Tonight’s news starts with two positive stories. First, the Senate confirmed Chris Magnus to head the Customs and Border Protection, which has gone without a permanent head since 2019. He will have the tough job of transforming the troubled Border Patrol.
(Wall Street Journal) “Mr. Magnus, 61 years old, gained a reputation among fellow law-enforcement officials during his stints as police chief in Tucson and in Richmond, Calif., as a savvy go-between among police officers and the communities they serve. He brought community policing techniques and other community-oriented programs to both departments.”
Some good news comes in a press release from the National Association of Immigration Judges:
(NAIJ) “In a major reversal, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers the U.S. immigration courts, has agreed to a settlement with the National Association of Immigration Judges to again recognize NAIJ as the exclusive union representative and collective bargaining agent for the nation’s more than 500 immigration judges. Today’s announcement puts to an end an effort begun in 2019 by the DOJ, at the direction of the Trump administration, to strip away union rights from the nation’s immigration judges.”
The Biden administration says that because it must follow a court order to reinstate Remain-in-Mexico, it will make the program more humane. That’s unlikely.
(Vox) “‘MPP had endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and did not address the root causes of irregular migration,’ [DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas] wrote in an October memo. ‘MPP not only undercuts the Administration’s ability to implement critically needed and foundational changes to the immigration system, it fails to provide the fair process and humanitarian protections that individuals deserve under the law.’…
“Biden isn’t just reinstating MPP; he’s broadening its scale. Now, all other citizens of countries in the Western Hemisphere can be sent back under the program, which previously only covered Spanish speakers.
“The administration isn’t doing so because the court ordered it to — that wasn’t part of the court’s instructions — and it hasn’t explained why it’s expanding the program, and did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. That leaves room for doubt about its commitment to ensuring the safety of migrants who will suffer from keeping MPP in place.”
Not many immigration news stories today, except for continuing coverage of the Remain in Mexico program, so I’ll start with some good news Minnesota stories from November: St. Paul’s LEAP High School, Rochester’s Village Agricultural Cooperative, two Afghan refugee stories, and the HAFA farm.
Today’s biggest story: The United States and Mexico have agreed to restart Remain in Mexico (MPP) next week. The Trump-era policy, which bars asylum seekers from entering the United States while their cases are pending, was halted by the Biden administration in January, but a Texas federal court ordered it reinstated. Under the policy, thousands of asylum seekers were forced to remain in dangerous camps in Mexico, without access to legal representation.
(CBS) “‘All individuals from the Western Hemisphere will potentially be eligible’ to be turned back to Mexico, one senior official said. …
“On the campaign trail in 2020, President Biden said the program forced asylum-seekers to live ‘in squalor.’ In his latest termination memo, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas decried the policy’s ‘unjustifiable human costs.’…
“More than 70,000 asylum-seekers from Latin America were returned to Mexico under the protocols during the Trump administration. Many were returned to areas of northern Mexico that the State Department warns U.S. nationals not to visit because of violent crime and rampant kidnappings.
“Hundreds of migrants subjected to the policy reported being kidnapped, extorted or assaulted while waiting in Mexico, according to reports by Human Rights First, a U.S. organization that advocates on behalf of asylum-seekers.”
The five basic steps in the process are (1) entering the pipeline (usually, but not always, by UNHCR referral); (2) pre-screening interview at one of nine Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs) around the world, with referral to Department of Homeland Security for background checks; (3) in-person interviews with applicants in their host countries by USCIS officers; (4) a multitude of security and medicalchecks to ensure the refugee poses no national security security risk, including U.S. Department of Defense, DHS, the FBI, and international law enforcement organizations like Interpol; (5) resettlement by a sponsoring resettlement agency in the U.S.
Time needed to get through the process? Current estimates say two to 10 years AFTER referral by UNHCR.
A path to citizenship is still the most important immigration reform that is needed and we continue to urge our elected officials to work toward this absolutely necessary goal. The Build Back Better bill passed by the House this morning includes a temporary parole provision, which would not provide a path to citizenship. Now the bill goes to the Senate.
(Washington Post) “Roughly 7 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible to apply for work permits, permission to travel abroad, and benefits like state driver’s licenses, a major step for immigrants from Mexico, Central America and other lands who remain vulnerable to being deported.
“Separately, the measure would also restore more than 400,000 green cards that went unused because of bureaucratic or pandemic-related delays. Green cards are for permanent residents, who are on a path to citizenship, and are typically sponsored by immediate relatives or employers. Others win green cards through the annual diversity visa lottery.”
Representative Veronica Escobar speaks for many, including me.
(Roll Call) “Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, called the immigration provisions ‘woefully unacceptable’ compared with what lawmakers originally hoped to include. ‘But at the very, very least, it’s movement and a step in a direction that gives us time to hopefully get more done,’ she said ahead of the vote.”
The House is expected to vote tonight on the Build Back Better plan–which still includes parole for unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States for more than 10 years, If passed by both the House and Senate, this parole would give protection from deportation and work authorization for five years, renewable for another five.
Meanwhile: refugees wait in camps for years, hoping they will be one of the small percentage eventually granted resettlement by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. If they are chosen for resettlement in the United States, they face months of intense and repetitive vetting. Even after passing these hurdles, they face further wait times.
(National Immigration Forum) “Prior to the Trump administration, the average processing time was regularly listed at 18 to 24 months. Since 2017, however, the implementation of additional vetting and security protocols, the Trump administration slashing resources to various parts of the system, and the sweeping impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have all almost certainly increased wait times. UNHCR currently estimates the process from referral to resettlement for P-1 refugees to take between two and 10 years….
“Domestic refugee resettlement agencies receive funding based on the number of refugees that are resettled. Years of record-low refugee resettlement during the Trump administration has led to closures of domestic resettlement offices and reductions in personnel. Since 2017, 134 resettlement sites around the country have been forced to closedue to a lack of funding, cutting resettlement capacity by 38%. These cuts, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have made it extremely difficult for resettlement agencies to expand their capacity and quickly rebuild. The agencies fear rapidly reopening offices, building capacity, and overextending their resources only to see resettlement totals again slashed when the next administration takes power.”
President Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which is definitely a good thing—repair roads and bridges, clean up contaminated water systems, extend internet access, create jobs, etc. You might be wondering what that has to do with immigration.
If any immigration legislation is going to pass this year, it will be as part of the next Big Thing: the Build Back Better bill, also known as the budget reconciliation bill. Democratic leadership says the House will vote on that bill this week. And the Senate? “By Christmas,” is the current prediction.
At present, the Big Thing includes a completely inadequate but better-than-nothing provision granting a temporary five-year parole to unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States since 2011 or longer. (That’s about two-thirds of all unauthorized immigrants.) The parole would protect from deportation and allow work permits. It would be renewable for a second five-year term, but would not provide any path to permanent legal residence or citizenship.
Advocates still insist that the bill must include provisions for green cards for unauthorized immigrants. Pessimists warn that all immigration provisions could be stripped from the bill. Vox says, “So why is this latest round of immigration reform proposals probably doomed? Two reasons: because of the structure of the Senate and because, on immigration, identity issues have replaced policy.”
As more refugees arrive in Minnesota, students, alumni, and teachers at LEAP High School for newly-arrived immigrants say the St. Paul school district plan to close LEAP would be a big mistake. Newly-arrived immigrants, especially refugees, need LEAP’s intensive classes, the support offered by teachers and fellow students, and the strategies developed to help new arrivals.
(Sahan Journal) “Kwe Knyaw enrolled in St. Paul’s LEAP High School in 2015, right after he arrived from a refugee camp in Thailand….
“His classmates were also new immigrants. Though they came from different countries, they had a lot in common. He found the support from his teachers ‘precious.’ And the school environment—a small school with small class sizes—welcomed him. ‘It feels like you belong in this country,’ he said….
“Kwe and his fellow graduates, current students, and teachers say that the district has missed the value a small school can deliver to new immigrant students.
“’There is not another option for students right now,’ said Sandy Muellner, a biology teacher who has worked at LEAP for 25 years. ‘I don’t think they understand how important a safe place is.’”