While the government, in immigration category after immigration category, says “yes” to aliens about 90 percent of the time, there’s one situation in which the aliens are told “no” more than 70 percent of the time, on average.
The program is a small one, involving only a few hundred grants of green card status a year, and deals with a minor class of aliens — those who claim that their adult, citizen children have mentally or physically abused them. Most of the parents claiming this status are in their 40s or above, most are here illegally, and USCIS, which is usually so welcoming, turned down 75.7 percent of the applications in FY 2019. The comparable figure in FY 2020 was 65.0 percent.
During the two years for which we have the most data, FYs 2019 and 2020, we note not only the low percentage of approvals, but also (these were Trump years) an apparent decision on the part of USCIS to not make decisions at all. In those two years, the agency received 3,734 applications filed by “abused” parents, and acted on only 990 or them, leaving close to three-quarters of the petitions (in those years) in the pending file.
This state of affairs is not reported as such by the government, but a close reading of the cited USCIS report, and its successor, shows in the reports' Table 7, the numbers used above.
The government does not routinely report why it says "yes" or "no" to alien applicants, but one can get a sense of what is going on by digging into a really obscure data source, the decisions of USCIS’s semi-judicial body, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). What we see there is not a sample of all staff decisions, but it does tell us what AAO has decided upon appeals from negative staff decisions.
The reader might ask: Why should domestic violence inflicted on (usually) illegal aliens by their adult children give the parents a right to permanent resident alien status? If a woman fleeing from a violent husband in a foreign land cannot secure asylum status, as she cannot, why should an illegal alien parent bothered by a violent adult child get a green card? These are good questions. It is generally not noticed that a large proportion of the aliens admitted to this country are regarded as victims of some kind: refugees, asylees, crime victims with U visas, or those in temporary protected status and the like.
My sense is that someone fleeing from al-Assad’s thugs is more deserving than an illegal alien with a bad child that she or he raised — but our immigration policy disagrees.
Setting aside the irrational policy for the moment, what do those AAO decisions tell about this program? We find a set of obscure numbers that are almost as bizarre as the policy itself, again something that never is discussed by the media.
Apparently back in the Obama years of 2012 and 2013, and earlier, the government turned down large numbers of these “abused” parents at the staff level. Then many of those rejected appealed these decisions — usually without the help of a lawyer — to the AAO, which consists of Homeland Security civil servants working only on the paper in front of them, never having trials like the immigration judges do in their system (which is part of the Department of Justice).
In those years, the AAO unleashed a batch of almost factory-produced decisions turning down large numbers of appeals, often not discussing the case at hand. In most cases, the rationales for the decision were, as noted in the table below, that those appealing had either filed late or offered no new evidence in their appeals. In the overwhelming majority of cases, no lawyer was involved.
As we note below, we examined 44 of the appeals in the set of 199 on file, working backwards in time. In the earlier decisions, little of substance was said by the AAO judges, but in more recent years, with the volume of decisions severely reduced, the judges have been more forthcoming about why the decisions were made as they were.
Incidentally, among the 44 decisions we did not find a single one in which the alien carried the day. The score was 44 dismissals to zero.
When a substantive reason was cited, the usual one for saying "no" (in the more recent applications) was that the offending citizen was too young at the time of the abuse, i.e., under 21. Typically, AAO, out of an absurd obsession with privacy, obliterates all sorts of data, like the names of the petitioners, the state where the “abuse” took place, the names of the lawyers, if any, the names of the judges, and the like. But in one case the judge noted (and the system did not redact) that the “abuser” was 10 years of age.
In two of the 44 cases, we found that it was the alleged victim’s own criminal record that caused the denial. (One must be “of good moral character” to receive the benefit.)
Apparently the 2013 flood of denials has discouraged aliens from appealing to AAO; in FYs 2019 and 2020 there were 685 denials, compared to the three appeals in calendar years 2019-2021. The word must have gotten around that if USCIS said “no” in a parental case, appealing such a decision would not do any good.
Here is a tally of what I found in these records:
Results of AAO Appeals Against Denials of
and Not Timely (T)
too Young (Y)
and Other (O)
|2017||Y: 2; O: 22||4|
|2016||Y: 3; O: 12||4|
|2014||S: 2||Y: 3; O: 1||6|
|2013||S: 16; T: 5||Y: 5||26|
|Totals||S: 19; T: 5||Y: 16; O: 4||0||44|
Source: AAO decisions as examined by the Center for Immigration Studies.
1 The child in one case was 10 at the time of the alleged abuse.
2 One alien in each category had a criminal record.
Methodological Note. I initially decided to look at the 40 most recent decisions of the set of 199; that would cover about 20 percent of the decisions published by AAO, all in the years 2012 to the present. That group of 40 would include all of the post-2013 decisions (14) and 26 of those done in 2013.
The dataset is arrayed, more or less, in reverse chronological order, but not exactly. After tallying the 40 cases I found four 2016 decisions buried in a bunch among the 2013 cases, so I added them to the total, hence 44 in all.