From Ukraine to DACA: How immigration issues affect Tennessee every day | Opinion

·4 min read

When I taught immigration law at Vanderbilt Law School, I would always begin class by noting immigration was at the forefront of our national agenda.

Whether in print, on TV or online, there was always a current event related to immigration. But recently, between the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 election results and mass shootings, immigration has taken a backseat. Though not in the news every day, immigration developments continue to affect Middle Tennessee.

Protecting Ukrainians

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises multiple worldwide issues, including immigration concerns. Take the Ukrainian students who have brought thousands of dollars into this country by pursuing higher education at our distinguished institutions.

These students will likely lose access to their funding sources from abroad as the war and sanctions rage on. Fortunately, the Biden administration has designated Ukraine for “temporary protected status” (TPS). This means Ukrainians currently in the U.S. are shielded from deportation.

TPS allows them to continue their studies, work and be safe while they wait out the war in their home country. Granting TPS was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration improperly rescinded DACA, the program that provides work authorization and safety from deportation for young people (“Dreamers”) brought into this country without status.

While we await legislation and regulations, as an interim measure, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) determined it could adjudicate renewal applications, but not new DACA applications.

As a result, thousands of first-time DACA applicants, many of whom attended school with your children, clean your homes or maintain your lawn, remain in limbo.

It’s a travesty that these young people remain without status, without work authorization, unable to get a job or ineligible to enroll in college. Congress needs to act to fully reinstate DACA and to pass the DREAM Act or its equivalent. Our Tennessee Dreamers deserve it.

USCIS backlog

USCIS is the immigration benefits arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, over the last few years, USCIS processing of the thousands of applications and petitions has slowed to a near standstill even for the simplest of cases.

For example, renewal of work authorization takes almost a year; replacement of an admission document takes 23 months; a relative petition for a U.S. citizen to bring in a spouse takes 38 months. The backlog is so crippling that the USCIS director made an impassioned plea to Congress to allocate funding so the agency can clear up the unsurmountable backlog. Imagine if you had to wait a year or more for your Social Security check or unemployment check.

Foreign nationals in Tennessee and across the country are experiencing these types of unfair delays.

More: John Rose: Biden's policies on immigration and securing the border are failing | Opinion

Files under lock and key

Adding to the backlog problem are thousands of USCIS records in inaccessible storage facilities. Many applicants for naturalization have been waiting as long as two years for an interview date. Others who have been interviewed are told USCIS cannot make a decision until the agency can retrieve a file that is currently inaccessible.

This is very unfortunate because we, as a nation, want qualified foreign nationals to become U.S. citizens so they can meaningfully participate in our democracy. Long-time permanent residents eligible to naturalize are barred from the privileges of U.S. citizenship, such as government jobs and federal research grants.

Certainly, Nashville’s university research facilities are losing the benefit of scientists who could otherwise secure federal grants and lead important scientific research. Someone needs to find the key.

More: Biden Administration has failed to create a fair and just immigration system | Opinion

Employment authorization for spouses of international transfers

Great news on employment authorization for the spouses of international corporate transferees and foreign investors. These spouses are now granted work authorization “incident to status.” This means they do not need to wait months to receive employment authorization from USCIS (see the backlog discussion above). Now their I-94 admission card will have a “work authorized” designation. Any CBP office is authorized to update the I-94 for eligible spouses. This change is important to Middle Tennessee because these workers will address critical shortages in our workforce with needed skills and advanced education.

More: Immigration rhetoric heats up again, but GOP lawmaker urges compassion

Immigration legislation

The developments discussed above, and many other issues, have been the subject of attempted legislative reform.

Linda Rose
Linda Rose

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act. This bill would expand immigration benefits for foreign nationals who earn a Ph.D. in STEM fields in the U.S. Imagine how this could add to research, technological development and manufacturing in Middle Tennessee.

The Senate, however, needs to pass the bill. This is just one example of the many congressional attempts to fix our broken immigration system.

There are numerous other immigration developments affecting Middle Tennessee every day. So even if you don’t see immigration on the front page of the newspaper, it is still on the national agenda and a major concern for Tennesseans and the nation at large.

Linda Rose is the founding member of Rose Immigration Law Firm, PLC. The firm has been serving Middle Tennessee employers and the immigrant community for more than 30 years. Special thanks to the managing partner, Douglas Russo, for his leadership, and to associate attorney Neely Baugh-Dash for her editorial input.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: DACA to Ukraine: How immigration issues affect Tennessee every day