Immigration News

This is a close examination of the U.S. government’s immigration statistics – arrests, deportations, court cases – during the Trump administration. Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau and his Border Patrol have upped arrests by 30 percent and also the percentage of non-criminal immigrants arrested. But Trump is frustrated by his inability to deport immigrants at the rate of the Obama administration during Obama’s first term. Analyst Alex Nowrasteh says there are basically three reasons why: ”First, states and localities are not cooperating with the Trump administration nearly as much as they did during the Obama administration, which will make it harder to identify illegal immigrants.  Second, many fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the United States so Trump will be unable to pad the numbers with border removals. Third, immigration courts are desperately backlogged so the pace of removals will be slow.“  

The House of Representatives houses a hard-core bloc of Republicans opposed to any form of “amnesty” or a “path to citizenship” for the DACA “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived in the USA as children. But 20 Republicans, from Latino or swing districts, have signed on to a measure called a “discharge petition” that could bypass Majority Leader Paul Ryan and bring a DACA bill to the floor for a vote of the full House. The rebel Republicans need five more Republican votes to combine with Democrats to force a vote.

Trump was in vintage rhetorical form this week. During an immigration roundtable with law-enforcement officials at the White House, he responded to a question about MS-13, the violent Central American gang, with these words: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country.  You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders walked back the remarks the next day, saying Trump was clearly referring only to MS-13 and not to all illegal immigrants. But then Trump tried to clarify things further, citing an incident of an illegal immigrant accused of rape in Maryland. “We cannot let this butchery happen in America,” he concluded.

Two Democrats in Congress – Senator Kamala Harris of California and Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington state – have proposed bills that would place a moratorium on construction of federal immigration detention facilities (a.k.a., prisons). The Department of Homeland Security has requested $2.7 billion in its 2019 budget to increase detention space, and it has asked for proposals from private companies to build new immigration prisons in Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, Salt Lake City and south Texas. The bills would also dedicate funding to monitor conditions and improve federal oversight of existing privately contracted prisons.

An ACLU-initiated lawsuit asking the Department of Homeland Security to observe its own rules on when asylum seekers should be locked up while awaiting a hearing is making its way through the courts. A federal judge is likely to rule next week on the case. The suit contends that detention rates surged to 96 percent at five large U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices in the first eight months after President Trump took office, up from less than 10 percent in 2013. The lawsuit was filed in behalf of nine detained asylum seekers from Haiti, Venezuela and other countries who were initially determined to have credible stories and have been jailed for months awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge. Asylum is a provision in federal 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.”

When the Trump administration began there were 437,000 immigrants living in the USA under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS). They had come to this country as far back as 20 years ago because a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane or civil war had threatened their lives in their home country. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations had routinely renewed these permits, but not Trump. In the last six months Trump appointees have expelled more than 300,000 Central Americans and Haitians who had TPS status. This comprehensive article reveals how former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Department of Homeland Security officials, and White House aide Stephen Miller sidestepped the law and ignored the input of U.S. diplomats on how safe conditions are in each TPS country.

John Feeley, a career U.S. diplomat, Latin America expert, and former U.S. ambassador to Panama, calls the Trump approach a short-sighted policy. “This is not a partisan issue; it’s a practical one,” Feeley says. “Does deporting people who have been here legally, following the rules for years, help us achieve our goals of having safe, orderly migration and alleviating the conditions that drive illegal immigration in the first place?”

Trump and Jeff Sessions are fond of stirring up audiences by conjuring the awful violence associated with the Central American gang MS-13 and the threat posed by that caravan of 300 women and children who recently asked for asylum at the Mexican border. But a comprehensive new state-by-state study of years 1990 to 2014 shows that “undocumented immigration over this period is generally associated with decreasing violence.”  A second study found that “increased undocumented immigration was significantly associated with reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests.”

According to this article, Trump is getting increasingly frustrated by U.S. and international laws on immigration and has taken to venting his rage in cabinet meetings. This week DHS announced a new set of policies that would involve charging anybody who crosses the border without a visa as a criminal as well as a toughened set of procedures for separating parents seeking asylum from their children. The reporter makes clear that the idea of separating children and parents comes directly from Trump himself. But these DHS policies are apparently not enough for the president who ranted at DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a recent cabinet meeting. Nielsen has her letter of resignation drafted.

We think of the judicial system in American as being separate from the executive and legislative  branches and coequal to them. But that’s not true of the immigration court system, which handles asylum cases and all matters of deportation. The 360 immigration judges are employees of the Department of Justice and ultimately report to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sets the policy.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that several studies have revealed astonishing levels of variation in the decisions of different immigration court judges. For example, in Los Angeles two judges over the last five years have granted fewer than 3 percent of asylum claims while another judge granted 71 percent. “It’s astounding how much variation there is from judge to judge. The system is in need of repair. It’s an embarrassment,” says Joseph D. Lee, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer.

That caravan of Central American immigrants at the Mexican border that Trump and Sessions keep talking about – it may be an example of the boomerang effect. Years of U.S. policies in Central America have helped create oligarchic, ultra-violent, destabilized societies in which poor farmers and their families have a tough time surviving.

For at least 150 years, “ as author Jeff Faux puts it,” the United States has intervened in these countries with arms, political pressure, and money in order to support alliances between our business and military elites and theirs—who prosper by impoverishing their people. By far, the most important figure in the politics of these nations is the U.S. ambassador. These three nations are, in effect, our colonies.” Until conditions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras change for the better, the flow northward will continue.

Bonus Article

This summer Maryland crab cakes will go way up in price, watermen’s livelihoods will be threatened, and many fine Maryland blue crabs will be exported, all as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. What some are calling #Crabgate on social media is less a scandal than a poorly thought out policy, according to this article from an Ocean City web site. The temporary Mexican workers who have come to the Eastern Shore each summer to pick crab meat are in short supply thanks to a Trump-initiated change of procedure on issuing work permits. Governor Hogan and his fellow Republican, Representative Andy Harris, have petitioned the administration for more temporary worker permits, but help will be too late for this summer.

For weeks Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions have been talking of the dire threat posed by a “caravan” of several hundred Central American asylum seekers traveling north through Mexico to the U.S. border. “If a person puts their foot over the line, we have to take them into our country, we have to register them,” Trump told a rally of his supporters in Michigan. “We then have to ask them a couple of questions. Lawyers are telling them what to say. How unsafe they are. And once they say that, we have to let them go, to come back to court in like a year. Only one problem: They don’t come back, okay. That’s the end. Welcome to the United States.”

Here Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson cites the dark history of European Jewish refugees denied entrance to this country during World War II to help explain why the USA is compelled by international law, treaties, and morality to give these migrants a fair hearing in their requests for asylum.


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: