U.S. Immigration – Part 2 of 2.
Legal experts call Trump’s treatment of refugees and immigrants illegal. Here’s a look into what happens when undocumented people enter the United States.
In February, the current administration dispatched a secondary troop of almost 3,500 military personnel to the southern U.S./Mexico border. These troops were charged with managing the caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum. Immediately raising concerns about the U.S.’s responsibility to immigrants and refugees. While Trump maintains a tough immigration policy for economic and security reasons; his critics argue these policies directly violate domestic laws and international humanitarian standards.
The Current Immigration Policy
The U.S. has previously signed international treaties regarding stateless persons. Yet applicability for and against the modern caravans of refugee and asylum status is arguable. However, people with no criminal history who seek asylum or naturalization have a basis for due process under U.S. law.
On Nov. 19, 2018, in nationwide restraining order, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar barred the enforcement of Trump’s anti-asylum proclamation against the caravan. Tigar stated it was in clear violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. According to Violeta Chapin, associate clinical professor of immigration and policy law at the University of Colorado- Boulder, Tigar ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents routinely violate the rights of immigrants who are legally allowed a “credible fear” review.
“ICE and CBP were using a number of different techniques, including lying to immigrants about what the legal standard was [and] what their obligations were,” Chapin says. “The judge found that they violated certain laws.”
Immigration courts have been backlogged in the United States for decades. As a result, immigrants and refugees were released into the U.S. to await their due process hearings. This enabled immigrants to stay for years awaiting asylum claims decisions. Leaving many to disappear from the system altogether.
Each presidential administration, along with Congress, sets the number of admissible refugees from particular countries. During the 2019 fiscal year, the Trump administration reduced the refugee admission allotment to 30,000, the lowest it has been since 1980.
In 2018, there were 22,491 refugees allowed into the U.S., totaling less than the allotted number of 45,000 for that year. This was due largely to changed policies meant to vet further refugees, which created even more processing delays.
Initially, to help bypass this immigration backlog, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions mandated annual caseload quotas. Federal Judges pushed back, stating the policy encouraged shortcuts during court proceedings and didn’t allow time for proper due process.
As a result, the administration drafted an agreement with Mexico to make asylum-seekers wait out their time across the border. Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union argued that refugees couldn’t attend their own asylum hearings and were cut out of their own due process.
This illegal policy violates due process, going against international law, remains in litigation. The initial April 2019 block by a federal judge was reinstated and extended nationally in September 2019.
Detention Center Dangers
GEO Group Facilities and Southwest Key run the detention centers that hold refugees and undocumented immigrants in federal buildings. They are private, nonprofit contractors. Fashioned after for-profit private prisons, these facilities, specifically Southwest Key, have also come under scrutiny for mismanagement of federal funds.
In June 2018, the Office of Inspector General released a report regarding the standard of care within six random detention facilities. Researchers discovered issues of unsubstantiated strip searches, insufficient language services, shared housing among criminal and noncriminal populations, and deterrents for filing grievances.
Such detention facilities were scheduled to be phased out under the Obama administration.
Among the refugees who have gotten into U.S. detention facilities, roughly 24 have died during the Trump administration. The death toll includes a 19-month-old girl who failed to receive proper and timely medical care inside a detention center and a 7-year-old girl who died in Border Patrol custody. The cause of death was determined to be exhaustion.
A study of ICE detention center complaints, filed with the Department of Homeland Security, found more than 1,224 cases of sexual assault and misconduct. As well as allegations of child molestation by youth detention center workers.
ICE Arrests & Detention
ICE and its supporting agencies collect and deport the criminal element among undocumented immigrants. Pew Research Center reports immigrants with past criminal convictions accounted for 74% of ICE’s arrests in 2017.
The Department of Justice and ICE agree that detainees can not be held for more than 90 days. Typically, detainees average a little more than a month’s stay while they wait for their master hearing. Working with legal representation if they have any.
Detainees nationwide get transferred between states, to accommodate space limitations. In Aurora, Colorado, the immigrant detention center has 1,532 beds in a building that it shares with the U.S. Marshals jail.
When it comes to deportations, this is decided by the Department of Justice and carried out by ICE. In some circumstances, individual detainees can remove themselves from the country. Alternatives to detention or ATD are an option for many undocumented immigrants. This can be parole, house arrest, or off-site officer check-ins.
Photos by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
The United States’ history of providing asylum has periodically butted against restrictive policies that stopped immigrants from entering the country. The Naturalization Act of 1790 closed previously open borders. It limited citizens’ naturalization to “free white persons of good, moral character.”
Who had to have a residency in the U.S. for a minimum of two years. The 14th Amendment, which passed in 1868, also made citizens of all American-born children.
Later, the Immigration Act of 1917 later barred citizenship for some by using English literacy tests for all applicants. The Immigration Act of 1924 created quotas for immigrants to manage those allowed entries from certain “undesirable” countries.
During the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the policy changed. The policy excluded racial distinction, but the law still gave preferential treatment to applicants from the U.K. and Germany. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated quotas and racial preference; emphasizing skilled labor, asylum-seekers, and family ties to the U.S instead.
In 1967, the United States signed the United Nations Protocol. Relating to the Status of Refugees, they agreed to an international treaty to protect refugees and asylum-seekers. The Refugee Act of 1980 further modified criteria by bringing refugee status more in line with United Nations’ definitions.
How U.S. Government Functions
In Colorado and Wyoming, regional ICE directors have focused their attention on criminality, even with the administration change. According to Alethea Smock, an ICE public affairs officer in Colorado, the agency is concerned with individuals who threaten national security, public safety, and border security.
Even though ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law; it does not exempt classes or categories of removable immigrants from potential enforcement. Any immigrant in violation of the law may be subject to arrest, detention, and removal from the United States by final order.
Many criticize ICE and CBP’s actions but they only follow the mandates of Congress. Further illustrating the biggest challenge and most fixable action in a democracy, which is policy.
Colorado State Sen. Dominick Moreno took action when he saw a gap between the federal government’s refugee services program and the actual services provided to new immigrants.
Along with State Rep. Leslie Herod, Moreno constructed Senate Bill 230, in which several refugee service organizations worked collaboratively to explore new ways Colorado can support its refugee population.
“Obviously, refugee resettlement services are too important to fall victim to politics and shouldn’t be dependent on who occupies the governor’s office,” Moreno says. “We decided to codify the existing executive order in state statute and also allow the General Assembly to commit state funds toward refugee resettlement services in the future.”
In the House
Similarly, U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse, a son of refugees, supports bill H.R.6, the American dream and Promise Act of 2019, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill seeks to cancel the removal of immigrants from the country. Then provide them with a path to permanent residency status. The bill intended to aid the DREAMers, who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These individuals came to the U.S. as minors and agreed to complete certain educational programs. This was conditional for residency status and a path to citizenship. The bill would also cancel any state restrictions from providing higher education to undocumented immigrants.
“It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over,” said Congressman Neguse, quoting Ronald Reagan during his speech to the House of Representatives. “They believe in the American dream, and over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children and others. They give more than they receive … But their greatest contribution is more than economic because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American.”
Neguse’s use of Reagan’s words underscored the pivotal place that immigrants hold in U.S. history.
“In America, immigrants are an integral part of each of our communities and of our economy,” Neguse said. “They are our friends; they are our neighbors, they are our co-workers and fighting each and every day just as we are to live up to the American ideals that our country was founded on.”
Note: This is the first of a two-part series.