USCIS recently clarified that lawful permanent residents applying to naturalize on the basis of marriage to a US Citizen must not only demonstrate "living in marital union" with their spouse three years immediately prior to filing, but also that termination of the marriage at any time prior to the Oath of Allegiance renders an applicant ineligible under section INA 319(a). We have seen this second provision being strictly applied to deny naturalizations applications where the applicant divorces after passing the examination but prior to the oath ceremony. Practically speaking, this may not affect residents in states that administer the oath the same day as the interview, such as New Jersey. In general, however, most states regularly schedule the oath ceremony many months after the applicant has passed the examination. This gap can, in some cases, be quite long, especially if background checks are being conducted, an officer needs to look into something, or on occasion, neglects to finish reviewing the file. In the interim, an applicant's marital situation may rapidly deteriorate and the couple may seek a quick dissolution. Unfortunately, if this occurs prior to the oath, the applicant has technically fallen outside the boundaries of INA 319, the section of the law that allows green card holders to apply after only three years marriage to a US Citizen (versus the normal requirement of five years permanent residence prior to becoming eligible). This is one reason why applicants are expected to review and complete a questionnaire on the day of the oath verifying that certain information has not changed, ie., address; arrests; trips outside the US; and in this case, marital status.
Early this month, BuzzFeed News obtained an internal government memo relating to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by immigration prosecutors. Dated August 15, 2017, the memorandum provides specific guidance to government attorneys who work for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor ("OPLA"). These attorneys, who represent Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), are charged with prosecuting deportation/removal cases in court and carrying out the Department of Homeland Security's enforcement priorities.
On October 3, 2018, USCIS issued a public bulletin regarding the incorporation of digital tablets into the naturalization reading and writing process. Our office began seeing implementation of tablets a few months back, and this announcement not only confirms that this practice is here to stay but that technology will assume an even greater role in the process than ever before. Previously, citizen applicants were asked to review and digitally sign their applications on iPad or ipad-like devices. Now under this expansion, the use of pen and paper is essentially being phased out and discontinued. Pen and paper may be used "on a case-by-case basis," but by and large, both the reading and writing components of the N-400 examination will now be conducted on digital tablets:
On September 26, 2018, USCIS quietly announced that it will be implementing the June 28 updated guidance on issuance of Notice to Appears (NTAs). This will be an incremental roll out, with the new memo being applied to different types of cases at different stages. Effective October 1, 2018, the memo will be applied to "status-impacting applications, including but not limited to, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status." According to the bulletin, the new guidance will not be implemented with respect to employment-based and humanitarian applications and petitions at this time. The announcement also makes clear that USCIS will continue its current practice for NTAs regarding applicants with criminal records or where there are fraud or national security concerns.
On September 22, the Department of Homeland Security promulgated new rules regarding the public charge ground of inadmissibility that may have a tremendous impact on immigrants who have accepted public benefits. Under our immigration law, most applicants for permanent residence must demonstrate that they will not become a "public charge"-that is, someone who is likely to become "primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense." If the proposed rule is finalized without any alterations, the final rule will reach beyond cash assistance and long-term care to include health, nutrition, and housing programs as well. Some programs implicated include: