Latest Immigration News

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.

Bill Passed in House to Help DACA-holders

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(Español) Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed an immigration bill intended to help immigrants currently under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Based on the original DREAM Act introduced in 2001, the bill, officially titled the “Dream and Promise 2019,”  would grant those currently under DACA provisional permanent residence in the U.S. for 10 years, provided they have never been convicted of a felony. Although unlikely to come to the floor in a Republican held-Senate or even get the president’s signature, Democrats hoped to use the bill to assist not only current DACA holders but also beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, although the guidelines for that class of immigrants are more strict. The president has consistently been attempting to end such protections. The measure was introduced in March of 2019, shortly before President Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House advisor, Jared Kushner, unveiled the White House’s proposal to overhaul the immigration system in the country. The Democratic leadership has already labeled the bill as a “non-starter” due to the lack of addressing any protections for DACA-holders, as the fate of the program is currently making its way through the courts as the president has attempted to end the program. Recently, the Supreme Court has denied the administration’s request for the justices to hear one of the DACA-cases during this session. The bill’s passage in the House seems to signal the court will not take up any of the cases before they make their way through the lower courts. The bill was passed 237-187 on a largely party line vote. Republicans in the House have signaled the bill is a largely political vote, despite Democrats insisting the measure should be a non-political issue. Polls frequently found wide bipartisan support for a DREAM Act-like measure but measures have always come up short to get a bill through Congress and on the president’s desk.

Mexico Foreign Minister Confirms Portions of Agreement with U.S.

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(Español) The Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed it agreed with the United States to reduce the number of migrants heading towards the U.S.’s southern border within 45 days in order to avoid the imposition of President Trump’s tariffs on Mexican products. The Foreign Minister’s initial plan is to send troop reinforcements to Mexico’s southern border. If the reinforcements do not work, the minister discussed “additional measures,” which could include a multinational solution with additional countries in the region. Although, the most likely outcome is Mexico processing U.S. asylum seekers on Mexican soil. President Trump tweeted about the supposed deal early Tuesday morning, saying there was a major portion that has yet to be revealed that is very beneficial to the U.S. and something “that would give the U.S. something it has been asking for for many years.” Despite this sign of confidence, the president still noted the measure will require a vote by Mexico’s legislative body and, if it does not pass, the tariffs will still go forward, with negotiators noting Mexico would be a safe third country for migrants to wait for their asylum applications to be processed. According to Minister Ebard, the U.S. has been insistent on those measures to avoid the tariffs. Additionally, the U.S. wanted Mexico to commit to “zero migrants” at the southern U.S. border, which the Mexico minister noted as a non-starter. To begin, Mexico will be sending 6,000 National Guard members to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. After 45 days, it will reevaluate how the measures are holding up to see if further international cooperation with neighboring countries will be necessary. Additionally, Mexico has agreed to expand a program to return asylum seekers in the U.S. to Mexico in order to await their asylum hearings.

Trump’s Original Planned Tariffs Canceled

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(Español) President Trump’s proposed tariffs that were set to take effect today, June 10, 2019, were abruptly canceled by the president. Last week, the president announced a tariff on all products coming into the United States from Mexico. According to the president and administration officials, the tariffs were in response to what they saw as Mexico’s unwillingness to properly stem the flow of migrants through the country to the United States southern border. The tariffs were set to take effect on Monday, June 10, 2019, at 5% and increase each month by 5% until the administration felt Mexico has done enough to address the issues at hand. The tariffs would hit a maximum of 25% on goods on October 1, 2019. On June 7, 2019, President Trump says the tariffs would not go into effect after what, he claims, is an agreement between the United States and Mexico, although no official word from the Mexican government or administration officials has been released as to the details of the plan.

In the lead up to the first set of tariffs, many industries began to voice their concern and disagreement of the tariffs. With Mexico being the United States largest trading partner, there was growing concern the tariffs would negatively impact the economy at home. Many companies and industries take advantage of the lower labor cost in Mexico and economists worry the tariffs would result in those companies simply taking their factories to other nations instead of relocating to the United States. The industry initially hit the hardest was the automotive industry, whose stocks dropped vastly at the announcement of the tariffs. Many consumers were also wary of the tariffs, as the price would inevitably rise in everyday products such as alcohol (specifically tequila and Mexican beer), electronics (many components are made in Mexico and put together elsewhere), produce (tomatoes, avocados, limes), and gas (Mexico is the largest importer of crude oil to the United States.)

While the tariffs will not go in place as originally planned, there is still no telling what the administration’s plans are for the future.

Connecticut Sees Results from Giving Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

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(Español) Connecticut sees a reduction of hit-and-run and driving without license violations four years after overhauling the requirements for obtaining driver’s licenses. In 2015, Connecticut passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a valid driver’s license after paying the appropriate fees, passing the road tests, and getting their vehicle insured. In the four years since the passage of the law, hit-and-run crashes have dropped 9% statewide and about 4,000 fewer people convicted of driving without a driver’s license. Many public officials cite the passage of the 2015 law for this decrease in the above incidents, as they are more willing and able to remain at the scene of an accident and are better trained to handle traffic stops since they are formally familiar with the laws of the road. Additionally, the drivers are now confident they will not be charged with driving without a license should they be pulled over or get into an accident.

Immigrants who benefited from this law say their quality of life has also vastly improved. One father, who works in construction, drives up to 80 miles per day for work. Prior to 2015, he was in constantly worried about being pulled over, as, at best, it would result in a ticket for driving while unlicensed which can sometimes be a sum of $500, or, at worst, potentially falling into the hands of federal immigration authorities, with the possibility of being arrested. Now, the father is even able to drive his kids to soccer tournaments in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Despite this newfound freedom from worry, he still has to wonder whether having the Driving Only (D.O.) license can easily mark him to federal immigration authorities. His fear still remains that, if he’s ever pulled over, if the person he’s handing his license to has the authority to arrest him for being in the country unlawfully.

Connecticut is one of eleven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to offer access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin are also considering similar legislature.

Six Children Die in DHS Custody

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(Español) In the past eight months, six children have died while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), ranging back to September of 2018. Prior these six deaths, no child had died under the supervision of CBP since 2010. The latest recently revealed by the agency was a 10-year old Salvadorian girl who passed away in September of 2018. The circumstances surrounding each of these deaths bear striking similarities: each of the children presented themselves at the southern border and were detained by CBP while asking for asylum and shortly after became ill and died due to complications. This comes amidst a surge of migrants, largely from Central America, presenting themselves at the border to ask for asylum, leading to border patrol stations along the border to become overcrowded and temporary shelters needing to be constructed. The following are the details regarding the known information of the six known deaths:

Unnamed girl, 10, El Salvador: She arrived at the border unaccompanied and with a history of congenital heart defects. After complications during surgery, she was left in a coma for several months. She passed away on September 29, 2018, after being moved to a hospital in Nebraska to be closer to family members in the U.S.

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez, 16, Guatemala: Hernandez was taken into custody along the Texas-Mexico border on May 13. Six days later, he was diagnosed with flu and moved to a different facility to contain the illness. On Monday, May 20, he was found unresponsive and declared dead. This death is under investigation as, under federal law, minors must be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72-hours of detention.

Unnamed boy, 2 ½ , Guatemala: While an official cause of death was not announced, within a short time of being taken into custody at the border, the young boy was admitted into a local children’s hospital and presented with a high-fever and shortness of breath, dying shortly thereafter his admittance on April 3, 2019.

Juan de Leon Gutierrez, 16, Guatemala: After being detained, Gutierrez was transferred to a shelter on April 20, 2019, where he showed no signs of illness. A day later, he was sent to a hospital for fever, chills, and headaches. He was released 24-hours later. Becoming ill again shortly after, he returned to the hospital where he remained in the intensive care unit until his passing. Media reports claim the death was a result of complications with a brain hemorrhage but there is still no official cause of death.

Felipe Gomez Antonio, 8, Guatemala: Antonio passed away on December 24, 2018, after being in detention with his father. He was diagnosed with a common cold and fever but, again, there exists no official cause of death. After Antonio’s death, CBP began giving comprehensive medical exams to migrant children being detained.

Jakelin Caal, 7, Guatemala: After crossing the border on December 6, 2018, her and her father completed a days long journey through the desert. After being detained, she started vomiting and went into sepsis shock. She was treated by Emergency Medical Technicians but died, nonetheless. The official report states she passed away due to complications from septic shock which resulted in an infection and multiple organ failure.

Flu Forces Temporary Suspension of Detention Center

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(Español) The McAllen Central Processing Center recently suspended intake of new immigrants due to an outbreak of “a flu related illness.” The processing center, the largest migrant processing center in South Texas, closed its doors to new arrivals after 32 individuals in the facility were tested positive for influenza. All the tested individuals were treated either on site or in a local hospital. The facility was able to resume normal operations about a day later. The temporary suspension of operations of intakes at the facility comes amidst claims from immigrant and human rights activists noting the recent deaths of children while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Since December of 2018, six children have passed away while in the care of the CBP, including a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who became ill at the McAllen Central Processing Center and died a short time later. In the decade prior, not a single child has died while in custody of CBP. This stark departure from the previous decade has brought scrutiny to the living conditions of detainees. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas recently brought complaints of the livings conditions of those detained across Texas. In their complaint, they cite unclean conditions where people are often denied basic hygienic equipment or showers, migrants who are forced to sleep outside on gravel or pavement and forced to spend all day outside in the Texas heat. Additionally, the ACLU found evidence of migrants being denied medicine and water. In response to the recent deaths and increased scrutiny, many border patrol stations are now have 24 hour access to medical staff and CBP officials now transport on average about 70 children per day to local and dedicated medical facilities. Additionally, CBP officials are asking Congress for billions more in funding to address the influx of migrants and provide increased humanitarian aid and improved facilities.

Secret White House Plan to Detain 10,000 Migrants Revealed

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(Español) The previous heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vetoed a plan which would have involved a mass detention operation across ten cities in the United States, totaling potentially 10,000 detainees, including families and children. Then secretary of DHS Kirstjen Nielsen and acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello openly challenged a secret White House plan that would have seen a major blitz of immigration forces across ten cities in the US rounding up individuals and families who were released into the US after encountering immigration agents at the border and never attended their immigration hearings, or recent entrants who the agencies feel they can put on a fast track for removal. This would mean the judge issued a removal order in their absence and they are legally deportable. The plan came about in September 2018 when President Trump began growing increasingly frustrated with the influx of migrants crossing the southern border. The president’s close advisors, including known-immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller, advised in favor of the plan as a “shock-and-awe” response to the migrant crossings, their hope being this would cause a ripple effect demonstrating the country’s tough approach and willingness to deport families and those with deportation orders (a strategy immigrant rights activists insist does not work). Nielsen and Vitiello, prior to their ousting, remained apprehensive about the plan. They cited concerns regarding the planning and execution of such an endeavor, worrying that such a raid would increase the already high stress load felt by agents at the border. Additionally, Nielsen worried the resulting raids would create a very large and public backlash against the administration that would be difficult to contain. Vitiello raised concerns of US-citizen children being separated from their parents while they were apart from each other and encouraged more reconnaissance by ICE agents. To many insiders, this appeared to be the tipping point for the president who insisted on a tougher approach to the inflow of migrants, and ultimately resulted in Nielsen’s resignation and Vitiello’s name being withdrawn from consideration of being the Senate confirmed ICE director. While the program was never enacted, officials with inside knowledge insist the blitz is still a possibility.