Immigration News

The Trump administration’s crackdown on asylum seekers continued this week when Attorney General Jeff Session overruled an immigration court decision that had granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman threatened by her husband. The U.S. law of asylum says people who have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion are eligible for asylum. The Board of Immigration Appeals had found in 2016 that the woman in the original case was part of what the asylum system refers to as a “particular social group” because women in El Salvador are often unable to leave violent relationships and their government has not been able to protect them. She therefore qualified for asylum. Sessions, however, wrote that asylum claims have expanded too broadly to include victims of “private violence,” like domestic violence or gang threats. Sessions has the authority to make this decision because the immigration court system is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, not part of the independent judicial branch of the federal government.

The Trump administration has used every administrative means at its disposal to make life difficult for asylum seekers at the Mexican border. Here’s the latest technique: according to Trump’s ‘zero-tolerance” policy, migrants crossing the U.S. border illegally have been told they will be jailed, face criminal charges for illegal entry, and be separated from their children.  If, however, asylum seekers apply at ports of entry at the border, they’ve been told their claim to asylum will processed. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have been turning back asylum seekers for several weeks at El Paso and other ports of entry on the Mexican border. They don’t tell the migrants they can’t apply for asylum, just that they can’t apply right now because the port of entry is at capacity.

House Speaker Paul Ryan orchestrated a compromise between House Republican “moderates” and “conservatives” this week that will lead to a vote on two versions of a bill that would deal with DACA Dreamers and border security issues. The background: a group of business-oriented, “moderate” Republicans who favor passage of some path to citizenship for the Dreamers forced Ryan to consider what he wanted to postpone till after the fall election – a vote on a plan to fix the legal status of the Dreamers.  A different group of Republicans, immigration hardliners in the House Freedom Caucus for whom “amnesty” for the Dreamers is verboten, have a much tougher bill in mind. The Trump White House encouraged the negotiations. But the hardline bill is unlikely to pass, and no one knows whether the yet-to- be-written compromise DACA bill, which will require Democratic votes to pass, can muster a House majority. The simple fact of a vote, however, highlights the fissure between two wings of the Republican Party on DACA and immigration more generally.

It looks as if Paul Ryan and the House Republicans’ weeks-long effort to craft a compromise immigration/DACA bill have reached a dead end. While the White House staff was engaged in the negotiations, which resulted in an agreement to bring competing bills to the House floor for a vote next week, Trump himself apparently watched “Fox & Friends,” listened to the flak from immigration hardliners, and then decreed, “I certainly wouldn’t sign the more moderate one.” This is ironic because the negotiators used Trump’s own “four pillars of immigration,”’ outlined in his state of the union speech, as their foundation for the compromise bill.

The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest evangelical group, overwhelmingly passed a resolution in favor of immigration reform at their annual meeting this week. Among the words sanctioned by the Baptists: “God commands His people to treat immigrants with the same respect and dignity as those native born … we desire to see immigration reform include an emphasis on securing our borders and providing a pathway to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures, maintaining the priority of family unity, resulting in an efficient immigration system that honors the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families … any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Such a resolution might not seem newsworthy coming from a Christian organization, but it represents a repudiation of Trump-style rhetoric and policies on immigration issues.

TV’s “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade did an interview this week with Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, a lawman who loves his 287(g) agreement for close cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The two discussed the threat posed by MS-13 in the Washington, DC, area. The Central American-based gang MS-13 is the favorite rhetorical boogey man of Trump and other immigration hardliners. Kilmeade and the sheriff managed to mangle an extraordinary number of facts in the course of the interview. In this piece Media Matters sets the record straight.

According to U.S. Government statistics, the last three months have seen a rise in the numbers of attempted crossings by undocumented immigrants at the Mexican border. The increase continues despite Trump’s “deterrent” policy of separating parents from children. During the first year of the Trump administration, the numbers arrested after crossing the border had declined, a fact the administration trumpeted as evidence of the effectiveness of the Trump enforcement crackdown.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has denounced the Trump administration’s policy of separating families of undocumented people at the U.S. border by locking up the parents for criminal prosecution and sending their children to foster homes or detention facilities.  This policy “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child,” says Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN office.

Here’s how U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley responded: “Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council….Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders.”

Unless you’re a psychopath, seeing children separated from their parents triggers something deep in the part of the human brain that harbors moral impulses, and the Trump administration’s policy to do exactly that when asylum seekers appear at the U.S. border has brought on many protests. In this article Times reporter Miriam Jordan describes what it feels like to be a five-year-old who was placed with a foster family and for weeks had no idea where his father was. Warning: Jose’s drawings of his family could break your heart.

Republicans in the House of Representatives held a meeting Thursday to see if they could come up with a compromise agreement that would bring a DACA bill to the House floor for a vote. Some 20-plus Republican “moderates” have been pushing House Speaker Paul Ryan for such a vote. The end result? Talks will continue. The rump Republicans need three more Republicans to sign on to their “discharge petition” to bring a DACA bill to a vote and they have till Tuesday next week to get the signatures.  Ryan told reporters that a possible basis for a DACA bill is the “four pillars of immigration” Trump laid out in his State of the Union speech last winter. These would involve a path to citizenship for the DACA Dreamers, funding for a border wall, and cuts in legal immigration to the USA.

This week the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based pro-immigrant advocacy group,  released a new study that shows that while 17 percent of the U.S. labor pool is currently foreign-born, immigrants will play an even more crucial in the future of the U.S. economy. Among the findings:

The USG has projected that the economy will add 9.8 million jobs between 2014 and 2024, but the labor force will grow by 7.9 million workers.

Between now and 2035, all growth in the U.S. workforce will be entirely due to immigrants and their children.

Filling low-skill jobs in the future will be just as important to the economy as having enough highly educated workers.

E-Verify is an online federal system that allows employers to make sure that new employees have legal residency in the USA. It has existed for 20 years. However, only eight states require nearly all employers to use it, and enforcement has been spotty.  But Trump as president has not pushed to expand the use of E-Verify. Why? Something Republicans seldom talk about, the great secret in the immigration debate – the country faces a historic shortage of employees, particularly in unskilled labor.

“There’s not one manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, not one dairy farm, not one resort that can hire enough people,” says Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

For weeks the Montgomery County (MD) Council has been debating a bill that would make $370,000 in county funding available for legal representation for county residents whom the federal government wants to deport. The controversial bill passed unanimously this week but with modifications that left advocates for immigrants unsatisfied with the result.  An amendment added a list of criminal convictions that would disqualify an immigrant from eligibility for the funding.

Frustrated over the rising numbers of illegal crossings at the Mexican border, Trump has been scapegoating Kirstjen Nielsen, his Secretary for Homeland Security. In April, the number of border crossers arrested by U.S. agents topped 50,000 for the second consecutive month. The increase has stripped Trump of what he sees as a great accomplishment — the sharp drop in illegal immigration in the months following his 2016 election.

Besides providing information on the often-chaotic ups-and-downs of personnel in the Trump administration, this article offers insights into Trump’s true state of mind on immigration: he sees it as a signature issue for his supporters, the crowds who turn out at his rallies, and thinks the issue will play a huge role in the fall elections.

BONUS ITEM: here’s a web site called #Immigrants & Refugees that is a fine compendium of links to articles from many sources on immigration issues

 

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