Thank you to the North Carolina Justice Center for updating the below content with North Carolina information.
15.1 – Overview
Disasters pose unique risks to immigrants. Increased interaction with local and federal law enforcement agencies during disaster relief efforts may place immigrants in precarious situations and increase fears regarding whether seeking assistance may jeopardize their ability to remain in the country. In North Carolina, this is especially true in 287g communities where local law enforcement acts in close partnership with ICE. Although the rules and eligibility guidelines of many disaster relief programs offer explicit assistance for those impacted by disaster, regardless of their immigration status, it is reasonable for immigrants to be wary of the perceived and actual risks of accepting assistance, namely the heightened possibility of detention and deportation, and whether accepting assistance may impact the possibility of gaining future immigration status. This chapter addresses common issues and questions immigrants may face in disaster situations regarding their legal protections and rights.
15.2 – List of Most Common Issues/Questions
15.2.1 – FEMA and Accessing Emergency Assistance
– Do I qualify for FEMA benefits? If so, how do I access FEMA benefits?
– Will accepting FEMA benefits affect my immigration status or my application to become a legal permanent resident?
– What are the consequences of sharing the identity of my family members and myself with FEMA or state agencies that distribute FEMA benefits?
– What if my initial application for FEMA benefits is denied?
– I am undocumented. Is it safe to seek assistance from emergency shelters, food banks, and other nonprofit organizations?
15.2.2 – Relating to Immigration Case
– What do I do if I missed an immigration court hearing or an appointment with an immigration official or a biometrics appointment?
– How do I know if my upcoming appointment or hearing will still take place?
– I have lost my identity and court documents. How can I get new documents?
– What are my options if the disaster has affected my ability to file necessary immigration documents by a set deadline?
– I have an ankle monitor that I must wear while my immigration case is pending, and I cannot leave my house. I cannot keep my ankle monitor charged. What do I do?
– I am temporarily displaced from my home or moved after the storm. How do I change my address with the court or agency in charge of my case?
– I have a loved one in an immigration detention center. How can I find out if she or he is safe?
15.2.3 – Other Questions
– I am a foreign student whose visa is dependent on my enrollment, and the disaster has affected my ability to pay my studies. What are my options?
– Should I be scared of driving if I am undocumented?
– My wages were stolen. If I call the police, will I be deported?
15.3 – Summary of the Law
There are multiple relief programs available for victims of natural disaster. Each program has its own eligibility restrictions. Short-term, non-cash emergency disaster relief is available to all North Carolinians, regardless of immigration status. This includes but is not limited to emergency access to food, water, shelters, emergency notifications, rescue programs, and emergency-related medical care. No one should be required to provide proof of their immigration status or identity to secure these forms of emergency assistance.
15.3.1 – FEMA Eligibility
One of the most common forms of relief sought after a natural disaster is cash assistance. FEMA can provide cash assistance in the form of “Housing Assistance” and “Other Needs Assistance.” Housing Assistance can help the applicant pay rent in a new home or pay for repair or replacement of the applicant’s home. Other Needs Assistance can help with expenses not related to housing, such as medical, dental, or childcare expenses. FEMA benefits are available to “qualified aliens.”
Under 44 C.F.R. Section 80.3(g), a “qualified alien” for FEMA benefits is an individual who falls under one of the following categories:
-Legal permanent residents (green card holder)
-Applicants who have been granted asylum
-Individuals who have been admitted as a refugee
-Individuals who have been granted humanitarian parole for a period of one year
-Individuals whose deportation have been withheld due to their status as a political refugee
-Alien granted conditional entry (per law in effect prior to April 1, 1980)
-Individuals who was a Cuban or Haitian entrant under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980
-Aliens in the US who have been abused, subject to battery or extreme cruelty by a spouse or other family/household member, or have been a victim of a severe form of human trafficking with an approved or pending petition
-Aliens whose children have been abused and alien children whose parent has been abused who fit certain criteria with an approved or pending petition
Individuals are not eligible for disaster benefits if they have:
-A non-immigrant visa, such as work, student, or travel Visa
-Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
-Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
-A pending asylum application (with a temporary social security number)
-Or any other form of immigration status not listed in the “qualified alien” list above – including if they are undocumented and without any immigration status
If you are a qualified alien, you may access some disaster relief benefits, such as cash assistance, through FEMA. If you are an undocumented immigrant, access to FEMA cash assistance will not be available to you directly. However, you may apply on the behalf of a minor child who is either a qualified alien or U.S. citizen in your household. Alternatively, another adult household member may qualify the household for assistance. Having one family member who qualifies for FEMA cash assistance as a result of being a qualified alien or U.S. citizen can make the whole household eligible for FEMA cash assistance.
If you are undocumented, you should not and are not required to provide any information about your own immigration status. The FEMA cash assistance application will only ask for a Social Security number for the eligible child or family member.
15.3.2 – D-SNAP Eligibility
It is important to note that eligibility for D-SNAP, otherwise known as disaster food stamps, is significantly broader than that of the FEMA cash assistance program. All immigrants can apply for disaster food stamps regardless of what form of immigration status they have, or if they have no valid immigration status at all. The form that you will need to complete for D-SNAP does ask for a Social Security number but if you are an immigrant who does not have a Social Security number, you may leave the space blank. To receive D-SNAP, you will be required to verify your identity through some form of identification (including photo and non-photo ID, mail, an affidavit from individuals who know and can attest to your identity, etc.) if you are the head of the household.
15.3.3 – Public Charge
Regardless of how you apply for disaster relief benefits, it is important to be aware of how the use of public benefits may affect your immigration status or your ability to obtain immigration status in the future. One implication of using certain, limited public benefit programs is the risk of becoming, or being seen as, a public charge. A “public charge” is an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” Any non-citizen receiving cash assistance should be aware of public charge law and any proposed changes. In general, disaster benefits are exempt from public charge determinations, but many immigrants may express fear or hesitation in enrolling in these benefits.
Public charge concerns are primarily relevant for immigrants who are or may become eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency (to obtain a “green card”), as well as for immigrants seeking to enter the United States on certain visas. In order to be granted the requested immigration benefit, non-citizens who are seeking to enter the U.S. or to become lawful permanent residents must show that, given all relevant circumstances, they are not likely to become a “public charge” in the future. See Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). Though the use of public benefits is one factor that will be considered, the government will also consider other factors including the applicant’s age, income, resources, family situation, and health in determining whether they are likely to be a public charge. Many types of immigrants, including asylum seekers, refugees, and applicants for visas based on their status as victims of crime or human trafficking, are not required to go through the public charge evaluation at all.
Although it is exceedingly rare(1), individuals may also be placed in removal proceedings based on public charge if they become a public charge during the first five years after entering the U.S. and certain other strict conditions are met (the use of benefits created a legal debt, they had notice of the debt, and they refused to pay the debt)(2).
The public charge rules have changed several times in recent years, leading to fear and confusion among immigrant communities. The federal government put in place a new public charge rule in March 2021. Under the new rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”, or Immigration) does not consider the use of any non-cash benefits negatively when they are determining whether an immigrant’s green card application should be approved. Additionally, USCIS considers cash benefits negatively only if they are on-going and used for income maintenance. That means that one-time cash assistance which is used for a specific purpose is not considered negatively by USCIS, and immigrants may use it without any impact on their green card application. This means that basically all disaster-related benefits are not considered negatively when an immigrant applies for a green card, because they are not on-going cash benefits used for income maintenance.
The following disaster-related programs can be used by eligible immigrants or their family members with NO negative effect on a future or current green card application:
-Short-term disaster relief (such as emergency shelters or food assistance)
-Emergency Medicaid or any form of medical assistance
-Disaster Unemployment Assistance
Further, eligible immigrants and their family members can access any of the following programs they may need with NO negative effect on a future or current green card application:
-Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, federally-funded health clinics, and any/all health-related programs
-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP” or food stamps)
-Women, Infant, and Children’s Nutrition Program (“WIC”)
-Free and reduced-price school lunch programs and P-EBT benefits
-Tax credits of any kind (including EITC, Child Tax Credits, stimulus checks)
-Public housing (including Section 8 vouchers)
-Short-term emergency relief programs such as shelters, food banks, DV shelters, etc.
-“Earned” benefit programs such as unemployment insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”)
-One-time cash assistance programs such as local or federal rental relief programs
– LIHEAP and other energy assistance programs
Essentially, the only two benefit programs that USCIS considers negatively under the public charge rule in place as of March 2021 are Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF.”) Eligible immigrants and their family members should consult with an immigration attorney if they need access to one of those two programs. However, they should feel free to access any of the other programs listed above without concern with regard to their immigration process.
Since the law on “public charge” has changed frequently in recent years and could continue to change in the future, you can keep up-to-date with recent changes in the law by visiting www.ncjustice.org/public-charge or https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/resources/.
15.3.4 – Tenant Rights
For a more general discussion of tenant rights following a disaster, see Chapters 4 and 5 of this manual. In the aftermath of a disaster, undocumented tenants may face additional challenges and/or fear when trying to enforce their tenant rights or obtain new housing. Where possible, undocumented disaster victims should consult with a qualified attorney on their specific circumstances.
Unfortunately, many immigrants still face language access discrimination in private and public transactions, including in their interactions with public housing authorities, housing inspection departments, courthouse staff, and private landlords.
As a general matter, the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits a landlord from refusing to rent based on race, color, religion, sex/gender, familial status, disability, or national origin. The FHA applies to all “dwellings,” which includes almost every type of residential housing, including houses, apartments, condominiums, group homes, shelters, migrant housing, assisted living housing, and even vacant land for residential housing. Every person living in the United States is protected by the FHA, regardless of his/her immigration status. Although immigration status is not specifically listed as a form of prohibited discrimination, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their birthplace, ancestry, culture, or language pursuant to the national origin category. This means that landlords cannot treat tenants differently because of where they are from originally.
Special considerations also arise for individuals living in mobile homes. If you own a trailer or a house and you rent the land, you are responsible for the repairs to the house or trailer, but the owner of the land will remain responsible for fixing any damages to the ground or property. If your home has been destroyed and you wish to move, you will need to review your contract for the land to determine what amount of notice is required to terminate your contract, and if any special provisions apply in cases of natural disasters. Even if your house or trailer is damaged or destroyed as a result of a natural disaster, the owner of the land can still charge rent for the land itself if the land is habitable. If you think you are unfairly being charged rent for land, consult with an attorney to see if there are any defenses available.
If you are a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident and are temporarily unemployed as a result of Hurricane Florence, you may be eligible for mortgage payment assistance from the NC Foreclosure Prevention Fund. For more information visit: https://www.nc.gov/services/foreclosure-prevention
15.3.5 – Employee Rights
Undocumented workers cannot qualify for regular unemployment compensation. However, if an immigrant has a valid work permit, lost their job because of a disaster, and meets other requirements, they may qualify for regular unemployment compensation. To apply online, visit: https://des.nc.gov/des See also Section 6 of this manual.
If an immigrant does not qualify for regular unemployment benefits, they may still consider applying for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”), which provides financial help to employed or self-employed workers in a federal disaster area whose employment is lost or interrupted due to a major disaster. You must be a “qualified alien” to qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. (“qualified alien” is defined in Section 14.3(a) and 14.5, Q. 252, of this manual) (3 and 4). An applicant’s status will be verified through the SAVE system so it is important that an applicant provide truthful information about his or her status. You can find more on DUA at https://des.nc.gov/need-help/faqs/disaster-unemployment-assistance-dua-faqs or by calling the DUA hotline at 1-866-795-8877.
Immigrants are at an increased risk of experiencing wage theft. Wage theft is when an employer fails to pay an employee or contracted individual for work already performed. The risk is especially high after natural disasters due to so many companies coming into the disaster area offering demolition and cleanup services. Before accepting a job doing disaster-related work, consider doing the following:
– Get the key terms of the job in writing. Key terms include rate of pay, how often workers will be paid, whether housing will be provided during the job, whether transportation reimbursement is available, etc.
– Check to make sure the company you are working for is authorized to do business in North Carolina. You can check to see if a company’s business license is current on the North Carolina Secretary of State website.
– If you have experienced wage theft after accepting work related to a natural disaster, you should contact an attorney. Even if you are undocumented you might be protected by the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division might be able to help.
15.4 – Useful Websites and Contact Information
– FEMA Helpline – 1-800-621-3362 (emergency assistance)
– Toll-Free Legal Aid Hotline for Survivors of Hurricane Florence (1-833-242-3549)
– Legal Aid of North Carolina – 1-866-219-5262 (M-F, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and M & Th, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.)(6)
– Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy – 1-704-376-1600 (consumer-related claims)
– Lawyer Referral Service – 1-800-662-7660 or 1-919-677-8574
– American Immigration Lawyers Association – http://www.AILAlawyer.org
– North Carolina Justice Center – https://www.ncjustice.org
15.5 – Frequently Asked Questions
Q 15.1 – Do I qualify for FEMA benefits? If so, how do I access FEMA benefits? If I apply, will my family’s information be kept confidential from immigration authorities?
You can apply for assistance after the President declares a disaster in your state and your county is named as a recipient for Individual Assistance. You can check https://www.fema.gov/disasters for updates on the status of your state or county. To access benefits, contact the FEMA Helpline at: 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 1-800-462-7585) or for 711 or Video Relay Service call 1-800-621-3362. See also Chapter 2 of this manual.
You can apply for FEMA assistance if you meet eligibility requirements of being a “non-citizen national” or a “qualified alien” and you meet the other FEMA eligibility requirements. Qualified aliens are:
– Legal permanent residents (green card holder)
– Applicants who have been granted asylum
– Individuals who have been admitted as a refugee
– Individuals who have been granted humanitarian parole for a period of one year
– Individuals whose deportation have been withheld due to their status as a political refugee
– Alien granted conditional entry (per law in effect prior to April 1, 1980)
– Individuals who were a Cuban or Haitian entrant under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980
– Aliens in the US who have been abused, subject to battery or extreme cruelty by a spouse or other family/household member, or have been a victim of a severe form of human trafficking with an approved or pending petition
– Aliens whose children have been abused and alien children whose parent has been abused who fit certain criteria with an approved or pending petition
If you are an undocumented parent or guardian with a minor child in your household who was born in the United States or who is a qualifying alien through one of the above-listed categories, you can apply on behalf of that minor child. The child’s name, age, and social security number are required for the application. As the parent or guardian, you are not required to provide your own immigration status or the immigration status of anyone in your family other than the minor child for whom you are applying.
In order for a household to qualify for FEMA cash assistance, only one family member must be eligible for assistance. The applicant must sign a sworn statement called a “Declaration and Release”(3) stating that the applicant or eligible minor child is a qualified alien. The Release authorizes FEMA to verify the immigration status of the applicant or minor child. If one household member is a minor child and eligible as a U.S. Citizen or a Qualified Alien, all household members qualify for assistance regardless of the other household members’ immigration status. FEMA’s press release on citizenship issues (last updated March 2021) states that “FEMA will not proactively provide applicant information to immigration or law enforcement organizations. However, in rare circumstances, based on a specific request, a FEMA applicant’s personal information may be shared within Department of Homeland Security.”(4) Specific privacy laws protect FEMA applicants’ information, and Department of Homeland Security officials can only request access to that information under limited circumstances.
You are NOT eligible to receive FEMA assistance if you:
– Only have a non-immigrant visa, such as work, student, or travel visa
– Have Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”)
– Have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”)
– Are undocumented and do not have a member of your household who is qualified to apply for benefits
You are NOT eligible to receive FEMA cash assistance if:
– No single household member is eligible, though your household can still receive non-cash assistance through state and local programs, such as emergency food and shelter, crisis counseling, disaster legal services, and other short-term emergency assistance
– You are in the US on a temporary tourist visa, student visa, work visa, or have a temporary resident card. Also, note that lawful presence in the U.S. and a social security number alone will NOT make you eligible for FEMA cash assistance. You must also meet all other FEMA eligibility requirements.
Remember that immigrants in any and all of the above categories, or without status at all, can apply for FEMA benefits for their household if a member of their household (including a minor child) is a U.S. citizen or has an eligible immigration status.
Information on FEMA and undocumented immigrants, in many languages, can be found at: https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual/program/citizenship-immigration-status/flyers.
In order to apply for FEMA aid, you will need to provide your:
– personal information: social security number of the eligible household member who is the applicant, current and pre-disaster address, and your telephone number
– insurance and income information for your household
– a description of losses caused by the disaster
– a bank routing and account number (if you want direct deposit into your bank account)
If you need immediate assistance during a natural disaster and are seeking more information about FEMA or other programs, you can go to a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). You can search for a disaster recovery center here: https://www.fema.gov/disaster-recovery-centers. You can also text “DRC” and a zip code to 43363 to find your nearest DRC or call 1-800-621-3362 (8) (TTY 1-800-462-7585). For individuals who use 711 or Video Relay Service call 1-800-621-3362. Multilingual operators are available as well.
Other Needs Assistance
FEMA cash assistance is available through the Federal Assistance to Individuals and Households Program (“IHP”), which provides money for necessary expenses that cannot be met through other needs. Some needs include medical and dental expenses, moving and storage expenses, as well as childcare. The standard FEMA registration period is 60 days following the date that the President declares a disaster in your area. You can apply in person at a Disaster Recovery Center or online at www.disasterassistance.gov or via the smartphone app at www.fema.gov/mobile-app. (9)
FEMA also provides housing assistance through IHP, such as rental assistance, temporary lodging reimbursement, and home repair/replacement assistance. For greater detail on FEMA in general, see Chapter 2 of this manual.
“Qualified aliens” may apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”) through FEMA. (See definition of “qualified alien” at Section 15.3.1 and Section 15.5.1 of this manual). You must apply for this program within 30 days of the date of announcement of availability for DUA. You must also not have declined an offer of employment in a suitable position. For more information, see https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/24418.
Q 15.2 – Will accepting FEMA benefits affect my immigration status or my application to become a legal permanent resident? What are the consequences of sharing the identity of my family members and myself with FEMA or states agencies that distribute FEMA benefits?
Under current US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) guidance, acceptance of emergency disaster relief is not considered public cash assistance that would cause you or your household members to become ineligible for lawful permanent residence (a green card) or to get a visa based on being a “public charge.”(5)
More information about the public charge rule can be found at https://www.ncjustice.org/public-charge
Q 15.3 – I am undocumented. Is it safe to seek assistance from emergency shelters/food banks/other non-profit organizations?
Local communities, the Red Cross, and other volunteer-based community organizations manage most shelters. Most of these groups will not give private information to government agencies. For instance, the Red Cross does not ask individuals to show any form of identification in order to stay in their shelters(6). Similarly, many local food banks and other nonprofit run charities do not ask for identification or require a person to prove immigration status. Many agencies do ask for identification and proof of address, but they are generally collected for internal purposes only.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) enforcement of immigration laws in future disasters is subject to the political climate at the time. During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, ICE and CBP did NOT conduct routine immigration enforcement at evacuation sites, shelters, or food banks. But ICE did reserve the right to take action if confronted with a serious, criminal situations. In Houston, there were CBP officers involved in some rescue and relief operations, which made immigrants fearful of going to shelters, even though there were not enforcement activities going on(7). On September 14, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement stating that their primary priority is the “preservation of life and safety” and that “there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to Florence, except in the event of a serious public safety threat.”(8) After that date, there were multiple reports of ICE and CBP vehicles in North Carolina, including in flooded areas. However, it appears that those vehicles have been responding to crisis-related tasks and are not directly engaged in immigration enforcement in or near emergency shelters or other hurricane-impacted areas(9). As of July 2021, the Biden administration has not made any major announcements regarding its policy on ICE enforcement in or around disaster-impacted areas.
If you need information about a particular shelter, food bank, or other voluntary agency, you may reach the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767 or http://www.redcross.org. You can also contact 2-1-1 for additional referral.
Q 15.4 – Should I be scared of driving if I am undocumented?
In North Carolina, driving without a license can lead to a misdemeanor charge and, for undocumented immigrants, it can also mean unwanted interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and possible detention or deportation. This is especially true in communities that have chosen to participate in the 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement to act as immigration enforcement officers in certain situations. Even North Carolina counties without a 287(g) agreement use a program called Secure Communities to share information with ICE of people who are arrested. However, not all detentions for driving without a license lead to an arrest.
If you are stopped by law enforcement or ICE for any reason, it is important to remember that, regardless of your immigration status, you have rights. You have the right to remain silent. You can invoke your right to remain silent at any point during your interaction with law enforcement and are not required to answer their questions. You do not have to provide information to law enforcement about your immigration status or country of origin. Further, you have the right to an attorney if you are arrested and may ask for one immediately. For more information about your constitutional rights, please visit:
Q 15.5 – I have a loved one in an immigration detention center. How can I find out if she or he is safe?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a responsibility to keep individuals in its custody safe. ICE may transfer detainees from one facility to another, for their safety, during a storm or other emergency. The fastest way to find someone in detention during a disaster is to call the detention facility. Be prepared to provide basic information such as name, alien registration number (“A number”), country of birth, and birthdate. You can also check the ICE online detainee locator to locate any adult who has been detained at https://locator.ice.gov/. Be aware that the website is not updated in real time and may take days to be updated. You may also wish to call free immigration legal assistance organizations in your area, as they may know whether certain facilities are being evacuated during or in advance of a storm.
Q 15.6 – What do I do if I missed an immigration court hearing or an appointment with an immigration official or a biometrics appointment? How do I know if my upcoming appointment or hearing will still take place?
During a storm or other natural disaster, it may be dangerous or impossible to keep USCIS appointments or to attend Immigration Court hearings. In an emergency situation, immigration offices and courthouses may themselves have to shut down. You should monitor local news stations as well as https://www.uscis.gov/ for information on relevant office closings. If you are represented by an immigration attorney, alert that attorney as soon as possible if you believe you will not safely be able to make it to your appointment or court date. You should not put your personal safety at risk during a storm or its aftermath. In the event that the courts and USCIS offices are closed, any appointments will be automatically rescheduled. You and/or your attorney should receive a notice with the date, time, and location of the rescheduled appointment.
Immigration Court (Executive Office for Immigration Review, EOIR)
The Executive Office for Immigration Review offers proceeding information, including hearing dates, immigration judge decisions, and more through an automated hotline: 1-800-898-7180. You will need your Alien Registration number (A number, a nine-digit number assigned to each case) in order to get information about your case.
During an emergency, however, the EOIR hotline may not be updated. In such situations, you can find the most up-to-date information about court closures at: https://twitter.com/DOJ_EOIR. If the Court closes on the date you were set to have a hearing, your hearing date will automatically be rescheduled, and you should receive a hearing notice by mail. For this reason, it is important to update the Court with your most recent address if you have moved after the storm. To update your mailing address with the EOIR, you or your attorney will need to file a Form EOIR-33, available here: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/form-eoir-33-eoir-immigration-court-listing.
If the Immigration Court is open and you are unable to make your hearing date because it is not safe for you to do so you could be ordered removed in absentia. However, during a time of natural disaster or emergency, the Court may be more flexible and may reschedule your hearing. You or your attorney may try to call the local Immigration Court and speak with your judge’s clerk to let them know you are not able to make it to court. However, this may or may not be successful to avoid an order of deportation. If you are deported or issued an order of deportation/removal, you may be able to reopen your case with evidence that you were unable to make it to the courthouse due to natural disaster and related conditions. Contact an immigration legal services nonprofit or private immigration attorney for assistance with a Motion to Reopen your case.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
You can get information on USCIS office closures by calling the USCIS Support Center at: 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833) or online at https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts.
If the USCIS office is closed on the date of your appointment, you will be rescheduled for a new date and time. A notice should be sent out to you by mail, so it is very important to update USCIS with your most recent address if you move after the storm. To update your address with USCIS, you will need to file an AR-11 either by mail or online, available here: https://www.uscis.gov/ar-11.
If the USCIS office is open, but you are unable to attend your appointment due to a natural disaster or its aftermath, you should call USCIS Support Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833) to let them know you will miss your appointment due to natural disaster. For more information, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/immigration-help-available-those-affected-natural-disasters.
If you missed your biometrics appointment or do not know if the biometrics office is open, you can call the USCIS Support Center for assistance: 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833).
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
If you missed a scheduled appointment or check-in with ICE, call your case manager if you have their direct contact information.
Q 15.7 – I have lost my documents. How can I obtain my documents?
There are many types of important government documents, from identity documents to court paperwork. Different agencies are responsible for issuing originals and copies of documentation, both at the federal and state level. Below you will find information for obtaining documents from North Carolina, the U.S. federal government, foreign governments, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Immigration Court (Executive Office for Immigration Review, “EOIR”).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
USCIS will reissue certain documents at a cost. If you lost documents because of a storm and, due to that disaster, are unable to pay the form fees you may request a Fee Waiver (see below) along with the appropriate form. Fee waivers are granted in limited situations, one of which is if the applicant is suffering financial hardship. The applicant would have to document and explain the financial hardship in order to have the waiver considered. Common forms are downloadable from the USCIS website (see list below) or you can request that they be mailed to you by calling 1-800-870-3676. For more information, call USCIS Customer Support at 1-800-375-5283.
– Lawful Permanent Residence Card (“Green Card”). Form I-90: https://www.uscis.gov/i-90
– Arrival/Departure Record I-94. Form I-102: https://www.uscis.gov/i-102
– Employment Authorization. Form I-765: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses
– Naturalization/Citizenship Certificate. Form N-565: https://www.uscis.gov/n-565
For a full list of available USCIS forms, visit: https://www.uscis.gov/forms
– Fee Waiver. Form I-912: https://www.uscis.gov/i-912. Be sure to include evidence of the natural disaster’s effect on your loss of documentation.
To obtain a copy of your immigration record containing copies of applications you have submitted, you must submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in writing, to the USCIS National Records Center (address below) or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to 1-802-288-1793 or 1-816-350-5785. For more information on what to include with your FOIA request, call the USCIS Support Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833) or visit: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/freedom-information-and-privacy-act-foia/how-file-foia-privacy-act-request/how-file-foiapa-request. It is recommended that you talk to a lawyer before you file a FOIA request.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
National Records Center, FOIA/PA Office
P.O. Box 648010
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010
State of North Carolina-issued documents
To obtain copies of North Carolina documents such as Birth Certificate, Marriage License, Divorce Decree, Vehicle Title, Texas Driver’s License or Identity Card or federal government issued documents such as passports, social security cards, Medicaid, tax returns, etc., visit Legal Aid of North Carolina’s website for detailed instructions on how to request a new document:
Foreign government-issued documents
If you lost foreign government-issued documents, contact your consulate to learn how you can get replacement documents.
Important note: If you are an asylum-seeker, contact an attorney. Do NOT contact your government. Contacting your government for any form of assistance, including for replacement of government-issued documents, could be detrimental to your asylum claim(s). To hire a private attorney, you may contact the American Immigration Lawyers Association at www.AILAlawyer.org.
Immigration Court Documents
You are able to obtain copies of Immigration Court Documents in two ways: submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; or go to the Immigration Court where your case is pending.
In order to obtain the most complete copy of your immigration court case, you will need to submit a FOIA request, which may take anywhere from three months up to a year to receive. For details on how to submit a FOIA request to the Immigration Court, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/foia-facts.
You may also view your file at the Immigration Court where your case is being heard. However, you may be able to make only a limited number of copies. To view your file, you must go to the Immigration Court where your case is being heard and fill out a request to view your file. Depending on the Court’s policies, you may not be allowed to see the file the same day and may instead be called on a later date to view the file. When you view the file, you are not permitted to take it with you and you may not be able to make a copy of the entire record. You can find a list of Immigration Courts at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-immigration-court-listing.
Q 15.8 – What are my options if the disaster has affected my ability to file necessary immigration documents by a set deadline?
First, you should promptly consult with a nonprofit legal services provider or a private immigration attorney.
If you are seeking a benefit before USCIS and you have fallen out of status due to a natural disaster, USCIS may choose to consider either a request for an extension or change in status due to the disaster if “you show how [the request] is directly connected to the disaster.” USCIS, Humanitarian – Special Situations, https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations (last updated Oct. 10, 2017). Per USCIS, “Failure to apply for the extension or change before expiration of your authorized period of admission may be excused if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control.” Id. If you have failed to appear for a scheduled interview or not timely submitted evidence in response to a notice or request, “you may show how the disrupting event affected your connection to USCIS and your ability to appear or submit documents as required.”
Q 15.9 – What if my initial application for FEMA benefits is denied?
Erroneous denials based on immigration status is common. If you are denied, you may reapply. Local legal aid service providers may be able to assist you with your appeal.
– 1-833-242-3549 – Toll-Free Legal Aid Hotline for Survivors of Hurricane Florence
– Legal Aid of North Carolina – 1-866-219-5262 (M-F, 8:30 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. and M & Th, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.)
– Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy – 1-704-376-1600 (consumer-related claims)
– Lawyer Referral Service – 1-800-662-7660 or 1-919-677-8574
Q 15.10 – I have moved or I am temporarily displaced from my home. How do I change my address?
Depending on what type of immigration case you have, you may need to submit your change of address to one or several agencies, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration Court (Executive office for Immigration Review, EOIR), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
If you have a pending application with USCIS, you must notify your immigration attorney if you are represented. You can update your address with USCIS by completing Form AR-11 and sending it by mail or online if you qualify. See https://egov.uscis.gov/coa/displayCOAForm.do. You can also call USCIS at 1-888-375-5283 (TTY: 1-800-767-1833).
Immigration Court (Executive office for Immigration Review)
If your case is before the Immigration Court, you must submit a Form EOIR 33, Alien’s Change of Address Form/ Immigration Court to the specific Court where your immigration case is being heard. If you have an attorney, the attorney should help you file a change of address form. To send a change of address form, print the form for the Immigration Court where your case is being heard: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/form-eoir-33-eoir-immigration-court-listing. Complete it and mail it to the address on the form. You must make a copy of the form and send it to the ICE Office of Chief Counsel; find the office nearest you at: https://www.ice.gov/contact/legal. It is advisable to keep a copy for yourself.
If you have moved to a different jurisdiction, you may need to file a motion to change venue so that you can go to the court nearest you. Otherwise, you will have to report to the Court where you were previously living.
Board of Immigration Appeals
If you have an appeal pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals, notify your attorney. You must complete and file Form EOIR 33/BIA in person or by mail in the immigration court where your appeal is pending. No online change of address is available for the BIA. You can get Form EOIR 33/BIA from the Department of Justice website at https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/pages/attachments/2015/07/24/eoir33bia.pdf.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
To change your address with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you can call 1-866-347-2423 (TTY: 1-800-767-1833).
Q 15.11 – I am a foreign student whose visa is dependent on my enrollment, and the disaster has affected my ability to pay my studies. What are my options?
Unfortunately, you do not qualify for FEMA cash assistance. However, you might qualify for a Student Employment Authorization. If a disaster has affected your ability to support yourself, you may need to work off-campus. To be eligible, the disaster may occur in the U.S. and prevent you from working on-campus or the disaster may occur overseas and affect your economic support. If you can show that you are from an affected country and the Designated School Official (“DSO”) has recommended you for employment, you may be eligible to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. Please see https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations.
Q 15.12 – I have an ankle monitor, and I cannot leave my address. I cannot keep my ankle monitor charged. What do I do?
If you have an attorney, call them and let them know of the situation. Call your docket officer or case manager. When you call, state your name and A-number to check in to make sure you are not receiving a violation as a result of the problems with your ankle monitor. If you do not receive a response initially, make sure to leave a voicemail and check in daily.
Second, go to the nearest ICE Field Office or ISAP/BI-Incorporated offices, report what happened, and get new equipment. If you cannot go because of transportation issues or flooding, then wait and be sure that you reported and recorded the issue via telephone. Then, go to one of the offices at this link: https://www.ice.gov/contact/ero.
Q 15.13 – My wages were stolen. How can I recover my wages if I am undocumented? If I call the police, will I be deported?
All workers, regardless of their immigration status, have rights under both state and federal law, and most of these protections are enforced without regard to immigration status. See generally https://www.ncjustice.org/workers-rights/know-your-rights. It is always a good idea to consult with a legal aid organization, worker center, or a private attorney before contacting any government body.
Some additional resources for legal assistance are:
– The North Carolina Justice Center, a statewide organization based in Raleigh: https://www.ncjustice.org/getting-legal-assistance/
– North Carolina Advocates for Justice – 1-800-688-1413
– North Carolina Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – 1-800-662-7660
– Legal Aid of North Carolina – 1-866-219-5262
(1) Out of 1.2 million deportations between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, only 123 were deportations based on public charge, or .010% of all deportations conducted during that time period. TRAC Immigration, Syracuse University, February 28, 2020, available at: https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/596/.
(2) National Immigration Law Center, Access to Health Care, Food, and Other Public Programs for Immigrant Families under the Trump Administration: Things to Keep in Mind When Talking with Immigrant Families, https://www.nilc.org/issues/health-care/exec-orders-and-access-to-public-programs/ (last revised April 2, 2018).
Declaration_and_Release_FEMA_Form_009-0-3_(Feb2021).pdf This form expires in 2021.
(4) Federal Emergency Management Agency, FACT SHEET: Citizenship Status and Eligibility for Disaster Assistance FAQ, available at: https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210318/fact-sheet-citizenship-status-and-eligibility-disaster-assistance-faq#:~:text=A%3A%20FEMA%20will%20not%20proactively,the%20Department%20of%20Homeland%20Security.
(5) See Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Field Guidance on Deportability and Admissibility on Public Charge Grounds, March 26, 1999, available at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-1999-05-26/pdf/99-13202.pdf (last accessed July 30, 2021); see also USCIS, “Public Charge,” available at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-processes-and-procedures/public-charge (last updated April 15, 2021)(indicating that the 1999 Field Guidance will be followed as current federal policy on public charge as of March 9, 2021).
(7) Florido, Adrian, “Houston’s Undocumented Residents Left Destitute and Fearful in Harvey’s Wake,” NPR, September 7, 2017, available at: https://www.npr.org/2017/09/07/549132417/houston-s-undocumented-immigrants-left-destitute-and-fearful-in-harvey-s-wake (last accessed July 30, 2021).
(9) Molina, Camila, “Why are immigration agents in areas hit by Hurricane Florence? FEMA sent them.”, News and Observer, September 20, 2018, available at: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article218654785.html