Hurricane Assistance For Persons Affected By Hurricanes Katrina Or Wilma With Immigration Concerns
Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, possibly the worst natural disasters to hit the
Government offices and the courts have been closed and the fate of people with applications pending there are not clear. Displaced individuals are facing potentially severe immigration consequences. More than 40 immigration lawyers in the area have been displaced.
This article is devoted to piecing together everything we know about the hurricanes. A lot we still don’t know as government agencies are still developing policies. We expect to continue reporting on Katrina in future articles as we learn more. If you have questions beyond what we’ve answered in this article, let us know.
In my own practice, the hurricanes have become front and center. I was appointed this week as the chairman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Katrina Task Force. The Task Force is charged with assisting the dozens of lawyers affected by the storm re-establish their practices and we will be leading fundraising efforts to support that effort. Immediately after it became clear how severe the storm was, AILA kicked into action to help its members. The efforts it has gone to – finding its members housing, job offers, office space, supplies, books, and more – should serve as a model to every bar association in the country.
In my local community of
There are many ways readers can help. Obviously, people can donate money and volunteer if they have any of an estimated 1.5 million evacuees in their community. For immigration lawyers, one thing that would be a big help is to volunteer to provide legal assistance to indigent immigrants dealing with consequences of the storm as well as outsourcing work on cases to
And there will soon be legislation proposed in Congress to help immigrants adversely affected by the storm. We’ll publicize that legislation and readers are encouraged to be vocal in support.
Let’s hope it is a long time before we ever have to put out a piece like this again.
What disaster assistance is available to immigrants and other aliens affected by the hurricanes?
Many different programs offer disaster assistance to qualified immigrants (usually permanent residents) including food, rental and mortgage assistance, temporary housing allowances, grants for repairs, short-term cash, small business loans and more. The Guide to Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs, Revised September 2005 published by the
Which immigrants qualify for these programs?
“Qualified” immigrants can apply for any of the benefits described above. They include the following groups:
Undocumented and non-immigrant workers in the
For more information, go to http://www.nilc.org/disaster_assistance/Disaster_Relief.pdf.
Can non-immigrants accept aid from FEMA?
In certain circumstances, non-immigrants may be eligible for relief, including cash relief, if the non-immigrant is displaced from a household that included a person individually qualified for aid as a “household member.” The qualified member of the household must submit the FEMA applications. As we have recently learned, in the case of a Foreign Student with F-1 status, a roommate may be considered a member of a household for the purposes of FEMA relief eligibility.
If I accept emergency assistance, am I at risk of being considered a “public charge.”
No. Accepting assistance will not have a negative consequence on your immigration status unless you fraudulently obtain such assistance.
Will undocumented aliens expose themselves to deportation if they seek help?
Estimates suggest that about 40,000 undocumented Mexicans were living in
According to an Associated Press report, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to state that undocumented immigrants who seek help will not be arrested and deported (despite making such a statement after 9/11. And Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has stated that ICE officials continue to operate in the affected area (though they state their goal is to preserve law and order).
President Vincente Fox announced last Friday,
Additionally, temporary foreign consulates will be set up near the disaster area to help Mexicans and Central Americans in need of assistance. Embassies from other countries should also be contacted for advice. Visit www.embassy.org to find the embassy of your country.
Can employers hire an individual who has no personal documents for I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on
Due to the losses caused by Hurricane Katrina, many individuals have lost documents required by this procedure. Also, many government agencies in the affected regions have suffered destruction or damage so that many individuals are unable to apply for replacement documents.
The DHS will not enforce this procedure for the next 45 days so that employers can hire individuals evacuated or displaced from affected areas, otherwise eligible for employment, but lacking personal documents. DHS will review this policy at the end of 45 days.
Note that employers are still required to complete I-9 forms for new employees as much as possible but will not be penalized if documentation is not available.
What is the current status of the USCIS offices in
The address for the Memphis Sub Office is 842
Other regional offices servicing USCIS customers are as follows:
The USCIS established the following points of contact for those in need of assistance in
Dallas District Office
8101 North Stemsons Freeway
Houston District Office
126 North point
Located in north
Contact: Norma Eskimo Lacy
San Antonio District Office
Located in northeast
Contact: Jacque Crouse
Also, the National Service Center can provide immigration assistance and direction to displaced customers who call
For the latest information on services provided to USCIS customers affected by Katrina, visit: http://uscis.gov/graphics/katrina.htm.
No filings can be made at
The Department of State (DOS) will give priority appointments to Family and Next of Kin of hurricane victims. All DOS posts will give humanitarian consideration to applicants and accommodate emergency cases as quickly as possible. This special consideration will be limited to family and next of kin. DOS officers will refer applicants looking for loved ones to the website compiled by FEMA at http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic. Click on Finding Friends and Information.
What services are currently offered by the USCIS for the
The USCIS has offered Naturalization, Adjustment of Status and I 751
Are the records lost from USCIS in
The USCIS has announced that their office in
What is the current status of the
The New Orleans Immigration Court is now operational and will be open to the public on December 19, 2005. The Court is now in the process of rescheduling cases for the 2006 calendar.
Are Naturalization services in process for USCIS customers from the
Naturalizations are currently performed for Katrina-affected individuals in the Federal Courts in the outlying areas of
What effects did Hurricane Wilma have on USCIS offices and services in the
Due to the effects of Hurricane Wilma, the following offices were closed as of
The InfoPass system did go down as a result of Hurricane Wilma, but is in service again.
No USCIS files were damaged as a result of Hurricane Wilma and no significant damage occurred in any of the USCIS offices.
For all reopening dates and information about the USCIS offices affected by Hurricane Katrina, please visit: http://uscis.gov/graphics/exec/fieldoffices/closings/index.asp.
How can affected USCIS customers replace lost immigration documents?
All USCIS offices will assist those affected by Katrina in replacing immigration documents. The USCIS offices will verify identity and immigration status through electronic file data before re-issuing immigration related documents.
When will fingerprinting services be restored to those residing in the Katrina-affected areas?
All information services and fingerprinting services will continue to be conducted out of
What should J-1 exchange visitors do if their programs have been disrupted by the hurricane?
The DOS advises all J-1 exchange visitors to contact their program sponsors. We do not expect J-1 visa holders will be penalized in any way for the disruption, but have not received further information yet.
What should F-1 or M Foreign Students do if they are currently studying at a school affected by the disaster?
Foreign students should attempt to contact the designated school official if available. If not, contact the SEVIS office at
The Department of State asks that inquiries about foreign students be directed to SEVIS to http://www.ice.gov/SEVIS, which has detailed information for students affected by Hurricane Katrina concerning the following issues:
What issues should be addressed by host schools and closed schools enrolling students affected by Katrina who have student visas now that Fall Semester is coming to a close?
NAFSA: Association of Foreign Educators, in discussions with DHS and the State Department, recently identified issues for the end-of-the term affecting students displaced by Hurricane Katrina. As a result of these discussions, NAFSA officials have released guidance for host schools, closed schools and affected students. First steps to be taken by schools affected by Hurricane Katrina:
Closed Schools - Please check that SEVP has all current information regarding your institution. The SEVP is receiving many undeliverable messages sent by their offices to affected DSO.
Host Schools - Most importantly, extend the program-end date to
If possible, host schools should work with Katrina-affected schools to facilitate the transfer in a manner that is most beneficial to the original school and the student.
Transfer of Records - According to SEVP, there is no problem with host schools transferring students back to
As previously mentioned, schools are instructed to extend the program end date to
Both Institutions - Please use the comment/remark fields of the forms to indicate that such forms concern a Katrina-affected student.
Travel - Students traveling need to have an unexpired I-20 from either a host, or closed institution, which clearly indicates a future program end date. Ports have been notified that they should re-admit Katrina affected students with fax copies of I-20s issued by the
Students applying for new visas should be advised that consulates can not issue a visa without an unexpired original I-20. Students MUST have an original I-20, either the extended I-20 from the temporary host school or an original transfer I-20 from the school they will attend in Spring. Normal security checks will apply!
Optional Practical Training - Recommendations for
Students Who Left the US Prior to or After Katrina and are Now Returning- Students who left the US and still have active SEVIS records should be given new I-20 documents for travel and should re-enter the US no later than
Special Work Permission for Hurricane Katrina Affected Students- Students on campus are automatically eligible for work authorization subject to regular terms/conditions that attach to all students. Those students demonstrating economic hardship may apply for work authorization through the
Out of Status Students - Students who have fallen out of status due to Hurricane Katrina can apply for deferred action preferably with the assistance of a qualified immigration attorney. This step effectively postpones action by the DHS and allows the student to apply for reinstatement. In the alternative, a student may exit the
Please see the SEVP website for more information on these issues available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/Katrina/faq_transfers.htm
What happened to passport applications processed through the
The DOS announced on
The Bureau of Consular Affairs is in the process of mailing postcards to applicants notifying them of the disruptions and possible delays caused by Hurricane Katrina. Anyone with pending passport applications at the New Orleans Passport Office planning to travel in the next six weeks should contact the
The DOS has established two offices to help people who need a passport in 14 or fewer days. The emergency office number is
What if I have family impacted by the one of the hurricanes and need to travel to the
The Department of State has announced that consular posts are instructed to expedite visa appointments for immediate family members and next of kin of Hurricane victims and are requested to extend “humanitarian considerations.
What if I lost my job as a result of the hurricane and I am on a non-immigrant work visa specific to that job?
Technically, one must be employed by the sponsoring employer in the typical non-immigrant work visa scenario in order to remain in legal status.
If one is still on the payroll of an employer, then arguably there is no status violation. The worker could argue that the leave was involuntary and applies across the board to all workers so there is no “benching.” And USCIS is expected to take a liberal approach when it comes to people affected by Katrina.
As for terminated workers, we still have no instructions from USCIS. We believe it will accommodating in forgiving status violations caused by the storm and allow late filed change of status applications as workers locate new employment. Regulations permit late filing when there are extraordinary circumstances and this would certainly be the case here.
A possible strategy would be to file to change status to that of a visitor and request a waiver of the requirement to timely file for such a change. Then when a new job is found, apply to change back.
We will advise readers as we learn more.
What if the hurricane causes me to be late in meeting a filing deadline or miss an interview?
We are awaiting information from USCIS, DOS, EOIR and
What forms am I required to file if I am displaced by either of the hurricanes?
All immigrants and non-immigrants are required to submit an AR-11 form each time they move to a new location. USCIS has not commented yet on what to do with respect to AR-11 forms, but the easiest thing to do is just to download the form at uscis.gov and mail it in. If that is not possible, we expect USCIS to be forgiving as long as the requirement is met as soon as possible.
Furthermore, any persons with cases pending at the New Orleans Immigration should have their attorneys file an EOIR-33 if the Respondent is relocated.
What will happen with cases pending in the
The US Fifth Circuit Court announced that it will shut down temporary operations in
Please check filing procedures after Hurricane Katrina posted on the website at www.ca5.uscourts.gov before filing.
True emergency matters, e.g. deportation cases with imminent and confirmed deportation dates, may be filed by fax at
Chambers of Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King
The Fifth Circuit anticipates opening the clerk’s office on
Can immigration lawyers displaced by Hurricane Katrina practice law in other states without a license?
Immigration lawyers have always had greater flexibility to practice in other states than where they took the bar examination because immigration law is strictly federal in nature. However, beyond this, state bars in states bordering those directly affected by the hurricane have issued memoranda in recent days making it clear that they will be flexible. A good place to go for more information on this topic is www.helpkatrinalawyers.org.
The Texas Supreme Court also instructed the State Bar to withhold for 30 days suspensions due to nonpayment of fees for
Will Congress act to help immigrants facing adverse immigration consequences as a result of the hurricane?
A legislative package is in the works that will address many issues immigrants are facing as a result of the storm. The bill may resemble a similar law passed after 9/11. There are some in Congress who have already expressed hostility and want to ensure that no one is better off from an immigration point of view after the storm than before it. We will report on this as we learn more.
I have had difficulty reaching my lawyer. What should I do?
First, as chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Katrina Task Force, I have been in contact with most of the immigration lawyers affected by Katrina. Only a few have not been in communication with me. The American Immigration Lawyers Association is working with all affected lawyers to get their phones working and we expect this to be accomplished within the next few days. While they are scattered across many cities, they still will be able to represent you. In most cases, it is not necessary to use a local immigration lawyer. And where a local lawyer is needed, AILA members are working with
In the mean time, you can contact AILA at email@example.com and they should be able to get you in contact with your lawyer if you have not already had success.
Most affected lawyers, by the way, still have email working and still have web sites running. So consider using those means of communicating.
What will happen to correspondence from government agencies being sent to addresses in affected areas?
The USCIS New Orleans Office officials wish to make the best of scarce resources. Therefore, no appointment and printing certificates will be mailed out to those with addresses in the affected areas because of a low likely hood of someone at those addresses receiving a notice. The USCIS will not be scheduling interviews for persons residing in areas that, according to the postal service, are not yet receiving mail delivery at their addresses (i.e. they have to go to the post office to receive their mail), and those zip codes on the US Postal Service website that indicate that they are only getting partial service. All notices that are sent out are now sent at least 30 days in advance to account for forwarding of mail. Applicants should contact the 1800 number to provide new addressees (as required by law). Please visit www.uscis.gov for that information.
Can the USCIS
Are pending cases being denied for failure to show for those affected by Hurricane Katrina?
Gregory Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.