Between norovirus (actual, at home) and coronavirus (threatening, in news) and Super Tuesday, I haven’t been keeping this blog up to date. Some of the highlights (or low points) from the past week or two include another proposed fee increase, the on-again, off-again injunction against Remain in Mexico, threats to deport Hmong and Lao immigrants to countries where they have never lived, U.S. Army and Border Patrol blowing up a national monument on the border, implementation of the Trump administration’s new wealth test for immigrants, more Trump administration attacks on sanctuary cities, and continuing gross violations of human rights of asylum seekers. Read on …
The latest fee increase is proposed as a new federal regulation from the Department of Justice, which runs immigration courts. The increases would apply to appeals from immigration officer or immigration judge decisions. The biggest increase: from $110 to $975 to file an appeal. So, if a Border Patrol officer acting as an asylum officer denies your asylum request, or if an immigration judge orders you deported away from your U.S. citizen spouse and four U.S. citizen children after you have lived and worked in the United States for 30 years—pay up or get deported without an appeal. You can file a comment opposing this regulation. The deadline for comment is March 30, 2020.
This DOJ proposal follows the Department of Homeland Security/USCIS regulation that will raise application fees and impose a fee on asylum seekers for the first time. That regulation is still pending, while DOJ considers the 12,105 comments submitted.
In a good news / bad news day, the Ninth Circuit issued an injunction on February 28 to halt the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings. That exposes them to hunger, cold, homelessness, and pervasive violence including kidnappings, rape, torture, and other violent attacks. The Ninth Circuit ruled that this policy put lives in danger—and then stayed its only ruling on the same day. Watch for further developments, any time, any day.
More than four thousand Hmong immigrants are targeted for deportation by the Trump administration, and Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum is among those trying to stop this travesty. She wrote in an op/ed in the Star Tribune:
“I recently received a letter from a St. Paul constituent at risk of deportation. He wrote that his father fought with Gen. Vang Pao in Laos, and they fled after the war. He arrived in the U.S. as a 5-month-old refugee. His mother eventually became a naturalized citizen and she assumed her son would automatically become a citizen. This was not the case and he now is facing deportation to Laos as a result of a past criminal record.
“He writes: ‘I am now 44 years of age and I am no longer committing crimes. I have a family, I work and pay taxes, and I live a very frugal, and humble, ordinary life … it is inhumane to send someone to a country they’ve never lived in, nor speak the language.’
“I completely agree — it is inhumane. It is cruel. And it can be a matter of life and death.”
And from the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument:
“U.S. Army and Border Patrol officials hosted an unusual event in the Sonoran Desert on Wednesday, inviting members of the press to watch as they blew up a portion of a national monument in support of the president’s ongoing effort to wall off the United States from Mexico.
“Presented as a run-of-the mill construction project, the explosives detonated on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona went off just as the chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation — a Native American tribe with deep historic and cultural ties to the area — offered testimony in Washington, D.C. regarding the Trump administration’s desecration of O’odham lands.”
The wealth test for immigrants, also known as the public charge rule, went into effect as the Supreme Court lifted all injunctions that had delayed it while court cases make their way through the legal system. The cases continue, but the wealth test can now be used to bar applicants for visas. Just as significantly: the “public benefit” portion of the wealth test is already scaring people into giving up benefits for themselves and their children.
“It’s a ‘major, major rule change with really huge ramifications, much of which are chilling people from applying [for benefits], even if it doesn’t apply to them,’ said Liz Schott, a senior fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.”
“In reality, the new regulations could make it harder for some people with middle incomes to come to the U.S. as well as those who are sick or impoverished.
“The act of applying for a permanent green card itself will be counted against an applicant by the Department of Homeland Security.
“Factors that could potentially hurt an immigrant’s chances at a green card:
- Not having an income that is 250% of the poverty line, or $76,700 for a family of five. That means some middle-income families would be hit, since an income of $58,300 for a family of five is considered a middle-level income, according to the Pew Research Center.
- Being older than 61 or younger than 18.
- Having medical issues, especially if uninsured.
- Not having private health insurance.
- Not being a full-time student or employed.
- Not speaking English proficiently.
- Having a mortgage, car loan or credit card debt.”
After announcing that it will send special tactical units into sanctuary cities, the Trump administration has continued its attacks. Reuters describes a relatively new tactic:
“Since mid-January, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued subpoenas to law enforcement agencies in California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York and Oregon seeking information about nearly two dozen suspected immigration law violators, according to the agency. …
“Federal immigration officials previously have used subpoenas to force employers or apartment buildings to hand over records or documents, according to current and former agency officials. But that legal authority was not typically employed against fellow law enforcement agencies, they said.
“Chad Sublet, an attorney for the city and county of Denver, which was served subpoenas in January for records on four inmates, said in an email to ICE at the time that the requested information was available to the agency through other means.
“’It is clear to Denver that ICE is using these administrative subpoenas for political purposes rather than pursuing a legitimate need,’ he wrote.”
The administration won a court victory against sanctuary cities when the Second Circuit said it could withhold grants from federal programs. This contradicts rulings in three other circuits, so the case will be headed to the Supreme Court.
Asylum-seekers are still being denied, deported to Guatemala, and forced to remain in Mexico. One immigration attorney described being denied authorization to represent her clients because she could not furnish their address. Because they have no address. Because they have been forced to Remain in Mexico under Trump’s “Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP).”
Another attorney’s account in the Texas Observer vividly describes the changes and injustice in the asylum system under Trump:
“Q—You told me that before Donald Trump became president, you had never lost a case.
“A—I had lost a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) case and a few work permits, but I had never lost like a U or a T visa [special visas intended for victims of certain crimes and trafficking] or anything big like that. Now all we do is lose. The thing with immigration is they don’t care. You could write the perfect brief and nobody cares. I could get an affidavit from Jesus Christ himself and they would just throw it in the trash. It still sometimes goes our way but just less often than before. So I’m trying to shift my thinking to not be so dependent on winning, because that is not in my control anymore. I’m trying to remember that it is a big deal for people to have a good attorney who fights for them even if they lose. I know that they wouldn’t have a shot if not for me. …
“We see a lot of Africans who have very strong, egregious political cases where they were peaceful demonstrators and they had their arms hacked off or their family disappeared. In general, those should be a slam dunk. But the problem is that now anyone who entered after July 16 is basically banned from asylum [as a result of the transit ban making those who pass through other countries on the way to the United States ineligible]. And they don’t know that. When we do our asylum orientations, we always check their date of entry and then we tell them about the transit ban and they start crying. We also always had a lot of Central American cases, but now they can’t get through Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Basically, no one can win asylum right now unless their case has been pending for a long time….
“I’m not able to stop MPP, I’m not able to save all those people, but I can help one person at a time. It’s like the old saying about the starfish: I can’t save all the starfishes, but I can throw them back in the ocean one at a time.”