New year, new Congress—and same old immigration debate, same old prospect of no movement, no change, no progress. The now-dominant radical right wing of the Republican Party introduced an extreme “border control” bill in the House of Representatives that is too radical even for their fellow Republicans. Support for the bill is apparently part of the deal struck by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to get the needed votes to be elected to that office.
President Biden’s immigration policies echo some of Trump’s worst restrictions on asylum, but also offer limited hope through expanded use of humanitarian parole. The clearest leadership on immigration comes not from the White House but from immigrants, advocates, and faith leaders such as Texas Bishop Mark Seitz, who calls for comprehensive reform while denouncing policies that “are merciless and are literally killing people by driving them to cross the desert and to drown in the river.”
[Washington Post] “The bill, introduced by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) and co-sponsored by 58 Republicans, would empower the Homeland Security secretary — currently Alejandro Mayorkas — to unilaterally bar all undocumented migrants from entering the United States through any point of entry if the secretary deems it necessary to reestablish “operational control” of the border. If immigration agencies cannot, for any reason, process undocumented migrants according to legal procedures, a similar response by the secretary would be required. If the secretary does not follow through, the bill would provide state attorneys general the authority to sue the federal government.
“But the scope of the three-page bill has rattled dozens of House Republicans, many of whom worry it would prevent migrants and unaccompanied children fleeing violence from seeking asylum in the United States …
“’We can’t allow the Republican Party to be hijacked,’ [Texas Republican Representative Tony] Gonzales said, referencing his colleagues pushing the legislation. ‘Trying to ban legitimate asylum claims — one, it’s not Christian, and two, to me, it’s very anti-American. So a lot is at stake.’”
On the campaign trail and in his first days in office, President Biden promised immigration policies radically different from those of the Trump administration. Two years in, how has that worked out?
” Biden officials have also said they will be proposing a new rule to further limit asylum eligibility …
“Biden stopped applying the aggressive [Title 42] policy to unaccompanied kids but has continued to expel individuals and families …
“Biden, by contrast, has stopped holding migrant families in Ice detention, so far. He also resumed programs that allow some from the Caribbean and Central America to reunite with family members in the US …
“Most notably, both administrations have done devastating harm to millions of forcibly displaced people, who came here looking for safety and opportunity only to become victims of a system that has left them stranded and vulnerable.”
Using humanitarian parole is not a new idea. The Biden administration is continuing a long U.S. tradition of using executive authority to respond to humanitarian emergencies when Congress fails to act.
[Washington Post] “While previous administrations have used parole to deal with emergencies or humanitarian challenges, Biden has made more frequent use of the authority than any other president. …
“Federal immigration law authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to admit migrants temporarily via parole for humanitarian reasons or for a significant public benefit. Officials must consider applicants on a case-by-case basis and subject them to background and security checks.
“New beneficiaries of the program will join a growing international array of newcomers whose provisional U.S. residency will remain largely subject to the whims of the executive branch. The Biden administration has used parole to admit nearly 80,000 Afghans who escaped the Taliban takeover, and more than 100,000 Ukrainians who have fled the Russian invasion of their homeland, among others. …
“[Marysol Castro, an attorney with Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services], said the government’s requirement that applicants find a U.S. sponsor with legal status and use the CBP One online app will potentially hurt those who most desperately need assistance.
“’If you’re poor and persecuted and don’t know anyone in the U.S., you’re screwed,’ she said. ‘I have clients who were jailed in Cameroon for months and sexually abused, then escaped. They don’t have time for CBP One to respond to them.'”
El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz met with President Biden when the president visited Texas. Bishop Seitz shared his insights on immigration in a subsequent interview:
[Commonwealth Magazine] Bishop Seitz: “The expansion of Title 42, put in place by the previous administration on the false pretense that immigrants bring disease, is unjustifiable. It is probably illegal, and I hope the Supreme Court will see it that way. But as a priest, I need to be clear: Title 42 and policies like it are merciless and are literally killing people by driving them to cross the desert and to drown in the river. Children are dying. Death can’t be an acceptable part of the overhead of our immigration policy. Have we become that numb? There are alternatives. But from experience, I can tell you it won’t be solved with policies that deny asylum to more people, or with walls, deportation, detention, or more money for immigration enforcement.”
And in other news
Families are still being separated at the border. That is, if you consider grandparents who have custody and care for their grandchildren as families. U.S. immigration authorities do not.
[USA Today] “Hilda Hernandez, an asylum-seeker from Honduras, said she fled extortionist gangs in Veracruz, Mexico, and dodged drug cartels in Piedras Negras.
“She thought she was finally safe earlier this month as she crossed the international bridge into Eagle Pass, Texas, with her 3-year-old granddaughter, Shayra, to request asylum from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
“But that’s when her nightmare truly began, she said.
“Officials there separated Shayra from Hernandez, though she said she gave them documents showing she was the young girl’s main caregiver. Hernandez, 42, was released pending her immigration hearing and traveled to Florida to stay with a relative. Shayra, who turned 3 in December, remains in federal custody in a children’s shelter in San Antonio. …
“Hernandez had been the main caregiver for Shayra since the child was born, she said. Her mother, 17 at the time, relinquished custody to her.”
The 10-member Asian and Pacific caucus at the Minnesota legislature set out its priorities at a news conference on Monday. Addressing hate crimes is a priority as hate crimes against Asian Americans have spiked since 2020. About 365,000 Minnesotans identify as Asian, Hawaiian islander or Pacific islander. .
[Minnesota Reformer] “The Minnesota Asian and Pacific Caucus said Monday that a top priority at the Legislature this year is to address hate and bias incidents against people of color, particularly Asian Americans.
“The caucus began its Monday press conference with a moment of silence for the victims affected by a mass shooting in California Saturday that killed at least 11 people during a Lunar New Year celebration. (The shooter’s motive in the killing is unclear.)
“Members of the caucus offered hopeful pledges to pass legislation that will deter hate crimes against Asian Americans. The lawmakers — all Democrats — also said it’s time for the Legislature to finally pass gun control bills.
“’Our community, like other communities of color, has never been a stranger to gun violence,’ said. Rep. Liz Lee, DFL-St. Paul …”
A new book by a labor organizer describes the exploitation of workers recruited with the false promise of green cards and the opportunity to make enough money to support their wives and families. The author begins by introducing the workers and then describes “his uphill battle to free the Indian workers and put them on a path to apply for the green cards they were promised.”
[New York Times] “We understand why they leaped at the advertisement in the newspaper that offered a chance to ‘migrate to U.S.A.’ The job comes with a green card, they are told, which would allow them to bring their wives to the United States within nine months. Each man borrows a small fortune from relatives and loan sharks to pay the illegal fees they are being charged for the opportunity to work in America. They are instructed to lie in their interviews at the United States Consulate about having paid fees — or else their visas will be denied. They are also warned not to mention the promise of a green card. Those with qualms about lying have nowhere to turn. By this time, they are already so deeply in debt that they have no option except to get their visas approved and work to pay it off.
“Once the men arrive in Mississippi, they realize that something is amiss. The labor camp where they are being housed is unsanitary and overcrowded. One man faints on the job from lack of food. They’re allowed outside only for weekly trips to church or Walmart. Worst of all, there’s no sign of the green cards.”
Migrant encounters at the border were high in December, but have slowed since the Biden administration’s announcement of new restrictions on asylum.
[CBS] “Since those measures were announced in early January, the number of migrants apprehended along the Mexican border has plummeted. Border Patrol is currently averaging roughly 4,000 migrant apprehensions per day, a 40% drop from the daily average in December, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told CBS News Friday, requesting anonymity to share internal data. …
“The extraordinary migration event has been primarily driven by record arrivals of migrants from countries outside of Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle, the main sources of U.S.-bound unlawful migration before the COVID-19 pandemic. …
“In December, U.S. officials along the Mexican border recorded 42,637 encounters with Cubans, and 35,389 encounters with Nicaraguans, all-time monthly highs for both nationalities. By contrast, U.S. border agents processed migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador nearly 33,000 times last month.”
Immigration court backlogs continue to grow. The solution is not to deny people the right to apply for asylum, but rather to provide adequate resources for immigration courts to function.
[Syracuse University TRAC] “The Immigration Court backlog of asylum cases surpassed 800,000 for the first time at the end of December 2022. More specifically, as of December 31, 2022, the asylum backlog reached 806,494 with average wait times for a hearing—and even longer for a final decision—of over four years. …
“Pending Immigration Court cases of all types reached 2,056,328 at the end of last month, another all time high.”