Immigration News: September 29, 2022

On Tuesday, a group of migrants, who were walking along a road in Texas, stopped at a water tank. When a truck drove up, they tried to hide.  They could not hide: one migrant was shot in the head and killed, and another was wounded. Two 60-year-old brothers were arrested and charged with manslaughter. One of them was the warden of a private migrant detention center.

[New York Times] “During interviews with federal agents, the migrants said that they had heard one of the men shout in Spanish for them to ‘Come out,’ peppering his language with profanity, before revving the engine of the truck, according to the affidavits. …

“The driver leaned on the truck’s hood and fired two shots at the group of migrants before climbing back in and driving away, according to the affidavits.

“One shot hit one of the migrants in the head, killing him; another shot hit a female migrant in the stomach, the official said.”

Police traced the truck and arrested two brothers, Michael and Mark Sheppard, both age 60. 

“In their interviews with the police, summarized in the affidavits, the two men said that they had been out looking for animals to shoot, first telling investigators that they had been looking for ducks, and then birds and finally javelinas, hoglike animals that are common to the drier parts of West Texas. …

“Michael Sheppard worked as the warden of the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca, a site run by LaSalle Corrections, a company that operates more than a dozen private detention facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.”

And in other news

El Paso is struggling, as the Border Patrol releases migrants on the street when shelters are filled. The city pays for hotel rooms, charter buses to take migrants to their next destinations, and meals for migrants. City council members say that FEMA reimbursement is not coming fast enough and is not enough to reimburse for the expenses incurred.

[Border Report] “‘Hearing these numbers today, this is not sustainable for the taxpayer. It isn’t,’ Salcido said. ‘You’re talking about $250,000 a day; if this goes on for another year, that’s like $89 million. I know we’re getting refunded but we’re playing catch-up.’

“City staff said El Paso has received reimbursements of $482,000 for migrant expenses incurred last year and $237,000 for the first two quarters of 2022. Mayor Leeser also said it’s a matter of time before the city has in hand a $2 million advance that the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved.

“But with migrant expenses expected to top $4 million in September, the city has asked for larger advance ($10 million) and for the federal government to reimburse it on a monthly, instead of a quarterly basis. …

“[Mayor Oscar] Leeser said city staff is committed to treating the migrants with dignity and respect, and compared their work to travel agents. 

“’We don’t want them to go to D.C., we don’t want them to go to Martha’s Vineyard,’ he said, referring to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant rides approach. ‘We don’t send people to the White House or (Vice President) Kamala’s (Harris) house. We send them where they want to go.'”

The Biden administration is making a small start toward making the asylum system work, in a pilot program that gives asylum officers the authority to grant asylum. Asylum advocates are concerned that the program does not give asylum seekers enough time to assemble documentation and find attorneys. Asylum opponents are–just opposed to anything that will make the asylum system work. 

[New York Times] “The goal is to make the system faster, in part by giving asylum officers — not just immigration judges — the power to decide who can stay and who must be turned away. Migrants will be interviewed 21 to 45 days after they apply for asylum, far faster than the years it can take in the existing immigration court system. A decision on whether the migrant is granted asylum must come quickly — within two to five weeks of the interview.

“For now, the changes are tiny; only 99 people since the end of May have completed what are called asylum merits interviews with an asylum officer and been fully evaluated under the new rules. Of those, 24 have been granted asylum, while most of the rest have had their cases sent back to the immigration court system for an appeal. …

“By allowing cases to be decided by an asylum officer, rather than a judge, officials hope to issue decisions within four to six weeks rather than the years it takes now. (Immigration judges must have a law degree and at least seven years of experience as a lawyer. Asylum officers do not need a law degree but must, among other things, participate in a five-week basic training course.)

“Currently, the administration has redirected 140 asylum officers — out of about 650 working in the agency — to conduct the new asylum merits interviews. In his budget, Mr. Biden has requested funding for a total of 800 asylum officers for the new system and 1,200 additional support staff. Officials said that would eventually allow the government to conduct 150,000 interviews each year.”

Dana Leigh Marks, president emerita of the National Association of Immigration Judges, served as an immigration judge from 1987 to 2021. Now retired, she says two changes could significantly improve the immigration system.

[Law 360] “First, we should update the current immigration law to better utilize the registry provision, which provides some long-term residents without legal status a way to become lawful permanent residents.

“Second, we should move the immigration court system out of the U.S. Department of Justice and establish it as an independent Article I court. …

“Contrary to public belief, there is no straightforward way to gain legal status in our country these days. Regardless of their best of intentions, the vast majority of noncitizens who lack lawful status have no clear or direct path to get right with the law, despite the acknowledged contributions they provide our communities.”

The U.S. refugee cap will remain at 125,000 for the coming year. (Fiscal Year 2023 begins on October 1.)  Refugee admissions this year fell far short of the target. 

[Al Jazeera] “Refugee advocates have been pushing the administration of US President Joe Biden to do more to restore the 40-year-old Refugee Admissions Program, which was gutted under the Trump administration when admissions were slashed to a record low of 15,000. …

“So far [in Fiscal Year 2022], fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted. That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the US via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee programme but only allows for stays of up to two years.”

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Burma/Myanmar has been extended, for those who already have TPS, and “redesignated,” which allows nationals of the country who are already in the United States to apply for TPS. 

[AP] People of Myanmar ‘are continuing to suffer a complex and deteriorating humanitarian crisis due to a military coup, upheaval, and security forces’ brutal violence against civilians,’ said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.”

Migrants detained in a Core Civic prison in Torrance say they have begun a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions. Core Civic says they have not missed any meals and that conditions are just fine. 

[Border Report] “The migrants began their protest on Monday demanding their release, an end to deportations and an end to ‘discriminatory’ U.S. immigration practices, according to the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

“‘The complaints include multiple migrant testimonies that detail alarming personal experiences ranging from egregious filthy conditions, medical and mental health neglect, and insufficient drinking water to prolonged detention, staff misconduct and unlawful retaliation,’ the center said in a statement on Wednesday.”

A pilot program with just 25 families has completed enrollment, offering assistance to recently-arrived refugee families. Processing of work permit applications can take many months, and migrants on humanitarian parole or waiting for visa processing are not eligible for government assistance or traditional refugee assistance programs.

[Star Tribune] “To help ease their burden, the institute worked with the city of St. Paul to launch one of the nation’s first guaranteed income programs for refugees with Special Immigrant Visas or Humanitarian Parole. The pilot program will provide 25 families with $750 a month for one year.

“The program enrolled households who have recently resettled in Minnesota and face challenges to employment. Much like St. Paul’s People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot or the Springboard for the Arts guaranteed income program — both of which gave 150 families $500 a month for 18 months — the funds are given with no strings attached. Their purpose is to supplement rather than replace other forms of income.”

As Palabristas poetry group celebrates 20 years, members look back on the founding of the group, and reflect on what it continues to mean for them, and for the community. 

[MPR] “Palabristas isn’t what some would consider a traditional poetry group. Some see poetry as being a formal, structured writing style, Castillo said.

“’And absolutely, it can be,’ she said. ‘And there’s some beautiful, prolific poets in our universe, as we know, for me, and some of my Palabristas, it’s very organic. It can be very raw, it can be very vulnerable. And as we don’t fit into a box, we don’t fit into one size of poetry style. We share our experiences in the way that feels right for us.’ …

“Palabristas is more than a poetry group, she said. It works to build engagement and foster understanding of the Latino community.”

Migrant children suffered anxiety, panic attacks, and other health problems due to inadequate staffing at the Fort Bliss center where they were housed. The problems were long-standing and made worse by record high numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border in 2021.

[CBS] “Inexperienced and untrained federal employees and contractors assigned to a child migrant housing site inside Fort Bliss were ill-equipped to place thousands of unaccompanied Central American children with family members in the U.S., prolonging their stay at the Army base, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General concluded after a year-long review. …

“Due to the large caseloads, staffing shortages, high rates of turnover and the inexperience of workers, hundreds of unaccompanied children housed at the HHS tent camp in Fort Bliss, which had the capacity to hold up to 10,000 teenage migrant boys and girls last year, went as long as two months without seeing a case manager. …

“In May 2021, CBS News reported migrant children at Fort Bliss had limited access to showers, clean clothes, case managers and educational services. At the time, many children were spending weeks at the base, despite its temporary role. In interviews with lawyers, some of them described talk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.” 

California banned private prisons. The Geo Group sued. Federal courts agreed that California’s ban must go. 

[AP] “The 11-member appellate panel said the state law is preempted by the federal government under the U.S. Constitution’s “supremacy clause.” It sent the case back to the trial court for a decision on other legal arguments.

“The Geo Group Inc., which operates two such facilities in California, sued to block the law. …

“‘AB 32 would prevent ICE’s contractors from continuing to run detention facilities, requiring ICE to entirely transform its approach to detention in the state or else abandon its California facilities,’ Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote for the panel’s eight-member majority. ‘California cannot exert this level of control over the federal government’s detention operations.'”

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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