Migration News for Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tonight’s news begins with two inspiring stories: an immigrant ESL teacher in St. Paul and a DACA recipient who is a lawyer and activist at the border.

As an immigrant herself, Eugenia Popa brings empathy and compassion to her work as an ESL teacher. (Sahan Journal)

“Harding High School is one of two schools in the district with programs designed to support students with limited or interrupted educations. There, Popa works with ESL students. Most have experienced ‘layers of trauma,’ Popa said. 

“Abbas Fahim’s father was a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, but lost his job. He was granted a special visa for his service, and brought his family to St. Paul in 2016.

“Fahim was uprooted at a critical developmental stage, and struggled with the new language and culture. He has had many good teachers in the years since immigrating, he said, but Popa stands out. ‘She understands that I come from a country that hasn’t had peace in 40 years,’ he said. ‘She understands I am an immigrant like she was.’” 

Lawyer, activist, DACA recipient—Dulcia Garcia got permission to return to Mexico for 60 days to work with people in the border camps helped by her Border Angels organization. (San Diego Tribune)

“’I’m already disillusioned,’ she said as soft rain splattered on her face shield after she handed out supplies. ‘Mexico and America are both parts of me. They’re both failing. It’s complete heartbreak.’

“Under the Trump administration, officials implemented policy after policy that restricted access to the U.S. asylum system — as well as access to U.S. soil — for migrants fleeing their home countries and seeking protection at the southwest border. …

“Though President Joe Biden campaigned on making a ‘humane’ asylum system, he has yet to implement that promise….

“’I told myself I was going to take it easy now that Biden is in office — gosh, I was so wrong,’ Garcia said. ‘Things were supposed to have been easier.’ 

“In her first days, she quickly installed portable toilets at the tent camp. And, she began to visit the wide range of shelters that Border Angels supports through donations — a total of 18 after she added to the list during her stay.” 

Biden Administration: Resetting Priorities, Visa Delays, Legal Orientation Program

ICE priorities have been re-set under the Biden administration, resulting in a much lower number of arrests and deportations. In April, fewer than 3,000 people were deported. That number, of course, does not include more than 100,000 who were expelled at the border, immediately after crossing. ICE enforcement actions largely take place in the nation’s interior, not at the border. (Washington Post)

“ICE under President Biden is an agency on probation. The new administration has rejected calls from some Democrats to eliminate the agency entirely, but Biden has placed ICE deportation officers on a leash so tight that some say their work is being functionally abolished….

“John Sandweg, who was the agency’s acting director in 2013 and 2014, said ICE officers have become skilled at making lists of people to target for arrest and then going out and finding them. He is among those arguing for a shift to more investigative work, and a major effort to rebuild partnerships with urban police departments in cities where immigrants are often victimized by criminals in their own communities.” 

Biden has eased or eliminated many of the previous administration’s visa restrictions, but that does not make getting a visa easier—or even possible—if visa offices remain closed. (The Hill)

“As of April, about three-fourths of the State Department’s embassies and consulates were at least partially closed, leaving few staff on hand to process visas for those who are no longer blocked by Trump’s order.

“;The on-the-ground reality is only marginally affected by the change in administration and policies,’ said David Bier, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who analyzed the number of partially closed embassies and consulates….

“There were more than 500,000 immigrant visa applicants ready for interviews at the end of April, with about 22,000 scheduled for this month. That’s roughly a third of the average of 60,000 visa appointments pre-pandemic.

“And that’s on top of another 3.7 million people who have submitted an initial application to join family in the U.S.”

The Trump administration tried to end the Legal Orientation Program, which offers limited legal information to immigrants in detention. Now advocates worry that restrictions proposed by the Biden administration will further handicap the program. (The Hill)

“The groups worry that contract clauses focusing on efficiency and limiting referrals could limit the benefits of the program to migrants.

“The current contract would limit attorneys from referring someone for free legal representation within the same organization, creating challenges in rural areas that may only be served by one nonprofit.

“More than half of migrants do not have representation in immigration courts….

“The contract forwarded by DOJ would also keep the same billing structure negotiated under the Trump administration, which moved from a flat fee to requiring organizations to keep track of billable hours. The organizations argue the payment structure leads to inconsistent funding, making it difficult to keep enough staff on hand for the workload.”

Shadow Wins and Border Deaths

ICE holds immigrants in detention for months, even years. Then, if it looks like the immigrant will win their case, ICE often releases them, thereby avoiding a judicial ruling that could set a precedent for others. (Pro Publica)

“Without a clear legal standard, it falls to individual detainees to challenge their detentions. One of the detainees whose case was covered in the Tulane report told ProPublica that he found out about the option to file a petition when studying in the detention center library. He’s now assisting current detainees with habeas petitions, while awaiting a final decision in his immigration-court case; he spoke anonymously to avoid affecting his case’s outcome.

“Immigrants almost never got favorable rulings; judges ordered a release in five of the nearly 500 Louisiana cases analyzed. In 112 of the cases, ICE released detainees while their petitions were pending, allowing the judge to dismiss the cases. These ‘shadow wins,’ as the study authors call them, were almost as common as cases that ended because the immigrant was deported.”

As summer temperatures rise, so does the death toll for migrants. Smugglers leave some five or ten or fifty miles from safety. Last year, migrant aid groups counted 227 deaths in Arizona alone. (AP)

“Every week, migrant rights activist Eduardo Canales fills up blue water drums that are spread throughout a vast valley of Texas ranchlands and brush. They are there for migrants who venture into the rough terrain to avoid being caught and sent back to Mexico.

“The stretch of land 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of the U.S.-Mexico border is dangerous, and many have died. But some migrants — usually single adults — are willing to take the risk, walking through the shrub-invaded grasslands on the sprawling ranches, seeking dirt paths to circumvent a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on a major highway where agents verify people’s immigration status.

“’People die here. People get lost. People are never heard of again. They go missing,’ said Canales, director of the South Texas Human Rights Center.”

Last year, the Trump administration stripped immigration judges of the protection of a union. Will the Biden administration recognize the union again? (Roll Call)

“In a letter first obtained by CQ Roll Call, Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and immigration subcommittee Chairman Alex Padilla, D-Calif., led an effort asking Garland to restore independence for immigration judges, who fall under Justice Department jurisdiction….

“Without union protection, immigration judges ‘will be less independent and more susceptible to political pressure,’ they added.

“The senators also asked Garland how his department plans to revise its policy on free speech rights of immigration judges. The union sued the Justice Department in federal court last year over a policy barring immigration judges from discussing immigration law in their personal capacities, including during interviews with journalists and at academic conferences.”

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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