Area Immigration Attorneys Fear More Clients Targeted

Some immigration lawyers have noticed a new vulnerable target: Those actively applying for residency status.

Terry Olsen, an attorney in Chattanooga, said some clients have received notice of removal proceedings from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents this summer, even as they were applying for protection.

There has not been an official policy change in the last couple of months. But anecdotally, Olsen and other lawyers told the Times Free Press they have seen shifting priorities among ICE agents.

Under President Barack Obama’s administration, they said, immigration officers gave clients more leniency as they applied to become residents, assuming the clients didn’t catch ICE’s attention for other problems, such as felony arrests.

“It’s like they’re trying to make people be illegal here,” Olsen said. “Then maybe (President Donald) Trump can go, ‘Wow, look at it. We had millions of illegals here this year.’ No. You had people who wanted to apply for a benefit, and you wouldn’t let them. And now they’re illegal.”

A spokesman for ICE declined to comment, saying there are many reasons why agents may initiate removal proceedings against an immigrant.

Pamela Wilson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said she could not discuss any specific cases. But in general, she said, “USCIS policy has always been that any time someone is in unlawful status, there is a possibility of initiating removal proceedings.”

Still, Olsen said that in 15 years he has never before seen clients face detainment or removal proceedings when they were applying to become permanent residents. He declined to discuss any specific case, but gave a general example.

Imagine a Middle Eastern woman, married to a U.S. citizen. She gets a tourist visa, which allows her six months in the United States. While here, she reaches out to Olsen to apply to become a resident. This whole process takes several months. Meanwhile, her visa expires.

By Tyler Jett for TIMES FREE PRESS
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