The deadly wildfires raging across western states like California, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon and Colorado may have displaced immigrants from their homes. One of the big concerns by immigration advocates is that undocumented residents may not seek shelter for fear of government reprisals, such as deportation. The wildfires have burned thousands of acres, so far.

California wild fires
California wild fires

Sadly, many immigrants would rather try and deal with the wildfires than come into contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“I do think that people are very afraid to come forward and ask for any help from the government,” said advocate Ashley Harrington with the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network. “Particularly in the mountain communities where we’re having these fires, where there are huge Latino communities, everyone knows someone who is undocumented, someone who has been deported.”1

What Relief Does the Government Give in ‘Special Situations’?

The government is calling the wildfires around the United States a natural catastrophe and is offering certain options for immigrants who need services during these unusual and extreme situations.

  • Extensions and Change of State – Right now many immigrants that are displaced by the wildfires could possibly fall out of status. Undocumented immigrants may receive an extension or possibly even a change of status, if they can prove their expiration of status was affected by the wildfire disaster.
  • Fee Waiver – If you were unable to pay your fee for a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) service or benefit, you may request the fee be waved due to circumstances beyond your control caused by the wildfires. You’ll need to file Form I-912.
  • Employment Authorization – If you can demonstrate that a disaster or the wildfires affected your ability to support yourself, you may be eligible to receive employment authorization by filing Form I-765.
  • Employers and Employees – Employers and employees can still use E-Verify to verify employment eligibility using either the web or by contacting E-Verify Support at 888-464-4218 (employers) or 888-897-7781 (employees).

Immigration Service Offered In Lieu of California Wildfires

The following is a list of services that may be available from the USCIS:

  • Changing a nonimmigrant status or extending a nonimmigrant stay. For those that don’t apply for the extension or change before their authorized period of admission expires, the USCIS may excuse the delay if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control;
  • Re-parole of immigrants previously granted parole by USCIS;
  • Expedite processing of advance parole requests;
  • Expedite adjudication of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students experiencing severe economic hardship;
  • Expedite adjudication of employment authorization applications, where appropriate;
  • Consider fee waivers due to an inability to pay;
  • Extension of response time or acceptance of a late response to a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent;
  • Reschedule an interview with USCIS;
  • Expedite replacement of lost or damaged immigration or travel documents, such as a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card); and
  • Reschedule a biometrics appointment.

Contact a Los Angeles Immigration Lawyer at the Hanlon Law Group, P.C.

Has your status changed during the California wildfires without your being able to change status or re-apply for an extension? If so, let our Los Angeles immigration lawyer at the Hanlon Law Group, P.C. help you navigate the complex immigration system. Give us a call to find out about our services at (626) 684-3712 or (866) 227-5527 or by emailing us using the form at the upper right-hand side of the screen.


1“Immigration fears loom large amid raging wildfires in the West” published in Think Progress, July 2018.