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The Trump Administration’s Stealth Attack on Legal Immigration

David Bier

The Trump administration is quietly throwing up new obstacles
for legal immigrants: increasing the
load of paperwork for immigration applications by double, triple or

The new forms have complex and vague questions, which will
result in mistakes with devastating consequences and will cost
immigrants thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to complete.

Since January, Citizenship and
Immigration Services
, the agency that processes applications
for immigrants, has increased the length of 15 immigration
– including many of the most commonly required
forms — collectively doubling their length from 72 to 162
pages. Each new form also comes with instructions, which also
almost doubled in length from 114 to 215 pages. That amounts to a
combined total of an additional 191 pages of forms and instruction
in less than a year.

Unbelievably, the agency estimates in its instruction
, as required under the Paperwork Reduction Act, that
the forms will take, collectively, only 7 percent longer to
complete. It asserts that applicants will be able to finish each
individual page in about half the time needed for previous

In fact, on 10 of these forms, the agency claims that it will
take not even a minute longer to complete. The agency, for example,
increased the length of the I-485 form, which allows immigrants to adjust
status from temporary to permanent residency, from six to 18 pages.
The form’s instructions underwent a fivefold increase, from
eight to 42 pages. Still, the government asserts that immigrants will be able to finish
the new application in the exact same amount of time as the
old one – at three times faster per page.

But the main issue is not the time — it’s the cost.
U.S. citizens will need to fill out nine times as many
to bring over their spouses. Because the new questions are
confusing and complex, many immigrants who would not have
previously needed a lawyer will now have to hire one. Some
attorneys have told me that the forms have already forced them to
raise their prices dramatically.

The need to hire a lawyer becomes obvious once you read the new
questions. The I-485 adjustment of status form asks, for example,
whether you have ever been “arrested, cited, charged or
detained for any reason by any law enforcement official.”
These terms are undefined. Does “cited” include parking
violations? Is a parking enforcement officer a “law
enforcement official”? Does “detained” include at
the airport, where everyone undergoes screening? What about being
pulled over or patted down by police on the street?

Another question asks immigrants to state whether you
could endanger” the “welfare” of
the United States. Are we asking immigrants to claim they have no
risk at all? Yet another asks whether you will “have
potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences.”
This year, the administration suggested that allowing any
grandmothers from certain countries would have serious adverse
foreign policy consequences. What standards are applicants supposed
to apply?

This is “extreme” vetting — extremely vague
vetting. It’s a morass of complex questions that will
undoubtedly keep out no determined terrorists, but will ensnare
millions of immigrants in needless bureaucracy. And it’s
exceptionally important that immigrants answer these questions
correctly and precisely — one wrong answer can count as
“misrepresentation” and result in a denial, deportation
after an approval or the inability to naturalize.

That can be true — although legally, it’s not
supposed to be — even if it’s an admission against your
own interests. Jason Dzubow, a D.C.-based immigration attorney, has a client
who denied he was “associated with” any political
groups “in the United States or in any other location in the
world,” or had been arrested for a “crime,” and
the government denied him naturalization because he took part in a
protest at which he was arrested. How did it find out? He had told
the agency himself. The arrest was the reason the government
granted him asylum in the first place.

He interpreted “associated” to mean formal
association, not just attending a protest, and the arrest was for
political activities, not a “crime.” This occurred
before the new form rolled out. Now there are even vaguer
questions that will trip up well-meaning immigrants.

“Is the goal of this an employment program for immigration
lawyers?” Dzubow quipped to me.

No, but these changes do offer the government something else:
control. If anyone falls out of favor after an approval, the
government can always find an excuse to kick him or her out later.
This allows the executive branch to wrench power over legal
immigration from the legislative branch.

President Trump has already revealed his preferred vision of
legal immigration reform — a bill to make drastic cuts to the number of
legal immigrants. The new forms and bureaucratic hurdles may
provide a way to accomplish that goal without legislation: delay,
obfuscate and price out immigrants who would otherwise come to the
United States. Congress should reassert its control and protect the
system that it created.

David Bier is
an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.