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The Chipping Away of U.S. Legal Immigration: December Edition

Overwhelmed by all the headlines detailing drastic changes to immigration policy?  Here’s a list breakdown of the alarming policy changes that have happened since our last article.  

November 20 - Changing the Legal Paths

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publishes a proposal that shows it intends to change several of the rules to cut down the legal means that immigrants can come to the U.S., including high-skilled workers, as investors, and students. It intends to change the definition of “specialty occupation” for high skilled workers. It will ban the work authorization for spouses of high-skilled workers. It intends to end the Optional Practical Training program, which allows students who study in U.S. colleges to stay and work for one or two years after they graduate. It also intends to raise the minimum investment amount for a foreign investor to obtain a visa.

November 21 - Asylum-Seekers in Tucson Transferred to El Paso Under MPP

Advocates in Tucson, AZ learn that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would be transferring asylum-seekers detained in the Tucson Sector to El Paso to be returned to Juarez under Remain in Mexico/Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). In just the first few days of the expansion, 63 people were bused from the Tucson Sector to Juarez and since then dozens more have been subjected to MPP. Arizonans continue to express their opposition to MPP and their desire to welcome and care for asylum-seekers in their communities.

November 22 - Propaganda List Published

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updates its report to make public the arrests and apprehensions of immigrants who have requested Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). What the report actually shows is a lower arrest rate of DACA applicants than of U.S. citizens.

November 22 - Hardliners Promoted

John Zadrozny and Robert Law, two immigration hardliners, have been promoted to acting chief of staff and acting chief of policy, respectively, within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Both Zadrozny and Law have worked for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose stated mission is to “reduce overall immigration” and which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

November 25 - Wait Times and Denials Surge

 It’s harder to come legally, and the stats prove it. In the two years after Trump took office, denials for H1B visas -- the most common form of visa for skilled workers -- more than doubled. In the same period, wait times for citizenship also doubled, while average processing times for all kinds of visas jumped by 46 percent, even as the total number of applications has gone down. In 2018, the U.S. added just 200,000 immigrants to the population -- a startling 70 percent less than the year before.

November 25 - Backlog Doubles

The backlog of active immigration cases has surpassed 1 million – nearly doubling since President Trump took office. The backlog is due in part to the previous Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ 2018 order directing immigration judges to end the practice of removing cases from their dockets unless they issue a decision, as well as the president’s January 2017 executive order when he made every immigrant who was in the country illegally a priority for deportation.

December 3 - Deaths of Migrants Due to Neglect

The DHS’s inadequate medical technology and record management may have contributed to poor care and even deaths at the border. Reviews of 22 deaths of detainees echo persistent complaints from experts and advocates for migrants’ rights who say attention to medical needs of asylum-seekers is indifferent at best. Recent reports indicate that CBP rejected a CDC recommendation to administer flu shots to people in custody; two children later died of the flu in the agency’s facilities.

December 3 - Asylum Rejections Become More Common

The rate of asylum petition denials in New York City — home to the nation’s largest immigration court— has risen about 17 times faster than the rest of the country under the Trump administration. With many New York judges retiring, new hires are under pressure from the administration to meet production quotas. Those new hires are “normally of the background that this administration thinks will be statistically more likely to deny cases,” said Jeffrey Chase, a former New York immigration judge.

December 4 - North Carolina DMV Shares Immigrant Identities

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) purchased a year’s worth of North Carolina’s driver’s license data — for less than $27 total — which the agency used to identify and locate undocumented immigrants living in the state. Nationwide, the country’s DMV databases have records on more individuals than any single law enforcement directory.

December 4 - Facial Recognition for Citizens and Immigrants

DHS announces it would like to expand facial recognition checks for travelers arriving in and departing from the U.S. to include citizens, who previously had been exempt. In a filing, the department has proposed that all travelers -- and not just foreign nationals or visitors -- will have to complete a facial recognition check before they are allowed to enter the U.S., but also to leave the country.

December 5 - “Remain in Mexico” Pressures Asylum Denials

A draft DHS report shows how -- through the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy -- some border officials apparently pressured asylum officers to deny immigrants entry and prevent others from being interviewed. So far, more than 60,000 immigrants have been thrust into the “Remain in Mexico” program.

December 5 - A $20 Million Contract to Change Immigration

A private consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, has been a driving force behind many of the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration policies. The consultants seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations — actions whose success could be measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies affect thousands of human beings.

December 6 - Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez is Neglected, Dies

After being detained on May 19, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez became the sixth child to die in U.S. custody in the last year. Video that documents the 16-year-old’s last hours shows that Border Patrol agents and health care workers at the Weslaco holding facility missed increasingly obvious signs that his condition was perilous. John Sanders, the acting head of CBP who resigned soon after the incident, faulted unprepared agencies and an unresponsive Congress for a tragedy that he said was both predictable and preventable. The deaths of Carlos and other children under his watch continue to haunt him. ‘I believe the U.S. government could have done more,’ he said.

December 6 - Priority: Immigrants (Not Criminals)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened about four times the number of workplace investigations in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 compared with the period at the end of the Obama administration. However, we’re seeing fewer probes into gangs, weapons, and financial crimes.

December 10 - Do Immigrants Deserve Flu Shots?

A group of doctors who last month pressured CBP to allow them to provide flu vaccines to migrant children are now taking their fight to a detention facility in San Ysidro. About 40 people, including doctors, marched to the detention facility, calling for CBP to let them in or let the children out to participate in a free mobile clinic they set up outside. In the past year, three children have died from the flu while in federal immigration custody.

December 10 - Medical Screenings Can Mean Denials

Medical screenings have become the latest in a string of requirements that the U.S. government is imposing to discourage migrants from pursuing asylum. After waiting three months at the border for their asylum hearing, Claudia Quesada Rodriguez and her 12-year-old daughter were sent back to Mexico with their hearing postponed another three months after CBP determined the girl had a fever. “It’s an injustice,” said Quesada. “There are a lot of sick people here and when you’re living in a tent, what can you do?”

December 10 - Hotline to Protect Immigrants Ends

The nonprofit group Freedom for Immigrants is suing the Trump administration for ending a free hotline service that had allowed detained immigrants to report concerns about custody conditions. Freedom for Immigrants is arguing the hotline was pulled after it was featured on the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black,” drawing the public’s attention to conditions at the border.     

December 11 - Farm Worker Visa Overhaul Passes House

The U.S. House of Representatives passes an overhaul of the agricultural visa system -- the first update in more than 30 years. The bipartisan legislation would grant legal status to undocumented farmworkers, modernize the agricultural worker visa program, and mandate E-Verify for the sector. Farmers have long struggled with labor shortages due to outdated immigration laws. The bill must now pass the Senate and be signed into law by the President in order for these updates to become a reality.

December 14 - Whistleblower at ICE

An internal ICE whistleblower complaint emerges, which dates back to March, alleging instances of “grossly negligent” care by the agency in detention centers, which has led to preventable surgeries and several deaths. The whistleblower reported that three people had died in ICE custody after receiving inadequate medical treatment or oversight, and said official reports on a fourth person’s death were ‘very misleading.’

December 15 - Tent Courts
One manifestation of the Trump administration’s response to an influx of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border is to convert shipping containers into temporary courtrooms, where flat screen monitors connect offsite judges and translators. The administration says these temporary courts offer the same procedures and rights, but immigrant rights advocates and the union representing immigration judges — who are Justice Department employees — say the unique conditions of the tent courts deny migrants due process by depriving them of meaningful access to lawyers or interaction with judges, making the setup essentially a rubber stamp for deportation.
December 16 - Honduras or Nothing

A September agreement between the Trump administration and the Honduran government allows DHS to send asylum-seekers to Honduras, even if they aren’t from the country. What’s significant about the Honduras agreement is that it is the first to explicitly state that if Honduras or another country rejects the individuals’ asylum claims, they won’t get another chance to apply in the United States. Previously, the administration had suggested that if, for example, a Guatemalan were forcibly sent to Honduras and denied asylum there, she might get another chance in the United States.


Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash


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