In order to do our part to help flatten the curve, The Immigration Project has implemented a number of measures in the face of COVID-19.

UPDATE APRIL 28, 2020: Physical closure of The Immigration Project offices will continue through June 1, 2020, in accordance with the extension of the Illinois Stay at Home Order.

As information regarding COVID-19 changes, and we hear about the growth in downstate Illinois cases, we at The Immigration Project have been given cause to evaluate our response policy. We want to be sure to update our clients, partners, volunteers and friends about the steps that we are taking as an agency in light of the pandemic, and alert you to changes to our normal operations. 

We are committed to taking the necessary precautions to protect our staff, interns, volunteers, and clients, and doing our part to help “flatten the curve.”  To date, we have implemented the following measures, which may be extended or changed as the situation evolves:

  • Our office will be closed to clients, volunteers, interns, and the public between March 23rd and April 12th.
  • All TIP clinics and workshops will be held remotely until May 1, 2020.
  • Our staff will be working remotely, as is feasible, from March 23rd to April 12th.
  • All non-essential business travel has been cancelled or postponed.
  • TIP has undergone facility cleaning processes.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immigration legal aid please encourage them to continue to reach out to The Immigration Project via phone to (309) 829-8703 or e-mail to info@immigrationproject.org. The Immigration Project is continuing to work to ensure access to justice for the immigrant populations of downstate Illinois, even during this difficult time.We will continue to monitor guidance and best practice from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the State of Illinois, and the cities of Bloomington and Normal. 

Thank you for your continued support of The Immigration Project and the work that we do to support the immigrants of Central and Southern Illinois.

https://www.immigrationproject.org/immigration-project-news/covid-19/

The New Public Charge Rule: Information for Immigrants in The State of Illinois

Over the last few months, the issue of Public Charge has been very present on the national stage; on February 24th, the new Public Charge Final Rule will go into effect.

A “Public Charge” is someone who is, or who is likely to become, dependent on government benefits and social services. The concept of a Public Charge is not new, but in August of 2019, USCIS published a change to the Public Charge Rule, increasing the number of considerations for inadmissibility as a public charge. Since then, numerous injunctions have been filed to prevent the rule from going into effect, including one injunction specific to the State of Illinois. Up until last week, (Feb. 17-22, 2020), Illinois was exempt from the new public charge rule because of that injunction. On February 21st , however, the Supreme Court decided to stay the injunction for the State of Illinois, meaning that immigrants in Illinois will be affected just as immigrants in other areas of the country.

The implementation of the new Public Charge Rule means that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State will begin to deny admission to those likely to become a public charge under the new guidelines.

AS OF FEBRUARY 24, 2020: Anyone seeking to come to, or to stay in the United States (temporarily or on a permanent basis as a Legal Permanent Resident), will be subject to the criteria of the new Public Charge Rule. Under this rule, an individual will need to provide new, additional information in their application including information about their current health status, their education level ,their family, their income level, any assets or liabilities, and their history of receipt of any public benefits, in addition to an Affidavit of Support from a sponsor.

If an individual is using, or has used, any of the following public benefits, they will likely be considered inadmissible under the new Public Charge Rule: Cash Assistance for Income Maintenance (TANF, SSI, federal, state, and local assistance programs), SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, or Housing assistance (public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, or rental assistance).

Some groups of people are excluded under the new Public Charge Rule. These groups are: asylees, refugees, applicants for U or T visas, applicants for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, VAWA self-petitioners, United States Citizens (including naturalized citizens), legal permanent residents (green card holders), applicants for temporary protected status, and applicants for the Cuban Adjustment Act.

There remain some benefits that are not included in the new rule. If an individual receives any of the following, it will not affect their public charge determination: benefits received by U.S. Armed Force Service Members, emergency medical care, WIC, CHIP, Pell Grants and Federal Student Loans, Tax-related cash benefits, unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid received: a) by children under 21 years of age; b) during pregnancy or within 60 days of pregnancy; c) by individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

It is the view of The Immigration Project that this new rule places undue burden on certain demographics, including but not limited to: children, the elderly, and the disabled. That aside, the new rule has new evidence requirements which drastically increase the amount of work, documentation, and time required for each individual case. Ultimately, this change makes it much more difficult for low-income immigrants to become lawful permanent residents by the creation of additional barriers to admissibility.

 

“Deported To Danger” and the Reality of Deportation Proceedings in the United States.

Here at The Immigration Project, we are often asked about the impact and importance of our work, what it is that we do, and why it matters. Some aspects of our work are easier to explain than others, domestic violence is something common in the news and the social imagination, and people generally have a handle on what that means.  Deportation, however, is less frequently experienced – the average American probably doesn’t know someone who has been deported, and so what it really means for people can be much harder to explain, and much harder to understand. A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Deported To Danger: United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and Abuse,” shines a light on the realities and consequences of deportation for Salvadoran nationals, showing exactly what’s at stake for refugees and asylees to the USA.

Currently, around 1.2 million Salvadoran nationals are living in the United States; according to the HRW report, only about  a quarter of this population are legal permanent residents, or “green card” holders, with the rest finding themselves with precarious temporary legal status or undocumented. Paired with the fact that the fate of the U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for El Salvador is increasingly uncertain, this means that Salvadorans are increasingly vulnerable and more at risk for deportation. 

People flee El Salvador in staggering numbers; it is the most violent country in the region with startling rates of murder, gang violence, disappearance, feminicide, sexual violence and state-actor violence. Many people from El Salvador arrive in the U.S. to seek asylum in a legal and desperate attempt to avoid the danger and human rights abuses that are common in El Salvador. Despite the well-documented presence of danger in El Salvador, between 2014 and 2018, over 100,000 Salvadorans were deported from the USA. The push-factors that spur people to leave El Salvador are a real threat to the safety and well being of Salvadoran citizens; “Deported to Danger ” reports that over 100 deported Salvadorans have been murdered following their deportation from the United States. Unfortunately, those murders do not represent the entirety of the problem; Salvadorans face multiple dimensions of violence, and the reality is that the harm that comes to Salvadoran deportees is likely under-reported and underestimated due to myriad influences including state capacity and the role that state-actor violence has to play. 

A key aspect of the report is the claim that the US government knowingly deports individuals to dangerous conditions. This matters because intentionally removing someone to danger is in violation of international laws and norms: there is a substantial body of legislation in international law protecting individuals from removal to dangerous and harmful situations. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention of 1951, Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 22 (8) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all either expressly or implicitly deal with preventing the exact kinds of dangers deported Salvadorans face upon removal. Individuals in circumstances where they fear violence and persecution are legally protected from deportation proceedings; according to international standards, individuals in such circumstances should not be deported.

While “Deported to Danger” focuses specifically on the dangers faced by Salvadoran deportees, it is important to know that the physical risks that accompany deportation proceedings are not exclusive to El Salvador.  In many cases, specifically for those seeking asylum, forcible return to an individual’s country of origin can be life threatening. Many people have nowhere to go but to return to abusive and harmful environments, and in some cases, the mere fact of returning from the USA can make people targets for violence and crime, increasing the level of threat they must navigate. As it becomes more and more difficult to receive refugee and asylum status, and as American immigration policy generally becomes more restrictive, the severe harms associated with deporting individuals to dangerous situations will worsen.

Here at The Immigration Project we regularly see cases in which legal aid is the only thing standing between an asylee and emotional, physical, or sexual violence. Returning individuals to their country of origin threatens lives; and as“Deported to Danger” illustrates, current US policy not only ignores these very real risks, it violates international norms and laws in the process.  

TPS is a federal program which allows individuals from certain countries for example those experiencing civil war or other temporary destabilizing circumstances to stay and live in the US without fear of removal. For more information about Temporary Protected Status, please click here.

To read the full “Deported to Danger” report, please click here.

Public Comment: USCIS Proposed Fee Increases

USCIS has proposed significant increases to the fees associated with various immigration services. These increases, if passed, may put citizenship outside of the realm of possibility for many of the country’s immigrants. The Immigration Project has submitted a public comment regarding these increases.

The Public Comment period is open until February 10th. Make your own public comment here.