How Lawyers Help Clients Navigate Ever-Changing Immigration Policies

Kansas and Missouri immigration lawyers share examples from their Trump-era experiences

By Pam George | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 31, 2024 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys David Gearhart, Peter A. Gianino, Melanie Gurley Keeney, Mira Mdivani and Angela L. Williams

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When President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, immigration attorneys were busy. “People wanted to know what was going on with some certainty,” says David W. Gearhart, an immigration lawyer at St. Louis’ Lewis Rice. Unfortunately, certainty is hard to come by. “For foreigners who [needed] a visa status to live in the U.S., [it was] a very unsettling world,” he says.

Policy Changes in January-March 2017: Executive Orders 13769 and 13780

In January 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13769, which was then replaced by Executive Order 13780 in March 2017, banning travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). These Executive Orders were met with legal resistance, and on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ban from six countries (minus Iraq) for 90 days unless the traveler has a certain familial relationship with a U.S. citizen or ties to a U.S. entity, like a college.

In line with the Executive Order, there were increased raids from a beefed-up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In September, Trump moved to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation. As a result, Gearhart said, everyone from a doctor on a work visa to an undocumented foreign laborer grappled with seesawing policies.

People wanted to know what was going on with some certainty. For foreigners who [needed] a visa status to live in the U.S., [it was] a very unsettling world.

David Gearhart

Some Individuals Renewed Their Efforts to Obtain Permanent Residency or Citizenship

Some immigrants who’d procrastinated on taking the next step toward green card status or citizenship began calling Angela L. Williams in Kansas City the day after the election. Melanie Gurley Keeney of St. Louis’ Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt had a similar experience.

“They’ve been green card holders for years and want to become U.S. citizens now,” she says. The process, however, became more laborious and expensive, with increased paperwork required. In October, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services started phasing out in-person interviews for anyone obtaining employment-based permanent residency.

[Some documented immigrants] elected not to pursue certain benefits out of fear their case would face an adverse result, given the tone of the administration.

Peter A. Gianino

Others Halted Their Immigration Process

Conversely, there are documented immigrants who’ve put a halt to the process due to their country of origin, religion, or ethnicity, says Clayton-based Peter A. Gianino of Riezman Berger. “They elected not to pursue certain benefits out of fear their case would face an adverse result, given the tone of the administration,” he says.

Keeney suggested, however, that it was not the time to let immigration application paperwork lapse or shun requirements. “For example, foreign students who didn’t carry full loads or meet the criteria for remaining as students could be subject to removal,” Keeney says.

[Under the new policies], foreign students who didn’t carry full loads or meet the criteria for remaining as students could be subject to removal.

Melanie Gurley Keeney

Changing Deportation Priorities

Under the Obama administration, undocumented people with felonies or serious misdemeanors topped the deportation priority list. Under the Trump administration, those with minor offenses were also prioritized, leaving many undocumented immigrants afraid to even pay speeding tickets, Williams says.

“Worse, immigrants who were victims of crimes didn’t report it for fear of deportation,” says attorney Mira Mdivani of Mdivani Corporate Immigration Law Firm in Overland Park.

Worse, immigrants who were victims of crimes didn’t report it for fear of deportation.

Mira Mdivani

New Challenges for U.S. Companies Moving Personnel Around the Globe

Mdivani primarily handles business immigration compliance and personnel visas. Given the new policies, she says it’s more challenging for U.S. companies to move personnel around the globe.

Gearhart agrees. He represents healthcare systems in rural locations that count on foreign-born physicians to fill vacant positions. Previously, an additional fee could expedite the review process. In March 2017, the government halted such practices without advance notice. “Doctors completing their medical training in the U.S., which usually finishes at the end of June, were in limbo because their H-1B work visas would likely not be approved in time for them to start their jobs,” Gearhart says.

The policy has been amended to allow expedition for certain petitions. In other industries, some companies bridge the gap between hiring and approval by letting the employee work remotely in his or her home country. That might also be the case if a worker’s visa lapses between leaving one job and taking another.

But if the employee is from a country on the banned list, Gearhart notes, they may be unable to return to the United States.

[When prepping clients on their rights during reentry, I’d have to ask], ‘Are you willing to forfeit a phone or be detained for hours?’

— Angela L. Williams

Many documented immigrants are concerned about leaving the U.S. even to see ill relatives. Williams sits down with concerned clients to discuss their rights on reentry. She’ll ask them, “Are you willing to forfeit a phone or be detained for hours?”

Given the uncertainties and intricacies of U.S. immigration law, it’s best to seek the legal advice of an immigration attorney about your rights before the need arises, Gianino says. “You’ll be in a much better position to deal with situations that are uncomfortable, unwanted, or a surprise.”

For more information on this area of law, including the general eligibility requirements for obtaining a green card or citizenship and the role of government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in immigration matters, see our immigration law overview.

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