Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update from Ciudad Juarez

By: Charles Wheeler

Laura Dogu, Deputy Consul General, and Mark Boss, Communications Unit Supervisor, U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, as well as Warren Janssen, Field Office Director of the USCIS office located at the consulate, each spoke at CLINIC’s annual family immigration law training in El Paso on February 5, 2008. The following is a summary of the updated information Mr. Janssen provided. We will soon circulate updated information from the consular officials.
Mr. Janssen’s office is now located inside the consulate, but is still under the jurisdiction of the DHS/USCIS. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the IV applications require a waiver for inadmissibility; most of these denials are based on the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility. Mr. Janssen’s main responsibility is adjudicating waiver applications. In the last fiscal year, the USCIS adjudicated approximately 24,000 waiver applications, and for next year it anticipates processing a similar number.
Mr. Janssen has a permanent staff of four officers and eight support staff, bringing it to a total of twelve employees. He also has three additional officers working in his office on temporary detail who are helping to work down the backlog. He anticipates maintaining that permanent and temporary staffing throughout this fiscal year.
Immigrant visa applicants who are found inadmissible for a waivable ground are now given written notice at the time of the consular interview informing them of the procedure for submitting their waiver packet through a separate Call Center appointment system. Immigrant visa applicants who know before they attend the interview that they will be found inadmissible used to be able to phone the Call Center before leaving and schedule this separate appointment. Recently appointments were being scheduled for up to two months after the immigrant visa appointment.
That procedure has changed as of February 10, 2009. The new procedure does not allow the immigrant visa applicant to schedule the waiver appointment until after the consulate denies the visa. In other words, consular officials in Cd. Juarez will first determine that the alien is inadmissible and eligible for a waiver, and then note that in the computerized case file. The following day, the alien can phone the Call Center and schedule the waiver appointment. Under the new system, it is expected that waiver appointments will be scheduled between one to two weeks after the denial of the immigrant visa. Aliens who already scheduled their waiver appointments under the prior system will be allowed to keep them. All questions regarding the new waiver appointment process should be directed to the Call Center. That number is 900-476-1212. If calling from Mexico, dial 01-900-849-4949.
At the time of their waiver appointment, applicants will return to the consulate, pay the waiver fee, and submit the waiver application, together with supporting documentation. The consulate receives the application and hands the file over to the USCIS adjudicating officer in an adjoining room. The USCIS officials do not interview the applicant but instead base their decision on the application and supporting documentation. If Mr. Janssen’s office believes it is a “clean” case (no FBI criminal hits, no separate A file to examine) that is readily approveable, it will grant the waiver that same day and return the file to the consulate. The consular official in turn will approve the immigrant visa either that day or the following.
Four of the USCIS officers are currently assigned to adjudicate waiver applications sent through this “same day” (formerly the “pilot”) program. They each review approximately 30-35 applications per day, resulting in a daily total of 120-140 applications. Given their schedule, each officer spends approximately 10-15 minutes reviewing the waiver application and supporting documentation before making a decision to either approve or refer. The approval rate for applications processed through this program is between 50 to 60 percent.
The 40 to 50 percent of the applicants who are not found to have a clearly approveable waiver are not denied but are rather referred to the pre-existing adjudication process. In the opinion of the USCIS, most of these applicants did not submit sufficient evidence to merit a favorable decision. Others may have criminal or prior deportation issues that did not surface at the consular interview. Rather than being formally denied, their application is added to the current backlog of 9,000 pending cases and will be reviewed later. His office is currently adjudicating referred waivers submitted in December 2007, meaning that the waiting time for a decision with those files is now over one year. Waiver applicants who are referred to the backlog are encouraged to supplement their file with additional proof of hardship. Although the referral letter indicates that they have 30 days to submit more supporting documentation, they can actually submit it at any time up to the date of adjudication. These files may have been transferred to another USCIS office in Tijuana, Monterrey, or Mexico City for adjudication. Therefore, it is advisable to submit the supporting documentation before that transfer takes place. Also, the USCIS has plans to open an office in Los Angeles sometime this fiscal year that will work exclusively on adjudicating waivers referred to the backlog. When that takes place, the USCIS hopes to vastly reduce or eliminate the backlog. Therefore, applicants should strive to submit their additional documentation within 30 days.
Applicants who are denied may file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). Those appeals are filed on Form I-290B within 33 days with his office, along with a filing fee of $585, and forwarded to the AAO. The applicant must indicate on the form whether he/she wishes either to: (1) file an appeal, in which case Janssen’s office will review the file and reconsider the decision before forwarding it to the AAO; or (2) request a reopening or reconsideration of the decision. In the latter case, Mr. Janssen’s office will review the case and either overturn and grant the waiver or sustain the original denial. In those latter cases, the file is not forwarded to the AAO.
Alternatively, an IV applicant who has been denied a waiver may choose to submit a new waiver application. In those cases, the applicant would phone the Call Center and schedule a new IV interview with the consulate. If they are once again found inadmissible, they can start the waiver process over again. Be aware that clients who were found inadmissible for more than one year of unlawful presence under 212(a)(9)(B), and who returned illegally to the United States, will have triggered the 212(a)(9)(C) inadmissibility ground and thus be ineligible to file a waiver for ten years. Please communicate with the USCIS via their special e-mail address: cdj.uscis@dhs.gov. An officer in the Mexico City will respond to the question. The turn around for a response is between one to two weeks. Additional supporting documentation for a pending waiver application should be mailed to USCIS, P.O. Box 9896, El Paso, TX 79995. Do not use the new State Department inquiry system for any communications with the USCIS.


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