Immigration Lawyers Threaten Suit Over Visa Snafu

"Bait and switch" green card promises entice immigration lawyers to threaten the federal government with a class action suit.

After getting caught in the crossfire between the two federal bodies that control the immigration system—the State Department and the Citizenship and Immigration Service—the American Immigration Lawyers Association threatened June 5 to bring a class action lawsuit against the U.S. immigration agencies.

The cause of the furor dates back to June 13, when the State Department published a Visa Bulletin, which announced that nearly all skilled foreign workers who had been previously deemed eligible for employer-sponsored visas could now take the final step of applying for green cards. The Visa Bulletin is closely watched by immigration lawyers because it determines who is eligible to file green card applications the next month.

The window for proceeding applications would be particularly short, the Bulletin said, giving applicants only until the end of July or the beginning of August to complete the paperwork. Just as thousands of immigrants scrambled to assemble their documents, the State Department released an update July 2 abruptly reversing their previous bulletin.

In a statement, Carl Shusterman, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, described the reaction to the reversal. "The State Departments announcement set off a visa gold rush," he said. "Lawyers and their clients were pulling all-nighters to get applications in by July 1."

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Explaining that all available employment-based immigrations had been allocated for the 2007 fiscal year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Bureau rejected all applications by aliens whose names were not included in the now-updated July bulletin, dashing the hopes of thousands of workers, their families and employers who had spent thousands of dollars in the hopes of permanent residency.

The AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) released a statement strongly condemning what they called a "bait and switch," perpetrated by the federal government on thousands of immigrants who had waited on line and followed the green card rules for years.

"People ask why those who come to the United States illegally cant just follow the rules," said Kathleen Campbell Walker, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"But here people followed the rules and did everything right. Yet, without warning or explanation, the door was slammed in their faces. This hoax perpetrated by these two government agencies is unconscionable, and is an example of how badly our immigration system is broken."

By law, the U.S. is only able to issue about 140,000 employment-based green cards each year, and the already long waiting list is further backlogged because the government has fallen behind in processing applications. The government fell short by about 10,000 in the 2006 fiscal year. According to a State Department spokeswoman, the mistaken June announcement was aimed at prevent the allotted visas from going to waste.

"Apparently, it was two federal agencies playing a game of yes, we have no bananas," said Shusterman. "Its disappointing."

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