Immigration News

This comprehensive article details where things stand on renewed talks over a DACA deal, border security measures, and revisions of U.S. immigration policy. Not much is occurring at the moment regarding the DACA Dreamers – undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children – but the White House is holding exploratory talks with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.  The pressure to do a DACA deal has diminished since two U.S. appeals court judges have put a hold on Trump’s executive order ending DACA.

The Trump administration has plans to end two programs that help immigrants arriving in this country understand the basic legal issues they face. The programs are the Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which last year held information sessions for 53,000 immigrants in more than a dozen states, and the Immigration Court Help Desk program, both of which aid immigrants who do not have lawyers navigate the detention and deportation process. The programs are administered by nonprofit organizations under grants from the Department of Justice. The impending cuts are part of a series of recent measures the Trump administration has implemented to make life difficult for asylum seekers and, seemingly, to discourage immigration to this country.

In the wake of the biggest ICE raid since the Bush administration on a Tennessee slaughterhouse, more than 1,000 rallied to support the families of the 97 immigrants taken into custody. ICE arrested 10 people on federal immigration charges, and 86 immigrants were detained for being in the country illegally during the slaughterhouse raid. One person was arrested on state criminal charges, the raid seemingly netting one true criminal.

Rally organizers read the moving appeal of an eight-year-old girl making a plea for her detained uncle: “My uncle takes care of me when I am sick. He always hugs me after school. He takes me places like the mall and helps me with my homework. He is a good person. I feel angry and sad they took him away. Please do not deport any more people because it hurts their families. I want my uncle back.”

The Maryland Republican Party has targeted Indian-American congressional candidate  Aruna Miller because she supported HB1461 – the Maryland SAFE Act – as a member of the House of Delegates in the just-concluded General Assembly session. The SAFE Act, which did not get out of committee in this session, is the latest version of the Maryland Trust Act, a bill that would clarify the responsibilities of the federal government and local police in detaining immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.

A Republican mailer said: “Delegate Aruna Miller is treating criminals like celebrities…..And now, Aruna Miller wants to give criminals even more protection at our expense….Why would Delegate Miller prioritize criminals over us?”

Miller replied that the Republican campaign is racist, adding: “As an immigrant and proud American, I find the dog-whistle rhetoric used by Trump Republicans to be despicable. Ever since President Trump made an announcement to run for office in 2015 he has made a scapegoat of immigrants and our families. The decisions made by this administration cut against the very values of the American dream.”

The Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu has created a high-tech, fully immersive, artificial-reality experience that gives participants a strong feeling of what it’s like to be an immigrant attempting to dodge the Border Patrol and cross into the USA at the Mexican border. The project, which runs through August 31 in Washington, DC, won a special Oscar in 2017.

Roughly 7,000 guests will pass through the installation before it ends…, and it’s almost certain that each one will draw different conclusions than I did,”writes Washington Post critic Lavanya Ramanathan. “Although Carne y Arena straps every visitor into the same seven-pound backpack, headphones and weighty VR goggles and deposits every visitor into the same 6½ -minute scenario — in the middle of the harrowing landscape of real Mexican and Central American border crossings, among a group of migrants caught in the snare of Border Patrol — the unique medium of virtual reality means we each walk away with a deeply personal experience.”

Free tickets are available, but each viewer must reserve a specific 15-minute time slot.

BONUS SECTION: Fate of Immigration Bills in the Maryland General Assembly

In the recently ended Maryland legislative session, pro-immigrant supporters went 0 for 5 in passing bills that would help immigrants. The bill closest to passing was the Criminal Procedure: U Non-Immigrant Status and Enforcement Act. This would allow victims or witnesses to a crime who cooperate with the police to have an immigration status that would allow them to stay in the country legally for two years. It passed the House 88-47 and an amended version passed 42-3 in the Senate.  It would have had to go back to the House for agreement with the bill as amended, but nothing further happened with it by the time the session closed April 9.

 

The lesson learned for immigration advocacy efforts is that to get traction in the three-month legislative session, when hundreds of bills are vying for attention, a bill needs more than sponsors and votes. To stand a chance at passage, it needs friends in high places, such as committee chairpersons, majority leaders, or the governor.

 

Here is a list of the five pro-immigration bills with a brief description of each:

2018 Maryland SAFE Act (HB1461 )

The Supporting All Families Everywhere (SAFE) Act would clarify the parameters of state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts. The bill would take proven community policing policies and codify them in law. It would allow the federal government to do its constitutionally mandated job of enforcing immigration law, while local police focus on protecting Maryland residents. It would also encourage immigrants to cooperate with local police in reporting crimes without fear of being reported to immigration authorities.

MD DREAM Act:  (SB546, HB1536)

In 2012, Maryland voters passed the MD DREAM Act referendum providing for an in-state tuition discount for undocumented students.  This bill would ensure that students who graduate from high school and pay their taxes in our state will be able to continue access to public universities and colleges at the in-state tuition rate – regardless of the outcome of the debate over DACA in Washington.

MVA Confidentiality Act:  (HB1626)

In Maryland, individuals without legal immigration status can obtain drivers’ licenses. However, ICE sometimes requests info like addresses from the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to aid in detaining immigrants. This bill would prevent ICE from accessing MVA information without a judicial warrant or subpoena.

Regulation of Farm Labor Contractors & Foreign Labor Contractors: (SB526, HB1493)

This bill would protect migrant workers and foreign workers, particularly those with HB2 and J1 visas, from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous recruiters and abusive labor contractors and traffickers. (Sometimes, workers are afraid to complain about conditions because of fear of losing their visas. This bill is designed to prevent such fear.) The bill will apply not only to agricultural workers but also to workers in other industries. Hearings: Feb. 20, Senate Finance Committee; House Economic Matters.

Criminal Procedure: U Non-Immigrant Status and Enforcement: (HB461, SB581)

This bill is intended to remove fear of the police in immigrant communities. It would allow victims or witnesses of crimes who are working with local police to obtain U Non-Immigrant status that allows the person to stay in the U.S. for two years. It would apply to undocumented as well as other immigrants. This status may be renewed and other types of immigrant status may be applied for after the two-year period.  Hearing: held Feb. 14 in Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

 

Finally here is a list of the final status of all state bills this year that had anything to do with immigration, both the pro- and anti-immigrant bills:

http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?id=immigrc&stab=01&pid=narrowsubjpage&tab=subject3&ys=2018RS

 

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has filed suit against the Trump administration over its decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Frosh joined 17 other states in the suit, which argues that this question would drive down participation among immigrants and lead to an inaccurate count. Frosh could act without Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s approval because the Maryland’s Democratic-majority legislature passed a resolution last year giving Frosh freedom to sue the federal government without getting approval from the General Assembly or the governor.

Nearly a year ago Trump promised to fix the H-1B visa system for employees with special skills. These visas allow employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills to fill jobs that they were not able to fill locally. This year these visas are more in demand and the system more chaotic than ever.

What type of workers are most in demand these days? In a word, refugees. So say labor recruiters.  When the economy heats up and the jobless rate falls, they are the preferred choice for jobs in meat-packing plants and lumber mills in out-of-way places – work that is low-paid, dirty, and physically difficult. Recruiters say “native-born Americans, particularly white men, are generally not interested” in this kind of job. But employers like refugees because there is no question about their legal status and they are seen generally as more motivated and harder workers than native-born Americans.  Of course, Trump in his efforts to sharply limit legal immigrants and the category of refugees, has capped the number of refugees allowed into the USA at 45,000, the lowest yearly total since the program began in 1975.

The immigration court system in which new arrivals to America argue for their right to stay in the country is not an independent branch of government, but is administered by the Department of Justice. HBO’s reigning satirist John Oliver considers some of the absurdities of the system. Because immigration is considered a civil, not a criminal, matter, those appealing for asylum are not entitled to lawyer. Does it really make sense, Oliver asks, for a USG lawyer to question three-year-olds about their citizenship and asylum requests before an immigration judge?

Since 2014, more than 150,000 unaccompanied  immigrant children have fled to the USA to escape gang violence in such Central American countries as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These countries have strict gun laws and small gun industries. The violence is fueled by 200,000 American guns smuggled across the USA’s southern border each year. According to a GAO report, 70 per cent of guns recovered by authorities in Mexico were originally sold in the USA.

This week Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross proposed that the next Census add a question asking about the respondent’s citizenship. This afternoon the Census Scientific Advisory Committee said the addition of the citizenship question would depress the response to the Census and stir a damaging flood of misinformation about the government’s plans for the citizenship information it collects.  Despite Ross’s contention that answers to the question would not be shared with immigration authorities, suspicion runs deep in the immigrant community. Already a popular hashtag on Twitter is #leaveitblank.  Many critics see the move as politically motivated – an extension of Trump’s hostility toward immigrants and an attempt to reduce the 2020 population count in immigrant-rich areas that are predominantly Democratic in advance of redistricting in 2021. Congress has the final authority to approve or disapprove of the question.

This is an excellent, comprehensive article that elucidates an often misunderstand issue. Indeed, many immigrants do pay taxes. In fact, they contribute a $9 billion surplus to the Social Security fund each year. Author Hunter Hallman explains why undocumenteds have an incentive to pay taxes – a record of paying taxes could eventually help them become a citizen – and how they do it despite not having a legal Social Security number. Hallman’s conclusion: “At the heart of this issue of undocumented immigrants and taxes is the fact that U.S. immigration and taxation laws are misaligned. Agencies are singularly focused on their own mandates: the IRS is interested in maintaining a broad tax base and collecting all taxes owed to the government, regardless of the source, whereas immigration enforcement officials want to enforce the law against unauthorized work. Meanwhile, other actors within the system, including employers and workers, are doing the same.”

This week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that ICE officers would make a case-by-case determination on whether an undocumented pregnant woman should be locked up. The presumptive rule in the Obama administration was that pregnant women should not be held in detention.  

As part of its effort at “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the USA, the State Department will require all visa applicants to provide their Facebook and Twitter names for the last five years.  The move would enable digital screening of social media. Critics complain that this policy is not only invasive on privacy grounds, but will also limit legal immigration by slowing the process down, making it more burdensome and more difficult to be accepted for a visa.