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Immigration

In this section we report news related to immigration policy and the effect it has on American citizens.

We also are providing updates to the 2018 crisis of refugee families being separated at the border with no guarantee of being reunited.

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Migrant children separated more - and earlier

2019-Jan-17  (Updated: 2019-Jan-22)By: Barry Shatzman

Migrant children were separated from their families in much greater numbers - and much earlier - than the Trump administration had previously reported.

A report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that more than 2,700 families were separated since the government's zero-tolerance policy was announced.

Separations began earlier than reported

That number, though significantly greater than previously stated, still does not account for all of the potential separations.

One reason is that separations had begun by mid-2017 - a year before the administration revealed the policy. According to the report, several thousand children might have been separated from their families during that time.

Records weren't kept - or were lost

We might never know the exact amount. Record-keeping was minimal - originally just on a spreadsheet.

That hadn't been much of a problem previously. During the Obama administration, about a third of one percent of children were separated from their parents. Under the current administration, that rate increased by more than 10 times - to more than 3.5 percent.

The rate increased so quickly that the administration was not prepared to keep track of the families.

Fates of thousands remain unknown

Most of the 2,700 children separated since the program was announced in 2018 have been reunited with their families, according to the report. The fates of those separated in the prior year, however, remains unknown.

Administration, judge differ on refugee reunification

2018-Jul-12  (Updated: 2018-Jul-15)By: Barry Shatzman

Is the Trump administration abiding by a deadline imposed by a federal judge to reunite refugee families that were separated by U.S. border officials?

It depends who you ask.

Yes, if you ask administration officials. Not really, if you ask the judge who imposed the order.

The order required that all children under age 5 be reunited with their parents by July 10. As of today, the administration says that 57 out of 103 were being reunited. The remaining 47 are said to be ineligible a variety of reasons - such as the parents failing a background check.

12 of the children were not reunited because their parents had been deported without them. While administration officials say they're working to reunite them, they also say the parents declined to be reunited before their deportation.

"The reason they came here in the first place was to get the child to the United States. They're not going to take the child back with them once they've accomplished that," Matthew Albence, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official said.

Judge Dana Sabraw - who imposed the order - says the administration either misunderstood his instructions or is defying them.

Sabraw says the practices such as background checks for of all adults with whom the child reside are too time-consuming to allow timely reunification. He said he simply wants the government to follow the same procedures it would follow had the families not been separated.

An estimated 2,000 children older than 5 also were separated from their families. The administration has July 26 to comply with the order to reunite them.

Judge upholds 20-day limit on detaining refugee children

2018-Jul-09  (Updated: 2018-Jul-10)By: Barry Shatzman

A federal judge as ruled that the Trump administration cannot keep refugee children detained indefinitely.

The Trump administration request to do so stemmed from their policy of detaining everyone crossing the border requesting asylum.

The administration had ordered the families to be separated because a court agreement known as Flores Settlement Agreement essentially prohibits children from being detained longer than 20 days.

President Trump ended the separation policy in June - the result of intense public outcry - and asked the court to excuse his administration from the Flores agreement.

In her ruling, Judge Dolly Gee wrote that the administration's arguments had no basis in fact. She also defended the Flores agreement.

"... the children who are the beneficiaries of the Flores Agreement's protections and who are now in (the government's) custody are blameless. They are subject to the decisions made by adults over whom they have no control. In implementing the Agreement, their best interests should be paramount," Gee wrote.

Administration can't find all separated children

2018-Jul-05  (Updated: 2018-Jul-07)By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is running into problems complying with a court order to reunite refugee families with their children. For one thing, it doesn't know where they are. For another, it isn't even sure who they are.

The order requires children under age 5 to be reunited by July 14. All other must be reunited by July 26.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar says up to 3,000 children have been separated, but their files are among those of almost 12,000 labeled as "unaccompanied alien children". Most are teens who arrived alone.

Azar predicted that most families still will be reunited by the deadlines.

Trump claims indefinite refugee detention only option

2018-Jun-30By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration has said it will detain refugee families at the southern border together until their case for asylum is settled. In other words, it claims to have the right to detain them indefinitely.

The administration argued in a court filing that it had two choices with regard to families...

o Separate more families, in order to comply with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits children's detention to 20 days.

o Keep families together in detention.

The filing ignores another option - to allow families to stay within the U.S., but not in custody. For the time being, it appears to be the policy the administration actually is following.

Zero-tolerance quietly stopped. Judge orders families reunited.

2018-Jun-25  (Updated: 2018-Jun-26)By: Barry Shatzman

U.S. immigration officials have stopped detaining everyone coming across the border requesting asylum. Many refugees now will be instead released into alternative to detention programs.

The policy change was the result of not having enough space to detain all the refugees, according to the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). News in FiVe previously discussed the impracticalities of detaining families.

It did not stem (at least publicly) from the White House. The Trump administration asserts that its "zero-tolerance" policy remains in place, it's just that the government does not have the resources to implement it.

What about the children already separated from their parents?

The administration also announced a plan for reuniting the 2,000 children separated from their parents at detention centers.

The Department of Homeland Security announced it will help parents reunite with their children - but only after their asylum claim is resolved. In order to be immediately reunited with their children, refugee parents would need to abandon their asylum claim and agree to be deported.

The following day, however, a federal judge ordered that all children be reunited with their families within 30 days. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

It is not known how the government will implement the ruling - or even if it can. In his decision, Judge Dana Sabraw wrote...

"... the practice of separating these families was implemented without any effective system or procedure for (1) tracking the children after they were separated from their parents, (2) enabling communication between the parents and their children after separation, and (3) reuniting the parents and children after the parents are returned to immigration custody following completion of their criminal sentence. This is a startling reality. The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely catalogued, stored, tracked and produced upon a detainees' release, at all levels - state and federal, citizen and alien. Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children."

Refugee family separation ended - but now what?

2018-Jun-21  (Updated: 2018-Jun-25)By: Barry Shatzman

After weeks of defending it and claiming that only legislation could change it, President Trump ended his administration's policy of separating children from parents who entered the country unlawfully at the southern border.

The executive order doesn't change the "zero-tolerance" policy of arresting everyone crossing the border illegally. It merely calls for the children of those arrested to be housed with their families - rather than taken from their parents - until their case is heard.

How - or even if - the new policy helps refugee families will depend on how it is implemented. It faces both legal and practical issues for how to deal with their children.

Law limits detention length

Legally, immigrant children cannot be detained for longer than 20 days. The limit comes from a court ruling known as the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Trump's executive order says the administration will ask federal courts to modify the agreement to allow the government "to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for ... any immigration proceedings."

The administration has not said how it will proceed if the request is denied and the 20-day limit remains in force.

What if the limit is lifted?

If the administration's appeal succeeds, the government would then be faced with the problem of how to detain the asylum-seeking families and their children indefinitely.

That likely would mean huge contracts for private prison companies, defense contractors, and others who would provide services such as food, medical care, childcare, and transportation to detained families.

This was attempted by the Obama administration during a 2014 surge in families and unaccompanied children seeking asylum. It led to a report by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that concluded "immigration enforcement practices should operationalize the presumption that detention is generally neither appropriate nor necessary for families - and that detention or the separation of families for purposes of immigration enforcement or management are never in the best interest of children."

The report recommended that the government "discontinue the general use of family detention, reserving it for rare cases when necessary following an individualized assessment of the need to detain because of danger or flight risk that cannot be mitigated by conditions of release."

Alternatives to detainment exist

Refugees don't need to be detained. Though prior administrations at times also have locked up anyone who illegally crossed the border, the most common practice has been to document the cases and allow the refugees to stay in the country until their asylum hearing.

Release typically involves assigning the refugee to an alternative to detention program - which helps the refugees find housing and transportation, as well as to make sure they attend court hearings and don't violate laws. They also may be required to wear a GPS monitor.

These programs cost much less than detention.

One such program, the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), provided the same type of support to refugee families with children as an alternative to detention.

The administration has justified jailing refugees on the claim that most would skip their hearings and simply vanish within the country. There is no evidence supporting this view, however. In fact, more than 75 percent of refugees show up for their hearings. For those in the FCMP, the the compliance rate is 99 percent.

In June 2017, the Trump administration shut down the Family Case Management Program.

Most families already separated remain in limbo

The change in policy does not address children who already have been separated from their parents. Though some have been reunited, an estimated 2,000 children still remain out of communication with their parents. They have been relocated all around the country, and reunification might take a long time. For some, it might never happen.

Bill would stop separation of asylum-seeker families

2018-Jun-19By: Rob Dennis

By even the most conservative estimates, more than 2,000 children have been taken away from their parents since the Trump administration announced its "zero-tolerance" immigration and asylum policy in early May.

Under the policy, anyone apprehended entering the United States illegally is criminally charged. If that person has children with them, the children are taken separately. Many are seeking asylum from life-threatening situations in their home countries.

A bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein would prohibit separating a child from his or her parents or legal guardian within 100 miles of the border - unless it is determined to be in the child's best interest.

Asylum policy and why the arrests are being made

Migrants requesting asylum are legally entitled to cross the border. Though obtaining asylum can be complex and lengthy, starting the process simply requires entering the U.S. at an official port of entry and stating that you are requesting asylum.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, however, have been preventing asylum-seekers from entering at these ports of entry. It creates a catch-22 situation, in that the only way for them to legally enter the country is to do so illegally.

Impacts to children and families

When parents are arrested illegally crossing the border, their children become "unaccompanied minors" and are transferred to shelters overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

But the administration has no plan in place to reunite parents with their children.

In some cases, parents have been deported while their children remained incarcerated in the U.S.

How the policy got started. How it could end.

Though announced only in May, the policy is not merely a hasty solution to a new problem. The administration has been considering it since shortly after Donald Trump became president, when a Department of Homeland Security official listed it as one of the ways to discourage asylum-seekers.

Contractors

If there are winners in this, it's government contractors.

Contractors have been advertising for positions to help ORR deal with the logistics of overfull shelters. Possibly demonstrating that the child-separation policy was more planned than reactionary, one such contract was awarded in Sept. 2017.

Proposals

Feinstein's bill - or any legislation for that matter - is not required to stop the separation policy. The administration could simply reverse it. So far it has refused to do so. The bill, however, would force the administration to end the practice.

Sen. Ted Cruz - who initially supported the policy - has proposed a separate bill. It would call for parents and children to be detained together, and for scheduling asylum hearings within 2 weeks of their arrival.

Cruz's proposal would give the families little time to build their asylum case. If caseloads prevent the case from being heard right away, the family could be detained indefinitely, Mother Jones reported.

Senate fails to protect immigrants who arrived as children

2018-Feb-15  (Updated: 2018-Feb-26)By: Rob Dennis

The Senate has again failed to pass immigration proposals that would protect from deportation 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

After two recent government shutdowns - when Democrats insisted that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) be addressed in the budget and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to conduct a full debate on immigration policy, a week of attempted debate yielded nothing.

The immigrants, known as "DREAMers," were protected by the Obama-era DACA policy until President Donald Trump announced in September that he would start phasing out the program in six months.

The Senate voted on the four immigration proposals Feb. 15. All failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to proceed to a vote (one of them failed to reach a majority).

o A proposal submitted by Sens. John McCain and Christopher Coons would have provided a path to citizenship for DREAMers who meet certain criteria, and would have toughened border security.

Click here to read the McCain-Coons proposal.
It was supported by most Democrats and opposed by most Republicans. Click here to see the vote.


o A bipartisan proposal by Sen. Charles Schumer and the Common Sense Coalition would have provided a path to citizenship for DREAMers and allocated $25 billion for border security over the next decade. It would prevent legal permanent residents from sponsoring adult, unmarried children.

Click here to read the Schumer proposal.
It was supported by most Democrats and opposed by most Republicans. Click here to see the vote.


o A proposal by Sen. Chuck Grassley and backed by Trump would have provided a path to citizenship for DREAMers and allocated $25 billion for a border wall. It also would have ended the Diversity Visa Lottery and placed other restrictions on legal immigration.

Click here to read the Grassley proposal.
It was defeated - receiving only 39 votes of support. 36 of those came from Republicans. Click here to see the vote.


o A proposal by Sen. Patrick Toomey would have added text from the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act to the previous amendment by Grassley.

Click here to read the Toomey proposal.
It was supported by all Republicans and opposed by most Democrats. Click here to see the vote.


The DACA program's protections are scheduled to start expiring March 5, but it's unclear if they will. Two federal judges have issued temporary injunctions extending DACA while legal challenges proceed.

The Supreme Court is considering a Justice Department request to review those opinions before an appeals court has even taken up the case. If the Supreme Court accepts the appeal, it still could take months to rule on it.

Update 2018-Feb-26: The Supreme Court refused to hear the DACA case until lower courts complete their reviews.

Deportation plan would cost taxpayers more than $30 billion

2017-Feb-21By: Rob Dennis

New Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines authorizing the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants from anywhere in the country will require billions of public dollars to be approved by Congress.

The DHS guidelines, building on executive orders signed by President Donald Trump, include:

o Expanding deportations to include people convicted, charged or even suspected of any crime, including minor traffic offenses. Previously, deportations focused on those convicted of serious crimes or deemed a threat to national security.

o Targeting undocumented immigrants anywhere in the country for "expedited removal" if they can't prove they have been here for more than two years. Previously, deportations focused on those in the country for less than two weeks who were caught within 100 miles of the border.

o Placing those caught on the border into detention centers. Current detention centers don't have enough space, particularly for families and children, to accomplish this. Previously, most undocumented immigrants were released into alternative to detention programs while they waited for their case to be heard by an immigration judge.

o Hiring 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and 5,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to enforce the guidelines.

o Beginning plans for a wall on the southern border.
 

The new plan leaves in place an Obama-era protection for an estimated 750,000 people referred to as DREAMers - who were brought into the country illegally as children.

Congress would need to allocate money for the border wall, detention centers, and additional immigration agents and border patrol officers.

The additional detention centers, agents and officers could cost $13 billion a year, according to an estimate by Politico. Meanwhile, the border wall would cost up to $21.6 billion, according to a DHS Report that Reuters claims to have seen.

Bill provides hard path to citizenship, easy path to tech companies

2013-May-23By: Rob Dennis

An immigration bill in Congress would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while spending billions to track visas and secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill would...

o Authorize spending $6.5 billion over 10 years on surveillance technology, fencing and additional border agents at the U.S. Mexico border.

o Allow undocumented immigrants to apply for limited legal status. This would be contingent on the Department of Homeland Security submitting border security plans to Congress.

o Allow those who were granted limited legal status to apply for permanent residency after 10 years. This would be contingent on the establishment of new border security plans, a new mandatory employment verification system, and a new system tracking who leaves the country.

o Require undocumented immigrants to show they were in the United States earlier than 2012, pass criminal background checks, satisfy a work requirement, pay fines and back taxes, learn civics and English, and wait until those who already had started the citizenship process are approved.

The process would be expedited for immigrants who arrived in the country before they were 16 years old, graduated from high school here, and attended at least two years of college or served four years in the military.

The bill also would make it quicker and easier for technology companies to bring in more foreign workers on H-1B visas. It would nearly triple the yearly number of these visas - from 65,000 to 180,000. In addition, a provision by Sen Orrin Hatch (UT) would remove the requirement for most companies that they first offer the jobs to Americans.

Technology companies such as Facebook and Microsoft have lobbied intensely in recent months for this loosening of restrictions. Evidence shows that it comes at the expense of American engineers and scientists. Even without Hatch's amendment, companies dodge the law that they first offer the job to a U.S. worker by creating requirements that would eliminate virtually any applicant. See our report for more on this.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) proposed allowing citizens in same-sex relationships to sponsor their foreign partners for permanent resident status, known as a green card. Another Leahy proposal would have exempted immigration law from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples. Leahy withdrew the proposals after Republicans said they would not support the bill if the amendments were included.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on May 21. It is expected to be debated in the full Senate next month. You can track the progress of this bill at GovTrack.us.

For more, read the Washington Post story

Tech companies lobby Congress to allow more foreign workers

2013-May-12By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

Technology companies such as Facebook and Microsoft have been lobbying to loosen immigration restrictions for high-tech workers. They hope to include the new rules in the immigration-reform bill being considered by the Senate.

Relaxed immigration rules would save these companies money. But evidence shows they come at the expense of American engineers and scientists.

The companies claim they need skilled computer workers from overseas because there aren't enough qualified Americans. They are calling for an increase in temporary H-1B work visas. These visas allow immigrants to work for technology companies in the U.S. while they pursue permanent residency (green card). H-1B employees typically are paid less than an American citizen or permanent resident would be paid. The employee also must keep working for the same company the entire time, usually at least 4 years, giving the company another reason to prefer immigrants.

The provision would almost double the amount of guest worker visas allowed - from 65,000 to 110,000 a year - and makes the limit open to further expansion. It also would allow companies more easily to move workers from H-1B visas to permanent resident visas, freeing up more H-1B visas.

A study by the Economic Policy Institute released earlier this year shows that these foreign workers typically are no more talented or experienced than their American counterparts. It also shows there is no shortage of talented American workers. However, because the hiring H-1B workers reduces opportunities for them, many are leaving the field for non-technical, more lucrative ones such as finance and law.

To read the report from the Economic Policy Institute, click here.

For more, read the New York Times story.

The law requires that companies must try to find a qualified American employee before offering a job to a foreign worker. Companies dodge that restriction by placing employment ads with restrictions that are so specific it would be virtually impossible for someone to meet them. This video is of an actual seminar by a law firm that instructs companies how to do this...



Senators propose path to citizenship for all immigrants

2013-Jan-27

A group of senators has proposed an overhaul of the immigration system that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

Under the proposal, illegal immigrants without a serious criminal record could register with the government, pay a fine, and be allowed to live and work here legally, but that would be contingent on legislation beefing up border security and keeping better track of those in the country on visas.

The proposal calls for "a humane and effective system" for immigrant workers to enter the country, and for the development of a mandatory employment verification system to prevent identity theft and future illegal workers. It also would award a green card to immigrants who have obtained a master's degree or doctorate in science, technology, engineering, or math from American universities.

Four Democrats and four Republicans unveiled the plan Jan. 28, the day before President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a policy speech in Nevada about immigration.

You can read the five-page proposal here (.pdf file)

Human Rights Watch cautioned that while the language of the agreement is "a promising start," implementation might have little effect. For example...

o Newly legalized immigrants would be put at the "back of the line" for a "green card." But the wait under the existing system already can be almost 20 years.

o That process could be delayed even longer if the the legalization is contingent on the border being deemed "secure."

You can read their analysis here

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