Immigration News from August 18-19, 2021

Personal note: my computer is home again! While it was in for repairs, I had some difficulty in news gathering / writing / everything computer-related, which is why this week has only two immigration news summaries, despite plenty of news.

Tonight’s news update includes sections on 

  • the refugee situation in Afghanistan; 
  • the Biden administration’s new plan for asylum decisions; 
  • Texas judges ruling against Biden administration policies;
  • and more. 

Afghan refugees

Minnesota is ready to welcome Afghan refugees, say Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan in a letter to President Biden. (Fox 9)

“‘Minnesotans believe in treating all people with respect and dignity, and we have a strong tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge and supporting them to rebuild their lives and become part of our communities,’ the letter reads. ‘Minnesota is eager to uphold that tradition by welcoming families and children and providing the stable foundation they need to rebuild their lives, achieve their highest potential, and contribute to our state.'”

Both Democratic and Republican governors have offered to take in Afghan refugees. While some used their statements to attack President Biden, others seemed more sincere: (NBC)

“‘Utah was settled by refugees fleeing religious persecution. We understand the pain caused by forced migration and appreciate the contributions of refugees in our communities,’ the state’s Republican governor, Spencer Cox, tweeted on Tuesday.

“Cox has written a letter to President Joe Biden offering to ‘assist with the resettlement of individuals and families fleeing Afghanistan, especially those who valiantly helped U.S. troops, diplomats, journalists, and other civilians over the past 20 years.'”

Did fear of right-wing backlash contribute to delays in evacuating Afghan refugees? Catherine Rampell, an opinion writer at the Washington Post, says that would be consistent with other Biden administration actions on immigration. (Washington Post)

“People involved in White House discussions said they were told that fear of nativist backlash was a major factor delaying relocation of Afghan interpreters and other allies to U.S. soil, and that this was why the administration was trying to persuade a “third country” to accept our wartime allies.

“The White House denies that political cowardice caused its foot-dragging. But if true, this wouldn’t be the first time fear of right-wing blowhards distorted Biden’s immigration policies.

“In February, Biden announced he was lifting Donald Trump’s draconian restrictions on worldwide refugee admissions. Then, inexplicably, Biden didn’t sign the paperwork to put his change into effect. Refugees who’d already been fully vetted, approved and booked onto flights by the State Department were left stranded….

“Here’s the thing Biden never learned: No matter what he does, these bad-faith demagogues will accuse him of “open borders.” So he might as well pursue the policies he thinks are right and not let decisions be dictated by fear of how Fox News might frame them.” 

The Biden administration failed to move fast enough to get Afghans out of the country before U.S. withdrawal. (Religion News)

” In May, leaders at LIRS, one of several faith-based agencies contracted with the U.S. government to resettle refugees in the United States, sent a letter to the Biden administration requesting it remove Afghan civilians (and their families) who have worked with the U.S. before its planned troop withdrawal. 

“Anyone familiar with the ‘bureaucratic maze’ that is the country’s Special Immigrant Visa process knew the State Department visa office wouldn’t be agile enough to respond to the urgent need for evacuations, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of LIRS….

“’We have been in touch with countless SIV recipients who have been desperate to leave Afghanistan for months and have not been able to due to insufficient financial resources and inadequate flight accessibility through international organizations,’ she said.”

Want to help Afghan refugees? One easy way: donate frequent flyer miles. (Forbes)

“Have travel limitations during the pandemic left you sitting on a slush fund of frequent flyer miles? You can use them for good right now by donating your airline miles to Miles4Migrants. The nonprofit charity organization accepts donations of frequent flyer miles to fund flights for refugees to their new homes.

“The refugee crisis in Afghanistan alone has motivated travelers worldwide to pledge more than 52 million frequent flyer miles and credit card points (along with $15,000 in travel vouchers and $100,000 in cash donations) to the organization in the last two days alone. But Miles4Migrants can still use more support to help refugees and asylum-seekers worldwide reach safe homes.” 

New asylum rule proposed

A proposed regulation would give asylum officers at the border the authority to adjudicate asylum cases, rather than detaining asylum seekers and putting them in a years-long immigration court queue. (Migration Policy Institute)

“At its simplest, the proposed rule unveiled Wednesday would shift asylum decisions from being made by immigration judges in courtrooms to being adjudicated in interviews with asylum officers specially trained to decide protection claims. At present, asylum officers decide asylum cases when they arise within the United States; in fiscal year (FY) 2020, they completed nearly 79,000 applications in the affirmative asylum caseload. The border has been treated differently because asylum applicants are already in removal proceedings for having crossed the border without authorization, and so they enter a separate and much slower “defensive asylum” process before the immigration courts. The proposed rule would permit border asylum cases to be decided by asylum officers, as all other asylum cases are, with immigration courts then serving more like an appellate body should a denied applicant seek review….

“Under the Biden administration rule, asylum officers also would resolve two other protection claims against deportation: withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture. Currently, only immigration judges can resolve such claims. Thus, if a case is denied by an asylum officer and reviewed by immigration courts, all potential claims for relief would already have been heard, adding to the ability of immigration judges to better manage their caseloads.”

The new rule will not take effect immediately. First, it will be published in the Federal Register on Friday. After a 60-day period for public comment, revisions may be made. Only then will the final rule be published and go into effect. (CBS)

“Under the new plan, asylum-seekers placed in expedited deportation proceedings would have their cases heard by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers if they establish credible fear of being persecuted in their home country.

“The USCIS officers would be permitted to grant eligible migrant adults and families asylum, which would allow them to stay in the U.S. permanently. If asylum is denied, migrants could ask an immigration judge to reconsider the case. If that is unsuccessful or no appeal is filed, migrants could be swiftly deported….

“Another change the Biden administration included in the proposed rule would allow the government to release migrants from detention while they await the result of their interviews with asylum officers. The proposed rule would allow officials to parole, or release, migrants on the grounds that ‘detention is unavailable or impracticable.'”

While the rule would save time and resources, it will also generate opposition. (Reuters)

“The Biden administration aims to hire an additional 1,000 asylum officers and another 1,000 support staff, a senior DHS official told Reuters ahead of the announcement. …

“The new rule could trigger backlash among both immigration hardliners and liberals, since it would allow immigrants to be released, but at the same time could speed up deportations for those who lose their cases.”

Bad decisions from Texas 

Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump-appointed Texas federal judge has ordered an end to Biden administration policies setting priorities for enforcement against undocumented immigrants living inside the United States. The administration priorities focus on those who pose a threat to public safety and not on immigrants who have long-standing ties to their communities and employers and U.S. citizen family members. (CBS)

“Biden administration officials have argued that the limits on ICE arrests allow the agency to focus its finite resources on detaining immigrants with serious criminal convictions, while sparing undocumented immigrants without criminal records who have lived in the U.S. for years….

“Thursday’s ruling is the latest judicial defeat for the Biden administration. It’s also another victory for Texas, which filed lawsuits against the deportation moratorium and enforcement priorities alongside other Republican-led states.”

Judge Drew Tipton said that the government may not exercise discretion in immigration enforcement. (Buzzfeed)

“Unlike the Trump administration, which treated every undocumented immigrant as a priority for arrest and removal, Biden wants to target certain types of undocumented immigrants, primarily those with past convictions for certain crimes. Conservative critics say officers have been hamstrung and effectively told not to do their jobs….

“The priorities issued by the Biden administration outlined that the groups of people ICE officers will focus on include those suspected of being a national security threat, recent border crossers, and those who are considered a public safety threat. The agency said that means people who were ‘convicted of an aggravated felony or engaged in certain activity as part of a criminal gang or transnational criminal organization and there is reason to believe they currently pose a threat.’”

Earlier this month, another Trump-appointed judge ordered the Biden administration to reinstate Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy, which bars asylum seekers from entering the United States. The Biden administration, which suspended the policy as soon as it took office, has appealed. (Roll Call)

“Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, predicted that if the administration loses on appeal, it would attempt to rescind the immigration program again in a way that meets administrative law requirements. In the meantime, the administration could also re-implement the policy ‘extremely sparingly,’ so that few migrants would be forced back to Mexico under it….

” Human rights advocates have slammed the policy, implemented in January 2020 by the Trump administration, for forcing vulnerable migrants to wait in dangerous areas of Mexico, where they had limited access to legal services and other resources. Researchers with Human Rights First have documented more than 1,500 publicly reported instances of rapes, murders, kidnappings and other attacks against migrants pushed back to Mexico under the program….

“Mayorkas permanently ended what are known as the Migrant Protection Protocols in a seven-page memo on June 1. The memo said the policy ‘does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management in such a way as to justify the program’s extensive operational burdens and other shortfalls.'” 

And in other news

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will set up new programs with nonprofits to provide case management for Alternatives to Detention. A similar pilot program begun under the Obama administration and shut down under the Trump administration had “high rates of compliance, with 99% attendance at immigration court proceedings and 99% compliance with ICE monitoring requirements.” (Border Report)

“The expanded services to be provided include:

• Mental health counseling
• Human and sex trafficking screening
• Legal orientation programs
• Cultural orientation programs 
• Social services

Repatriation travel plans and reintegration support for those returning to their home countries

“The new pilot program will provide voluntary case management and other counseling services to noncitizens who are in immigration removal proceedings to ensure they have access to legal aid and other necessary services to make their claims to remain in the United States. The program will also supplement the agency’s existing Alternatives to Detention programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”

Some Biden administration officials have privately discussed reviving Trump’s Remain-in-Mexico policy of requiring asylum seekers to remain outside the United States while their cases make their way through immigration courts. President Biden suspended the policy on his first day in office. A federal judge in Texas this month ordered the policy reinstated, and the Biden administration has filed a notice of appeal of that decision. (Vice)

“President Joe Biden has maintained a Trump-era pandemic rule that allows the U.S. to summarily expel asylum seekers back to Mexico, without giving them a chance to apply for protection. He went a step further this month, when the U.S. began flying migrants apprehended at the border to southern Mexico—where they are put on buses and dumped in Guatemala—in an effort to prevent them from returning to the U.S. Many are young children.

“In the biggest about-face, senior U.S. officials have privately discussed reviving the Trump-era policy Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), colloquially known as “Remain in Mexico,” in order to manage the number of migrants arriving at the border, according to three sources with knowledge of the discussions. Under the policy, the U.S. sent more than 70,000 asylum seekers from 2019-2021 to some of Mexico’s most dangerous border cities to wait while their immigration cases were decided….

“Senior officials considered reviving MPP even before a federal judge’s decision last week ordering its immediate reimplementation, the sources said.”

People who were deported or denied re-entry under Trump administration rules remain separated from their families. Ruiz Arévalos was denied under Trump’s public charge rule, which was implemented for people applying for visas at consulates outside the United States. Court challenges meant the rule was never put in place inside the United States—but 21,000 visa applicants were denied at consulates abroad. (San Francisco Examiner)

“There are reminders of José Luis Ruiz Arévalos everywhere in the three-bedroom trailer where his wife and four children live in the small Central Valley city of Los Banos: the family photos along the hallway, the triple bunk bed he built to accommodate a growing family, the fence he installed out front.

“But Ruiz Arévalos isn’t there. After he was forced to stay in Mexico two years ago, the college plans for the three oldest children have unraveled. The oldest dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Army Reserve. The second oldest is prioritizing work while studying. And their younger brother, a senior in high school, caught the eye of Harvard recruiters but instead is considering vocational school closer to home.” 

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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