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The New Norm: How immigration policy is really playing out for survivors of violence

United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) is using administrative changes as institutional roadblocks to make it harder for survivors to access existing immigration remedies. For us at LSVAP it feels like a war of attrition, with constant administrative changes depleting staff time and funding.

Executive orders, regulation changes, and U.S. Attorney General actions often referred to as administrative changes are determining our current immigration practices and policies. Many of these administrative changes occur through legitimate power and authority but also outside of new laws passed by Congress. Administrative changes have consistently been used as a tool for change and those working with immigrant families have seen and felt their impacts more and more. Those affected include the millions of young immigrants provided legal work authorization under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to the increased removal and enforcement practices resulting from executive orders such as Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior.

We’ve seen USCIS increasingly embrace administrative changes as a process to shape immigration policy at the personal level. Because USCIS has the authority to oversee processes including citizenship, legalized work in the U.S, and humanitarian protections like VAWA self-petitions and U nonimmigrant status visas ( U Visa), administrative changes impact the way a survivor’s case is reviewed and decided, meaning many of the USCIS administrative processes and changes directly impact a survivor’s life. The way they are implemented can mean a survivor has the right to live and work legally in the US or not and in some cases can even mean that a survivor is now facing deportation.

Administrative processes provide guidance and information for Immigration officers reviewing applications, which in turn directly impacts our clients. For LSVAP staff and the survivors we serve, administrative changes are felt daily as we grapple with new interpretations of immigration law, changes to regulations, and more stringent standards being applied to our client’s applications. Such changes disrupt the established process and handling of cases and create a feeling of uncertainty. “This uncertainty is hard for us and even harder for our clients” - Glenaan O’Neil, LSVAP Executive Director.

To ensure that LSVAP is providing the best protections we can to our clients despite this uncertainty, our staff must now work even harder on each application. More time is spent in gathering information about client lives, finances, and traumatic experiences for applications to go even further in proving elements required for petitions we submit on our clients behalves. As a result of these heightened investigations, our staff must work even harder to minimize re-traumatization of our clients and create an empowering experience for all survivors with whom we work. All of these competing objectives weigh heavily on mental and emotional well-being of our staff, and without doubt increases the strain on or our 5-person organization.

As we navigate this ever-changing, difficult to explain, and complex immigration system, our commitment to clients and the community is to continue advocating for each and every one of our clients, share our advocacy experiences, and raise the voices of the immigrant survivors we work with every day. You can join us and follow this blog series on the immigration system by joining LSVAP’s newsletter at Never Miss an Update. On our home page, scroll down to sign up for our newsletter by submitting your e-mail address in the subscription box.

Mona Muro is a social justice advocate and intern at LSVAP who has works in domestic violence and immigration.

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