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

What has happed to immigration policy since our last update?  Here’s a list of important things you should know broken down for a quick overview.  

December 17 - 50 Years to come the “Legal Way”

There are now an unprecedented 800,000 immigrants working legally in the U.S. who are waiting for green cards. Most of those waiting for employment-based green cards are Indian, and the backlog among this group is so acute that an Indian national who applies for a green card now can expect to wait up to 50 years to get one. As Congress remains gridlocked over potential legislation to fix the backlog, business leaders are among those calling for a quick resolution, worrying that Indian workers could begin seeking easier paths to citizenship in other countries, to the detriment of the American economy.

December 18 - More Asylum Restrictions

The Trump administration has proposed more restrictions on asylum seekers, focusing on crimes they have committed. The proposed change from the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security would disqualify asylum applicants found guilty of serious offenses such as driving while intoxicated and domestic battery, as well as lesser violations such as the use of false documents and reentering the United States illegally. (Remember: asylum is when you’re fleeing for your life.)

December 18 - #FreeMaddie

A six-year-old girl named Maddie has been confined with her dad in Pennsylvania’s Berks County immigration detention center for almost six months, and it has led to a #FREEMADDIE campaign on social media calling her for release. Maddie’s lawyers say the duration of her time in detention is the longest the federal government has held a child in any of its three family lock-ups.

December 19 - Border Agents Undermine Asylum Seekers

Lawyers representing 18 migrants have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court alleging that border agents are systematically writing incorrect addresses on asylum seekers’ paperwork, thus leaving them no way to get communications about their cases.  This not only violates the country’s own procedures under due process, but also means asylum seekers get sent back to places they could be tortured or killed.

December 19 - Documents That Weren’t Released On Census Question

The Department of Justice told a federal judge that it had found more than 2,000 documents it should have released due to lawsuits against the government’s desire to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census — but didn’t at the time due to a “technical error.” The citizenship question has been permanently blocked from 2020 Census, but the Trump administration is still facing allegations of withholding evidence and providing misleading or false testimony during the lawsuits.

December 20 - Desperate for Aid at the Southern Border

Thousands of asylum seekers waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border are desperately in need of humanitarian aid: “Some migrants are lucky to find housing in shelters, hotels, or rooms for rent, but for more than 5,000 others, only colorful tents and tarps, some held up by only sticks and stones, stand between them and the elements, even as temperatures drop below freezing.”

December 20  - Collecting Data To Deport the Parents Who Claim Their Kids

A yet-to-be-announced plan pioneered by Stephen Miller will allow ICE to collect data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — the refugee agency caring for migrant children — as part of an effort to collect fingerprints and other information from adults seeking to claim their children. ICE could then use that information to deport potential sponsors of children in HHS care if they’re deemed ineligible to take custody. 

December 21 - Border Torture

Asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexican towns along the border are facing new dangers, including criminal cartels who seek to kidnap them and extort ransoms from their relatives. One Honduran father was tortured in front of his three-year-old son until his wife, waiting for her family in New Jersey, paid $2,000. “In the past, migrants from places like Central America, Africa and Asia seeking asylum were allowed to enter the United States while their claims were adjudicated … That changed earlier this year with the adoption of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, under which most asylum applicants are prevented from entering the United States except for their court hearings.”

December 22 - ICE Social Media Surveillance

ICE is using social media and information shared by for-profit data brokers to track down and arrest immigrants, such as a Southern California man who “checked in” to a Home Depot on Facebook.

December 27 - Quietly, 4,000 Liberians Get a Path to Citizenship

Liberians who have lived in the US with temporary legal status for decades now have a path to citizenship — under a provision quietly folded into a $738 billion defense policy bill that President Donald Trump signed earlier this month. US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Thursday that it started accepting green card applications for Liberians who have lived in the US since November 2014, as well as their spouses and unmarried children. After holding a green card for five years, eligible Liberians can apply for US citizenship.

January 7 - Mexicans Seeking Safety Sent to Guatemala

Federal immigration officials are beginning to send Mexican nationals (including families) seeking asylum at the southern border to Guatemala to “seek protection there,” expanding the practice that has turned away many refugees from Honduras and El Salvador over the last year. One anonymous asylum officer said: “Mexico is dangerous; Guatemala is even more so. This expansion of the [agreement] continues to prevent legitimate asylum-seekers from having their cases heard by the U.S. and foists them upon the Guatemalan system, which has about a dozen staff … Asylum in the U.S. is now practically available only for people wealthy and privileged enough to get visas, shutting out many of the most vulnerable groups asking for help at our borders.”

January 7 - DNA Collection Has Begun

The Trump administration is officially implementing its new policy of collecting DNA from those detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). “This kind of mass collection also alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance, which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy,” said an ACLU attorney.

January 8 - Immigration Fees = Tax on Business

The Trump administration’s 50% fee increase on visa applications for high-skilled professionals, farm and H-2B workers, and new citizens are hitting businesses hard. The new fees are essentially a tax on businesses aimed at discouraging them from hiring foreign workers. 

January 8 - Guatemala Didn’t Agree to Receive Mexican Deportees

Outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales says reports that Guatemala would begin accepting Mexican deportees from the U.S. are “completely untrue.” “The United States has talked about the possibility of including Mexican nationals, but that will have to be discussed with the next government,” said Morales.

January 9 - Deported After A Judge Says Stay

Immigrant advocates have identified at least 17 cases of migrants who have been returned to Mexico after being granted the “withholding of removal” protection by an immigration judge.

January 10 - Asylum Seekers Show Up to Court

Despite President Trump’s calls to end the practice of releasing migrants from custody while their immigration cases are pending — often referred to as “catch and release” — new data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University shows that almost all asylum seekers show up for their court date — regardless of whether they are held in federal detention.

January 13 - Legal Immigration Declining

New data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows that legal immigration declined by 87,000 — more than 7% — between fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2018. Most of the decline can be traced to lower admissions in the Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens category, which includes the spouses, children and parents of Americans.

January 13 - For No Reason, Free Flu Shots Denied

Despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control about the importance of immunizing people against the flu (which killed 80,000 Americans in the winter of 2017-2018), border authorities will not allow flu immunizations for detained migrants. “Even more irresponsibly, offers by private individuals to do so at no cost to the government have been spurned for no discernible reason.”

January 14 - Deportation Without Information

For the first time ever, the U.S. is shipping asylum seekers at its border to a “safe third country,” Guatemala. However, during its first weeks, asylum seekers and human rights advocates say migrants have been put on planes without being told where they were headed, and left here without being given basic information about what to do next.

January 14 - Triple the Denials

The Department of Homeland Security, which fielded a record number of credible fear claims from asylum seekers last year, also found ways to triple the denial rate for those claims in 2019. “The thinking behind the changes is that migrants from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala who fled their countries for valid reasons and headed north should claim asylum in Mexico, which is considered a safe country.” Advocates point out that those with valid asylum claims could be losing life-saving protection in the U.S,

January 15 - Border Patrol Concealed Info On Migrant Childrens’ Deaths

The chair of a House Homeland Security subcommittee reprimanded Border Patrol officials for concealing information about six migrant children’s deaths. Officials did not respond to the chairwoman's criticism. The Department of Homeland Security “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymying congressional inquiries,” Rice said. “This raises concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management, in addition to leadership vacancies at the top of the department.”

January 22 - New Travel Ban

President Trump is considering expanding his controversial travel ban to seven additional countries. It could include Belarus, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. “Any new restrictions are likely to strain ties with affected countries, some of which assist the U.S. on issues like fighting terrorism, and some of which Washington has been trying to court for strategic reasons.” Looking at the data, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart writes: “The travel ban suggests he’s adding a new target, just in time for the 2020 elections: Africans.”

January 23 - No Visas for Pregnant Women

The State Department officially rolled out new regulations which grant officials more power to stop pregnant women from visiting the U.S. in an effort to crack down on what they’re calling “birth tourism.” Under the rule consular officers will be expected to apply additional scrutiny if, through the course of an interview, they come to suspect that a woman is traveling to the United States specifically to give birth. State Department officials holding a briefing for reporters under the condition of anonymity failed to provide an example of how birth tourism presented a national security risk, though both the State Department and the White House said that it did. Other than estimates from the restrictionist group (and white supremacist-tied) Center for Immigration Studies, there are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The new policy “raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with, and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her. Consular officers don’t have the right to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. 

January 23 - It’s a Family Ban, not a Travel Ban

The Trump administration’s travel ban is primarily affecting American citizens — not foreign countries — who are trying to live together with foreign-born family members in the U.S. “The administration’s travel ban caused the number of Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens — the spouses, children and parents of Americans — who received permanent residence in America from the five majority-Muslim countries (Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria) to decline by 69% between FY [fiscal year] 2016 and FY 2018.”

January 23 - Reunited

Nine migrant parents who were expelled from the U.S. after being separated from their children in 2017 and 2018 set foot on American soil once again in a historic, court-mandated return. Advocates hope the reunions will be the first of several reliefs granted to some of the hundreds of fathers and mothers deported to Central America without their children. Escorted by a group of advocates, faith leaders and lawyers, the eight fathers and one mother arrived in Los Angeles International Airport in the middle of night, carrying conspicuous smiles fueled by the improbable opportunity to see their children in person for the first time in more than a year and a half. 

January 27 - Judges Are Done

Dozens of immigration judges concerned about their independence in the Trump era have left the bench. One leading cause: “a quota system that the Trump administration imposed in 2018 requiring each judge to close at least 700 cases annually, monitoring their progress with a dashboard display installed on their computers.” The system has led to judges leaving the bench — in some cases soon after being appointed. “Judges are going to other federal agencies and retiring as soon as possible. They just don’t want to deal with it. It’s become unbearable,” said a spokesperson.

January 27  - “Public Charge” Is a Go

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule to go into effect while legal challenges brought by the state of New York and immigrant advocacy groups proceed. The rule allows an immigration officer to deny someone a green card — or bar them from the U.S. altogether — if the individual “makes use of a public assistance program, such as housing assistance, food stamps or Medicaid — or an immigration officer estimates he or she might in the future. A Forbes columnist calls the decision the “administration’s most consequential economic policy” to date. The implementation of the public charge rule will likely have a chilling effect on immigrants and their families that include U.S. citizens. Just the specter of the rule has steered families away from programs they can access legally. The rule likely will curtail legal immigration as well. Studies have found that the rule could block half of U.S. citizens’ foreign-born spouses from obtaining

Photo by Daan Huttinga on Unsplash

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