Earlier this month, USCIS sent letters to family members who had requested relief from deportation, saying the agency’s field offices “no longer consider requests for deferred action,” except for certain military exceptions. The change in policy caused fear and confusion for families, and took Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has discretion to determine who will and won’t be arrested or deported, by surprise.
On Monday, the agency appeared to slightly reverse course, as US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will re-open some pending cases of those applying for relief from deportation after a move to end deferment requests prompted concerns among undocumented families, some of whom are seeking relief for medical issues. USCIS stated that it would “reopen non-military deferred action cases that were pending on August 7.” USCIS previously said that it would defer to ICE to determine if nonmilitary issues “warrant deferred action”. But USCIS and ICE procedures are not identical. Individuals can apply to ICE for a stay of deportation or removal, but that’s done only after someone has exhausted all immigration judicial proceedings and has been ordered removed. USCIS is the agency responsible for legal immigration benefits, including work authorization. ICE does not accept “applications” for deferred action, a discretionary act that allows the Department of Homeland Security to delay or prevent immigration enforcement. For now, it appears that a very limited version of deferred action may continue forward at USCIS, but is currently still under review.