Category Archives: Immigration

ICE Releases Woefully Inadequate Transgender Guidance

Crossposted from Medium – Advancing Justice | AAJC

Photo Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

Responding to grassroots pressure from advocates, and mounting criticismfrom congressional leaders such as Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unveiled an 18-page memorandum for the care of transgender immigrants in detention this week.

While these guidelines are a step in the right direction and long overdue, it’s still not enough and here’s why:

1. Detention of vulnerable immigrants is inherently inhumane: The new guidance does nothing to move us away from the prolonged detention of transgender individuals, the vast majority of whom are asylum seekers who have already faced persecution in their home countries, only to be subjected to further pain and suffering at the hands of ICE. Detaining asylum seekers is inhumane, re-traumatizes some of the most vulnerable immigrants and it is contrary to our laws when detention is used as a form of deterrence to dissuade people from coming to the United States. Advocates have repeatedly called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to release such detainees once they have proven that their fear of persecution is credible. Officials should act to end the practice of detaining such individuals, as there is no mending it.

2. The new guidance provides inadequate care and housing options: The guidance continues to allow practices that have been denounced as inhumane, such as administrative segregation, ‘protective custody’ and isolated pods for transgender detainees. ICE detains 75 transgender immigrants on average, which is less than one percent of the detainee population, but over 20 percent of sexual assault cases in immigrant detention involve a transgender survivor. Alternative housing practices havefailed to protect transgender immigrants in detention from sexual assault and physical abuse in the past, and should not be used when releasing such detainees on bond or parole is a much more humane and cheaper alternative.

3. No guidelines for the treatment of vulnerable immigrants such as lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers: Many individuals seeking asylum in the United States are detained upon arriving at a port of entry. Many of them, including lesbians, gays and bisexuals, have suffered severe persecution in their home countries. A recent Center for American Progress report shows that ICE routinely detains LGBT immigrants who it knows are at great risk and should not be behind bars. A disproportionate number of undocumented LGBT individuals are Asian American. The new guidelines do nothing to recognize that these individuals, who may have suffered sexual assault and torture in their home countries, remain vulnerable in immigrant detention and should be released.

4. No guidelines for dealing with sexual assault and abuse in detention:Transgender immigrants in ICE custody face extremely harsh conditions such as alarming rates of sexual assault, physical abuse and harassment. While housing them according to their gender identity may reduce some of the violence transgender detainees face, the guidelines provide no mechanism for reporting ongoing violence. Forty percent of sexual assault cases in detention are unreported, and the guidelines contain no mention of how transgender immigrants can report assault, or any measures to protect transgender immigrants from such assault.

5. No enforcement mechanism — The ICE ERO working group that crafted this guidance worked hard to meet with transgender detainees and try to ascertain best practices for the detention of transgender individuals in custody. However, without a grievance mechanism, the guidance may be tough to enforce at all facilities.

We strongly urge the ICE ERO working group to consider alternatives to detention for LGBT and other vulnerable immigrants in detention.

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White House Official Shamed Off the Stage at Annual Conference of Immigration Lawyers

Crossposted at LatinoRebels

White House advisor, Cecilia Muñoz, was met with silence, jabs and jeers, and booed off the stage at the annual American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conference yesterday.

Several immigration attorneys and advocates who have been at the frontlines of the fight to end the detention of refugee mothers and children stood up in the front of the room with signs declaring ‘Shame’ in response to how the Obama Administration has been treating these refugees.

AILA_Lal

Muñoz took the stage at the annual conference with classic political speech. She praised the audience for their work, touted past achievements of the Administration such as the executive action announcements of November 2014, and deflected criticism onto Republicans. By the end of her speech though, she appeared flustered and frustrated by the constant berating comments from immigration attorneys.

“You’re jailing children!” exclaimed attorney Sheila Starkey, while holding up a photo of a boy with the word “Shame” on it.

Several other attorneys started chanting “End Family Detention” and Muñoz responded by stating that “Not One More” was a catchy slogan, but not an enforcement strategy, and implored advocates to work with the Administration to craft an enforcement strategy.

That seems to have backfired, as Marisa Franco, one of the organizers with the grassroots campaign, later stated in response:

Instead of targeting efforts for justice like Not1More, Muñoz should’ve taken this opportunity to announce an end to immigrant detention. The White House’s job to make immigration policy more humane is far from complete and we will continue to push this administration.

AILAA

It is a bit strange and out of touch for the White House to take cheap political shots at the very campaign that has helped to shape immigration enforcement policy. The comment also indicates that the Administration is not serious about making tangible changes to the enforcement machinery that advocates have been demanding for a while: reducing deportations, ending incarceration of families, restoring due process for asylum seekers, and eliminating the detention of vulnerable populations.

Muñoz should have used the platform provided to her at the annual conference to announce further reforms to the enforcement machinery as listed above. By not doing so, and trying to deflect criticism onto the GOP and grassroots organizers, her speech failed to be anything more than self-serving.

Law360 published a story about yesterday’s event and included a statement from a White House official:

Asked about the protest, a White House official told Law360 in a statement that the Obama administration “regularly seeks out opportunities to engage with attorneys and other stakeholders, including immigrants themselves, about the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement policies.”

“We continue to engage extensively in assessing the impact of the response to last year’s unprecedented influx of Central American children and families at the Southwest border, and these conversations are always helpful,” the official said. “Engagement with stakeholders plays an important role in informing the administration’s decision-making on these important and complex issues.”

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Is Migration Really Beautiful?

Today is a very special day. It was four years ago, today, that the U.S. government initiated removal proceedings against me.

I am not only here–but now I have lawful status, and on an expedited pathway to U.S. citizenship.

(This does not stop people from sending me hate mail, which goes to prove the ‘we support legal immigration’ movement is a sham).

When I was put into removal proceedings, I felt a certain sense of relief. Finally, instead of living in the perpetual limbo of being undocumented, someone would make a decision on my case, and I could pick up on living life again. Finally, I may be able to go home, and restart my life from when it had ended. I truly felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Americans are incensed by this. Of course, there is something to lose — your family, your community, and your life in the United States.

True, perhaps there is some loss there. But my great-great-grandparents were resilient people. And they passed on this resilience to the generations after them. They were taken from India to Fiji, as indentured labourers. Certainly, they must have lost a lot in that migration. Their culture, family, caste, and way of life.

Somehow, people also forget how much we lost, similarly, in moving here. That sense of loss does not go away with capitalist accumulation. Loss combines with isolation because the U.S. is such an individualistic society where everyone is so steeped in the rat race to nowhere, and worried about money.

People in the U.S. don’t smile and say ‘Bula’ when you walk down the street. We do not talanoa with our co-workers. Our neighbors do not know our names.  If they know our names, they cannot pronounce our names. And they cannot seem to fathom the concept of an Indo-Fijian, much less a queer one.

Integration into this society is unpaid emotional and mental labor, and in the U.S., the emphasis is on assimilation, not integration. My integration was also hampered by the decade that I spent being undocumented. There was no instate tuition. No ability to drive. No health access for counseling or basic check-ups. No financial aid for college. No law licenses for undocumented lawyers. No white-collar employment. No ability to travel abroad. And certainly no programs like deferred action to enable any of the above. We had to work hard to make all of these things possible. I had to personally fight and win these battles.

It all draws me towards the conclusion that migration isn’t beautiful for a lot of immigrants. It is devastating to leave everything and come to a new country to start over again. Feeling completely displaced and lonely. Constantly feeling threatened, scrutinized and under attack from anti-immigrants. Having to work twice as hard as everyone else, and be twice as more qualified, for the same jobs. Having to learn and speak English.

The U.S. provides tremendous opportunity to reinvent and recreate ourselves, but that opportunity is often met with tremendous resistance, and frequent isolation. Maybe migration is beautiful but only for those who benefit from it. The cuisines, languages, and cultures that other immigrants bring with them enrich the United States, and the immigrant experience. The cheap and expandable labour–well, we know who mostly benefits from that.

What do you think?

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What Obama’s Immigration Action Means for Indian Americans

My article in India Currents on how the immigration actions announced in November 2014 by the President impacts Indian Americans is finally available here. While some of the most pivotal programs such as expanded DACA and DAPA are currently on hold due to the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit, the Administration is moving ahead with the other proposed changes, through the issuance of more guidance. Feedback on the article is much-appreciated!

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Thoughts On The Federal District Court Ruling Against Executive Action

The party over executive action seems to have fizzled out even before it started.

As expected, late Monday, February 16, Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction against the implementation of two parts of President Obama Administration’s executive actions on prosecutorial discretion in immigration: an expansion of the current deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program, and a program for the parents of U.S. citizens (DAPA).

The federal district court did not decide on the constitutionality or legality of the programs, but rather, took issue with the fact that the Obama Administration had not followed proper procedures under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), in rolling out the programs. The Justice Department is expected to appeal this ruling and to request a stay of the injunction so that the initiatives aren’t stalled.

While much has been written about how Judge Hanen reached an erroneous decision when he determined that the federal government had to allow for a notice and comment period, no one is actually talking about the fact that the National Day Labor Organizing Network had filed a complaint requesting that the government engage in rule-making with regards to executive action, more than a year before the executive actions were announced. This was a request for formal rule making of the kind that Judge Hanen found lacking from the executive actions announced on November 20, 2014.

The government seems to have not responded to the NDLON complaint, and never bothered to publish a formal notice in the Federal Register when it did announce changes to its prosecutorial discretion programs. If they had, perhaps things would have turned out differently last week. Perhaps not. In any case, the Obama Administration has a major “foot in mouth” problem, and perhaps before embarking on future partisan events to drum up support for his programs, someone should ensure that the intern does send over a copy of the proposed rule change to the Federal Register.

What’s next? Now that the brakes are on, the legal teams on both sides seem to be up against months, if not years, of litigation. That may bode well for the politicos, but not for undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from these programs.

Most talking points sheets say that people should continue preparing for the programs. Sure, that is true. But more importantly, the new enforcement priorities announced on November 20, 2014, remain in place. So if you think the Administration is still detaining and deporting people that it has no business doing, continue raising hell, and continue asking for a more expansive definition of discretion.

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Executive Action on Immigration: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I went to bed last night mentally doing a checklist of everyone I know who qualifies and does not qualify under the President’s immigration action. As a community advocate and formerly undocumented immigrant, the word that most aptly describes last night is “bitter-sweet.”

While the announcement is not enough, we do need to celebrate our victories, and what change this temporary reprieve will bring to so many members of the community. However, I am also frankly terrified for those that it would not help, and what would happen in the absence of permanent changes.

I am making a quick reference checklist here for myself, family members and friends, similar to the one I made for the Senate immigration bill two years ago as a community advocate. These are simply my initial mental impressions of the various memos released by the DHS yesterday and available here. They are in no particular order:

Good

  1. Expansion of DACA – The DHS will remove the upper level age cap on DACA so people who were above the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 will not miss out. The date of entry was moved to January 1, 2010 from June 15, 2007, which means thousands more people who are newer arrivals would benefit. DACA will also be made into a temporary reprieve of 3 years, and the changes rolled out in 3 months.
  2. The New DAPA program – The DHS is tasked with creating a separate deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizen sons/daughters or LPR sons/daughters born before November 21, 2014. Parents must have resided in the U.S. since at least January 1, 2010, physically present in the U.S. on the day of announcement and have no lawful status, passed background checks, and are otherwise not ineligible (i.e. not an enforcement priority according to the new Johnson memo).
  3. The provisional stateside waiver (I-601A) will be extended to all family members eligible, which will now include adult sons and daughters, and spouses of LPRs. The provisional waiver is for the 3/10 year bar for unlawful entry, and requires an individual to prove “extreme hardship” to their U.S. citizen family member if they are deported. Usually, individuals who are trying to adjust their status in the U.S. but entered the country unlawfully, need to travel abroad to their home country for approval of a waiver. In 2012, the Administration started accepting “extreme hardship” waivers without requiring immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to leave and wait outside. Now this benefit is also available to the children and spouses of lawful permanent residents. This provision will require rule-making, so it will take some time to roll this out. The DHS will also engage in rule-making to expand the “extreme hardship” definition.
  4. Naturalization – Lawful permanent residents who are naturalizing can now pay via credit card and may qualify for fee waivers.
  5. Expansion of parole-in-place to immediate relatives of those U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who “seek to enlist” in the US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or the Reserve of any of the five Armed Services). This benefit means that not only would the family members of those who seek to enlist not be subject deported–they may also be eligible to adjust their status in the future.
  6. Clarification of travel on advance parole by DHS so that people on DAP, DACA can travel abroad, and return to adjust their status in the U.S.
  7. Department of Labor (DOL) reforms: DOL will start issuing U visa certifications in three key areas: extortion, forced labor, and fraud in foreign labor contracting, and certify applications for trafficking victims seeking T visas. According to DOL, “These efforts will significantly help qualifying victims of these crimes receive immigration relief from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and access the range of victim services that they need to recover and rebuild their lives.”
  8. Reforms to the employment-based immigration system such as extension of OPT for STEM graduates, defining “specialized knowledge” for L-1B intracompany transferees, increasing H-1B portability by having USCIS define “same or similar” jobs, expanding the use of the “national interest waiver” and starting a new parole program to bring talented entrepreneurs to the U.S.

Bad

  1. Elimination of Secure Communities with a new program that targets immigrant communities: DHS is replacing the current “Secure Communities”  program with a new “Priority Enforcement Program” to remove individuals convicted of criminal offenses. While it could be a marked improvement that moves us from a pre-conviction to post-conviction model and uses notification instead of detainers, unfortunately, this continues the entanglement of local law enforcement with immigration enforcement.
  2. Exclusions for parents of DACA recipients, undocumented workers and farm workers without families, and LGBT individuals less likely to have family members in the U.S. – While these exclusions are not categorical, and some parents of DACA recipients who also have U.S. citizen/LPR children would continue to benefit, the President’s immigration action does not specifically benefit those who do not have immediate family ties to the U.S. but are nonetheless, members of our community. It is also unclear at this point whether parents with final orders or re-entries after deportation would be eligible for the program. At this point it appears that they would be eligible since they are not priorities under the new memo.
  3. Visa backlogs – The announcement punts on the question of family visa backlogs that affect so many of us. However, there will be Presidential Memorandum to create an interagency group to look at “visa modernization” which has 120 days to prepare recommendations for further action.
  4. Limited expansion of DACA:  It is great to see an expansion of DACA and elimination of the age-cap. It would have been nice to see public benefits such as ACA (healthcare) given to DACA recipients, as well as increasing the age of entry to 18 from 16 years.
  5. Employment-based immigration: DHS expects to finalize regulation on H4 visa holders soon but the rule will not be expanded to all H4 visa holders
  6. New enforcement priorities that continue to target immigrant communities: The President is rescinding past memos such as the Morton Memo, and issuing a new one, effective January 5, 2015. The new priorities are troubling and continue to criminalize immigrant and border communities, pitting good immigrants against bad immigrants, and separating families. I have listed the priorities below, and some initial thoughts on each:

Priority 1: Non-citizens convicted of aggravated felonies, suspected terrorists, convicted gang members, people apprehended at the border while unlawfully entering the U.S., will be a priority for removal unless they qualify for asylum or another immigration benefit.

Most troubling here is the use of language such as “suspected terrorists” without built in civil rights protections that discourage racial profiling. Additionally, people apprehended at the border will now be a top priority, even though many are coming to reunite with family. The prioritization of people with gang-related membership (without conviction) is very troubling, as law enforcement targets specific racial/ethnic groups as gang-affiliated.  

Priority 2: Non-citizens convicted of three or more misdemeanor offenses, non-citizens convicted of significant misdemeanors (including DUI), non-citizens apprehended who entered after January 1, 2014; non-citizens who are perceived to abuse the visa waiver program should be a priority of removal unless they qualify for asylum or another immigration benefit.

Significant misdemeanors – a new legal fiction created by DACA – is here to stay, even though it has no legal foundation. The prioritization of people with a DUI, and their exclusion from DACA, is incredibly troubling, as is the prioritization of people who overstay their visas under the visa waiver program. Many of these people are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and have much to contribute to the U.S.

Priority 3: Non-citizens issued final orders of removal after January 1, 2014 should generally be a priority for removal unless they qualify for asylum, or another immigration benefit.

Immigrants who dared to come to the U.S. in 2014 will now be subject to draconian enforcement. 

Ugly

  1. Increased border enforcement – DHS plans to fund an additional 20,000 CBP agents, and continue to trend towards further border militarization of the Southern border we share with Mexico.
  2. Ramped up interior enforcement through existing programs such as the Criminal Alien Removal (CARI) Program, which profiles Latinos for detention and deportation, and  ICE raids, which will continue under these new announcements, despite right-wing talking points.
  3. Due process concerns: Expedited deportations and Operation Streamline will continue.
  4. No reforms to the existing detention system: Family detention will continue as the DHS opens a brand new center in Dilley, Texas, and arriving asylum seekers at the border will continue to be detained.

Finally, I just want to say that this is a deeply personal issue for me. I want to send some love and light to everyone who has worked hard for this announcement and emotionally drained from yesterday, and left out or have family members who are left out. I had a cab-driver yesterday, who unexpectedly started telling me about his son, and trying to figure out how to bring him here, just as I was getting out of the cab. I wish I had the time and opportunity to help him, and I hope he reunites with his son soon. We all deserve justice; we all deserve to be able to reunite with our families; and we most certainly deserve to be able to go home to safety–wherever that is.

If anyone has further thoughts, questions and concerns, feel free to comment or contact me.

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Executive Action On Immigration – Who You Should Thank Before the Party Gets Out of Control

Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

For more than a year now, I have worked with the grassroots movement trying to secure broad administrative relief from President Obama on immigration. I co-authored the Not1More Blue Ribbon Commission Recommendations to the President in the Spring. Just a few months ago, we were quite unpopular amongst advocates in the Beltway, who were asking the President to delay issuing administrative relief on immigration, but since the midterm elections, we are all the rage, and invited to cocktail parties everywhere. The Democrats may have lost the Senate due to the delay, but now that the President has signaled his desire to take executive action on immigration, the Democratic base seems fired up and ready for change.

It is certainly a pivot in the right direction. My experience as an undocumented immigrant has prepared me well for this moment since something similar happened when we won Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “Dreamers”—the beneficiaries of DACA—became the “cool kids” that everyone tried to hang with, while we tried hard to grapple with how it divided our community into deserving and undeserving immigrants. My experience as an LGBT individual is also quite similar. Straight people, for lack of a better term, want to celebrate with us at our parties now, and act like they are cool with us, which makes for rather awkward conversations. I have learned to take people at face value, revel in my accomplishments, and forget about them the moment the happy hour is over. Because we have much more important work to do.

Nothing has been announced yet, so if you are confused about all the noise on executive action, you need to consult the chart here. The delay is cause for protests, not parties as the President continues to deport more people than ever before. Moreover, family detentions continue, as the Obama Administration builds a brand new facility in Dilley, Texas to imprison mothers and children escaping persecution in their home countries.

If any announcement does come, remember to thank NDLON’s Not One More Deportation movement. Without NotOneMore, we would have a dead immigration bill with no momentum for change and frankly, no prospects for executive action. Remember to thank the undocumented workers, parents, and youth who stopped buses, infiltrated detention centers, put their bodies on the line to ask for this change, and endured many attacks from pro-reform advocates. Unlike what Julia Preston writes in the New York Times, it is not big money which has brought us here, but big, courageous hearts of those who have been directly impacted by our devastating immigration laws. This is an undeniable fact, and perhaps it would not make it into the history books, but you had better not forget it.

It’s also important to remember that whatever the President announces will mean thousands left out and left to fend for themselves. Many of them are among the ones who organized for this change in the first place. They are our friends, loved ones, and members of our community. We have to help those who qualify but we must also fill the gap for those who did not make it, and work to ensure that they are represented as well.

Those who opposed administrative action at any time should start redeeming themselves by doing applications for relief at no cost to applicants, and contribute some application fees while they are at it. But don’t hold your breath. You’ll notice that they are the first ones taking credit and trying to make money from this.

Got legal questions for me or need help? Hit me up here.

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