Immigration News

Maryland legislators heard testimony this week on two bills that would deal with undocumented immigrants in opposite ways. House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who sponsored HB1308, said the bill would “keep Maryland communities safe from convicted criminals who may be released and flee to another jurisdiction that may or may not support [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] requests.” The bill would require “a State or local correctional facility with custody of an undocumented immigrant who is serving a sentence in the facility for conviction of a crime to transfer the individual to the United States Department of Homeland Security on request of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery County) sponsored HB1461, the Supporting All Families Everywhere (SAFE) Act, which would immunize state and local officials from criminal or civil liability for refusing to provide information to the federal government “for the purpose of discrimination against individuals on the basis of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or national or ethnic origin.”

“This bill,” said Gutierrez, ”would make us exactly like California and Illinois and Oregon, and other states that prefer to follow the law, protect the civil rights of individuals and not let unjustified detainers be served without a judicial warrant.”

Reports also indicate that the public testimony brought vocal anti-immigrant groups to the hearings. One legislator, who opposed HB1308, said it was difficult to listen to hours of “hateful” testimony.

Last month the Senate debated five proposals for immigration bills that would fix the problem of the DACA Dreamers - undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children. In the end none of these proposals passed, and two federal district judges have extended the DACA program indefinitely beyond the Trump administration’s March 5 end date. Here is a useful chart that lays out the five major proposals in a way that makes comparison easy. The ideas in these bills are likely to surface again in some form as the debate over DACA continues.

The Texas state legislature passed a law requiring local law enforcement officials in Texas jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and a federal appeals court recently upheld most provisions of the law.  But there is considerable uncertainty about how much effect the law will have. As the reporter puts it, “Senate Bill 4, or S.B. 4, does not require all officers to ask about a person’s immigration status, but instead allows them to ask those questions at the officers’ discretion.”

“From an operational standpoint, from a policy standpoint, it will have no impact,” Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police Department, which has a strong policy against racial profiling in place. “The problem is the perception problem that it creates, that local police officers are going to be more interested in immigration enforcement of people who don’t bother anybody.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has brought a class-action suit on behalf of asylum seekers against the Trump administration’s Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security. “Asylum” refers to a part of U.S. law that “allows foreign nationals to seek permanent residency and eventually, citizenship, if they have a fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or ‘membership in a particular social group,’ a broad category that has included people fleeing gang activity, domestic violence or other circumstances.” The suit claims that asylum seekers with credible claims are being place in USG detention facilities for extended periods as they await a hearing on their cases. In five ICE field offices during the first eight months of the Trump administration, 96 percent of release requests by asylum seekers were denied. The ACLU alleges that this is part of a strategy by the administration to discourage asylum seekers from coming to this country.

James Schwab, the ICE spokesman in San Francisco, resigned this week because he was asked to support misleading statistics stated by acting ICE chief Denis Homan and later repeated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump.  The Oakland mayor had warned immigrants in her city that an ICE raid was coming. The raid did net 232 suspected undocumented immigrants for ICE detention, but ICE had targeted 1,000.  “There’s 800 that we are unable to locate because of that warning,” Homan said, “so that community is a lot less safe than it would have been.”

"I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," Schwab said, explaining his resignation. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit." ICE eventually acknowledged that ICE officials are never sure of the number of suspected deportees a raid will capture and that raids typically net fewer suspects than targeted..


In some recent political debates a question has arisen over how many crimes the gang MS-13 - a favorite Trump and Sessions boogeyman - has committed in Howard County. Seeking answers, I checked the web site of the Howard County Police and found a section called Police Newsroom - a monthly compendium of notable crimes and arrests in Howard County. I checked this archive for the last year and could find no evidence of MS-13 in Howard County.

Can anyone find anything online that indicates MS-13 activity in Howard County?

California is probably the most visible “sanctuary” state, and in this lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice has challenged the constitutionality of three laws recently passed by the California state legislature. The laws restrict when and how local law enforcement officers can cooperate with the federal government in enforcing immigration law. Under the California laws, which went into effect January 1, local law enforcement may not share information about criminals or suspects unless they have been convicted of serious crimes; local businesses may not give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) access to employee records without a court order or subpoena; and local governments may not sign new contracts with ICE to provide detention facilities.

In response to the suit, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said: “In California, our state laws work in concert with federal law. Our teams work together to go after drug dealers and go after gang violence. What we won’t do is change from being focused on public safety. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation…..We’re not doing their bidding on immigration enforcement and deportation.”

Speaking before a group of California law officers in Sacramento this week, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, formerly a Senator from Alabama, invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War in attacking California’s position on enforcing federal immigration laws. “There is no nullification. There is no secession,” Sessions said. “Federal law is the supreme law of the land. I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg, or to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”  California Governor Jerry Brown fired back, calling the Justice Department’s lawsuit a “political stunt” and suggesting that it’s somewhat ironic for Sessions to talk about secession.

The United States and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office is the agency that administers the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. The Defense Department has for years had a program under which immigrants with special skills who joined the U.S. military could become U.S. citizens immediately after basic training. Under the program called the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, or MAVNI, more than 10,400 military service members since 2009 have become citizens.  Expedited citizenship will become much more difficult for these service members as a result of closing these offices.

Attorney General Sessions has overturned a 2014 ruling by the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals, which had ruled that a teen from Honduras seeking asylum was entitled to a full hearing from an immigration judge in the immigration appeals system that the Department of Justice runs. That board decision upheld a 1989 ruling that found hearings are “an essential aspect of the asylum adjudication process for reasons related to fairness . . . and to the integrity of the asylum process itself.” Sessions’s new policy means that if at a preliminary hearing that a judge determines it is unlikely the asylum appeal will succeed or that it is fraudulent, the judge can dismiss the case and deport the asylum seeker immediately. Sessions justified the move by saying he hopes to reduce the backlog of 600,000 cases in immigration courts. Last year, nearly 62 percent of asylum cases reviewed by immigration judges were rejected, up from 44.5 percent in 2012

Special Section on Border Walls

This is an atmospheric piece written by Luis Alberto Urrea, a Mexican-American novelist who went to Otay Mesa near San Diego this month to see the eight border wall prototypes built by contractors for the Trump administration . (News reports say the White House is planning a Trump visit to the prototypes). Urea discovered that American citizens can’t get near the prototypes. Apparently, the Border Patrol is apprehensive about protesters and has fenced them off. But the Mexican side of the wall, Urrea discovered, is like the Berlin Wall in West Berlin during the Soviet Era - “ablaze with color. It had become an open-air art gallery. A graffiti magnet. A place of murals. And taco stands. And art carts and strolling musicians and ice cream vendors.”

The evidence, according to this article, which reports on recent academic studies, is mixed. What is clear is that Trump’s border wall idea is part of an international trend . Since the end of World War II, 51 countries have constructed border walls, about half of them since 2000.

This survey of border walls around the world confirms the idea that they have increased since 2000. But "what scholars have found is that walls and barriers seem to have very little impact," says Reece Jones, a professor of geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and author of Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move.

Countries are "investing a lot of money on something you can go over, under or around," adds Elisabeth Vallet, author of Borders, Fences, and Walls of State Insecurity?  “They do not prevent people from coming in. If you consider border walls or fences as a public relations operation led by a government which is trying to show its population that it’s trying to do something, then they do work. They work as a symbol of a political goal, which is to show that you are secure within your territory.”

On Monday the Supreme Court declined to take up a White House request for an expedited appeal of two lower court decisions that would allow the DACA Dreamers to have their legal status renewed. A little background: In September 2017, Trump issued an executive order ending renewal of DACA permits after March 5, 2018.  The DACA “Dreamers” are the undocumented children of immigrants who came to the USA illegally. They were raised in this country and see themselves as Americans. An Obama executive order allowed them to apply for two-year renewable permits to remain legally in this country, and 690,000 have officially acquired this status. After several states challenged Trump’s executive order in court, two federal district court judges ruled that Trump’s justifications for ending DACA did not withstand legal scrutiny. The Trump administration wanted the Supreme Court to skip the next level of review by federal appeals courts, overturn these lower court decisions, and come to a quick finding on the legality of Trump’s order. The end result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case is that the Dreamers may continue renewing their parents under the lower courts’ rulings. It will take time for the two court cases to work their way through federal appeals courts and back up to the Supreme Court for an eventual decision. There is much speculation that this temporary respite will take the pressure off Congress to pass a bill that would establish the Dreamers’ status on a permanent basis.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court in a 5-3 decision made a second important ruling affecting immigrants. In this case the Court decided that immigration law does not require that those detained by federal authorities and awaiting a deportation hearing are entitled to a bail hearing. A federal appeals court had ruled that an immigrant held in detention must be given a bond hearing every six months and that detention beyond the initial six-month period is permitted only if the government proved that further detention is justified. The Court read the law narrowly and sent it back to the lower court to determine whether the U.S. Constitution might require such a hearing. The ACLU attorney who argued the case, Ahilan Arulanantham, said the Supreme Court’s narrow wording give detainees a second chance at a bail hearing. “We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances. We look forward to going back to the lower courts to show that these statutes, now interpreted by the Supreme Court to require detention without any hearing, violate the Due Process Clause.”