Mother Nature hit Puerto Rico hard with Hurricane Maria. Regardless of the deadline for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals and irrespective of the need for immigration lawyers to respond to Requests for Evidence (RFEs), Mother Nature wins out. But as immigration lawyers, we can’t let a natural disaster derail our clients’ cases.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release stating that late submissions of DACA renewals would be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, it hasn’t yet announced anything about a grace period or deadline extension for the myriad of other immigration applications. As the Chair of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), I have contacted officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and have repeatedly begged for information from USCIS field office personnel about where things stand and what sort of grace period will be extended to ensure that deadlines are met in a timely manner. There is no power to most of the island and people lack clean drinking water, let alone the ability to print and copy documents, get translations done and certified, and ship packages to the correct DHS lockbox or service center.
Despite my repeated pleas, I have not yet received a response. When word of our plight reached the AILA National office, they urgently sent a letter to top DHS and USCIS officials demanding that USCIS release guidance and provide relief for all of those impacted by Hurricane Maria. An extension of the DACA deadline is incredibly important. But it is only one of the innumerable immigration benefits that carry deadlines and demands. Instead of quickly recognizing that broader relief is mandated by this natural disaster, the administration thus far has been mute.
We have been hurt by this storm, but we are not down for the count. Puerto Rico is already rebuilding and coming together as a community, embraced by countless individuals and organizations who are helping us to rebuild and become stronger than ever. The federal government has brought resources to bear on many fronts to help us succeed. A broad policy of leniency for those impacted by Hurricane Maria seems like a relatively small, yet absolutely necessary, action to take.