could affect the availability of DACA renewals. For another, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could implement proposed fee hikes that would make DACA renewals less affordable. And there are new reports of delays in DACA renewal application processing times. Each of these factors is very important to DACA recipients and impacts each person’s decision about when or if to submit a renewal application.

If you’re a DACA recipient considering when or whether to renew, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. However, despite the uncertainties, you do have some measure of control in this situation. You have the power to decide whether to apply to renew your DACA. And if your DACA expires any time in 2020, we encourage you to consider submitting a renewal application soon.

As you weigh all the factors and make your decision, we urge you to make use of tools we’ve developed with partners to help you with this process:

  • Our DACA renewal calculator can help you identify when you have to submit your DACA renewal application based on the recommendation by USCIS to apply 120 to 150 days prior to your current DACA and work permit expiration date.
  • Our “FAQ: USCIS Is Accepting DACA Renewal Applications” includes the most recent information we have on DACA renewal processing. If your DACA expires in more than 150 days and you’re considering applying early, you can find a list of pros and cons to consider under “I am interested in applying to renew my DACA. Does it matter when my DACA expires or expired?” We encourage DACA recipients to review this FAQ as they consider whether and when to apply for renewal.

The choice to apply for renewal is not one you have to make alone. We recommend that DACA recipients talk to accredited legal service providers first and, if they choose to apply, to consider renewing their DACA very soon. The Supreme Court will issue its decision about DACA no later than June of this year, and it could come as early as later this month (January)

As you consider renewing your DACA, remember: we will always stand alongside immigrant youth, who are a critical part of the fight for immigrants’ rights. We are committed to reporting the latest updates and recommendations, and we encourage you to sign up to receive our emails (sign up on any page of and follow us on social media to receive real-time updates. Stay informed as we continue this fight together.

Ignacia Rodriguez is NILC’s immigration policy advocate. Diana Pliego is a NILC policy associate and a DACA recipient.

Proposed Immigration Fee Increases Favor the Wealthy, Diminishing Opportunities for Asylum-Seekers and DACA Recipients (The Torch)

Proposed Immigration Fee Increases Favor the Wealthy, Diminishing Opportunities for Asylum-Seekers and DACA Recipients

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
DECEMBER 17, 2019

A new set of fee increases proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the latest tactic by the Trump administration to fundamentally alter our immigration system to favor wealthy people.

Under USCIS’s proposed regulations, people fleeing violence and persecution would have to pay a fee — $50 — simply to apply for asylum. Family members of immigrants with U visas (crime survivors) would be charged $1,515 for their petitions to immigrate, a more than 500 percent increase. Fees to apply for U.S. citizenship would increase 83 percent, to $1,170, and the cost of renewing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would increase by 55 percent, to $765. These fee increases fly in the face of longstanding policies not to charge for asylum application processing and to keep other immigration applications affordable, sending a clear message: The United States is closed to people who can’t afford to pay.


These fee increases could significantly harm immigrant youth with DACA. DACA doesn’t provide permanent lawful status; it must be renewed every two years. As a result, DACA recipients must continually pay the high renewal fees every two years in order to retain their work authorization and protection from being deported. Until Congress acts to provide permanent protections for this population, immigrant youth will rely on DACA, and we know that DACA allows recipients to thrive. DACA is associated with improved mobility pathways through the access it provides to higher education, better jobs, increased wages, credit, and improved financial positions. These new fees may block some recipients from being able to renew their DACA and cut off this crucial pathway to opportunity for immigrant youth and their families. In fact, past research has shown that the present cost of applying for and getting DACA already presents barriers for immigrant youth and their families.

Many young people who’ve applied for DACA come from low-income backgrounds. Research shows that DACA recipients already struggle to pay the present, lower fees, that not being able to afford the fees has delayed renewals, and that lack of affordability has prevented some people from applying or renewing at all. In addition to having to pay the fees, many DACA recipients retain paid legal assistance to submit renewal applications. We know that participation in DACA is lower in communities that have high unemployment and low levels of economic opportunity. In other words, the people who have the most to gain from DACA may be prevented from accessing its benefits because of these exorbitant fees.

Another troubling aspect of the new rule is its plan to bypass Congress and transfer more than $112 million in USCIS fees to fund U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining and deporting hundreds of thousands of migrants every year. This means that the same fees paid by DACA recipients, asylum-seekers, and other petitioners would be used to pay for enforcement against their undocumented family members. A recent survey found that more than two-thirds of DACA recipients think at least once a day about a family member being detained or deported.

Fortunately, this rule is not yet in effect, and there’s still time to try to prevent it from taking effect. As part of the federal rulemaking process, USCIS must take into consideration the voices of concerned individuals who submit public comments through its portal. You can submit a comment through December 30 on the website.

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.

Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument (The Torch)

Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument

NOVEMBER 12, 2019

Departing the U.S. Supreme Court into a cold fall day, dozens of people whose lives are in the balance — plaintiffs, their mothers, and other Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients — emerged from today’s oral argument with their arms linked and raised. There, at the top of the long bank of marble steps, they paused before a sea of young people below who were waving signs and cheering to welcome them out of the courthouse. Their departure from the courthouse today was a reminder of the organizing, courage, and fight for inclusion that led to the creation of DACA in 2012, as well as of what’s at stake before the nine justices inside the courthouse.

DACA recipients and others who attended oral argument are greeted by friends and supporters on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Formally, today’s argument addressed two legal questions: (1) whether courts can even review the government’s decision to terminate DACA, a policy that had been in place since 2012, and (2) whether the Trump administration engaged in reasoned decision-making when it decided to terminate DACA (in nonlawyer terms, whether the administration properly “showed its work” or, instead, ended DACA arbitrarily).

But in practical terms, the daily lives of close to 700,000 young people — teachers, parents, medical professionals, neighbors — and the health and welfare of the communities they call home are at stake. Individuals like our plaintiffs Eliana Fernández, a community organizer with Make the Road New York who lives on Long Island with her two U.S. citizen children, and Martín Batalla Vidal, who lives in Queens, New York, and is finishing his college degree while working as a certified nursing assistant caring for people with traumatic brain injuries. Eliana and Martín, along with the plaintiffs in the eight other lawsuits currently before the Court, challenged the administration’s termination of DACA in September 2017.

DACA, first announced in 2012, has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people who grew up and went to school in the U.S. — who are integral members of their many communities — to come forward, declare themselves to the government, and in return receive work authorization and a measure of protection from deportation. DACA is consistent with a long history of deferred action programs enacted by administrations of both parties dating back to the Eisenhower era.

The vast majority of Americans support DACA recipients and their place in our national community. A recent poll showed that 83 percent approve of allowing DACA recipients to become U.S. citizens, meaning that Americans agree more about DACA recipients than just about anything else. This was also evident in the huge outpouring of supporting briefs filed with the Court before today’s hearing, including support from national security experts, many large corporations, medical schools, the Catholic Church, law enforcement, and more. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted from the bench today, 66 medical associations, 210 educational institutions, 3 home builders, 109 municipalities and cities,129 religious organizations, 145 businesses — and more — identified countless different reliance interests in DACA.

The lawyers presented detailed legal arguments about reviewability and the Administrative Procedure Act today, but what it comes down to is quite simple: The Court is also being asked to decide what government accountability means in our democracy. Should the government be able to hide behind legal reasons for ending DACA to avoid having to face the political consequences of ending a popular policy — even if the legal reasons it relies on are unexplained and directly conflict with an existing legal opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel? As Justice Sotomayor noted, “[T]his is not about the law; this is about [the] choice to destroy lives.”

Prior to the Trump administration’s termination of DACA, the president assured the public that DACA recipients would be treated with “great heart,” yet after receiving a letter from the attorney general on September 4, 2017, the then–acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abruptly ended the program, writing that she had no choice but to end DACA because it is unlawful.

But through documents obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation that the National Immigration Law Center filed on behalf of Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut, we know that the decision to terminate DACA was actually made at a meeting in the White House on August 24, 2017. There the administration hatched a plan to have the U.S. Department of Justice send DHS a letter “outlining the legal reasons that the DACA program is unlawful,” for DHS to draft a memorandum to terminate DACA, and for the administration to develop a list of legislative items that the president would trade to protect DACA recipients. Even Newt Gingrich warned that such a strategy risked sending a signal that the administration was dehumanizing DACA recipients as a “bargaining chip.” The Trump administration also reportedly considered terminating DACA by having the president issue an executive order, but abandoned that path.

DACA recipients around the country hope that the Supreme Court will see through the administration’s unreasoned decision-making and attempts to shirk responsibility for an unpopular political decision. Their lives and families depend on it. We have strong arguments that court after court have agreed with, U.S. district courts from California to New York to Maryland to DC. But whatever happens when the Court issues its opinion sometime between January and June, we will continue fighting alongside immigrant youth as they courageously lead the immigrant justice movement, fighting for inclusion and recognition and for the future of our country.

Trudy Rebert is a NILC staff attorney.

How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection (The Torch)

How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection

NOVEMBER 1, 2019

In a groundbreaking decision, a U.S. district court in California recently concluded that the immigration databases U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) relies on are too unreliable to form the basis for probable cause to issue “detainers” (administrative arrest warrants) against people whom ICE seeks to detain. The court reviewed multiple immigration and criminal justice databases, finding that “[t]he databases on which ICE relies for information on citizenship and immigration status often contain incomplete data, significant errors, or were not designed to provide information that would be used to determine a person’s removability.”

Operating without accountability, these same databases play a major role not only in ICE enforcement decisions, but also in decisions made by other U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about immigration applications, etc. In addition, to populate its databases DHS increasingly relies on unregulated private companies that sweep up vast quantities of unvetted data. This information is used to surveil immigrants and expand the Trump administration’s deportation machine.

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article, DHS contracted with Thomson Reuters, the Canada-based multinational media company, to use its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) service to target immigrants. The Times says that “CLEAR is powered by personal information: data from credit agencies, cellphone registries, social-media posts, property records, utility accounts, fishing licenses, internet chat rooms and bankruptcy filings, all fused and vetted by algorithm to form an ever-evolving, 360-degree view of U.S. residents’ lives.”

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

License plate–reader data from a company called Vigilant Solutions are also integrated into CLEAR and used for immigration enforcement. License plate readers are cameras that take pictures of passing cars indiscriminately, recording license plates and date and time of capture. Vigilant Solutions also collects data from local law enforcement agencies and private companies. ICE can query the database for current and historical information that documents a license plate’s movements over the past five years.

ICE also has a contract with Thomson Reuters “for subscription data services” that allow “continuous access to commercial database aggregators and real time jail booking databases.” An ICE notice about the contract makes clear that the system must obtain these types of data: “FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; vehicle registration information; property information; pay day loan information; public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records.”

ICE also uses information technology systems and law enforcement management tools created by another for-profit company, Palantir, such as the company’s Investigative Case Management (ICM) and FALCON Search & Analysis (FALCON-SA). According to The Intercept, ICM enables ICE to obtain access to a vast “ecosystem” of data to use in deportation cases.

The vast range of unregulated information available to DHS through these private companies is troubling. Access to Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data is of particular concern, as federal law generally protects tax-filing information from being disclosed. ITINs, which are issued so people can file tax returns and use banking services, are available to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security number. The inclusion of ITIN data in the information harvested by these companies raises questions about how they obtain the data.

Data brokers play a significant role in feeding information into other databases and systems. DHS has access to driver’s license databases through state criminal justice networks, a state-owned nonprofit called Nlets, and specific state networks such as, until recently, Washington State’s Driver and Plate Search (DAPS) database. But it also has access to driver’s license and vehicle information through data brokers, who can buy information from states. As reported by the New York Times Magazine, “[I]n 2017, [Washington’s Department of Licensing] earned $26,371,232 selling driver and vehicle records to 19 principal data brokers, including Experian, LexisNexis and R.L. Polk — a group of companies that had its own relationships with some 34,500 ‘subrecipient’ brokers, including TransUnion, Acxiom and Thomson Reuters” (emphasis added).

So even as states limit access to driver’s license data through their own networks, they must be mindful of the data that brokers are buying from them, which can then be used by DHS for immigration enforcement.

In an early executive order, the Trump administration reversed DHS policy that had applied Privacy Act protections to all persons whose information is in a database or system that includes U.S. citizens and noncitizens with various immigration statuses. Instead, it would protect only citizens and lawful permanent residents. In addition, DHS generally exempts its own records systems from Privacy Act protections, including those systems that rely on information from outside the agency.

The commercial databases that DHS relies on are even more unregulated and shielded from public scrutiny than DHS databases. As private entities, these companies’ practices are not necessarily subject to the Privacy Act, which “governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies,” or by the Freedom of Information Act’s disclosure requirements.

The Trump administration continuously vets and monitors immigrants via these data-gathering and surveillance systems. This practice certainly harms noncitizens and undermines their rights, but it also undermines U.S. citizens’ privacy rights, because the surveillance systems indiscriminately sweep up and store information about all of us. The government and its vendors must be held accountable for this unfettered access to our personal information.

Joan Friedland is a NILC consultant and the primary author of our report “Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: Basic Information for Advocates about Databases and Information-Sharing Among Federal, State, and Local Agencies.” She formerly was a managing attorney at NILC.

How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers (The Torch)

How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers

OCTOBER 31, 2019

This past spring, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent over 500,000 SSA “no-match” letters to employers across the country. And this fall, they’re at it again.

An SSA no-match occurs when the names or Social Security numbers (SSNs) listed on an employer’s W-2 form don’t match SSA’s records. Although these letters are often generated for innocuous reasons — an error in the spelling of an employee’s name, an unreported name change following a marriage or divorce, or an incomplete or missing name or SSN on a W-2 — the Trump administration has reinstituted the practice of sending no-match letters as a backdoor form of immigration enforcement. In fact, SSA resources are being diverted from SSA’s core constituency, elderly and disabled people, to target workers for more immigrant enforcement.

The no-match letter’s original, actual purpose was and still could be valuable — to notify workers that they’re not receiving proper credit for their earnings and to reduce the size of the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The ESF holds the uncredited funds from workers whose personal information filed on their W-2’s doesn’t match the information in SSA’s database. And, importantly, the letter about a particular worker makes no legal statement about the worker’s immigration status. But the Trump administration is counting on the probability that employers who receive the letters will assume that the workers named in them are unauthorized to work in U.S. — and fire them.

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

Everyone agrees that SSA should ensure that workers are properly credited for their earnings. This is vital to help workers retire with dignity and get disability assistance when needed. But no-match letters are an ineffective way to meet that goal. No-match letters were last sent on a large scale to employers in 2006. In a review of the practice, the SSA Office of the Inspector General found that the letters “are not effective” at reducing the size of the Earnings Suspense File. In fact, in 2005 SSA sent 127,652 letters to employers nationwide, but these resulted in only 2,915 wage items being reinstated. That’s right. No-match letters met their stated goal about 2 percent of the time.

Even if SSA wants to send no-match letters, there is a far more effective way to do it. During certain years in the past, SSA sent the letters directly to employees to alert them of a no-match. According to the inspector general, these letters were far more effective and helped resolve about 11 times more suspended wage items than letters sent to employers. But no-match letters sent to workers don’t get immigrants fired or reported, so they don’t further the administration’s agenda.

Perhaps more importantly, no-match letters sent to employers divert the resources of an already beleaguered SSA. SSA is experiencing a staff retirement wave at the same time that aging baby boomers are requiring more services from the agency. When this reality is coupled with a hiring freeze that’s been in place since 2010, SSA already has “significant management challenges” in meeting the projected growth in its workload. And SSA is spending resources to send no-match letters despite a nearly decade-long rise in customer wait times in all 10 SSA regions. More no-match letters could make a bad situation worse.

Across the country, employers are speaking out about the headaches caused by no-match letters. For some employers, no-match letters make hiring and staff retention a problem. Other employers report that the letters cause confusion and a “high level of anxiety.”

But employers are not the only ones reeling from these letters. No-match letters are a direct threat to millions of workers. U.S. citizen workers who’ve changed their names and work-authorized immigrants are particularly at risk. Given that 10 percent of the noncitizen records in SSA’s database have errors, work-authorized immigrants could be required to visit an SSA office to correct a mistake.

Worse, in the current immigration enforcement climate, many employers, mistakenly believing that a worker’s name in a no-match letter shows that the worker isn’t authorized to be employed, will fire the worker — even if the person is work-authorized. In the past, a study found that 34 percent of workers who were fired reported that their employer failed to give them an opportunity to correct their information. In Chicago, advocates and workers report that no-match letters are sowing confusion and fear in workplaces.

Ultimately, this makes workers more vulnerable to abuse. In the past, bad employers have used the letters to retaliate against immigrant workers who were organizing to protect their rights. And in 2019, NILC has fielded many requests for assistance related to mistreatment of workers based on employers’ misuse of no-match letters.

The path forward is clear. SSA no-match letters are part of yet another policy designed to target and harass immigrants and their families. The “collateral” damage? Seniors, workers, and employers. It’s time to let SSA focus on its core mission and leave policies driven by an anti-immigrant agenda behind.

Emily Tulli, a former NILC policy attorney, is a consultant working on special projects for NILC.

Home Is Here, and We’re Here to Stay (The Torch)

We are home. Always have been. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

OCTOBER 25, 2019

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three consolidated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. But it will be doing more than that. Its deliberation, on any scale, is a debate over whether I and hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth belong in this country. It is about whether the only country we call home is our home. I’m here to tell you that it is. Home is here.

I’ve been in the United States since I was three. I grew up in Ohio, Georgia, and South Carolina. All these places have been home, yet it wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that I finally felt like this country wanted me — despite the many years I’ve spent loving it. When DACA became available in 2012, it changed my life. DACA was the answered prayer that allowed me to get the college education I so desperately wanted.

Diana Pliego speaks at the Home Is Here campaign launch press conference, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In South Carolina, undocumented students are explicitly barred from attending public colleges and universities. I clearly remember deciding, while sitting in my high school counselor’s office, to tell her the real reason I wasn’t planning to go to college. I broke down in tears because I’d never actually told anyone outside of my family about my immigration status.

My counselor made it her mission to help me get into college. Ultimately, I was accepted into a private school that welcomed me with a full-tuition scholarship. Tuition was just the first hurdle. Room and board were another, but my parents promised to move mountains to clear it. And together they did.

By the end of the summer, we were making just enough money to make my college dreams come true. Then my mom’s company went under. Just three days before move-in day, the rug was pulled out from under me. It felt like my future had collapsed before it even started.

Miraculously, my admissions counselor was able to find just enough additional scholarship money so I could start school. By the end of my first semester, I was finally able to apply for DACA. My parents skipped a car payment to afford the then $465 application fee. With DACA, and my pastor as my cosigner, I was able to get a student loan that came in just in time to make the payment that would allow me to go back to school the following year. With DACA, my brothers and I began working. Thanks to DACA and my family, I graduated from college.

The protection from deportation DACA affords eased some of the constant fear I felt about my safety. It allowed my siblings and me to work and contribute to our household. It allowed us to get jobs and have experiences we otherwise would never have had. It allowed us to give back to the country we call home. It changed our lives and served as the long-awaited recognition that, for us, this is home.

On September 5, 2017, when the Trump administration tried to terminate DACA, another rug was pulled out from under me, and again it felt like my future was being taken from me. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that knows this is my home and is fighting back on every front to ensure immigrant youth are protected. My NILC family has taken Trump to the courts to challenge his unlawful termination of DACA, because my life and future, and those of so many others, hang in the balance.

We know the importance of fighting back, and we know this is part of a larger fight. Trump’s attack on DACA is a clear part of his administration’s broader plan to target nonwhite immigrants in an attempt to basically redefine who we are as a country. And because the administration hasn’t been successful in getting Congress to approve Stephen Miller’s white-supremacist, anti-immigrant policy wish list, it has tried time and again to leverage our livelihoods — and pain — to force Congress into passing its racist agenda.

Trump’s latest tweets couldn’t spell it out any clearer. His administration wants to take away our protections so it can turn around and use us as bargaining chips — again. There is no “heart” involved in these actions. They are a purely racist and cruel way of getting more cruel and racist policies in place to shape the U.S. into the whiter country Trump and Miller long for.

But we won’t let them. We’ll put up the fight of our lives, and we’ll not allow them to define who we are. To every person who has at some time been told to “go home” because of the color of our skin, know this: You are home. Always have been. Always will be. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

Diana Pliego is a NILC policy associate and a DACA recipient.