The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: This Week in Immigration News

what. have we. become

Good first, because we need some good news: Today, August 2, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss threw out Trump’s anti-asylum rule, which said no one entering without authorization could apply for asylum. A California judge had already ordered a temporary halt to enforcement of the rule while the court heard arguments and made a decision on the merits. Judge Moss simply said no: the rule is illegal and it’s out.  

;More good news: the number of naturalization applications has increased to almost one million per year, 

“President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign and his administration’s restrictive immigration policies since assuming office have been credited with motivating immigrants to seek citizenship. The number of pending cases also increased substantially, from 518,707 at the end of FY 2016 to 728,301 at the end of FY 2017.

“By the end of FY 2017, a large majority of USCIS field offices averaged wait times longer than seven months for a naturalization application to be processed, with some offices averaging as high as 14 to 15 months. The recent increase in applications has contributed to this backlog, but advocates have also accused the Trump administration—as part of its efforts to limit immigration and the benefits available to noncitizens—of intentionally slowing the naturalization process, among other immigration benefits such as legal permanent residency.” 

And finally: Temporary Protected Status for 7,000 Syrians already in the United States has been extended for 18 months. 

The Bad

The import of last week’s surprise signing of some kind of agreement with Guatemala for return of refugees who have passed through that country continues to be unclear, as does the legal status of the agreement in Guatemala, where the Constitutional Court already said the president could not sign a “safe third country” agreement. Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, said this week that the administration is now pushing for similar agreements with Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, and Brazil. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee set aside its normal rules of procedure to approve Senator Phil Graham’s anti-immigrant bill

“Ripping up a copy of the committee’s rules, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a former chairman of the panel, questioned why normal rules were being discarded.

“Apparently, it’s for legislation to give the president what he wants in his political war on immigration,” Leahy said.

“It’s supposed to be the Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Donald Trump committee.”…

“The bill would change existing law, which limits family detentions to 20 days for migrants traveling with children and requires them to be released pending asylum hearings. Instead, Graham’s bill would allow longer detentions by doing away with the limits, which have been part of the so-called Flores legal settlement.

“Among other changes, the legislation would restructure asylum law to have applicants apply in Mexico and other countries, rather than when they arrive at the U.S. border”

The Ugly

Further reports of deaths among asylum seekers came this week, along with ore documentation of continuing separation of children from their families. 

Frankie Madrid, a Mexican national who entered the United States at the age of six months, killed himself after being deported. He had sought asylum because he was gay. 

“The day before he died, he and [his U.S. citizen brother] Beto had spoken by phone for an hour. Beto pleaded with him, but he feared he was too far away to reach him. I’m doing heroin,Frankie told him, because I want to kill myself. Not because I want to get high.

“Frankie had been deported from the United States because he was an “illegal alien,” but he was an alien in Mexico, the place where he was born. He knew he wouldn’t see his daughter grow up or his mother grow old. He wouldn’t be there to babysit his nieces and nephew. He wouldn’t be there to tell his older sister, Dulce, that she could make it through anything or remind his younger brothers, Johnny and Beto, that their U.S. citizenship comes with privileges. The leaves would turn colors in Flagstaff, his hometown, and he wouldn’t be there to hike the mountains or organize volunteers at the Pride festival or speak out at the City Council or drop in on the mayor. In Flagstaff, he was Frankie. In Hermosillo, he wasn’t anymore.” 

A 32-year-old man from El Salvador died in the custody of Customs and Border Protection this week. 

A 20-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker, Vivian Mendoza, was  returned to Mexico under the Remain in Mexico program. She drowned while trying to re-enter the United States. Her next hearing was set for September. 

The ACLU turned up evidence of 911 children separated from their families since the “end” of family separation. Now the U.S. government claims it has reasons for separating children from their families, for their own good:

“In a lengthy court filing in U.S. District Court in San Diego, lawyers wrote that one migrant lost his daughter because a U.S. Border Patrol agent claimed that he had failed to change the girl’s diaper. Another migrant lost his child because of an outstanding warrant on a destruction of property charge with alleged damage of $5. One father, who lawyers say has a speech impediment, was separated from his 4-year-old son because he could not clearly answer Customs and Border Protection agents’ questions….

“More than 40% of the separated children were 5 years old or younger. Children spent nearly four months in federal custody, on average, in part because it was difficult for lawyers and case workers to locate their parents and assess the reason they were separated.”

Of course, it’s all necessary for national security

“One of the country’s top border officers cannot say whether a 3-year-old child might pose a “criminal or national security threat.” This was one of a number of astonishing takeaways from Thursday’s latest hearing into family separation.

“The 3-year-old in question was Sofi, a little girl who was separated from her grandmother after they arrived at a port of entry in El Paso, Texas, last June seeking asylum. She was separated from her family for 47 days, until they were reunited with the help of an advocacy group called Immigrant Families Together.* Chief of Law Enforcement Operations for Customs and Border Protection Brian S. Hastings still isn’t sure if she posed a threat, he told Rep. Ted Lieu during the Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.”

Moving Forward

Angry? Me, too. And we can take action. 

Rewire reported on court watch programs, including the Advocates for Human Rights project in Minnesota:

“For those who want to contribute, there is a simple way that doesn’t require donating money, living in a border town, or speaking Spanish: volunteering as a court observer.

“Court observers attend asylum hearings to shed light on the immigration court system, which is among the least transparent institutions of the justice system. Qualifications are minimal—one needs only a valid government photo ID and the ability to observe in silence and take legible notes, since recording devices aren’t allowed. …

“The system is designed to operate for the benefit of the system and not the public,” [Advocates’ Michelle Garnett] McKenzie said. “Without public engagement there is no sunshine, no transparency. Transparency and accountability are fundamental to protecting the human rights of the people.”” 

For other suggestions for action, see Eight Things You Can Do to Support Immigrants and Refugees.

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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