Mailroom S.N.A.F.U. Puts Livelihoods At Risk; USCIS Refuses To Help

by Amanda DeVincenzo/Wendel Hall

One of life’s basic lessons is that when one makes a mistake, it best to admit it ASAP and fix it. USCIS operates on a different principle: Never admit, never fix – the consequences be da--ed! The horrifying story of a small landscaper we will call “Orange Lawn Service” (name changed for fear of retaliation)** illustrates how harmful USCIS’ ‘never admit, never fix’ attitude can be.

Last October, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that H-2B Program fees would increase effective December 23, 2016, and Petitions filed on or after that date must include the new fee.

“Orange Lawn Service” through its agent (name masked for fear of retailiation**) submitted its Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the correct fee to USCIS’ Vermont Service Center (“VSC”) on December 23, 2016. The VSC rejected the Petition because the employers supposedly submitted the incorrect fee.

But USCIS’ mail clerk was wrong. Orange Lawn had been properly served by its filing agent and had submitted the correct fee.

In an ideal world, a  S.N.A.F.U. like this would be easy to fix. But not for USCIS with its never admit, never fix motto. Its filing agent and the Hall Law Office went to work. First, the cases were referred to the USCIS Special Cases Unit in Washington, D.C.  Special Cases was supposed to help. It didn’t.

It took three weeks and multiple communications until Special Cases gave an explanation: a “directive from HQ” deemed the Petition filed on December 22, 2016. This phantom “directive from HQ” contradicted the USCIS regulation that deems a petition “filed” on the date received by USCIS.

After more pushing from its filing agent and HLO, the Acting Branch Chief of the Special Cases Unit reached out to Service Center Operations (SCOPS) to confer about this issue. In the meantime, Orange Lawn sent requests to the Secretary of Homeland Security, USCIS Acting Director, and relevant Congressional offices asking them to help correct this simple error and facilitate acceptance of the Petitions as soon as possible. Still, nothing.

Persistence Finally Paid Off

Its filing agents’ and HLO’s persistence paid off when Orange Lawn’s Congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, intervened. Congressman Harris got USCIS to do the right thing after two months of bureaucratic hostility. USCIS reversed the mistake and accepted Orange Lawn’s Petition with the original receipt date. This was only fair, considering Orange Lawn had complied with the law.

The Lesson

Orange Lawn, however, did not emerge unscathed. Delays cost it business that may never return. Why did Orange Lawn almost lose everything it worked decades for? Because, for USCIS, it was better for Orange Lawn to lose everything than to admit and fix a mistake.

            ** It is sad that a small business and an agent mistreated this way would so fear retaliation that it would not let us tell its story without anonymity. But no one could say its fears were unreasonable, given the mistreatment it has already experienced. The Hall Law Office stands ready to help.