Latest Immigration News

Incoming Harvard Freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi Has Finally Begun Attending Classes After Being Detained by CBP

(ESPAÑOL) Ajjawi, a native of Lebanon, was initially deported from the Boston Logan International Airport. When he first arrived at the airport, he entered with a student visa to study at Harvard University. Ajjawi was detained by Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) officials at the airport, along with several other incoming university students, for many hours facing questioning by CBP officials. 

Eventually, all the students but Ajjawi were released and allowed into the country. Ajjawi faced about five hours of questioning from CBP officials about his religion and religious practices back in Lebanon. The officers also searched through Ajjawi’s cell phone and laptop. Eventually, Ajjawi was led to a room where a CBP officer asked him about various posts from friends on his social media accounts. Many of those posts involved Ajjawi’s “friends” on social media being critical of the US government. The officer never allowed Ajjawi to see the post, but he also never commented or “liked” any of the posts. With this, he argued that he could not be held responsible for other’s posts.

At the end of the questioning, Ajjawi was told he would be deported back to Lebanon. 

Upon arriving back in his country, Ajjawi contacted officials at Harvard University, who have immigration attorneys on staff to assist with international student visas. He also reached out to AMIDEAST, the local non-profit organization that provided him a scholarship to attend Harvard University. 

When asked for comment, CBP spokesman Michael S. McCarthy stated that Ajjawi was found “inadmissible” into the US but would not further elaborate. 

Eventually, the attorneys for Ajjawi and Harvard University were able to resolve the issues, and Ajjawi was ready to begin classes on September 3, 2019, at the beginning of the fall semester.


Despite Raids, Employers Rarely Punished

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Last week, agents of the Department of Homeland Security raided multiple chicken processing plants in Mississippi. During the sweep, almost 700 workers suspected to be in the country and working illegally were arrested and taken in for processing by Homeland Security. In the wake of the raid, hundreds of children, most of whom are citizens of the US, were left without guardians or even left with no one to pick them up from school. This left family members scrambling to figure out what was happening and arrange caretaking for minor children. Teachers and administrators were also left working with family members to be able make sure children were being taken care of.

Although the operation is officially the largest workplace raid in the history of the United States, little repercussions seem to have fallen on the employers and companies responsible for the hiring. While much of the attention is always focused on the workers rounded up in these raids, rarely do people ever bring up the notion of the hiring practices of the company. In previous cases of these raids, people were swept up but little to no repercussions falling on the employer. Koch Foods, one of the companies raided last week, issued a statement in which they would shut down for one shift before continuing production in order to “minimize customer impact.” They shortly thereafter announced a job fair to fill the vacancies created by the workers they presume will not be returning. The chicken industry and meatpacking industry remain some of the most dangerous industries in the United States, despite industry officials touting the improved safety record, which critics decry is only due to a drop in government inspections. Given the dangerous nature of the profession, the industry is notorious for hiring workers who will not raise issues and will just do the work assigned to them, regardless of danger. This leaves the job to many first generation immigrants who are simply looking for a foot in the door of the economy and a way to provide for their families. Despite past raids, government officials say charges may still be filed against the employers, pending further investigation.

California to Expand Healthcare Coverage of Undocumented Youth

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In early July, California became the first state in the country to provide government-subsidized healthcare to low-income, undocumented immigrants under the age of 25. Prior to the passage of this law, California has still allowed children under the age of 18 to apply and receive the state’s Medicaid program despite their immigration status. The expansion of the plan is estimated to cover about 90,000 people. Similar measures to allow undocumented immigrants to receive some form of government-backed health insurance is a policy backed by most of the presidential candidates running for the Democratic party’s nomination. It is also a widely supported proposal among Californians, as well, garnering nearly two-thirds support among Californians. This in a heavily immigrant, where an estimated 14% of those in the state without legal status. Despite the popularity of such measures in California, a recent survey among registered Democrats showed only a 41% approval rating of providing undocumented immigrants with some form of government-backed health insurance. Regardless, Governor Gavin Newsom introduced the measure as a stark contrast of President Trump’s increasingly anti-immigrant platform and rhetoric, noting that “if you believe in universal healthcare, you believe in universal healthcare.” Unsurprisingly, the measure is unpopular among Republicans lawmakers in California, with them arguing the state should stop spending money on its legal citizens instead of taking action that could simply attract more undocumented people to the state, despite studies demonstrating they contribute billions to the nationally economy. It is imperative to note the plan will not cover all undocumented immigrants under the age of 25, simply those whose incomes are low enough to qualify, which will cost California taxpayes about $98 million. President Trump has already criticized the plan, calling it “crazy” and “unfair to citizens.” He has said there will be legal challenges to the expansion but failed to specify what kind or where the challenges will initiate.

ICE Using Facial Recognition from State DMV Offices

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In recent documents, it has been revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been mining individual state databases for facial recognition matches for enforcement purposes. The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by the researchers at the Georgetown University Law Center, specifically by their Center on Privacy & Technology director Alvaro Bedoya. Other federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), also use state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) databases to mine data. They neither have nor require congressional approval to do so. Most of the time, the searches take place without residence’s approval or awareness. In the case of ICE, Bedoya found the agency has used the databases to find matches in states encouraging and allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Across the US, over a dozen states allow undocumented immigrants to apply and qualify for a driver’s license, citing the increase to public safety knowing these people know the laws of the road. Three of those states, Vermont, Washington, and Utah, have seen instances of ICE using the facial recognition technology to secretly find and deport people. Privacy advocates urge the public to pay attention to this issue, as it not only affects undocumented immigrants; federal agencies sift through all files, documented and undocumented, in accordance to law-enforcement procedures. Additionally, there is also the issue of the algorithm’s accuracy, leading many to believe this system can eventually lead to a case of mistaken identity, especially since many states have not verified every identification given to residents using the RealID system instituted in the mid-2000s. The reason the information is so readily available to federal agencies is simply because the laws have not been updated with the technology available. As far back as the 1960s, local agencies have shared information with federal agencies, such as booking photos and fingerprints. This is simply done via a formal request. The process has not been updated to the level of the technology available now. Congressional legislators from both parties have expressed concerns over the current system and have vowed to make attempts to change the current system.

African Migrants Surge Southern Border

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The southern border of the United States is beginning to see an influx of migrants seeking asylum from varying African countries. While the media and politicos have focused on the surging number of Central American migrants arriving at the southern border, many have failed to note that an increasing percentage of those numbers are composed of migrants coming from African nations; in the span of a week, border patrol agents apprehended more than 500 African families, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Angola. Migrants are coming to the US border seeking asylum to escape a precarious situation in Africa. Many are citing the consistent, and often violent, political upheaval which has plagued African nations for much of the 20th century. When making the decision to come to the US, African migrants often weigh the economics of the decision. Currently, Europe is very unopen to accepting more asylum-seekers. Additionally, crossing the Meditteranean Sea if very treacherous and some never make it across; some migrants never even make it to the Meditteranean Sea, being stranded in North African refugee camps, which some say even mirror slavish conditions. When weighing their choices, many decide the economic risks are worth the costs to travel to South America and travel north to the southern US border. Once they arrive at the border, families are sent to various US cities, including Portland, Maine, where are set up in temporary housing while the city helps them establish their footing. Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling has described his city’s welcoming arms to the migrants, pledging to do whatever the city can to help them be able to set roots and begin to contribute to the local economy. With the surge of African migrants joining the Central American migrants at the southern border, the administration continues to be eager to stifle the influx of immigrants entering the country.

Administration Expands Expedited Removal

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On Monday, July 22, 2019, the Trump administration its expansion of expedited removal immigrants in the U.S. illegally. What is essentially a fast-track deportation, the new order gives agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the enforcement hand of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make a determination of the legality of a person in the country and place in the “fast lane” for removal. As of the implementation of the order on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, DHS agents would be allowed to question anyone in the interior of the U.S. about their legality and the length of time they have resided in the U.S. If a person cannot prove their legal standing and that they have been in the country for longer than two years, they are subject to be placed in expedited removal, which can happen in a matter of hours; this can result in their deportation from the U.S. without a hearing or judge’s order. This move is seen as the administration’s latest attack on immigrant communities around the country. Previously, the process of expedited removal could only be applied to those found within 100 miles of the border and who have been in the country for less than 14 days. 

When an immigrant is removed under an order of expedited removal, they have no right to an appeal on the order. While they are initially detained, the immigrant still has the right to claim a fear of returning to their home country, where they will undergo an interview to establish a “credible fear” and have the opportunity to fight for an asylum claim in the United States. 

The administration announced the change as an attempt to alleviate the backlog in the immigration courts and allows the immigration laws to be administered more evenly across the agencies. Critics say the new expansion will result in a rise of racial profiling among minority communities, which will damper immigrant cooperation with law enforcement when reporting crime. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already pledged to fight this expansion in court, noting how, in the past, expedited removals have been rife with errors in the execution, sometimes leading to U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents being detained, or, in extreme cases,  sometimes removed.

Administration Changes Citizenship Test

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The Trump administration is planning on changing the current U.S. citizenship test. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says the revisions will ensure the test “continues to serve as an accurate measure of a naturalization applicant’s civics knowledge.” The citizenship test, originally created in 1986 while under USCIS’s predecessor known as the Immigration and Naturalization Services, was last revised in 2008, under the George W. Bush administration. The acting director of USCIS, Ken Cuccinelli, says the revisions are necessary to ensure the test continues to be current and relevant “in order to help potential new citizens fully understand the meaning of U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans.” Cuccinelli also spoke about how critics are worried the test revision is being used for ulterior motives, such as making it more difficult for legal permanent residents to obtain their citizenship. He concedes that, while ulterior motives may always exist, critics will be disappointed because this will “look like just another version of a civics exam.” USCIS says it formed a committee from across agencies to begin the process of revising the citizenship test in December of 2018, consulting a variety of adult education experts in the matter. In its current form, the citizenship test is comprised of 10 questions chosen at random from a pool of 100 questions. In order to pass, applicants must correctly answer 6 of 10, with a 90% pass rate. In 2018, USCIS says it naturalized over 750,000, which is accordingly a five year high. Former USCIS director Francis Cissna says it is imperative to update the exam every decade in order to “ensure that the civics education requirements remain a meaningful aspect of the naturalization process.” A pilot of the new exam is set to roll out for applicants taking it in Fall of 2019.

USCIS Moves Applications to Lower Wait Times

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United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is set to transfer cases from its busiest offices to other, less burdened offices in order to attempt to alleviate wait times. While USCIS has always been well-known for their long wait times, with those who filed applications to adjust status to that of permanent resident or even to become a citizen sometimes waiting over a year for their applications to clear. In order to help with those wait times, USCIS has begun the process of transferring cases from overburdened offices to those with a more manageable caseloads. They will evaluate the cities with the most pending immigration applications, such as St. Paul, Minnesota, Miami, Florida, or Houston, Texas, and move those to other offices. It is unclear whether this move would do much to actually improve the wait times for applications, but immigrant advocates are at the very least praising the decision to do something to alleviate the problem. This comes amidst the Trump administration’s introduction of new policies to USCI which has essentially brought the system to a stop. Wait times are not only at a high for adjustment and citizenship applications, but also for family members of US citizens, asylum applications, student visas, and working visas. While people are generally in the consensus that this is a positive move, some worry this will negatively impact those in cities with few immigrants, such as Cleveland, Ohio. This move has the potential to increase the wait times in those cities, negatively impacting the wait times for the applications original in those cities. Additionally, critics worry that moving the applications to other cities will create an undue burden on applicants who will eventually have to travel to the new city in order to attend interviews with USCIS. In situations where multiple interviews are necessary, this could create a situation where financial costs mount for applicants, especially if they have to pay for interpreters and attorneys to attend the meetings.

Doctors and Immigration Officials Come into Conflict

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(Español) Doctors across the southern border region of the U.S. have come into conflict with immigration officials in regards to their duties and the wishes of immigration agents. There have been numerous reports by varying doctors who treat migrants that they have come to butt heads with officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and  Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Regulations by government officials have specific guidelines when dealing with migrants who have to be hospitalized after crossing the border and coming into the custody of immigration agencies. Most of the time, the guidelines require an immigration officer be in the presence of the immigrant at all times since they are considered detainees. This includes during any medical exams or consultations between the migrants and doctors, which many health professionals see as a breach of privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality. To go along with the federal regulations that govern the immigration officers, hospitals and health organizations also have their own set of rules to follow and they typically fall in line with governmental regulations, much to the chagrin of individual doctors. Doctors have reported cases in which immigration officials have been in the room while giving a medical briefing to their patient and noting that it seemed the officers were texting sensitive and private information to someone. Another notes an officer was present in the room while a teenage mother was breastfeeding her baby, only leaving when a senior hospital official persuaded him to leave. At worst, immigration officers have begun arresting certain undocumented immigrants in hospitals; places previously deemed “sensitive locations” where immigration officials were not to detain anyone. That has since changed as those incidents have been rising.

Once a migrant has been released from the care of the hospital, immigration officials ask the physician to write a letter certifying the migrant is healthy enough for release and detention in immigration detention facilities; places where even immigration officials admit are not sanitary places, much less for those recently released from medical care. Recently, a doctor in Texas found a way around the language the officers needed, by noting the certification of healthy release does not indicate they are healthy enough to be detained in a detention center. Upon handing in the letter, the doctor noted he felt bullied by an immigration supervisor into resubmitting the letter with the language they needed.

Administration Cuts Education, Activities for Detained Migrant Kids

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(Español) The Trump administration is moving to cancel activities, education, and legal aid for detained minors crossing into the country. They cite the massive influx of minors at the southern border in recent months as the reason, saying the crisis is creating massive pressures on the budget. The Office of Refugee and Resettlement (ORR), the organization responsible for finding more permanent settlements for the minors detained in the country, has notified a variety of facilities around the country it is rolling back services due to the lack of budget. With the announcement, the administration has asked Congress to proceed and pass a budget bill in order to continue providing the services. The major issue stems from a 1997 court ruling which states minors detained in custody with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must be provided with more than basic needs which are required to allow them to develop as normally as possible, which can include classes and recreation, such as soccer games and the like. Critics are simultaneously worried the lack of legal aid services will result in many detainees being denied access to the only method they have to fight their case in the U.S. Various immigrant rights attorneys and advocates have noted they will bring a lawsuit against the administration if they services are indeed cut, which is scheduled to take place by the end of June. They note proper exercise and education are the only thing the kids have to look forward to while detained, otherwise having nothing to do but sit in their cells and dwell on an already insurmountable situation. Other critics note this may be but another ploy for the administration to find a way to pursue their continuing anti-immigrant agenda. With the wide latitude the executive branch is given to pursue their immigration agenda, many, including some in Congress, believe it would not be farfetched to see the administration try to divert funds to continue detention of minors.