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Undocumented survivors of violence and trafficking who apply for legal status in the United States will now be placed in deportation proceedings if their petitions are denied, according to a new policy announced yesterday by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The policy marks a significant expansion of USCIS’s role in the Trump administration’s enforcement and deportation apparatus, and a departure from its original mission of adjudicating applications for immigration benefits, including applications for citizenship, lawful permanent residence, and protections for survivors of crime. The policy was first put in motion with a stunning June 28, 2018, memo announcing new categories of people USCIS would refer for deportation proceedings upon denial of an immigration benefit. The agency has been implementing the memo in phases. With yesterday’s announcement, it will now be applied to survivors of crime, trafficking, and domestic violence who apply for protections available through the U and T visa and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petition processes.

“This administration has no limits to its cruelty, and USCIS looks more like an enforcement agency every day,” said NIJC Associate Director of Legal Services Karolyn Talbert. “Congress put critical protections in place for immigrant survivors of crime and domestic violence and trafficking, and today the executive branch is making a mockery of those protections. Because of this policy, we have to advise our clients, including many who have endured significant trauma as crime victims, that by choosing to apply for a protected status provided to them by law, they are risking deportation.”

This newest extension of the June 28 memo is one in a line of changes within USCIS that are redefining USCIS’s mission into one of enforcement. The agency is directed by L. Francis Cissna, who as one of his first acts of office removed the phrase “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from the agency’s mission statement. The June memo is vast in scope, suggesting the issuance of an NTA for any undocumented person who applies for and is denied a benefit.

NIJC calls upon USCIS to rescind the June memo and restore its proper mission as a service agency.