Latest Immigration News

DHS Tests DNA at Southern Border

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(Español) In the past weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun testing a DNA program in order to identify individuals posing as families. With the Rapid DNA testing, officials can take a cheek swab and typically obtain results in 90 minutes, according to a senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These results were used to help identify legitimate familial units of migrants attempting to seek asylum by crossing the southern US border. According to officials familiar with the situation, they are doing the Rapid DNA testing in order to cut down on human trafficking and exploitation of children from those attempting to abuse the laws of the US in order to gain access and release into the interior of the country. Under current law, the government cannot hold children detained for more than 20 days. This often leads to families, or those claiming to be families, being released. This is what the president often refers to as the “catch-and-release” program. Officials claim they have seen an uptick in people abusing the system and even going as far as “reusing” the same children with different people in order to gain access into the US. This is in response to the massive upswing of families, and those posing as families, appearing at the southern border. Officials have attempted to use available technology at their disposal in order to identify and rescue children who are being used to abuse the system. In addition to the Rapid DNA testing, officials have begun taking fingerprints for children under 14, whereas previously only those over the age of 14 would have their fingerprints taken. It remains to be seen what happens to those children who are found to be abused in the system. Additionally, there is no update on whether the program will move out of its initial testing phase and move on to a wider implementation.

Border Agents Violating Constitution, According to ACLU

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(Español) The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims it has discovered new evidence showing that federal agents are violating the United States Constitution in their searches of traveler’s electronic devices upon their entrance to the country. It has long been the policy of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that, upon entrance to the United States, any electronic devices can be subject to search by a border patrol agent. (Officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have a similar policy.) They classify the search into two categories: basic and advanced. The basic search consists of simply going through the device manually. An advanced search involves the agent connecting the device to an external device and using that to either search the device or even make a copy of the device. The CBP agents have always held the right to search a traveler’s belongings for contraband or determine admission into the US; however, now the ACLU is claiming agents are using their authority to search people’s devices for “general law enforcement purposes, such as looking for potential evidence of illegal activity beyond violations of immigration and customs laws.” According to the ACLU, border agents are using the notion of the border, which includes increased search power for the agents, to circumvent the Constitution, notably the first and fourth amendments. Given the nature of the searches, the ACLU claims travelers will censor themselves because they are unaware of their rights at the border and the searches of the devices is against the unreasonable search and seizure portion of the fourth amendment. The CBP says the policies are in place in order to safeguard national security and would not respond to anything pending litigation. The ACLU, bringing a suit from 11 plaintiffs, 10 US citizens and one Legal Permanent Resident, still holds the agency is neglecting people’s rights using the border as justification. As such, the ACLU is asking the judge to make a ruling without having a hearing, given the grave nature of the offenses and the dramatic spike in the searches under the current administration.

Hunger Strikes Highlight Major Issues

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(Español) In the last week of March, the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, Louisiana has seen an uptick in hunger strikes from detainees. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  officials have only officially recognized 24 hunger strikers, immigration activists put the number as high as 150 who joined the demonstration. While the demonstration only lasted about a week, it was the sixth such hunger strike in detention centers nationwide since January of 2019. The number of strikes in this year alone is unprecedented, according to Maru Mora Villalpando, an immigrant rights activist based in Washington state. The central concern among the demonstrators remains the injustice they having to be detained during their asylum process, which can last years at a time. Once entering detention, asylum-seekers have two methods of being released: bond or parole. A bond can be granted by either ICE or an immigration judge. In order for a judge to grant a bond, a specific request must be made for a bond hearing. At the hearing, the judge will hear the case and decide whether the detainee is eligible for a bond based on different criteria, such as their likelihood to abscond and not appear to future hearings. ICE can also set a bond under similar conditions, but they are only agency who is able to grant a parole. The parole can be a much simpler process which only requires the asylum-seekers establish their identity, flight risk, and danger to the community. In the past, parole and bonds in most jurisdictions in the countries were the norm. Since the Trump administration has taken over in 2017, the percentage of paroles and bonds granted has drastically dropped, with some paroles going from approximately 90% to less than 10% in some jurisdictions. The issue has grown more dire for detainees seeking release with attorney general William Barr’s recent order keeping immigration judges from granting certain asylum-seekers bonds.  

Circuit Court Allows “Remain in Mexico” Policy to Continue

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(Español) A panel of three judges in the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that the Trump administration can continue requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their case is adjudicated. What is formally known as the Migration Protection Protocols but more widely known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy gained new life on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, when the judges voted 2-to-3 in favor of allowing the policy to remain in place. They cited the “irreparable harm” that would be cause to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without the policy because of the strain of having to process the approximately 2,000 migrants arriving at the southern border on an almost daily basis. Additionally, the judges noted the Mexican government’s recent commitment to provide safety to the migrants also reduced the danger they faced in waiting in the country. This includes Mexico’s move to grant any asylum-seekers returned to their nation with humanitarian status and employment authorization.

At the outset, this seems like a major victory for the president and his administration but it could be proven to be short-lived. A full hearing on the merits of the case must still be held in a lower court in San Francisco, a circuit which has often proven to be a thorn in the side of many of the administration’s proposals. The case could even reach the Supreme Court. Additionally, two judges were critical of the Trump administration’s policies, to the point the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the groups challenging the policy, noted “two of the three judges that heard this request found that there are serious legal problems with what the government is doing, so there is good reason to believe that ultimately this policy will be put to a halt.”

Judge William Fletcher was the lone judge voting in the negative of allowing the policy to continue. In his opinion, he wrote that he is “hopeful that the regular argument panel that will ultimately hear the appeal, with the benefit of full briefing and regularly scheduled argument, will be able to see the Government’s arguments for what they are—baseless arguments in support of an illegal policy that will, if sustained, require bona fide asylum applicants to wait in Mexico for years while their applications are adjudicated.”

Federal Judge Blocks Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” Policy

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(Español) A federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s announced policy of forcing asylum-seekers to wait for their hearing dates in Mexico. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg  in San Francisco issued the order against the government, saying existing U.S. law does not allow the Department of Homeland Security to begin its so-called Migrant Protection Protocols MPP). The judge also stated the MPP did not provide sufficient safeguards to ensure the asylum-seeking migrants would not be returned to the place they fear or be subjected to harm, with potential to risk their lives or freedoms. The MPP was originally announced in December of 2018 by then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. According to the DHS, the MPP was meant as furthering the administration’s hardline stance against what they see as the ongoing crisis at the southern border. By limiting the asylum-seeker’s access to the interior of the United States, their hope was that would stymie the flow of migrants to the southern border.

The ruling comes from a challenge to the MPP filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, noting the MPP was a violation of the humanitarian protections offered to migrants under both American and international law. The week prior to the ruling, then secretary-Nielsen ordered officers of the Customs and Border Patrol to begin expanding enforcement of the MPP at the port of entries at San Ysidro and Calexico, California, and El Paso, Texas. Along with the ports, the expansion would have covered the length of the 2,000 mile southern border. While the judge struck down the policy, he did so with a delay of a week to give the government opportunity to appeal. The justice department plans to appeal the decision while a three-judge panel reviews te decision from the district judge to decide whether to grant a temporary stay of the decision.

Motel 6 Would Share Guest Information with ICE

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(Español) At least two local Motel 6s in Arizona have been found to share guest lists with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Various instances have been brought forward by immigration attorneys in the Phoenix area noting how their clients were picked up at local Motel 6s when officers from ICE specifically showed up at their doors and asked for people specifically by name. This comes after, according to their attorneys, their clients checked into the motels using foreign identifications. After reaching out to a spokesperson for Motel 6, they confirmed the operation was happening on local levels with decisions made by local management. This was increasingly worrisome for not only immigration attorneys but also civil liberties advocates wondering what all information is being shared with law enforcement officials, not limited to ICE. According to the anonymous sources from within the local motels, they admit to informing law enforcement if a person has an active warrant for arrest. They would not comment on how they decide to specifically notify ICE in regards to specific clients. This could lead to a massive civil liability for the agency should it seem they are racially profiling individuals for enforcement. However, as a spokesperson for ICE has stated, these individuals are being apprehended based on general enforcement techniques when they receive information about a possible suspect. According to ICE, they are not allowed to comment on specific arrests or techniques used for apprehension, as it would jeopardize future enforcement measures. After the initial story broke in local papers, Motel 6 again commented on the existence of the specific program but has since indicated they will instruct all staff to no longer voluntarily cooperate with ICE officers. In order for any cooperation to be shared, a warrant must exist for the person’s arrest before any information is shared. Additionally, the company will be reviewing their policies in regards to the information released, so as to protect the privacy of their guests.

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.