December 2016

How Jeff Sessions Can Affect the Immigration System

(ESPAÑOL) For attorney general, President-Elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Jeff Sessions, a Republican Senator from Alabama who has made a name for himself as one of the most anti-immigrant voices in Washington.

The National Review, a conservative news magazine, credited Sessions with single-handedly destroying immigration reform attempts in 2004 and 2014. He is strongly opposed to illegal immigration and is also in favor of limiting legal immigration because he believes it harms domestic workers.

Sessions, or whoever the head of the Department of Justice is, can hire judges who will decide deportation, asylum and all immigration cases over the next four years.

During 2016’s hiring spree, immigration judges were hired at courts throughout the country. However, since January 2015, the court in Imperial County has not had a sitting judge. It is the only immigration court in the country to have a vacant bench.

The case backlog in Imperial County is so large that hearings are being scheduled for 2019 and 2020.

Sessions could push current immigration judges, who do not share his politics, into early retirement by transferring them to undesirable locations like the Imperial courthouse.

“Short of firing, life can be made difficult or unpleasant for employees,” Garcia Hernandez said. “Superiors can increase workloads or transfer them to unattractive locations. These are highly qualified professionals with deep ties to a particular community so the prospect of being transferred may be enough for them to say, ‘You know what, I might just do something else.’”

If confirmed by Congress, Sessions will play a key role in realizing Trump’s campaign promises of deporting millions of immigrants and securing the U.S. borders.

As attorney general, he would not only be in charge of who he hires but also how immigration judges are trained. One way he could influence what kind of judges are hired is by prioritizing those with previous experience as prosecutors for the Department of Homeland Security who work deportation cases, Garcia Hernandez said.

“Immigration judges are employees of the justice department,” Garcia Hernandez said. “Just like any other employee of the Justice Department, they answer to the AG.”

Immigration Caseload Swamps Court System

(ESPAÑOL) The immigration caseload has grown so large in New Mexico – with apprehensions of unauthorized immigrants more than doubling in two years after several years of decline – that U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez in June capped the number of nonviolent border crossers his office will prosecute at 150 a month.

There are hundreds more who could be prosecuted each month but aren’t, according to law enforcement sources. Immigrant advocates question whether nonviolent offenders should be prosecuted at all.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico, which has about 75 attorneys, most of them in Albuquerque, has a stunning array of cases under its purview beyond the immigration offenses that can dominate attorney and staff time in southern New Mexico.

Just recently, it has been tasked with prosecuting cases from an operation that nabbed 104 Bernalillo County residents on firearms and narcotics trafficking charges; dozens of defendants allegedly belonging to the violent Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang; and the arsons that recently scorched nine Albuquerque businesses, which could lead to domestic terrorism charges.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office cap applies to a specific offense known as a “1326a,” illegal re-entry, without complicating factors like drug trafficking or extensive criminal histories. Those nonviolent offenders typically receive “time served” at sentencing, which in New Mexico amounts to 30 to 45 days on average, thanks to a fast-track system that moves these offenders quickly from arrest to deportation.

The lead investigative agency on illegal entry and re-entry is U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Spokesman Ramiro Cordero confirmed that apprehensions at the New Mexico border, including immigrants who could be charged with felony illegal re-entry, are far outpacing prosecutions.

Before the U.S. Attorney’s Office scaled back, the Las Cruces court was on track to surpass its caseload records; the new limit only puts the court back on track to meet its usual numbers this year, according to U.S. District Judge Robert Brack.

Brack sentences an average of 1,800 immigration-related cases each year. U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales sees a similar number of cases as Brack, while judges from Albuquerque regularly cycle in to help them work through the caseload.

Deportation and Economic Growth at Odds

(ESPAÑOL) President-elect Donald Trump says he will double the nation’s economic growth rate to 4 percent during his time in office. That promise will be difficult to keep.

Most economists think America’s potential growth is only about 2 percent, and most agree the best way to make it higher is to get more people working and make those workers more productive. Stimulating the economy with government spending or tax cuts will only boost short-term growth and cause inflation.

But right now, getting more people into the labor force is a challenge. For one, it means fighting a demographic tide.

“We have a huge wave of baby-boom era people retiring,” says Robert J. Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University and author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth. “Right now, we’ve got a shortage of construction workers. We’ve got a shortage of long-distance truck drivers. We’ve got a shortage of many kinds of skilled workers needed to work in manufacturing.”

Gordon says bringing immigrants into the workforce is the best way to deal with this mass retirement of baby boomers.

In the past couple of decades, half the growth in the labor force has come from immigration. But, Gordon points out, Trump has said he will deport millions of immigrants.

“They’re called illegal immigrants, and they’re here illegally,” Trump said in an interview with CNN. “They’re going to have to go, and they’re going to have to come back in legally, and otherwise, we don’t have a country.”

Stephen Moore, who has advised Trump on his economic growth policy, says Trump isn’t against immigration, just illegal immigration. Personally, Moore says he believes even some of those workers who are in the country illegally shouldn’t be deported.

“People who are in this country, are working, and productive Americans who are contributing, I personally would not like to see those people deported,” says Moore, who is also an economic consultant with FreedomWorks, the grass-roots organization that helped launch the Tea Party.

He also argues that a faster growing economy will not only provide jobs for the unemployed but will attract others back into the labor force, including some retirees. Most economists are skeptical that could provide enough workers to get to a 4 percent growth rate.

Immigrants Apply for Asylum in Hopes to Remain

(ESPAÑOL) Immigrants have been rushing to apply for asylum—with cases many are unlikely to win—in order to remain in the country legally for a time.

The controversial tactic temporarily lifts the threat of deportation from undocumented immigrants. The asylum claims also enable applicants to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses while their cases crawl through the adjudication process.

“We are doing more and more of these cases,” said Jerome Lee, an immigration attorney in Norcross, Ga. “It’s an aggressive technique.”

The strategy is hotly debated in the legal community, with some attorneys saying that applicants with bona fide claims are disadvantaged by a backlog exacerbated by those whose cases lack merit. Critics also say many immigrants don’t understand the risks. Other attorneys say they employ the strategy only under certain circumstances.

The U.S. grants asylum to individuals who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Several steps, which generally take many years, follow before the government issues a decision. And, if denied asylum, an applicant is placed in removal proceedings, which buys them another several years in the U.S. because they are entitled to due process.

That could backfire, critics say. “You are intentionally putting in deportation proceedings people who’d been flying under the radar,” said attorney Marty Rosenbluth in Hillsborough, N.C. who deems unethical the strategy of filing for asylum with the intent of landing in removal proceedings. “Under Trump, they could be easily deported.”

On a recent Tuesday, some immigrants in the waiting area of Taylor, Lee & Associates in Norcross, outside Atlanta, clutched forms on which they had scrawled “asilo” in Spanish, to describe their case.

Mr. Lee said his firm doesn’t submit frivolous applications, conducts background checks of clients and ensures applicants understand the process.

“Most of these cases probably won’t be granted,” said the attorney. Meanwhile, “at least you get a work permit during a waiting period. And you’re hoping there will be a change of immigration policy and priorities.”

Attorneys charge $3,000 to $10,000 per asylum case, which immigrants often pay in installments.

Las Cruces School Board to Create Countywide Sanctuary for Immigrants

(ESPAÑOL) On Tuesday, members of the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution calling for the creation of a task force to “study and recommend consistent policy language that can be used by the City, County, and public schools in the creation of ‘sanctuary status’ for residents and students.”

The resolution praises outgoing President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order, which allows some immigrants without legal status who came to the United States as children to remain in the country and work here. DACA “will enable our qualifying students to attend college, work, and pursue a career and thus encourage them to do well in school and to graduate,” the resolution states.

The task force would create “sanctuary” policies which all area governments could enact and report back to the government agencies’ policymaking bodies in a joint session by May 2017.

Whether the school board will find the other government agencies open to the effort isn’t clear. Doña Ana County already has a policy that prohibits the county from requesting or sharing the immigration status of people, making county services or benefits dependent on immigration status, or “cooperating, in one’s official capacity, with any (U.S.) Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection investigation, detention or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of federal immigration law.”

But the policy was implemented by the current commissioners. Come January, three of five will leave office and be replaced by new commissioners who won election in November.

As for Las Cruces, Mayor Ken Miyagishima was quoted by the Las Cruces Sun-News last month in opposition to sanctuary status.

“The city of Las Cruces is not a sanctuary city, nor do I support becoming one,” Miyagishima was quoted as saying. “The Las Cruces Police Department does not enforce federal regulation or immigration laws. … If a person is pulled over they will not be asked for their citizenship.”

Technology Companies Not to Support Trump’s Deportations

(ESPAÑOL) More than 200 employees of technology companies including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Twitter Inc and Salesforce pledged on Tuesday to not help U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s administration build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations.

Drawing comparisons to the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the employees signed an open letter at rebuking ideas floated by Trump during the campaign trail. The protest, which began with about 60 signatures but had more than tripled within hours of publication, comes a day before several technology company executives are due to meet with the real-estate developer in New York City.

“We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies,” reads the letter, signed by a mix of engineers, designers and business executives.

It continues: “We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.”

The letter vows to not participate in creating databases of identifying information for the U.S. government on the basis of race, religion or national origin, to minimize the collection or retention of data that could facilitate such targeting and to oppose any misuse of data at their respective organizations considered illegal or unethical.

Trump clashed with Silicon Valley on several issues during the campaign, including immigration, government surveillance and encryption, and his victory last month alarmed many companies who feared he might follow through on his pledges.

Those concerns have not been assuaged in recent weeks, as Trump has said he intends to nominate individuals to senior posts in his administration who favor expanding surveillance programs.

Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page, Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook, Facebook Inc Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Inc CEO Jeff Bezos and Oracle Corp CEO Safra Catz are among those expected to attend the summit with Trump’s transition team, according to two technology industry sources.

Sanctuary Churches for Undocumented Immigrants

(ESPAÑOL) Hundreds of sanctuary churches are offering protection to people who could face deportation if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to remove millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

In Brockton, a poor city of about 95,000 people south of Boston, four churches have pledged to take in immigrants fearful of being deported.

“If you need a safe place, once you enter the doors of this building, you are safe,” said the Rev. Abraham Waya, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, who said his church can shelter as many as 100 people. “We will host you and take care of you for as long as it takes.”

During the campaign, Trump pledged to “immediately terminate” President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has extended work permits and temporary deportation relief to more than 700,000 immigrants brought here illegally as youths.

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency follows a 2011 policy to generally avoid entering “sensitive locations” such as schools, places of worship and hospitals to take custody of undocumented immigrants. The policy says enforcement actions can be conducted in those locations in cases of terrorism or when there are “exigent circumstances.”

About 450 houses of worship of various denominations nationwide have offered to provide some form of sanctuary, including living space, financial assistance or rides for schoolchildren, said Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, with more than 140 congregations, has adopted a resolution calling for “holy resistance” to Trump’s immigration proposals and declaring itself a “sanctuary diocese.”

Some churches have already made good on their promises.

The University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, in California, held a ceremony in July to officially declare itself a sanctuary for people facing deportation, CBS San Francisco reported. In the basement, a one-bedroom apartment was created for an undocumented immigrant.

Trump Softens on Deportation Stance

(ESPAÑOL) President-elect Donald J. Trump on Wednesday appeared to soften his deportation stance on the more than 700,000 young people who entered the country illegally as children and were permitted to stay by President Obama.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” Mr. Trump told Time magazine. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

As Mr. Trump has tempered some of his more contentious campaign vows, including saying he would not seek to jail Hillary Clinton, his promise to take a tougher stance toward unauthorized immigrants is one his base of supporters is likely to demand that he keep. “He was not particularly interested in focusing on prosecuting Hillary Clinton any further because he was focused on health care and immigration,” Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, told Fox News on Sunday.

Undoing Mr. Obama’s protections for Dreamers would be one of the simplest moves Mr. Trump could take on immigration. He could withdraw the president’s executive order and let Congress address the young immigrants legislatively, which several lawmakers crave to do next year. Or Mr. Trump could do nothing, leaving the order in place.

At a meeting between the president-elect and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago on Wednesday, the topic of what to do with the young immigrants dominated. Mr. Emanuel, a former chief of staff to Mr. Obama, told reporters afterward that he discussed White House operations and immigration with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Emanuel also said that he had presented Mr. Trump with a letter signed by 14 mayors who agree that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country. “They were working hard toward the American dream,” Mr. Emanuel said. “We should embrace them rather than do a bait and switch.”

Chicago Promises $1M for Deportation Defense

(ESPAÑOL) Chicago has planned to commit $1 million to establish a legal deportation defense fund for undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Friday. “Anxiety and uncertainty” among the roughly 150,000 undocumented immigrants who call the windy city home was cited as a reason for the move.

The fund, which offered a legal path towards acquiring U.S. citizenship to those at risk of deportation, affirmed Chicago’s status as a “sanctuary city” for those who were uneasy about their ability to stay in the country. Trump has promised to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants immediately upon taking office.

The fund was established in partnership with the National Immigrant Justice Center, an organization committed to protecting human rights for undocumented immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers based in Chicago, to provide ” immediate legal information, screenings, consultations and representation to individuals who may be at risk for deportation,” according to a news release Friday from the mayor’s office.

The money for this program will come from the capital that wasn’t used in a $ 20 million property tax relief program set up by the mayor on Oct. 1, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday. The city spent a mere $1 million dollars of that property tax rebate fund when only 12,000 households applied for tax relief through the initiative, leaving substantial money left over to spend on immigrant resources.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is as the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said Friday. “I want them to know that the city of Chicago, your children, you and your family, are safe, secure and supported. And we’re gonna put resources to ensuring that you’re safe, secure and supported.”

The Chicago Democratic mayor’s announcement Friday acts in accordance to the rhetoric about immigration from some other mayors of major U.S. cities. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged two weeks ago to “use all the tools at our disposal” to act against any plan by the federal government to deport any of its residents. Los Angeles and San Francisco also allocated resources toward undocumented immigrants, such as providing free ID cards that give them access to numerous city and municipal services.

Supreme Court On the Question on Jailing Deportable Immigrants

(ESPAÑOL) Facing the likelihood of dramatically stepped-up deportations under a President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court justices sounded closely split Wednesday over whether the government can indefinitely jail immigrants with criminal convictions while they fight legal efforts to remove them from the country.

Trump, who made illegal immigration one of the platforms of his presidential campaign, has promised to deport as many as 3 million immigrants once he takes office, and the Supreme Court case involving a Los Angeles immigrant could give his administration greater leverage.

Citing a 1996 law that mandates the “detention of criminal aliens,” Obama administration lawyers urged the justices to give the government broad discretion in handling such matters.

The court’s conservative justices appeared inclined to reverse a 9th Circuit Court decision requiring immigration judges to give a bond hearing and consider possible release for noncitizens who have been jailed for more than six months as they fight their deportation.

Liberal justices sounded unsure as to whether a specific time limit can be upheld.

Acting Solicitor Gen. Ian Gershengorn urged the court to rule no hearings are required. He said Congress made a “categorical judgement” that there is a “real flight risk” if these “criminal aliens” are released. Therefore, he said, they can be held indefinitely until their claims are resolved.

Under the law, immigrants who are guilty of an “aggravated felony” are slated for mandatory deportation. However, those with minor offenses on their records can fight their deportation if they have a family and other ties to this country.

Immigration advocates argued that even non-citizens should benefit from the constitutional guarantees of due process.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Alejandro Rodriguez, who was brought to the U.S. as a baby and eventually obtained lawful status. Because of a drug possession and “joyriding” conviction as a teenager, he was slated for possible deportation and detained for more than three years as the case proceeded. He eventually won and was released.

Oddly enough, the government’s lawyer acknowledged that it is understood that bond hearings are given to immigrants who are detained for being in the country illegally. But the same rule does not extend to immigrants, here legally or illegally, who are taken into custody by immigration agents because of a criminal conviction.

More recently, the 9th Circuit Court and the 2nd Circuit Court in New York defined that period of detention as no more than six months. After that, the courts said, jailed immigrants are entitled to a bond hearing in which a judge can decide if they can be released, provided they present no danger and are not a flight risk.