Iowa Immigration Attorneys Prepare For New Policies

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By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio News 

The Biden administration is expected to make changes to U.S. immigration policy and that means changes for some immigrants in Iowa.

The changes so far include getting rid of the travel ban against some majority-Muslim countries and pausing deportation for 100 days. It also makes the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program a little “safer,” according to immigration expert Ann Naffier. Naffier, the legal director for the non-profit Justice For Our Neighbors, said she and other immigration attorneys in the state are preparing for the new policies.

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“So now we have a whole bunch of cases that have been on hold that are going to wake up again, and we’re going to be able to help them. And yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work. But it is so wonderful for our clients to finally be able to move forward on things that some of them have been waiting on for years,” Naffier,said.

Naffier said she shifted her priorities to focus on Iowans affected by the new policies, but some rules from the Trump administration are still intact. Naffier said that means it’s a waiting game to see what other changes the Biden administration has in store. President Joe Biden has said he intends for DACA recipients to have a clear path to citizenship, but Naffier said the more than 2,000 DACA recipients in Iowa may have a while longer to wait.

“I mean, it’s so not official, it’s going to be a statute, right? So that’s going to have to go through Congress. From past experience, we know that this is not going to get through very fast,” Naffier explained. “If it does, that will be a very happy surprise to us. But chances are, it’s going to be months and months of negotiations. And it’s a hard one to plan for.”

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Because it would be so hard to plan for, Naffier said if the statute were to pass into law, law firms and non-profits across the country would be “desperately” hiring new staff to account for the new needs.

Although DACA recipients may have to wait a bit longer, Naffier said many other Iowa immigrants are moving forward with their cases, especially those from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, the countries included in the now reversed travel ban. Naffier and other attorneys are reprioritizing their time to focus on those clients “on hold.”

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“This is really good news for a lot of really good people who have been waiting to bring family members here or to apply for naturalization or to get immigration benefits that they qualify for. And we’re really welcoming this news,” Naffier said.

Naffier said there is one caveat to the new immigration policies. A measure from the Trump administration still intact requires anyone applying for their green card or legal permanent residency must prove they will have private insurance coverage within 30 days of their arrival to the U.S. She said this is very hard to prove.

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“We don’t necessarily want to move forward too fast, because we’d like to see some resolution to the public charge rules, otherwise, our clients are going to go to their appointments at the consulate. And they’re going to be found not eligible, because they’re not going to be able to prove that they would have private health insurance,” Naffier said.

Naffier clarified that some immigrants don’t have many options yet as far as obtaining a legal permanent status, but the Biden administration’s new policies are a “very good beginning.”

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