A week of reinventing the wheel in a system too complicated to administer.

Sunday, May 17th, 2015
By: Jonathan MontagJ.D.

Time and time again immigration lawyers like to tell you how complicated the immigration laws are.  Often the motivation for saying this is to encourage people to hire a lawyer. While hiring a lawyer may help to avoid the procedural pitfalls of trying to obtain benefits from immigration agencies, the biggest problem is that the immigration laws are too complicated for the agencies themselves to administer. Lawyers have a hard time stopping the decision makers from making their stupid mistakes. It is hard to find the civil servants competent to deal with the myriad of rules and exceptions to the rules that is the result of fifty plus years of legislation on top of legislation, regulations on top of regulations, and policy memos on top of policy memos. If it is hard for lawyers trained to research the stuff, being paid to figure stuff out, and often rather passionate about learning the intricacies of the law, how can we expect civil servants who, after all, are just doing a job eight hours a day and dealing with crushing workloads to keep it all straight.

Just this week, a case came to me where USCIS denied an application for permanent residence because the alien was paroled into the United States and  not “admitted” to the United States, when admission is not a requirement for applying for permanent residence as an alien paroled into the United States can also adjust status. To correct the blatant error may cost $630 in filing fees to file a form to request USCIS to correct its own error. Should USCIS officers know that paroled aliens can adjust status? Of course, but there are thousands of things they should know and it is hard to remember them all – all the time.

Just this week, I contacted ICE to help with routing a case from their office to USCIS, a sister immigration bureau within Homeland Security. The agencies don’t communicate with each other about such matters, so it is up to the customer to get ICE to move a file – which itself is an absurdity. ICE responded that the case was not in the San Diego ICE jurisdiction and that I should contact the ICE office in Los Angeles. The case, however, was squarely in the San Diego ICE jurisdiction. Time had to be taken to show ICE what was in their own file – that the case was in San Diego immigration court and the client lives in San Diego. Should ICE be able to look in its computers or in a file and determine a case is a San Diego case? Of course, but again, there are hundreds of things they should know how to do and it is hard to remember them all.

Just this week, the Department of State contacted me to tell me a petition will be cancelled because of lack of contact from the client. Time had to be taken out to forward correspondence that we had with the Department of State that showed there was contact. Should the Department of State be able to monitor communications so as not to hassle people with fatal pronouncements? Certainly, but, again, there are hundreds of things that the Department of State must do and it is hard to do them all.

These are just three very frustrating things that happened in a normal week to one lawyer with a modest client base. Think what happens to the unrepresented who believe what the government tells them or people whose lawyers may not be able to respond to nonsense as soon as it happens.

Immigration agencies, like all government agencies, are in a bind because it is impossible to find competent people, train competent people, and motivate competent people to do their jobs which are of extreme complexity. Two solutions come to mind – employ technology that notices the arcana in each case and helps to apply the law properly. Second, the agencies need to open up their decision-making processes to their customers to avoid mistakes. A call from an officer to me, for example, saying, “Hey, it seems we may have a problem with your case, What do you think?” could avoid a whole lot of stress, money, and administrative effort. But agencies build walls to avoid communication rather than working to tear them down. As a result, customers cannot communicate with the deciders behind the walls. No one benefits from a system where the adjudicators are over the heads and refuse help from their customers.  Actually, someone does benefit, Tums. Posted May 17, 2015.


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