Immigration News: January 19, 2023

Sometimes one person’s story offers the best window into how the immigration system fails all of us. A deeply-reported and well-written article from Utah’s Deseret News tells just such a story. José Contreras is a U.S. citizen now—49 years after arriving in the United States at the age of 18, 43 years after beginning the job he still holds at a ranch in Utah, 36 years after achieving legal permanent residence—and 14 years after he was wrongfully deported. His saga reveals the byzantine working of an immigration system that too often victimizes immigrants. 

[Deseret News] “But for 40 years, rain or shine, Contreras has faithfully tended to his duties — except for the 40 months he spent back in Mexico after being wrongfully deported. 

“Poor legal advice and fierce resistance from the immigration bureaucracy to correct some mistakes cast him into a prolonged legal battle to regain what he had lost.

“Now, more than a decade after becoming a symbol of the need for immigration reform in a precedent-setting court case, Contreras will take the U.S. citizenship oath on Thursday.

“’I am so excited. I am happy to be in the United States. Now I have the opportunity to be with my kids and now I can see my grandkids grow up,’ said the father of five and grandfather of six.

“Contreras’ legal case was part of a national movement aimed at getting courts to hear the appeals of immigrants who had been deported.”

And in other news

The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota joined with nearly 300 other groups in urging President Biden to end plans for a new asylum ban. 

[The Hill] “In a letter to President Biden, 292 groups took aim specifically at what they call an ‘asylum ban,’ whereby potential asylum-seekers could be made ineligible for entry into the United States by virtue of escaping dangers at home or on the migrant trail.

“’Your administration’s announcement of plans to establish a presumption of asylum ineligibility for individuals who do not use ‘established pathways to lawful migration’ and do not apply for protection in countries of transit advances the agenda of the Trump administration, which repeatedly sought to impose similar asylum bans,’ the groups wrote. 

“’Word-smithing, tweaks and spin do not change this reality.’”

ICE leaked information about asylum seekers, potentially putting them and their families at risk. The information could have been revealed to the very people that asylum seekers are fleeing from. ICE has released more than 2,000 of those jeopardized by the leak, but more than 100 have already been deported. 

[Los Angeles Times] “Officials accidentally posted the names, birthdates, nationalities and detention locations of 6,252 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution to the agency’s website in late November. Immigrant advocates criticized the disclosure, saying it could put people at risk. …

“Many immigrants who seek safety in the U.S. fear that gangs, governments or individuals back home will find out that they did so and retaliate against them or their families. To mitigate that risk, a federal regulation generally forbids the release of personal information of people seeking asylum and other protections without approval by top Homeland Security officials.”

One current and one former prosecutor describe the ways that prosecutors can protect the community by protecting vulnerable immigrants.

[Los Angeles Times] “Elected prosecutors should prevent their local criminal legal systems from becoming a tool to target immigrants. They can do so by making sure immigrant victims, witnesses and defendants are able to enter courthouses without fear of being apprehended by immigration authorities, and by ensuring that witnesses aren’t asked about immigration status. And they can work with others to enact legislation or judicial orders barring immigration agents from making courthouse arrests; assign victims’ advocates to escort fearful undocumented witnesses or victims through the courthouse; and encourage law enforcement partners to refuse to participate in inhumane immigration arrests.

“Further, noncitizens who are convicted of nonviolent misdemeanor convictions, which typically carry minimal penalties for citizens, often face a host of penalties beyond their actual sentences, such as apprehension by immigration authorities and deportation. 

“Several prosecutors’ offices, including the L.A. district attorney, have addressed this problem by requiring that prosecutors consider the immigration consequences of charging decisions and, wherever possible, try to avoid or mitigate immigration penalties. These policies are key in guaranteeing that immigrants, like other community members, are held accountable for what they’ve done, not punished for who they are.”

The CBP One app, implemented last week as a safer way for particularly vulnerable asylum seekers to get interview appointments at the U.S. border, is not working out for many. 

[Border Report] “Will McCorkle, 38, an assistant professor at the College of Charleston and board member of a South Texas migrant advocacy group, met migrants in Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico, who say they were given asylum interviews at U.S. ports of entry hundreds of miles away via the U.S. Customs and Border Protection CBP One app.

“Some were told to report to Tijuana, more than 1,500 miles away. Others were given appointments at ports in Juarez, south of El Paso; Laredo and Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas.

“’A lot of them were asking, ‘How are we going to get to Tijuana from here, and are we going to be safe going all the way across Mexico to do this interview?” McCorkle told Border Report.

“The app went live on [January 12], but Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, of the American Immigration Council, says the new plan was rolled out too quickly and there aren’t enough organizations on the ground in northern Mexico to help migrants fill out and understand the app. He says it isn’t even offered in Haitian Creole, the language that thousands of asylum-seekers living in Reynosa speak.”

A new report from the George W. Bush Institute explores the root causes of migration from Central America.

[Bush Institute] “The reasons people migrate from Northern Central America are complex and interconnected, stretching from economic opportunity to gang violence to ineffective governance. Some of the most obvious are gender-based violence, poverty, instability, and corruption in their home countries, as well as impunity for violent offenders. There are also more nuanced drivers that help create an environment people either choose to leave or are forced to leave. These include low educational attainment, the influence of remittances, and family reunification. And these are just the “push factors,” not the “pull factors” – in particular the presence of a large Central American community in the United States that offers a daily reminder that life here is in many ways easier, safer, and more prosperous….

“Gang violence and violence against women are also driving people to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Many programs have been in place for decades intended to reduce violence, and yet the problem has only gotten worse.”

A new report from the George W. Bush Institute calls out current immigration system “inadequate to support our 21st century economy” and says it “needlessly discriminates against many qualified immigrants.” The report outlines needed immigration system reforms in the United States. 

[Bush Institute] “Our Recommendations: 

• Congress should address labor shortages by expanding legal immigration

• Congress should embrace its role in managing the border

• Congress should pass an earned pathway to citizenship for Dreamers

• Congress should appropriate funding to eliminate green card backlogs

• Congress should adjust the status of Afghan evacuees

• The administration should meet its own refugee resettlement goals

• The Department of State should reduce consular processing times”

Tech lay-offs hit immigrant workers particularly hard: those working on H-1B visas have only 60 days to find another employer to sponsor their visa. That’s true even if they have been living and working in the United States for years or decades, waiting in line for a permanent employment visa number to become available.

[Wired] “Nearly 70 percent of the [H-1B temporary work] visas went to ‘computer-related’ jobs in the 2021 fiscal year, according to data from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and many of these workers eventually convert their visas into permanent US residency. But because of restrictions on the number of employment-based residency applications granted each year, it can take decades for immigrants from larger countries like India to receive a green card, leaving many people working on an H-1B tied to one employer for years. During that time they are vulnerable to life-disrupting shocks like those facing some immigrants caught up in the recent tech layoffs.”

Labor Secretary Martin Walsh says the United States needs more immigrant workers. 

[Wall Street Journal] “Mr. Walsh noted that students from around the world come to America to get educated, but risk being sent back home if they fail to secure a work visa.

“‘There are jobs available right now in the U.S. that we don’t have enough people for,’ he said. …

“‘The threat to the American economy long-term is not inflation, it’s [about] immigration,’ he said. ‘It’s not having enough workers.'”

San Antonio and Austin are cooperating to move asylum seekers to their destination cities. The asylum seekers have been given permission to remain in the United States while their asylum applications are processed. Unlike the Texan busing program, which dumps asylum seekers on street corners in cities where they may know no one, the San Antonio-Austin program sends them on to the destinations where family or other connections await them. 

[San Antonio Report] “The collaboration comes as San Antonio receives an increasing number of asylum-seekers from the border. According to city figures, in December 2022, San Antonio accepted a daily average of 1,206 arrivals, with some days exceeding over 1,800. Since January 2021, San Antonio has served more than 365,000 asylum-seekers who have passed through on their way to host city destinations across the country. …

“San Antonio will cover transportation costs to Austin with FEMA funds reimbursed to the city for migrant care-related costs. The City of Austin will also apply for reimbursement from FEMA as well. 

“[According to a statement from Juan Ortiz, director of the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management:]  

“’Our goal is to support our neighboring cities, help asylum-seekers be able to reach their sponsor destinations safely and with dignity, while also maintaining a busy airport and capacity to continue to respond to local emergency needs.’”

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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