November 2015

Immigrant Advocates Push Permanent Residents To Apply For Citizenship

 

Given growing political uncertainties in immigration reform efforts, advocacy groups and legal advocates have begun efforts to mobilize U.S. permanent residents to apply for citizenship. At present, nearly 8.8 million within the U.S. are permanent residents, or green card holders, are eligible for naturalization, nearly a third of whom come from Mexico.

In New York City alone there were 14 citizenship events held over the weekend at local public venues like libraries, college and union facilities, hospitals, and community organizations to register permanent residents for citizenship; there are usually 8 such events at this time. The events mark the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which have been held up in legal proceedings.

Many believe that these efforts are largely geared toward mobilizing a Latino voting bloc, especially in counter to the current GOP frontrunners, many of whom have capitalized on the polarity of immigration issues to make a case for themselves. Notable among them is Donald Trump, who referred to Mexican immigrants in particular as “murderers” and “rapists.”

Attendees of these events are also feeling the pressure to shore up their status in the U.S. Allan Wernick, director and co-founder of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now legal assistance program, told the New York Times that his legal clinic has been booked solid recently with residents working towards naturalization. “There’s something in the air saying that they’re coming for you, and that you better get as solid as you can,” he said.

Though many applicants turned up to these events, many others are turned away, mostly for their lack of English mastery. Because of low wages and long or unstable working hours, immigrants are often unable to participate in formal language learning courses.

The agencies processing citizenship applications in the city appears to be moving quicker to account for the influx. According to local immigration lawyers, citizenship applications are being processed in two to three months, much faster than had been reported in the past.

Stewart Detention Center Draws Protests For 9th Year Running

 

Protesters took to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA over the weekend to protest the facility’s detention practices.

Stewart, which houses nearly 1,900 male detainees, is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has historically drawn flak for inhumane and self-serving detention practices. Earlier this year, a study by the Immigrant Justice Center named Stewart in one of its case studies of an immigration detention facility with especially poor conditions.

This is the ninth year in a row that protesters have demonstrated at the facility. The protest drew a crowd of nearly 1,500, and chanted “Shut down Stewart” outside the facility gates. 11 protesters were arrested for attempting to enter the facility, but were later released.

The protest was held in conjunction with a protest against School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S.-sponsored training facility for Latin American soldiers with a markedly terrible record of abuse and militarization. Several Latin American dictators and military officials were thought to have trained in torture, extortion, and political seizure through SOA.

Many of the protesters were former detainees who wanted to speak out against the injustices they experienced inside. “I think about this place every single day. It’s something that I will never forget, especially the way they treated me,” said Mario Aregullin, 26, who was detained in the facility 5 years ago for driving without a license (a common infraction for immigration applicants waiting on paperwork from USCIS). “I never committed a crime in my life, but they really made me feel like I was some sort of threat to them and I wasn’t,” he said.

In previous years, former Stewart employees have come to protests against mistreatment within the detention center. “I want to tell you that if you’ve ever had any questions on whether there’s abuse out there, as a former employee, I’m telling you, there is abuse and it’s almost daily,” Bryan Holcomb said. “And there’s a high burnout because once you get out there, what this company does to your soul, you will have to quit.” Holcomb told NPR that he witnessed riots, hunger strikes, and staff assaulting detainees during his time at Stewart.

RECAP: Immigration in Politics Post Paris Attacks

 

The political debate over proposed U.S. immigration reform has been intensified and highly confused in the wake of the massacres in Paris, wherein one attacker was found to have a Syrian passport and was thought to have entered the country without inspection.

Immediately following the attacks, President Obama expressed support for France and condemned ISIS attackers, but has been fighting to keep support for his plan to expand the number of Syrian refugees entering the U.S. fleeing ISIS violence to 10,000. Though the plan was announced in September, many have been misreading this expansion as a direct result of the Paris attacks.

Many state governors, including GA governor Nathan Deal, issued statements saying that they will not accept incoming refugees from Syria in light of the attacks. However, given basic constitutional organization of government, states cannot override federal policy to make decisions about which immigrants they do and do not accept.

The Republican controlled Congress has responded by passing the Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) bill with enough bipartisan support to override a presidential veto. While this bill does not pander to political rhetoric, it does increase the length and rigor of the bureaucratic process of immigrating from Middle Eastern countries by requiring the FBI Director, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Director of National Intelligence all to sign off on individual immigrants from Syria or Iraq.

GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been extremely vocal in the last week, each expressing the need to ramp up security in immigration procedures in the U.S. to ridiculous or even insulting levels. Trump, who in his last presidential debate called for a renewal of the so-called Operation Wetback program of the 1950s and called for deportation of all unlawfully present immigrants and their children, last week called for a registration for U.S. Muslims. He later pulled back from this call, saying more generally, “I want surveillance of these people. I want surveillance if we have to. I want surveillance of certain mosques, OK?” Carson, similarly, called for an immigrant “database,” though it was unclear whether he was referring to existing USCIS practice or a new agency.  Ted Cruz, another GOP candidate, has suggested that only Christians fleeing violence in Syria should be admitted.

Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have taken stands against these proposals. Clinton, in a speech on Thursday, said “turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every single Syrian refugee – that is just not who we are,” directly targeting her comments toward GOP opponents. Similarly, Sanders has emailed supporters saying, “In this moment, it is particularly important that we not allow ourselves to be divided by the anti-immigrant hysteria that Republican presidential candidates are ginning up. When hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything and have nothing left but the shirts on their backs, we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East.”

Private Corrections Company Contracted by ICE to Manage Alternatives to Detainment

 

The GEO Group, a private corrections corporation that manages 15 ICE detention centers in various states, has come under scrutiny for their expansion into case management work in an ICE pilot program for immigrants released from its own facilities.

Because of a federal court mandate, ICE announced a pilot program earlier this year that would release 1,500 immigrant families from detention and enter them into case management services who can connect them with legal services, enrollment in schooling for immigrant children, and other applicable public benefits.

In September, it was announced that the contract for this program would go to the GEO Group. “Truthfully we’re stunned and disappointed that ICE selected such an inappropriate provider,” Mary Small of Detention Watch Network told NPR. Many have called attention to the fact that GEO’s Family Case Management Program manager, a recent hire, is a former official in ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, arguing that the pilot program could be significantly compromised by inappropriate connections between the two groups and the financial incentives to re-detaining released immigrants.

Immigrant defense advocates have long called for alternatives to detention for immigrant families, who often face long wait times in holding and inhumane levels of overcrowding in family detention centers.

GEO Group is currently testing ankle monitors for pilot participants. Carolina Menjivar, a Honduran asylum applicant recently fitted for one of these ankle monitor, is not a fan. “It makes me ashamed, because they only put them on criminals, and I’m not a criminal yet. It’s also uncomfortable. I don’t even know if I can pull my pants on over this thing.”

Jonathan Ryan, director of San Antonio’s RAICES (a nonprofit dedicated to serving the undocumented) criticized the move to ankle monitors in the program as  a means to criminalize asylum seekers. “It’s a continuous, pervasive pressure that is being put on these women, constantly reminding them that they are not welcome here.”

GEO Group has not commented publically, and deferred all media questions to ICE.

Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Blocking Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration

 

Obama’s executive action on immigration took another hit this week as the 5th Court of Appeals upheld a Texas-based courts’ injunction blocking the orders from going into effect.

The executive actions in question would defer deportations for nearly 4 million through the Deferred Action for Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs. DAPA would allow undocumented parents of American citizens to stay in the country indefinitely provided they have committed no crimes in the last 5 years), while DACA provides that children who arrive in the U.S. before their 16th birthdays are eligible for work permits and exempt from deportation.
The court decided in a 2-1 decision that they would support the lower courts’ earlier action, rejecting arguments by the administration that states lacked standing to challenge the executive orders, and that the Texas district judge abused his discretion in making his decision.

The sole dissent, filed by Judge Carolyn D. King, argued instead that the executive orders are lawful, citing the limited resources of Homeland Security, and describing the decision not to defer action on some deportations as “quintessential exercised of prosecutorial discretion.”

The initial lawsuit was bought by 26 state governments opposing the executive actions. Another 12 states and many major cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have filed briefs supporting the president’s actions.

Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, told AP reporters, “The department is committed to taking steps that will resolve the immigration litigation as quickly as possible in order to allow DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to bring greater accountability to our immigration system by prioritizing the removal of the worst offenders, not people who have long ties to the United States and who are raising American children.” DOJ is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court level.

Undocumented American’s Bill of Rights Calls for Equality For Immigrant Communities

 

Conservative groups are furious this morning as they begin to review the “Undocumented American’s Bill of Rights,” an enumerated list of basic rights that need be afforded to undocumented residents of the U.S.

The document was prepared by United We Stay, an advocacy group geared around supporting policy and cultural changes for undocumented communities, and is modeled heavily after the Bill of Rights prepared by James Madison for inclusion in the U.S. Constitition.

Writers begin by explaining their reasoning and need for writing preparing the list, saying, “Since Congress refuses to act, it’s time we take matters into our own hands.”

Conservative bloggers and writers have been the only media to cover the Bill of Rights thus far, deriding the document as arrogant and absurdist.

However, the writers of the document stand strong on the salience of such a document. “We are here on American soil working for a stronger economy while reinvigorating the nation’s commitment toward democracy, and we should be afforded the same due process and equal protection guaranteed to all by the U.S. Constitution. We are the living embodiment of the American Dream and how we are treated by this nation reflects its commitment to its own ideals. Going forward, we want to see the United States fulfill its historic democratic promise by making these rights a reality” they write.

The Bill of Rights is reproduced in full text below.

—full text—

We, the Undocumented Americans, submit our Bill of Rights with the same determination as the nation’s founders to incorporate these rights into law across the land.

We are here on American soil working for a stronger economy while reinvigorating the nation’s commitment toward democracy, and we should be afforded the same due process and equal protection guaranteed to all by the U.S. Constitution. We are the living embodiment of the American Dream and how we are treated by this nation reflects its commitment to its own ideals. Going forward, we want to see the United States fulfill its historic democratic promise by making these rights a reality.

  1. Acknowledgment that we are already here, that we are human beings with a right to be, that our mere presence cannot be deemed illegal or our existence alien.

  2. Affirmation that we are to be treated with dignity and respect, not just because of who we are, but who you are – historic beneficiaries of immigrant struggles for the freedom to be.

  3. Recognition of our right to be presented with a path to citizenship/residency as the first priority of future immigration policy combined with interim deferment of all law-abiding Undocumented Americans against detention and deportation.

  4. Compelled authorization of birth certificates for our U.S.-born children to ensure their constitutionally guaranteed right to citizenship.

  5. Protection against cruel and unusual punishment, including the separation of our immediate families and incarceration without charges, hearings or representation.

  6. Access to non-discriminating public education and in-state tuition to ensure that our children realize their full potential for themselves and the country.

  7. Guarantee of wage equality with a legal right to petition for wage theft or workplace mistreatment without jeopardizing our immigration status.

  8. Assurance of humanitarian treatment, including medical care.

  9. Protection against detention or deportation when we report a crime as a victim of witness.

  10. Guarantee of the Declaration’s unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

Feinstein Opposes Renewal of EB-5 Visa Program

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced her opposition to EB-5 visa program, an immigration program giving foreign nationals green cards for themselves and families if they invest over $500,000 in U.S. businesses that create 10 or more jobs, in an opinion piece written for Roll Call Wednesday.

The program is set to expire in December without intervention from Congress. Many congressional representatives have expressed interest in reforming the program, but Feinstein is the first to suggest the program should be shuttered altogether.

“Simply put, EB-5 sends a terrible message to the millions of immigrants patiently waiting their turn to enter the United States legally to be reunited with their families or for legitimate employment. It says that American citizenship is for sale, and that’s not what our country stands for,” wrote Feinstein.

The popularity of EB-5 has expanded rapidly over the last few years, reaching its 10,000 visa cap for the first time last year since its beginnings in 1990. According to reporting by the San Francisco Gate, many of these visas are predominantly used by investors in countries like China, South Korea and Russia, using the program to secure access to American schooling for their children.

The program has also experienced significant difficulties ensuring that the intended investments in job creation infrastructure are met before issuing visas. A report by the Governmental Accountability Office found that Immigration had significant difficulty verifying that visa recipients were creating the mandated 10 jobs, and were mostly relying on the presumption of “indirect jobs.”

Feinstein then cites visa waitlists for applicants without the resources to invest in U.S. services, noting that visa centers are just now processing family-related applications for adjusted status filed over 23 years ago.

“When the program comes up for renewal in December, Congress should allow the program to die,” Feinstein concludes.

 

Central American Minors Program Has Not Admitted Any Applicants

 

The Central American Minors Refugee/Parolee Program (CAM), a program announced last year to mitigate the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America detained at the U.S. Mexico border, has not admitted any of its applicants since December 1, 2014.

The program would allow lawfully present Central American immigrants to the U.S. to sponsor their children under 21 born outside the U.S.

The Obama administration announced the program last November in response to the very public influx of unaccompanied children and teenagers coming across the U.S.-Mexico border, largely to escape violence at home. According to the USCIS website, the program is meant to provide a “safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.”

Last year, nearly 70,000 unaccompanied Central American children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These numbers have dropped sharply in 2015, but violence in these countries continues to force children to flee north.

As of October 6, nearly 4,000 applications have been filed under CAM. Yet of those, only 90 have been interviewed – 76 of these were for children from El Salvador, and 14 were children from Honduras. Within this group of interviewees only 14% were approved for refugee status, while most were permitted to enter the U.S. on humanitarian parole, a status that does not break federal law but does not constitute official resident status. However, despite these approvals, none of the children interviewed under CAM have entered the U.S.

Immigration advocates are frustrated with the program’s lack of action. Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told the Huffington Post, “Nobody ever thought this was a panacea, but the fact that it hasn’t worked, it undermines any credibility the administration might have in terms of actually trying to address the concerns of those kids.”

 

1700 Immigrants Released from Federal Custody Now Subject to Deportation Proceedings

 

1,764 immigrants held in U.S. federal prisons are being released from custody today as part of a broader push toward reducing inflated sentencing for drug crimes and managing prison overcrowding, but will immediately be sent back into ICE custody for possible deportation.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency within the judicial branch charged with overseeing punishment regulations for various crimes, ruled in 2014 to change guidelines for mandatory minimum sentences held for low-level federal drug offenses, and later to retroactively apply this ruling to inmates kept in federal detention for such offenses. Sentences can be reduced up to five years.

The first group of inmates, just over 6,000 individuals, qualify for sentence reductions under this guideline within the next week, and will be released back to halfway homes and families. Nearly 208,000 others remain in federal custody for similar convictions. Nearly a quarter of inmates set for release are undocumented, and will likely be deported immediately after qualifying for sentence reductions.

Of this group, some are undocumented immigrants, but others are legal residents who may now be subject to removal proceedings because of their criminal records. Most of this group will be kept in mandatory detention while their cases are considered, as controlled substance convictions are not entitled to bond hearings.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and ICE, is managing the transition for inmates across the two agencies. “We’ve been working with them for a while to make sure there will be a smooth transition for those who are not citizens,” a DOJ official told reporters.

Despite this, many immigrants are finding relief in deportation. Without legal status in the U.S. many immigrants cannot access programs within federal prison, and denies them the right to be kept in low-security federal prison facilities. “It’s a much harsher sentence,” Marjorie Meyers, a federal public defender in the Southern District of Texas, told YahooNews.