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Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has continued its visa crackdown, recently releasing memos that make it easier for immigration officials to deny visa applications and begin deportation proceedings for those whose extensions or renewals are denied.

Between the lines: Family separation and ICE raids may be one of the more visible ways the Trump administration has created a hostile environment for immigrants, but with fewer headlines and more internal memos, the Department of Homeland Security has been making even legal, high-skilled immigration processes more difficult.

Where it stands: On Friday, USCIS released a memo telling officials they can deny visa applications right away, instead of first issuing a "request for evidence" (RFE) asking for more information if the application wasn't good enough on the first try. The number of RFEs have dramatically increased under Trump, but now officials can simply deny those applications.

  • Earlier this month, officials were given greater authority to start deportation proceedings by issuing "Notices to Appear" to any immigrant in the U.S. who has been denied an extension or renewal of their visa, taking them out of legal immigrant status. Before, these notices were only given in instances of fraud or criminal activity.

The memos "are intended to further restrict and discourage much-needed legal immigration," Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance told Axios. "This abrupt change in policy will have the perverse effect of discouraging businesses from having work performed in the U.S. — a highly undesirable outcome for all workers, businesses and the economy as a whole.”

The other side: The Trump administration and many advocates for cutting immigration levels believe that these kinds of visas take jobs from American workers, and accuse companies of taking advantage of the programs in order to pay less for labor.

  • "USCIS is simply starting to enforce the law,” Mark Krikorian, executive director for the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, tells Axios. “Given the bottomless demand for the 1 million green cards we give out each year, holding applicants to strict standards is just common sense.”

Big picture: USCIS under the Trump administration has already:

"This administration said they would roll back President Obama's immigration policies and they are staying true to their word. But that objective rings hollow for many U.S. companies that are playing by the rules and struggling to meet their workforce needs."
— Lynden Melmed, partner at BAL and former USCIS chief counsel, told Axios

Go deeper

FBI report likely to show record increase in murders in 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If the FBI data released next week shows what's expected — that 2020 saw the highest single-year spike in U.S. murders in at least six decades — experts say the sudden job losses, fears and other jolts to society at the start of COVID-19 will likely have been the overwhelming drivers.

Why it matters: Many Democrats already feared that rising crime could hurt their party in the 2022 midterms.

26 mins ago - Health

Some experts see signs of hope as COVID cases fall

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New coronavirus cases are continuing to decline, and some experts are cautiously optimistic that the virus will continue to wane even into the fall and winter.

The big picture: The next few months are highly uncertain, and some localized outbreaks are all but guaranteed. But the U.S. is at least moving in the right direction again.

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight — hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts.

The big picture: Air quality alerts were issued Wednesday for the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

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