Editor’s note: In an address just one week ago (which already seems to many like an eternity) aimed at inspiring confidence in his administration’s efforts to contain the fallout from Covid-19’s global spread, President Trump enacted a ban on travel from 26 European countries, setting travelers scrambling to their nearest airports to get back home.
When they returned via 11 approved U.S. ports of entry, they faced long virus screening lines that led to crowded terminals, ironically increasing the risk that those returning from so-called “hot zones” in Europe had been clustered in a environment where it was perhaps more likely for them to be infected.
That got us here at Global Atlanta thinking about all the visitors, temporary workers and immigrants who are caught in the middle of travel constraints or immigration policies that seem to be changing by the hour as nations try their best to stem the pandemic. In a city home to the world’s busiest airport, it seemed like a topic that needed to be addressed.
To get some answers, we spoke with Charles Kuck, managing partner of our immigration law sponsor Kuck Baxter Immigration. Disclosure: This is a sponsored post that is being published as part of Kuck Baxter’s annual advertising package with Global Atlanta. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Global Atlanta: How is the shutdown of most international travel (and even now to Canada) affecting the pending cases that you’re dealing with?
Charles Kuck: The biggest concerns are both USCIS’s and CBP’s lack of action on how to handle potential visa overstays under the Visa Waiver (ESTA) program, and whether USCIS will continue to timely adjudicate visa extension requests. Dealing with these uncertainties has caused people a great deal of anxiety over the last week.
Are people worried about meeting requirements that they stay in the U.S. for a certain period, for instance, to get/keep their green cards?
Mr. Kuck: Green cards are not a problem, because both the two-year and 10-year varieties are extended by mail. The bigger concern, as noted above, is the 90-day limit on the visa-waiver program (with a possible 30-day Satisfactory Departure supposedly available from CBP), and otherwise extending actual visitor visa or work visa entry stamps in a timely fashion.
What is the situation like at the southern border now, where many people waiting for asylum claims to be processed will face increased delays while already dealing with tenuous financial situations as they wait in Mexico?
Mr. Kuck: It appears based upon today’s press conference that the Trump administration will simply close the southern border to asylum seekers and those who enter without inspection, returning them to Mexico without a hearing, and not permitting them to apply for asylum.
This, of course, violates our international treaty obligations under nonrefoulment, but since the Administration has been violating those agreements for the last three years, we really cannot expect any different today.
Last night at midnight, the immigration courts announced on Twitter that they were shutting down all non-detained hearings—midnight! That is the surreal situation we find ourselves in now.
Global Atlanta: How will the Covid-19 outbreak affect the H-1B and H2A programs for guest workers in professional services and agriculture, respectively?
Mr. Kuck: USCIS has already suspended (last evening) the premium processing for H-1Bs in this year’s lottery. But, we do not expect, at this time, for the lottery selection program to be interrupted. We are hearing, however, of many employers now withdrawing their already filed H-1B applications given the layoffs and what appears to be a rapidly slumping economy.
H-2A visas for agricultural workers, as we enter planting season in the north, are obviously going to be barred from entry if not already here. This will certainly cause crop failures and further hardship for U.S. farmers.
Global Atlanta: Some Georgia legislators are asking the Trump administration, though, not to disrupt travel for agricultural workers that will be essential to picking and processing operations that will ensure that farms, and thus, the state’s food supply, continue to be functional.
Mr. Kuck: They are asking, but the U.S. consulates in Mexico are basically closed, so without Department of State employees be ordered back to work at the consulate, I would suspect that those demands will go without a response.
Global Atlanta: What is being done to ensure the health of vulnerable immigrant populations during this pandemic?
Mr. Kuck: Nothing. Literally nothing, at least by the federal government. In fact, today the Board of Immigration Appeals issued a decision making it harder to obtain bond as an asylum seeker. This is, of course, entirely consistent with the current administration modus operandi of punishing immigrants and asylum simply for availing themselves of our laws.
Some are concerned that undocumented immigrants will be hesitant to get tested for the virus (when kits become available) because they worry their status will be discovered.
Mr. Kuck: That is a legitimate fear and is a fear actually stoked by the Trump Administration, and I can guarantee you, when we eventually have the actual ability to get tested that many immigrants, both documented and undocumented will NOT be tested for fear of being deemed a “public charge,” under the Administration’s new regulations.
What do you think will be the long-term immigration implications of the outbreak?
The outbreak will feed the level of xenophobia stoked by the President and Republican leadership, blaming China and Asian immigrants. Just look at their language. Trump is already trying to claim that fortifying the southern border will somehow slow the spread of the virus, which is nonsense given what we already know.
This will not end nicely. And since we face a pandemic that Trump allowed to be created by not responding promptly to the actual warnings coming out of Asia and Europe, we can anticipate that a collapsing economy will cause terminations, visa cancellations, and overall little economic growth over the next year.
I’m assuming immigration will slow — both in employment visas and those coming via other avenues — at least for awhile.
What would you like to see from the Trump administration at this moment?
They should suspend all immigration hearings and in-person interviews for the duration of the crisis. The administration should immediately release asylum seekers with relatives in the U.S. ICE should cease enforcement operations, except as to those individuals actually detained for committing felonies. There are, of course, many other things the Trump administration should do—but it will do none of them.
About Charles Kuck:
Charles Kuck is the Founder and Managing Partner of Kuck Baxter Immigration and oversees its worldwide immigration practice. Mr. Kuck assists international immigrant investors, employers and employees with business and professional visas, labor certifications, immigrant visas, consular representation, and citizenship matters. Mr. Kuck also maintains an active Federal Court practice focusing on immigration issues. He has represented asylum seekers and others in more than 700 trials before the Immigration Courts.
Mr. Kuck is a former National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is a founding member and former president of the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL). He currently serves as Co-Chair of the City of Atlanta’s Welcoming America Commission, and as a Board Member of the Georgia Restaurant Association. He was recently selected as the principal immigration attorney for the Andean Parliament, and gives frequent free community forums to churches, schools and community groups, educating immigrants on their rights and opportunities in the United States.
His lients include technology firms, manufacturers, multinational corporations, individual EB-5 investors and entrepreneurs, as well as families, individual immigrants and asylum seekers. He maintains a robust and rewarding pro bono practice and has been a professor for both survey and advanced immigration law classes at Emory University School of Law and The University of Georgia School of Law for the past 20 years.