This administration certainly keeps the hits coming on immigration. Just recently, reports surfaced of a new request sent out by USCIS requesting “voluntary interviews” with asylum applicants. This isn’t common practice so communities were feeling a lot of fear and confusion regarding what the purpose for these “voluntary interviews” might really be.

I was asked whether or not this practice, covered in some local news stories, was isolated to just a few asylum seekers living in Iowa. I immediately reached out to my AILA network, and through an informal poll of AILA chapter leaders, it quickly became apparent that this is happening in many places, reportedly targeting Burmese nationals who may have been in the U.S. for years. Similar requests to “verify information on the application” have been seen in Texas, Michigan, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana, and perhaps in far more locations. Given the huge amount of fear and concern, as well as the possibility that a detail misremembered from a decade ago might be an issue in the unforgiving nature of immigration law, having counsel at your side for any such interview, and a copy of the original application, is more important than ever.

Per an email received from USCIS by an AILA member, they are “attempting to determine the validity of information of record.” Of course, we can all understand that. But it seems very much like a fishing expedition and it is terrifying longstanding members of our communities who contribute to our nation. Is a fishing expedition worth causing that terror?

In our current immigration atmosphere, it is sadly unsurprising that such a hard tack would be taken against a vulnerable population seeking relief from persecution.  We must continue to be vigilant and work together, and with new partners and other stakeholders to respond to this latest action, as well as whatever is next to come.

AILA chapters and individual members should be working with local non-profit organizations to draft policy alerts and memos, to help address this specific issue as community advocates.  Such efforts are key in ensuring the communities know their rights and responsibilities.

National trends are often revealed when local experts start talking and comparing notes. These days, doing so is even more important. Many of us fear for our clients — all the while doing everything we can to defend them.  We are all better prepared when we know what’s happening, in our own neck of the woods, and nationally.