April 2019

Government Says It Could Take Up to Two Years to Reunite Separated Families

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(Español) According to officials from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, families separated at the border under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy could have to wait up to two years before being reunited. The administration officials detailed their plan to the public for the first time at the beginning of April 2019, in documents filed with the federal court ordering the administration to begin reuniting the families. This filing comes a year after the administration’s wildly unpopular zero tolerance policy which eventually led to a judge ordering the reunion of these families. Amidst the uproar of the original policy, an independent watchdog group released a report in January stating thousands more families could have been separated than previously reported by officials. This among revelations the federal government had been separating families at the southern border as far back as July 1, 2017, months before the official announcement of the zero-tolerance policy.

Given the judge’s order, the government now faces a logistical nightmare in complying. Among the issues facing officials, all the children from the group of separated families have been released from government custody, Customs and Border Patrol agents did not begin tracking separated families in a searchable database until mid-April 2018, and there are over 50,000 case files officials would have to search through. As such, officials say they would need between 12 and 24 months to reunite families.

The American Civil Liberties Union was quick to denounce this timeframe as unacceptable, as they note “the government was able to quickly gather resources to tear these children away from their families and now they need to gather the resources to fix the damage.” This has prompted a lawsuit filed by a Congolese woman and her 7-year old daughter in 2018, which has been expanded to become a class-action lawsuit against the government. Even with the expansion into class-action status, federal judges have expanded the class even further to include families separated prior to the official start of the zero-tolerance policy.

Trump’s Visit to the Border Raises Tensions

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(Español) President Trump’s recent visit to the border at Calexico has flared the tensions regarding the immigration debate. The visit is to promote a section of the president’s wall his administration insists has been completed as a portion of the long promoted wall, although the fencing along the border has been there for decades. Recently the fencing has received a remodel to replace the solid paneling with slats so border agents can now see across the border into Mexico. The president’s visit has brought out fears from locals regarding his recent threats to close the southwestern border. At the southwest border, workers legally cross the border every day to go between work and home.

The workers described how the closing of the border would affect their everyday life. Many would no longer be able to cross the border to work at their agricultural job or would be forced to permanently relocate to Mexico to be with their families. Additionally, farm owners in Calexico would also greatly feel the impact of any border shutdown. Many rely on workers from across the border to be able to harvest and tend their crops, with many fearing the farms would not be able to survive any shutdown due to the lack of workers. Although most of the farmers see immigration reform as a necessity, nearly none agree they border shutdown or threats will truly affect anything.

Further stressing the pressures at the border, border patrol agents are being relocated from Calexico to handle the influx of migrants to other portions of the southern border, such as San Diego and El Paso. This has caused wait times of up to seven hours to cross into the United States. This has hurt businesses the rely on border crossers in Mexicali, as well as in Calexico. Despite the surge of migrants seeking asylum in the United States, and the administration’s attempt to change the rules for asylum seekers, Calexico has still not seen the surge other portions of the border have.

ICE Conducts Largest Worksite Raid Since 2008

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(Español) Earlier this month, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted its largest worksite raid in the United States since 2008. At the beginning of the workday, ICE agents raided the repair warehouse of CVE Technology Group in Allen, Texas in Collin County. There, they arrested 280 employees of CVE Technology Group accused of working in the United States illegally. CVE Technology Group is the third largest employer in Allen, Texas, specializing in technology repair who, until recently, counted Samsung as one of its largest contractors. The company drew the attention of ICE after an anonymous tip reported to a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) official that the company was responsible of hiring people unauthorized to work in the United States. HSI conducts investigations when they receive word of improper hiring practices, such as irregular I-9 forms, which employers are to fill out and submit to the government when they hire a new employee. Through this method, HSI and officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ensure jobs go to citizens, legal residents, and others authorized to work in the US. DHS officials also cite the need to keep employers honest as a reason for these raids and the databases used to track employees. By doing so, according to DHS, they can fight against employers who take advantage of undocumented workers and potentially use their immigration status as a method to circumvent some labor laws and requirements. In terms of those who were caught up in the raid at CVE Technology Group, after their arrest, they were transported to a local ICE processing center where agents will conduct interviews to determine the status and potential relief for each detainee. In some situations, ICE agents will agree to release a detainee if they determine they have mitigating circumstances that would cause harm to a relative, such as if they are the sole income earner or a they care for a sick family member. In one instance, ICE agents released the 46-year-old mother of a 24-year-old US citizen because the mother has a pending petition through her daughter. Regardless of whether they are released, ICE has stated they will take up the biometric data of anyone arrested in the raid and submit their information to commence removal proceedings.

Some Colleges Could Close Without International Students

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(Español) Education advocates are predicting a trend of universities in the United States closing, partly because of the Trump administration’s stringent and restrictive immigration policies. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen predicted about half of the universities in the U.S. would close by the year 2030. While he admits that figure is an exaggeration, he still believes 10 to 20 percent of schools closing is within the realm of the possibility. With over 53,000 schools over higher education in the country, most of them function as smaller schools competing for the same field of students as the well known and famous state schools and nationally recognized schools with rich  history. Many of these schools have to offer vast discounts and incentives to draw in in-state students, and continue to offer those to out of state students. The one thing many of these schools use to keep the lights on is money from international students, whose fees can be as much as ten times the amount per credit hour. Almost all institutions do offer and fee waivers or tuition discounts to international students so they are the ones who pay the full cost of tuition to subsidize the lower fee for the domestic students. With the administration’s last two years of restrictive immigration policies, while a degree from the U.S. is still seen as valuable across the world, the atmosphere created has become what many potential foreign students see as unwelcome. While the administration is making efforts to cut approvals for visa applications across the board, they have also made it more difficult to apply and get approved for student visas. Between the 2016 and 2018 school years, the number of student visas granted fell from 474,000 to 362,000. Given the demographics and rising costs of higher education, many colleges rely on the tuition from international students as they attempt to compete with each other for a shirking demographic, as many predict the number of high school graduates will not be able to keep the massive number of colleges afloat.

Pentagon Reallocates Funds for Border Wall

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(Español) At the end of March, the Department of Defense made its move to reallocate $1 billion in funding from the military personnel account to the construction of a 57-mile fence along the southern border. According to a spokesperson with the Department of Defense, the funds were available because some of the service branches fell short of recruiting goals. Despite the reallocation, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan this shift will not interfere with military readiness, which include plans for modernizations. The $1 billion at issue is part of the Department of Defense’s overall $717 billion budget. Should the funds be successfully diverted, it will almost double the funds appropriated by Congress for the wall at the southern border. Last year, Congress approved $1.3 billion out of the president’s requested $5.7 billion for construction of a wall.

Despite the Pentagon’s attempt to reallocate the funds to the wall, members of Congress remain apprehensive about legal ability to do so. With the president declaring the national emergency, and vetoing Congress’s override of the declaration, the Pentagon says they have the authority to shift the funds based on their need to combat drug smuggling across the southern border. Regardless, Democrats in Congress have rebutted citing the lack of sufficient evidence of a true crisis at the border and acknowledged the dangerous precedent such a declaration would cause.

Additionally, members of Congress have said this new standard goes against the Pentagon’s reallocation agreement with Congress and threatens this deal for the future. The major, bipartisan issue at stake with the budget reallocation is the notion of attempting to politicize the military through what is widely seen as a political act by building the wall along the southern border. Despite Congress’s disapproval of the reallocations, the Department of Defense is attempting to move forward with a form of reallocation or another for the wall.

Appeals Court Rules Parents Cannot Sue City Over Immigrant Who Killed Daughter

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(Español) On March 25, 2019, a federal appeals court in California upheld a lower court ruling declaring the parents of Kate Steinle cannot sue San Francisco. Kate Steinle was shot and killed by an unauthorized immigrant in 2015, Jose Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who has been deported from the United States five times prior to this incident. Lopez-Sanchez has also used the name Jose Inez Farcia Zarate. Three weeks prior to the shooting he was released from a San Francisco jail for drug charges but, because of a policy of sheriff Ross Mirkarimi of limiting cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), immigration officials were not notified of Lopez-Sanchez’s presence and detention prior to his release.

The plaintiffs in the case attempted to sue the city of San Francisco because of the policy, arguing that, if the jail had notified ICE of Lopez-Sanchez, then the shooting would not have happened and Steinle would still be alive. A lower court also sided with the city in the decision prior to this appeal.

While the courts ruled in favor of San Francisco, they made special note of the court’s inability to say whether the sheriff’s memo was “wise or prudent.” The only thing they ruled was that the memo did not violate any federal or California law.

Lopez-Sanchez went to trial for homicide in 2017 but was acquitted by a jury on murder charges, as the defense argued the gun went off on accident. Instead, he was found guilty of a felon being in possession of a weapon, a lesser charge. The case was widely used by then-candidate Donald Trump at his rallies to bolster his hardline stance against illegal immigration and to support the need for a wall along the southern border. When he was elected, he continued using the case in an attempt to keep federal funds from so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are cities with active and standing policies of limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Administration’s Crackdown Leads to Fewer U-Visas

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(Español) The Trump Administration’s hardline stance against undocumented immigration has resulted in less cooperation with law enforcement. This was a major fear for both immigrant advocates and law enforcement since then-candidate Trump laid out his potential immigration policies back in 2016. New data collected by WNYC in New York now offer credibility to the notion that victimized undocumented immigrants seem less willing to engage with authorities.

It has long been established policy for the US government to encourage undocumented immigrants to reach out and cooperate with law enforcement officials if they are the victim of a crime. Should they cooperate and assist, the law enforcement agency, which can range from the police department to any of the district attorney or solicitor’s offices depending on the jurisdiction, can choose to sign a certification for the immigrant stating their cooperation. With the certification, undocumented immigrants can apply for what is known as a U-visa, which is meant for victims of crimes who cooperate with law enforcement and often leads to an arrest. With the administration’s crackdown, applications for U-visa certifications in New York City have dropped by 14% since 2017 and 2018. Many immigration attorneys in New York City are not surprised by this drop especially since Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun stationing themselves around courthouses around different boroughs of the city to detain undocumented immigrants who are attending court, regardless if the immigrant is attending criminal court for an offense or as the victim of a crime. This even extends to the family courts in New York City.  

Previous guidelines for ICE enforcement limited their ability and willingness to approach undocumented immigrants in courthouses. This has since been rescinded since President Trump took office. This has led to a new reality for immigration attorneys, particularly those who help clients who are often the victims of domestic violence. Now, they often have to warn their clients there is a possibility ICE could detain them in court while attempting to file for protections.

Despite the downturn in applications for U-visa certifications, officials in New York City, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, continue to reach out to immigrant communities. Their hope is to assuage their fears by letting them know their offices will not share information with ICE. (It is worth noting that policy does not apply to those who have been convicted of a serious crime.) Even those who do apply for the U-visa face an excruciating wait of several years because there is a limit to how many of these visas are granted each year. They face the unique stress of knowing they can have some form of legal status in those coming years while also knowing government officials are aware of their presence and location.

Massive Influx of Migrants Cross Southern Border in March

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(Español) The Department of Homeland Security estimates that approximately 100,000 migrants will have crossed the southern United States border in March of 2019. This far exceeds February’s totals. The question for immigration officials is not simply a matter of the politics surrounding the immigration issue at the border, which the Trump administration has made the central issue of many of its policy proposals, which has led to some of the most controversial issues of the past two years, but also why the massive influx of immigrants at this moment. There has been no dramatic shift in the political situation in Central America or immigration laws of the US. Experts agree the influx can be narrowed down to three main factors: the business of human smuggling, seeing other migrants have success, and, ironically, the Trump administration’s hardline stance.

Unfortunately, it’s a well known fact human smuggling is a wide and far reaching business in Central America. People will pay the smugglers, commonly referred to as “coyotes,” to get them out of their native country and to the United States. When people make the decision to come to the US, they have to make the decision to come alone or with their family. Smugglers will charge less for a family than they will for a a single male. When reaching the southern border, the smugglers will inform the family to turn themselves into border patrol, because it is a greater possibility for the family to be released to fight their case while not detained. Single men will would have to be smuggled in passed the border, as they will most likely have to fight their case while detained.

The second major influencer is the mass influx of migrants are them seeing success others have in reaching the US. Social media has played a major role in having more people attempt the crossing. Once family members or friends reach the US, they will stay in contact through social media and convince others to make the journey.

Ironically, a major factor in the increased crossings seem to be the Trump’s own hardline stance on immigration. People in Central America see what the administration is doing and, the common stance, is that the time to travel here is now. Despite the inherent dangers, they feel that if they do not make the trip now, something will change in the laws in the US that will make it more difficult or impossible to make the journey here. When making the decision to come to the US, many families decide the benefits outweigh the risks.