“N/A” stands for “Not Applicable,” but when USCIS uses it, I feel like it stands for “New Aggravation.” Earlier this year, USCIS started rejecting humanitarian applications – asylum, U visas (for victims of crime) and T visas (for trafficking victims) because not every single question was answered on the applicable forms. USCIS did this without notification, changing years of practice overnight with no notice.

At first glance, it makes sense to require forms to be completed fully. But, for middle names, this was especially troublesome, as we’ve seen USCIS issue documents for “Jose NONE Smith” or “Jane N/A Chen.” It was better to leave the middle name field blank where there was no middle name. There are also spaces on the forms for prior addresses, normally going back five years. If a client only lived in one location, the dates were noted and the prior addresses fields were left blank. Simply looking at the information provided would show that additional addresses were not required. Yet, USCIS decided that they were going to be rigid and not accept any form that had any blank spaces on it – whether or not the information was required.

Both asylum and U visas have strict filing deadlines. Asylum cases have to be filed within a year of an applicant’s entry to the United States. U applications must be filed within six months of receiving a certification from law enforcement.  Attorneys may have filed close to the deadlines, but by the time the application was received, rejected and returned, these deadlines may have been missed. It’s not an exaggeration to say that lives could be lost because of this arbitrary change. An asylum seeker may miss their one-year deadline, miss their chance to have asylum granted by an officer (where approval rates hover around 40%), get referred to an immigration judge (where approval rates in Atlanta are 2%), and then are ordered deported to a country where they fear for their life.

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Clearly Gotlieb and Urban Justice, we learned that 50% of U visa applications filed between January and June 2020 were rejected – that’s 12,000 cases. That means that USCIS spent money to send 12,000 cases back because of supposed missing information. Wasn’t this agency worried about staying afloat not too long ago? Is this why they say they need to raise fees? Because they spent over $100,000 on returning applications that should have been accepted? And what about Congress’s goal of protecting our communities when they created U status? How does this insane N/A policy help protect us?

USCIS continues to make legal immigration more and more difficult. This is just one example out of hundreds of “technical” changes over the last four years that harm immigrants and our communities. It’s time to stop the insanity!