Immigration News from Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Asylum delayed amounts to asylum denied, with often-deadly consequences. Cristian San Martín Estrada was murdered in Mexico Monday night, a few days before he was scheduled to enter the United States. Afghanistan, a man who worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces was killed by the Taliban while waiting for a visa. Other asylum applicants forced to wait in Mexico have had their cases dismissed because they could not get to their court dates. 

It’s too late for one Afghan interpreter who was killed because of his service to the United States, but perhaps his family will find safety in the United States. (Stars and Stripes)

“The man, known by the pseudonym Mohammad, worked for 12 years for the U.S. Embassy and military in Afghanistan and is believed to have been killed by Taliban insurgents while waiting for a U.S. immigration visa.

“His widow and six children continued to face threats after his murder and applied for humanitarian parole, a status that allows those under immediate threat to seek refuge in the United States.

“Their application was approved last week and advocacy groups are ready to greet them, said Cress Clippard, a Marine veteran and a volunteer for the Houston-based Combined Arms SIVs and Allies.”

They risked everything to work for the United States. Now they are being left behind. (Associated Press)

“He served as an interpreter alongside U.S. soldiers on hundreds of patrols and dozens of firefights in eastern Afghanistan, earning a glowing letter of recommendation from an American platoon commander and a medal of commendation.

“Still, Ayazudin Hilal was turned down when he applied for one of the scarce special visas that would allow him to relocate to the United States with his family. Now, as American and NATO forces prepare to leave the country, he and thousands of others who aided the war effort fear they will be left stranded, facing the prospect of Taliban reprisals.

“’We are not safe,’ the 41-year-old father of six said of Afghan civilians who worked for the U.S. or NATO. ‘The Taliban is calling us and telling us, ’Your stepbrother is leaving the country soon, and we will kill all of you guys.’’…

“At least 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016, and the Taliban have made it clear they will continue to be targeted, said Matt Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, an organization that advocates on behalf of the interpreters. He also served in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army officer.”

Many asylum seekers in the “Remain in Mexico” status had their cases dismissed because they did not show up at their immigration court hearings. Some could not get there in time because of transportation or lengthy waits at the border crossing or lack of notice. Others missed because of threats and fear for their lives. (BuzzFeed News)

“On the day of her first immigration court hearing, Veronica had two choices: miss her family’s chance at getting asylum in the US, or return to the border city where the cartel had threatened to kill them.

“Veronica, an asylum-seeker from El Salvador who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear for her safety, chose to miss her court hearing and stay put in Mexico City. The 24-year-old said she tried calling the court to explain why she and her family couldn’t make it, but no one ever picked up. In February 2020, a judge ordered them deported for not showing up….

“So far, the administration has mostly only allowed those with open cases to enter the US, leaving those with removal orders like Veronica waiting in Mexico with the hopes that one day it will be her turn.

“In recent weeks, Homeland Security officials have agreed that those ordered deported in absentia should have their cases reopened, according to government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. The move would clear the way for them to be allowed back into the US and pursue their asylum cases, but it’s unclear when this next phase of the rollback would be implemented….

“‘It’s like seeking refuge in Canada and being sent to wait in Afghanistan where you might be killed,’ Dante, a 26-year-old asylum-seeker from Cuba, told BuzzFeed News. ‘But if you don’t show up to your hearing, you get ordered deported. One way or another, you get screwed.'”

While more than 10,000 “Remain in Mexico” asylum seekers have been allowed to enter the United States, many thousands more are still waiting—and besides those in the “Remain in Mexico” situation, the practice of metering kept thousands more from even approaching the border and asking for asylum. They, too, still wait. (Border Report)

“The U.S. government as of Friday had taken 10,707 international citizens out of MPP and let them continue their claims from inside the United States, a United Nations official told Border Report. Three out of four of those returnees came in through the El Paso or the Brownsville, Texas ports of entry, with Cubans and Venezuelans having the greatest success in getting the “parole” designation, according to a May 11 report by the TRAC system at Syracuse University.

“Migrant advocates opposed MPP since its 2019 inception, arguing it sent vulnerable families to Mexican border cities where drug gangs operate and migrants are often victims of extortion, robbery, kidnapping or rape. The Trump administration placed more than 65,000 asylum-seekers on the program. The Biden administration began the MPP rollback on Feb. 19 and estimated that 25,000 would qualify based on active cases.” 

Meanwhile, asylum seekers continue to be expelled back to Mexico under the specious Title 42 “public health” rule. (PRI)

“In April, US officials apprehended migrants more than 170,000 times. The vast majority of people are turned back under Title 42, including migrants like Luis and his 9-year-old daughter from Honduras. Their full names aren’t being used for security reasons.

“‘We were turned back so fast, within an hour and a half,’ he said….

“Over the video call, Luis showed a small pile of Ziploc bags in their room. One holds medicine, another catheter tubes — all donated. His daughter needs surgery, he said. While he talked, she rested on a mattress on the floor….

“More recently, Luis got good news. He was told to go back to the border, the port of entry, and that US immigration officials would allow him to enter and seek asylum from within the US.”

Undocumented Haitians in the United States, or those crossing the border to apply for refugee status, have been expelled by the Biden administration. Advocates insist that the Biden administration must redesignate Temporary Protected Status to allow these Haitians a temporary safe haven—as the administration has done for nationals of Venezuela, Myanmar, and Syria. (The Hill)

“The Biden administration on Tuesday broke its silence on Haiti, with Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, delivering a scathing reproach of Moïse’s government.

“‘Legislative elections that should have been held in 2019 are long overdue. And, what has been the result of this delay? An unchecked executive power since January 2020, as the lower house no longer exists, and there are too few Senators to reach a quorum,’ Chung said in a statement commemorating Haitian Flag Day.

“‘There is no separation of powers and no way for the branches of government to hold one another accountable. This situation calls into question the core precepts of Haiti’s democracy,’ said Chung….

“‘The State Department finally getting on board and naming it is wonderful, but what would be more helpful would be to create a sense of safety for Haitian migrants,’ Gassama added.

‘TPS allows foreign nationals of a designated country to live and work in the United States during natural or man-made disasters in their home countries. Haiti’s worsening political turmoil has led to massive protests, unrest and crime in the country, a situation Gassama called ‘a textbook case for TPS.'”

The ACLU lawsuit against Title 42 “public health” expulsions remains on hold during negotiations with the Biden administration. Now the administration has agreed to admit more than 7,000 people monthly under a humanitarian exception. (CBS News)

“Under the new agreement, the Biden administration has committed to processing up to 250 asylum-seekers deemed to be vulnerable by advocacy groups on a daily basis and permitting them to continue their legal cases on American soil. 

“Those eligible would be exempted from the Title 42 policy, a Trump-era public health edict under which most single adult migrants and some families with children continue to be expelled from the U.S. without a chance to seek asylum.” 

Confusion is the rule as some restrictions on entry are lifted for some asylum seekers—but no one is sure who can get in or why, under the “humanitarian exceptions” to the Title 42 rule. (Associated Press)

“Domingo Antonio Zeledon traveled for nearly three weeks from his hometown in Nicaragua, leaving behind his wife and three youngest children to come to the United States with his 17-year-old son.

“The 39-year-old couldn’t support his family on earnings equivalent to $5 a day. Even after crossing the border in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and receiving a COVID-19 test while detained, he didn’t think he would be allowed to stay in the U.S. to seek asylum. Other migrants assured him he would not.

“’I don’t know why I was not expelled like others,’ Zeledon said at a shelter in McAllen, Texas, last week as he prepared to leave for Wisconsin to join a friend and work construction.”

Watching the Children

From the front lines, the vice-president of Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) makes concrete suggestions for what needs to be done. (The Hill)

“The bottleneck of children currently at the U.S.-Mexico border caused by the Trump administration’s closing of the border to children seeking safety for one year and by the limitations on Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shelter space because of COVID-19 is both a challenge and opportunity. Reopening the border to these children was the right — and far more difficult — approach. …

“The good news is that there are many short- and long-term actions that will start to move the nation along a path to a reimagined immigration system. The government should:

• Hire child welfare professionals to oversee care of children in CBP custody;

• Co-locate Homeland Security and HHS professionals in border facilities to expedite the safe release of children to sponsors;

• Ensure children’s appropriate care in and prompt and safe release from ORR custody by hiring more staff, establishing standards and robust oversight of emergency intake facilities, and expanding ORR’s capacity of licensed placements;

• Provide post-release services to all children, including legal representation and social services;

• Rescind the Title 42 policy and ensure processing of all unaccompanied children, as required by the law; and

• Address the root causes of migration and expand pathways to protection in the region.” 

As the Biden administration tries to place 20,000 children with family members, they wait in temporary, emergency shelters with multiple, serious problems. (New York Times

“In a federal shelter in Dallas, migrant children sleep in a windowless convention center room under fluorescent lights that never go dark.

“At a military base in El Paso, teenagers pile onto bunk cots, and some say they have gone days without bathing.’…

“There is broad agreement that the emergency shelters, run by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, are an improvement over the Border Patrol facilities. But interviews with children’s advocates and a review of weeks of internal reports obtained by The New York Times paint a picture of a shelter system with wildly varying conditions, some of which are far below the standard of care that the Biden administration has promised.”

The process of reuniting separated families is agonizingly slow, but it is moving forward.

“Now the parents of 391 children have yet to be reached, down from 445 in April. And pro bono lawyers commissioned to find them by a federal judge say the parents of 227 of those children have been deported, 100 are somewhere in the U.S. and 14 have no contact information that the government has provided. (NBC News)

“The Biden administration set up a task force to reunite separated parents, and the task force is working with the lawyers to bring back deported parents who have been identified. This month, the first four families were reunited.”

And Other News

Sahan Journal’s obituary paints a detailed and in-depth portrait of the late Kao Ly Ilean Her. 

“A passionate advocate for the arts, Her held a central role in starting the Dragon Festival, an annual gathering which celebrates pan-Asian identities across Minnesota. Thanks to her work—at Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together, Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, and other organizations—friends and family say her legacy lives on.

“Longtime friend Pa Der Vang said people of color and refugees often feel pressure to tell a positive story about success, after arriving in the U.S. with just “the clothes on your back.” Her embodied such a success story, growing up in a refugee camp to become an attorney. But she didn’t buy into the myth of meritocracy. 

“‘She recognized that there were structural barriers that resulted in social injustices faced by  many communities of color,” Vang said. Her concentrated on helping other community members “break down those barriers,’ Vang added, ‘even though she had the resilience, the hard work, the fortitude and intelligence to really make it in her own life.’”

The Biden administration has changed priorities for arresting undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, ordering that ICE target people with criminal histories that make them public safety threats.  That has dramatically reduced arrests. (BuzzFeed News)

“‘If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Here, by setting priorities, you get more effective law enforcement. What [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas] has done is focus our scarce law enforcement resources on the most pressing threats,’ the [anonymous ICE] official said.

“As the overall number of arrests and deportations have fallen precipitously, Biden officials have faced criticism from former DHS leaders who believe the agency’s priorities have not only created a ‘sanctuary’ across the country for undocumented immigrants, but have also dramatically scaled back the work officers signed up to do. The agency arrested just over 3,000 noncitizens in April, about half the number of arrests when compared to the averages of the last three months of the Trump administration.”

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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