Abuse of power: the Attorney General, immigration courts, and ICE

rini border fence

Immigration courts are not like federal courts established under the constitution. Instead they are subject to the attorney general: he names the judges, he reviews the cases if and when he chooses, and he has expansive power over the entire system. CNN explains how Attorney General Jeff Sessions is using that power to unilaterally reshape immigration law.

Apart from the Attorney General and immigration courts, ICE runs roughshod over immigrant rights. It’s time to abolish ICE, say a number of thoughtful analysts and advocates interviewed for an article in The Nation.

Meanwhile in California, the war over immigration and sanctuary continues to play out, as employers and immigrants are caught in the middle, San Francisco prosecutors describing the benefits of sanctuary, and immigrant advocates organizing grassroots resistance.

Other stories linked below include detention as a death sentence, Congressional Democrats’ refusal to block the Trump budget, the impact of immigration enforcement on schools, and a half-dozen individual immigrant stories.

Sessions tests limits of immigration powers with asylum moves (CNN, 3/10/18)

“The US immigration courts are set up to give the attorney general substantial power to almost single-handedly direct how immigration law is interpreted in this country — and Jeff Sessions is embracing that authority.

“Sessions quietly moved this week to adjust the way asylum cases are decided in the immigration courts, an effort that has the potential to test the limits of the attorney general’s power to dictate whether immigrants are allowed to enter and stay in the US and, immigration advocates fear, could make it much harder for would-be asylees to make their cases to stay here….

Immigration cases are heard outside of the broader federal court system. The immigration courts operate as the trial- or district-level equivalent and the Board of Immigration Appeals serves as the appellate- or circuit court-level. Both are staffed with judges selected by the attorney general, who do not require any third-party confirmation.

“In this system, the attorney general him or herself sits at the Supreme Court’s level, with even more authority than the high court to handpick decisions. The attorney general has the authority to refer any Board of Immigration Appeals decision to his or her office for review, and can single-handedly overturn decisions and set interpretations of immigration law that become precedent followed by the immigration courts.” 

It’s time to abolish ICE (The Nation, 3/9/18) Dan Canon, a career civil rights lawyer and candidate for Congress, thinks ICE should go.

“I don’t think a lot of people have any kind of direct experience with ICE, so they don’t really know what they do or what they’re about. If they did, they’d be appalled,” Canon told me. “ICE as it presently exists is an agency devoted almost solely to cruelly and wantonly breaking up families. The agency talks about, and treats, human beings like they’re animals. They scoop up people in their apartments or their workplaces and take them miles away from their spouses and children.”

The article quotes a long list of activists and progressive politicos who think ICE should be abolished, traces the history of ICE back to post-9/11 panic, and concludes:

“The call to abolish ICE is, above all, a demand for the Democratic party to begin seriously resisting an unbridled white supremacist surveillance state that it had a hand in creating. Though the party has moved left on core issues from reproductive rights to single-payer healthcare, it’s time for progressives to put forward a demand that deportation not be taken as the norm, but rather as a disturbing indicator of authoritarianism.”

San Francisco leaders see big benefits in sanctuary. Trump administration sees danger. (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10/18)

“San Francisco prosecutors had a problem. They’d charged a suspect in a beating, but the key witness refused to testify, putting the case in jeopardy.

“Then came a break that prosecutors credited to good luck as well as the city’s pro-immigrant sanctuary laws — which restrict cooperation between local authorities and federal deportation agents and have come under increasing fire from the Trump administration.

“When prosecutors went back to the scene of the 2016 crime, they found another witness. The man, though, was undocumented and hesitant to come forward to testify, until he was assured that his status would not be shared with federal officials, said District Attorney George Gascón.”

Defiance, resistance: the frontlines of California’s war against the Trump administration (Washington Post, 3/11/18)

In the nerve center of the Trump resistance, some volunteers staff 24-hour hotlines in case immigration agents appear in the middle of the night. Others flood neighborhoods to film arrests and interview witnesses. Local governments are teaming with donors to hire lawyers for those facing expulsion hearings….

Olivia Beltran, a former undocumented immigrant from Mexico who is now a U.S. citizen, and Patty Hoyt, a Novato resident, helped train volunteers willing to take emergency phone calls and investigate whether immigration raids were happening. Other volunteers would venture out, even in the middle of the night, to document arrests and help those taken into custody find lawyers.” 

It’s Trump versus California. but immigrants and employers already feel the fallout (PRI, 3/10/18)

“Without significant immigration legislation, Ricchiuti said that more farm owners will go his route, and turn to crops that require fewer hands, and do not rely on a shifting and increasingly scrutinized labor force. But many farmers will not be able to manage the change.

“People will not even come to fathom how this state and the other states would be shut down, when the crops rot in the fields, would not get harvested, would not get planted,” Ricchiuti said. “They haven’t found a machine yet to pick a strawberry.”

And in other news

When detention is a death sentence (Immigration Impact, 3/9/18)

“Any loss of human life is a tragedy, but it is also outrageous when neglect contributes to a death. Sadly, the poor to appalling state of immigrant detention has been shown to contribute to detainee deaths. DHS and its component agencies, including ICE, have a record going back more than a decade of people dying while in their custody—179 people since 2003. In some cases, the abysmal medical care provided at facilities was cited as a major contributing factor in the person’s death….

“As Frank Suarez-Garrido, the younger brother of Ramirez-Marcano, said, “It is just so unfair that [Luis] went [to detention] in full health, full of dreams, full of everything that an immigrant has to be better in this country and he just came out as a dead body.” 

Dems won’t hold omnibus hostage over Dreamers (The Hill, 3/8/18)

“We have to look for another opportunity,” Durbin said Thursday.

“He said lawmakers are tired over the budget stalemate, which has put federal agencies in limbo for months.

“I think we’re kind of focused on finally getting the budget of this country passed,” he said.

“Durbin’s remarks come after Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) signaled Tuesday that Democrats wouldn’t demand Dreamer protections as a condition for passing the spending deal.”

How immigration crackdowns are hurting America’s poorest schools (Pacific Standard, 3/9/18)

“The day after Donald Trump‘s election, [Arizona district school superintendent Lupita]Hightower got on the phone with a 7th-grade boy, an American citizen, who was crying inconsolably because the president’s rhetoric made him think his undocumented parents would be deported. More recently, Hightower spoke with a middle-school girl whose parents had been deported to Mexico. The girl and her siblings didn’t have a guardian; their 21-year-old brother was taking care of them. The girl began cutting herself as a means of coping with the stress. Hightower called a crisis team, to start the process of getting the kids help.” 

‘No One Is Safe.’ How Trump’s Immigration Policy Is Splitting Families Apart (Time, 3/8/18) Long-form analysis, with personal stories.

“Just before 7:30 one Friday morning last March, Alejandro said goodbye to his wife Maria and his two small daughters and headed off to work. He didn’t make it far. Four blocks from his home near Bakersfield, Calif., two unmarked vehicles, a white Honda and a green Mazda pickup truck, pulled up behind him at a stop sign. Plain-clothes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents spilled out. They wore vests emblazoned with the word POLICE.

“Alejandro dialed Maria from his cell phone and told her what was happening. Her heart dropped. She said later that she knew it wouldn’t matter that Alejandro had no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. Or that he’d driven these same roads every day for the past decade, picking grapes, pistachios and oranges in California’s Central Valley.”

Woman fights deportation order, won’t leave diabetic daughter (NBC, 3/8/18)

“Martinez-Lemus has said that she will not leave her husband and two daughters because the oldest, Brianna, 13, has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant care and medical attention.

“It is so stressful, I feel like a criminal,” a tearful Martinez-Lemus said of living with the tracking bracelet that was issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “It feels awful, as if I had done something terrible, especially when we have always tried to do the right thing.”

Is it still worth trying to come to America as an asylum seeker? I don’t think so (The Guardian, 3/10/18) The author, now an attorney in the United States, was granted asylum in 2009.

[Y]ou will never feel fully welcome here. No matter how much you work, how many sacrifices you make, the contributions you made to our country and the perfect English you have, you will always feel like an undesirable guest. Everybody in our government will make sure to let you know that you are not wanted here….

“What is that? You still want to come?

“I know. I know you will come because I am a refugee living in the United States and I know what it means to escape death. I am so ashamed that we will do this to you and I am angry because my new country has betrayed me and every other person who believed in it. This place is not what it used to be. Just know that.” 

Reproductive justice activist detained ‘in retaliation’ for protesting (Rewire, 3/7/18)

Reproductive justice activist Alejandra Pablos has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in what immigrant rights advocates are calling an act of “retaliation” for protesting in Virginia earlier this year. She is currently in custody for an indefinite period of time at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona.

Pablos works as the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and is a member of We Testify, an abortion storytelling leadership program of the National Network of Abortion Funds, and Mijente, a social justice organizing network. She was put in deportation proceedings, losing her legal permanent resident status, more than two years ago following a drug-related arrest and a Driving Under the Influence charge.” 

These firefighters face a different kind of battle: immigration (Crosscut, 3/7/18)

“All they want to do is to keep fighting fires on millions of acres of private, state and tribal-owned forestlands as part of Washington state’s largest on-call fire department.

“But the firefighting fates of Noe Vazquez and Christian Garcia Herrera, who have each fought more than 20 fires, are in limbo until the federal government reaches a deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA.“ 

If immigration is now merit-based, why are feds targeting Augsburg professor? (City Pages, 3/9/18)

In 2009, an immigration judge ruled that although Wanyama had reason to have feared persecution, what he suffered really wasn’t as bad as what other refugees experienced. (Prior court rulings had found that isolated attacks on family members isn’t always enough to admit an asylum applicant, if he himself hasn’t been sufficiently tortured.)” 

My DACA expires TODAY (Latino Rebels, 3/9/18) His DACA expiration date came after March 5, so he didn’t qualify to renew under the Trump decree rescinding DACA. Now courts say he can renew, and he has applied, but it will likely take months for a decision.

“I am now at risk of being separated from my family (no matter what DHS tells you). Meanwhile, Congress has no solution to protect people like me.

“The expiration of my DACA means no valid work authorization card, which means I could lose my job. It also means no more protection from deportation. This week, I’ve found it hard to look at my daughter in her eyes, knowing that soon I may be taken from her.” 

Man Pleads Guilty to Killing Indian-Born Engineer After Telling Him ‘Get Out of My Country’ (Time, 3/7/18)

“A Kansas man pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing an Indian-born engineer and wounding two others inside a bar last year in a high-profile shooting federal authorities say was a hate crime.” 


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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