The Catholic Legal Immigration Network held its 19th Annual Family Based Immigration Conference in El Paso, Texas, on Nov. 15 – 16, 2017. This year’s conference featured guest speakers from the Immigrant Visa (IV) Unit, American Citizen Services, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez and a panel of physicians and staff from Clínica Médica Internacional (CMI). The following is a summary of the information provided by the speakers.
Immigrant Visa Unit
Shelly Dittman, IV Chief, and Denix Nevarez, IV Deputy Supervisor, shared information and responded to questions on the immigrant visa process in Ciudad Juarez. Approximately 15 to 20 consular officers adjudicate IV applications each day. Each officer handles about 30 applications per day. Ciudad Juarez has the largest IV unit; it adjudicated approximately 80,000 IV applications last year, which accounted for over 15 percent of the worldwide number of visas. On the day of the interview, visa applicants currently wait about an hour to be interviewed, but should be prepared to wait longer. If an officer refuses a visa, this decision is generally not reviewed by a supervisor unless it is a new officer. An applicant can ask for a supervisor to review a decision, but only on factual issues. Unless it is a very obvious error, all legal challenges must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for an advisory opinion. Applicants and their representatives should use the inquiry form on Ciudad Juarez’s website to inquire about a case currently pending at the consulate: mx.usembassy.gov/feedback-form-immigrant-visas-residents/. For each case, submit a separate form and be sure to include the immigrant visa case number that starts with either CDJ or MEP.
Police certificates for Mexican IV applicants have been required since earlier this year. Certificates are only required for applicants who have resided in Mexico for six months or more since the age of 18. Consular officers do have the discretion to request a certificate from applicants who have lived in Mexico a shorter amount of time if the officer believes there are criminal issues. Only state or federal records are accepted; no municipal police records will be accepted.
Permission to travel is not required from a non-traveling parent when a child is immigrating. The IV Unit does not specifically look to see if express permission was given by the other parent. If there is a question or concern on a custody issue when a child is immigrating, an objection can be made to Mexican authorities on passport issuance. Also, a parent or guardian must accompany a child to the visa interview if the child is under 16. If a person is disabled, they also can be accompanied.
In the following situations, applicants should schedule IV appointments through the on-line appointment system:
- Derivatives who want to start the immigrant visa process after the principal beneficiary has immigrated
- When a visa applicant was found inadmissible for a health-based ground and has gone through the required period of remission
- When a visa applicant was refused based on INA § 212(a)(9)(B) for unlawful presence and the applicant has waited the three or ten years (consulate retains the file; if it did not, it will request it or reconstruct it), and
- When the applicant was refused a visa based on INA § 212(a)(9)(C), has remained outside the United States for 10 years, and USCIS has approved a Form I-212.
After an I-601 waiver has been approved by USCIS and the applicant has been interviewed a second time, it is possible a consular officer will make an inadmissibility finding based on a different ground. This may happen because the officer now has more information or it is possible the issue was missed during the first interview. Also, for applicants with approved I-601A provisional waivers, consular officers sometimes find additional grounds at the interview. The additional ground found most often is for smuggling. This highlights the importance of thoroughly screening applicants before filing the I-601A.
When a visa is issued, all the documents submitted by the IV applicant will be contained in the sealed envelope provided to the IV holder. If opened by the IV holder before leaving Mexico, the consulate will have to re-seal it.
U.S. Citizen Services
Kirsten Thompson, American Citizen Services Chief, shared information and answered questions on the services provided by her unit. Some of the services include: U.S. passport applications and renewals, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA), U.S. citizenship determinations, notary services, visits to U.S. citizens arrested in Mexico, and reports of deaths abroad.
When a child born abroad acquires U.S. citizenship, the parents are encouraged to document the citizenship through a CRBA. To obtain a CRBA, a Form DS-2029 must be completed and submitted online. The parents and child must appear for an interview and present documentation to establish citizenship. The CRBA is not a travel document, so an application for a U.S. passport (DS-11) should be submitted with the CRBA request.
If applying for a CRBA for a child born out of wedlock after June 12, 2017, Ms. Thompson confirmed they are applying the Sessions v. Morales-Santana decision. In that case, the Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to have a more favorable physical presence requirement for U.S. citizen mothers than for U.S. citizen fathers. The Court struck down the more favorable provision for mothers and ruled that the same physical presence requirements should apply prospectively to both mothers and fathers. For out-of-wedlock children born after the decision, U.S. mothers must be prepared to present documentation they were physically present in the United States for at least five years, two of which were after age 14, and all of them before the birth of the child.
U.S. Citizen Services often receives referrals from the IV Unit requesting determinations of U.S. citizenship. This happens when a consular officer believes an immigrant visa applicant may already be a U.S. citizen and delays issuing a visa until a determination is made. Advocates are encouraged to analyze possible claims to U.S. citizenship for their IV clients who are children of U.S. citizens.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Mike Chavez, Field Office Director of the USCIS in Ciudad Juarez, described the office and the types of cases it handles. The office is located at the U.S. consulate and is very small with only one adjudicator and four local staff members. The office adjudicates I-130 petitions for U.S. citizen petitioners residing in Mexico, but only if it’s an immediate relative petition. The office also adjudicates I-360 widow/widower petitions, but handled very few in the last year. In very limited circumstances, the office will adjudicate I-601 waivers of inadmissibility. Filing with the Ciudad Juarez office will be accepted if the applicant resides in Mexico, there are exceptional and compelling circumstances that require immediate adjudication, and the urgency of the situation justifies an expedited adjudicatory process.
Clínica Médica Internacional
Dr. Robert Assael, a panel physican at Clínica Médica Internacional in Ciudad Juarez, along with members of his medical team, explained the medical exam process and provided tips for applicants. When performing the exam, the physicians follow the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The exam and questions are directed towards determining if the applicant has a Class A or Class B medical condition. Class A conditions are medical conditions that render an applicant inadmissible and ineligible for a visa. Class B medical conditions do not make an applicant inadmissible, but are conditions that represent a departure from normal health and are significant enough that they interfere with the applicant’s ability to care for themselves, attend school, work, or require extensive medical treatment. Applicants with Class B conditions are issued a visa, but must have a follow up exam in the United States.
The exam includes a general physical exam, a urine test for gonorrhea, and a blood test for syphilis. Adults, including pregnant women, get a chest x-ray for tuberculosis. If a patient refuses an x-ray, the clinic won’t be able to issue the medical results. The exams generally take about 20 minutes, but depending on the day, the wait time for the exam may be significant. On Mondays, the clinic is very busy and patients may wait two to three hours to be seen. On Fridays, there are very few patients, so the wait is much less. Also, in the last three months fewer IV appointments have been scheduled, so fewer medical exams have been performed.
To satisfy the vaccine requirements, it is recommended that patients bring their vaccination history cards with them. About 50-60 percent of patients show up without the records. Applicants should be warned against purchasing fake vaccination cards from people outside the clinic. The physicians are fully aware of what a false vaccination record looks like.
Applicants should plan to complete the medical exam at least two days before the scheduled IV appointment. If an applicant has a chronic illness, he or she should allow for an extra day in case there are any issues. Sometimes the patient has to get additional documents or information. Children ages two to fourteen need to arrive for the medical at least four days before the visa appointment to allow for time to get the TB test results. CDC is considering requiring skin tests for all applicants, not just children. If a TB test is positive, the clinic will provide the treatment for free. The consulate will be notified and the IV interview will be rescheduled.
If the medical results are normal or there is only a Class B finding, the report is given to the applicant to take to the visa appointment. If there is a Class A finding, the clinic will hand deliver the results to the consulate.
To assess if an applicant has a mental or physical disorder with an associated harmful behavior or a substance-related disorder, the panel physicians use the criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5). Applicants are asked directly if they have ever used drugs. If a patient admits drug use, even if legal in the jurisdiction where they reside, the person will be sent for a psychological evaluation. At CMI, 50 percent of patients undergo drug testing. If previously found to have a Class A substance disorder or mental/physical disorder, and an applicant is returning to the clinic for another medical after a period of remission, the applicant can bring evidence of rehabilitation. The physicians will consider the evidence and see if the applicant has made life changes.