We have received reports from across the country that the USCIS is sending interview notices to certain refugees. The following are frequently asked questions and answers to common concerns. This is a developing situation, and we will update these FAQs with new information as it arises.
1. Who is being targeted for these special USCIS interviews?
Those receiving interview notices from the USCIS are former Burmese refugees resettled in the United States, were living in Malaysia before being resettled, and have not yet naturalized. Some have been in the United States for several years.
2. Why are clients being called in for interviews?
In 2014, USCIS learned that from 2009 – 2010 there could be 1,700 Burmese refugees who either falsified personal information or whose personal information was used by someone else during refugee processing. These individuals have resettled in the U.S. and other countries.
USCIS is conducting an investigation into this situation, which involves interviewing approximately 1,000 individuals residing in 30 states. USCIS staff with refugee expertise conduct the interviews, likely refugee officers who work with the Refugee Affairs Division. Furthermore, while the investigation is active, USCIS will not adjudicate pending Lawful Permanent Resident or Citizenship applications for individuals under investigation, even if they are victims of the identity theft.
3. How will representatives know if a client is required to attend an interview?
Individuals who have been identified through the investigation will receive a letter scheduling them for an interview at the local USCIS field office in the jurisdiction where they reside. These interviews are scheduled quickly, within days or weeks of the interview notice date. Only persons who have not yet naturalized should be called for an interview. If a U.S. citizen has been scheduled for an interview, we recommend sending a message to email@example.com to advise that the interviewee has become a citizen and requesting confirmation that the interview will be cancelled. Letters issued by different USCIS field offices across the country may look different. If you have questions about the authenticity of the letter, please contact the USCIS field office that issued the letter. The contact information for USCIS Community Relations Officers at each field office can be found here.
4. What kind of questions are being asked at the interview?
According to information provided by our network, interviewing officers are asking questions pertaining to identity and biographical information of refugees. A redacted version of the questions asked in a recent interview are available here. Questions include name, date and place of birth, parents’ names, children’s names, addresses in Malaysia, names used and given to CBOs, UNHCR, USCIS and resettlement support centers (RSCs) in Malaysia. Officers may also ask detailed questions about the procedure the refugee followed to register with UNHCR including when, where, how many times they visited the refugee agency, and who accompanied them to their appointments. Officers may ask additional questions about whether the refugee ever provided false information to any US government official, UNHCR or the RSCs.
Finally, officers are asking detailed questions about all names used by the refugee in all contexts, as well as all possible spellings of their names. According to the information we have, officers are not asking questions about the events underlying the original refugee claim. However, officers may ask questions about the underlying claim and representatives should consider objecting to this line of questioning.
Special note regarding refugee processing in Malaysia: There are no refugee camps in Malaysia, mainly because the country is not a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. Thus, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registers all newly arriving asylum seekers and conducts refugee status determinations. Because some refugees lived in areas that were far from the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, they set up mobile registration units in different refugee communities in order to register refugees. In addition to registering with UNHCR, many Burmese refugees in Malaysia registered with community groups. For example, the Chin community, which constitutes the single largest refugee group in Malaysia applied for refugee registration with some of these community-based organizations (CBOs): the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR), the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), the Falam Refugee Organization (FRO), the Highland Chin Community (HCC), the Chin Student Organization (CSO), the United Learning Centre (ULC) and the Zomi Association of Malaysia (ZAM).
5. Are the interviews mandatory?
Each USCIS appointment letter indicates whether the interview is voluntary or mandatory. USCIS has stated that refugees with pending applications will have mandatory interviews, and those with no pending applications will have voluntary interviews. The USCIS has warned that they may make decisions affecting immigration status even for those who do not attend a voluntary interview. Keep in mind that if USCIS has derogatory information on the refugee, and the refugee does not go to the interview to explain any discrepancy, that derogatory information could be used against them. We have received information that USCIS does not intend to detain anyone at the interview.
6. How can representatives prepare clients for the interview?
Try to verify all of the biographical and family composition information that was given to USCIS or UNHCR. One way would be to see if you can find any previous refugee processing filings, such as the I-590, through a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request.
It is important to talk with your client to gather as much information as possible regarding names given in different contexts. For example, most refugees, especially the Chin refugees, registered with a local CBO and may have used names that are slight variations of their own names. It is important to gather information regarding biographical information of the refugee and all relatives given to UNHCR and the Refugee Service Center (the International Rescue Committee). Finally, when refugees are resettled in the U.S., the resettlement agencies that receive them get a biodata form including name, family members’ names, case number, location in Malaysia, the country fled, the date they fled, marital status along with many other details. To the extent possible, try to make sure your client’s recollection of the information they gave is consistent with this biodata information.
Learning all of the names Burmese refugees used may not always be straightforward. Some refugees were baptized in Malaysia and took on a Christian name. Furthermore, some may never have written their name before, for example the Chin. When refugees had to write their name, either in Burmese or with the Roman alphabet, each time it may have been spelled differently because it was written based on the phonetic sound. Finally, many refugees used different names depending on the setting – e.g., “school name,” “family name,” or “street name.” Before going into the interview try to gather as much information as possible regarding the information your client submitted in Malaysia.
USCIS is requesting that people bring the following documents, including any U.S. government-issued identity documents, UNHCR Registration documents, Burmese documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, baptism certificate and/or family registration), and Malaysian documents (birth/marriage certificates, CBO registration cards and/or arrest records). Before attending the interview, representatives should review and copy all documents the refugee plans to submit, and retain the documents in a file. If the USCIS takes any action with regard to the refugee’s status in the future, you will have a copy of the pertinent documents on file.
7. Can clients bring an attorney or representative to the interview?
It is highly suggested that representatives accompany clients to these interviews. While refugees were not able to bring attorneys or advocates to the USCIS interviews overseas, they are able to bring attorneys and/or accredited representatives to all USCIS interviews in the U.S. per 8 CFR §103.2(a)(3). The representative should bring a completed Form G-28 to the interview if one is not already on file.
8. What is the role of the representative?
The role of the representative during these interviews is the same as any other USCIS interview. The representative is there to make sure that the rights of the applicant/petitioner are protected. See Adjudicator’s Field Manual, or AFM, §12.4; §15.8. Preparing your client and making sure that the USCIS officer is following the regulations and AFM is very important. During the interview, the representative cannot answer a question asked directly to their client. AFM §12.4; §15.8. However, the representative should interject when the questions asked are not clear or the client does not understand the question sufficiently to produce a coherent and correct answer. The AFM section on Professional Conduct of Practitioners, states that “(t)he attorney or representative may object to the appropriateness of a line of questioning and, as a last resort, may request supervisory review without terminating the interview.” AFM §12.5. Thus, if the officer acts unprofessionally, asks inappropriate questions or loses patience with an applicant, the advocate should interject and ask to see a supervisor, if necessary.
9. What do I do when the USCIS officer is taking a sworn statement?
We have heard that USCIS officers are requesting that refugees sign a sworn statement containing the verbatim questions and answers. In reported instances, the officer provided the applicant the opportunity to review questions and answers to make sure they are correct, and requested that the applicant sign the statement under oath. The AFM states, “[T]hese statements often result in action at higher levels . . . successful prosecution may depend on the evidence gained in the statement.” AFM §15.6. In other words, these statements can be used to impeach any earlier or later testimony or information from your client. However, keep in mind all information gathered at a USCIS interview is under oath. Even if the interview is conducted in sworn statement, your role as an advocate is the same (see above). If your client does not sign the statement, the statement could still be used against them as could any other statement given under oath. However, if the questions are objectionable, advocates should instruct their client not to sign the statement. This is particularly important if the statement may be used against your client in removal proceedings.