It is Friday – about 72 hours after the last major winds and rains from Superstorm Sandy left the Tri-state area.
The governments and residents of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut are all working hard to return basic services to all residents. In addition, some of the luckier residents are attempting to return to a somewhat normal workday.
Likewise, the government immigration offices are also attempting to return to normalcy. Yesterday, Newark USCIS and the Immigration Courts in Newark and Elizabeth reopened. Today, other immigration locations are reopening. If I am correct, the only immigration offices that remain closed are those in lower Manhattan – which continues to have no electricity. I commend the staff at those immigration agency locations for their dedication – especially when I am sure it is so difficult for them to make it to their jobs. They have been told to report, and they are reporting as best they can. Everything that I say below is not directed at the government officials who work at the local immigration agencies – they are just following orders.
But someone in the line of commend has made a horrendous mistake.
Although I think it is important to return to normalcy as quickly as possible – it is a horrible oversight to attempt to return to normalcy so quickly – especially when the conditions on the ground do not warrant it.
- Is it appropriate to have non-essential government agencies operating in a city where 80 to 90% of the city is without electricity? (Newark, according to Rock Center last night).
- How are New Jersey immigrants suppose to get to their Immigration Court Proceedings when much of mass transit remains offline? Or when there are obvious gas shortages and long gas lines?
- It is well known that many of the immigrants with appointments in Newark are represented by attorneys in the lower parts of New York City (which remains without electricity), How are those attorneys suppose to get to their files, and then get to New Jersey? Or communicate with their clients who do not have power?
- Do you expect immigrants to report to their appointments at a time when they have been forced from their homes? Or when they do not have electricity and do not know whether the immigration court/agency is open or closed? (over a million New Jersey households remain without electricity).
Requiring individuals to appear for immigration court or an immigration appointment adds additional stress because missing an appointment could result in an immigrant forfeiting his or her immigration petition, and possibly losing his or her immigration court case.
The Department of Homeland Security oversees the USCIS, and the Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency. I know Secretary Napalitano is in the area today – perhaps she should have one of her undersecretaries take a second look at the situation, and reassess whether it is appropriate to pretend that everything is normal.
I hope (and expect) the immigration agency and the immigration courts will clear up the confusion – and will not punish individuals who are not able to make it to an appointment due to no fault of their own – but why put immigrants through the misery of worrying?