“Everybody’s just terrified.”
That was the easiest way that Kansas City immigration attorney Michael Sharma-Crawford can sum up how his clients are dealing with the immigration crackdown occurring in the United States.
Bobby Chung, a San Gabriel, Calif., attorney handling the Topeka E2 visa case of Anna Voskoboyeva, Gyroville owner, agreed.
“I’m definitely feeling a difference over the past three or four months under the extreme vetting new immigration policy,” Chung said. He specializes in cases like Voskoboyeva’s, where she is applying for an E2 visa, meaning she intends to open a business, make at least a $100,000 investment and create jobs, in the United States.
“I’ve always faced immigration officers that were very welcoming, and they would only deny a case where the business was very tenuous,” Chung said, or cases where there had been criminal problems, immigration violations and such.
The key has been “very clear and fair reasons for denial.”
That is not the case he’s faced with Voskoboyeva and in a few other cases, “suspicious reasons” have popped up.
“We believe that you are going to come to the United States and never leave, overstay and become the illegal,” Chung said. “An E2 visa allows you to stay for another five years; it doesn’t make any sense that someone would go illegal when they have a reason to renew their visa.”
In his experience, where he has seen 95 percent approval of E2 visas, fewer than 1 percent have been rejected for lack of ties to their home country, as Voskoboyeva’s was. In the previous case, the person had lived in the U.S. illegally for years, so he had abused immigration law.
Chung and Sharma-Crawford, who does not work in E2 visas but focuses primarily on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, both said their practices have changed in recent months.
”We trust our U.S. visa officers that they will do their job in a professional, fair way,” Chung said. “The changes I’ve seen over the past few months make me cynical and skeptical.”
“Scrutiny is up across the board,” Sharma-Crawford said. “If there’s any reason to question it, they’re going to deny it. Or they’re going to do nothing. We’re primarily removal defense, so we’re in court all the time.”
The attorneys said much of their frustration lies in their inability to predict what will happen. Unlike in the past, where they could rely on rules and precedent, they’re at a loss.
“I used to be able to say, ‘okay, here’s what your case is, here’s the strength of your case, you have this judge, this is how that judge is going to rule, this is the time it’s going to take,’ ” Sharma-Crawford said. “I don’t have that. The timelines keep shifting on us.
“It’s chaotic right now. These folks look to me to be the expert, and I can’t be,” he added. “I’m trying to be the expert on the terrain and I’m standing on sand and it keeps shifting. We do the best we can. Our Facebook page is updated four or five times a day. The most current, the most up-to-date information out there to the clients.”
Chung has begun to advise his clients differently.
“I’ve been doing this for so many years, and I’m a big believer in America and in our fairness and justice system, being a former federal attorney,” Chung said. “I can’t believe this is happening. It’s very frustrating. You go by the law. As an attorney, you become an expert in the law, and then you advise clients ‘as long as you satisfy the law under the American justice system, you should have a fair chance. Go ahead and invest your half a million or $200,000 and spend the money.’ It freaks out most people.”
For years, Chung has seen nearly 100 percent approval, and he used that fact to reassure clients.
“Nowadays, I tell them that we need to go above and beyond,” he said. “Where in the past, you want to make a small investment and take your chances, I would fight for you. Nowadays, I”ll tell people to invest more, do more to make it really, really strong so that minimizes the risk of them saying it’s not good enough.”
And yet, still, Voskoboyeva was denied after investing $200,000.
“I’ve told some clients, simply don’t do it. If it was me in your shoes, and taking that kind of financial risk and coming from your country, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “That’s again my own financial interests, but to me, it is inhuman to give people false expectations and pull the rug from under their feet. It’s not the American way.”