US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Monday that it will re-open some pending cases of those applying for relief from deportation after a move to end deferment requests prompted concerns among undocumented families, some of whom are seeking relief for medical issues.
Earlier this month, USCIS sent letters to family members who had requested relief from deportation, saying the agency’s field offices “no longer consider requests for deferred action,” except for certain military exceptions.
The change in policy stoked fear and confusion for families, and took Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has discretion to determine who will and won’t be arrested or deported, by surprise.
After media reports surfaced about the change in policy, USCIS said its field offices would no longer consider nonmilitary requests for deferred action – temporary relief from deportation.
On Monday, the agency appeared to slightly reverse course, saying that it would “reopen non-military deferred action cases that were pending on August 7.”
When asked about the change, a USCIS official said the agency “is taking immediate corrective action to reopen previously pending cases.”
USCIS previously said that it would defer to ICE to determine if nonmilitary issues “warrant deferred action,” according to a spokesperson. But USCIS and ICE procedures are not identical.
Individuals can apply to ICE for a “stay of deportation or removal,” but that’s done only after someone has exhausted all immigration judicial proceedings and has been ordered removed, according to an ICE official. USCIS is the agency responsible for legal immigration benefits, including work authorization.
ICE does not accept “applications” for deferred action, a discretionary act that allows the Department of Homeland Security to delay or prevent immigration enforcement, according to ICE.
“ICE has broad discretion and exercises that discretion, as appropriate, on a case-by-case basis throughout the immigration enforcement process in a variety of ways,” said ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer, referring to decisions made regarding arrests, release from custody during immigration proceedings and prioritization for deportation.
There is no new program at ICE for medical deferment, another ICE official told CNN last week.
The USCIS official said Monday that, “whether a very limited version of deferred action will continue forward at USCIS is still under review. More information will be forthcoming.”
CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.