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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.
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.
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.
Democrat apologists are coming out of the woodwork to defend the Obama Administration’s deportation record.
After all, once you deport 2 million people, expand immigration enforcement, and preside over the largest immigration detention complex in the world, there is nothing stopping even the conservative National Council of La Raza from calling you ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’
The esteemed Julia Preston for the New York Times tells us that court deportations have dropped 43 percent in five years. There is a very simple explanation for why court deportations are down. It is because most people are being deported without ever even seeing a judge, through a process called expedited removal–a term that is so impersonal, but essentially means deportation. Preston paints a rosy picture of the deportation crisis by ignoring the reality that 75 percent of people removed from the country never even saw a judge. They were deported in the most inhumane way–without due process of law. Moreover, due to budget reasons, our immigration courts are so backlogged that many people languish in limbo for years–awaiting a final hearing–before they are deported. And many people in removal proceedings are lawyering up, which makes removal less likely through the immigration court system, and much more likely through the process of “expedited removals.”
The most creative attempt to make the President look good on deportations comes from the New Democrats Network (NDN). The NDN report plays on the legally-crafted distinction between removals and returns to say that Obama may be “removing” more people but is “returning” less than Bush:
The NDN report shows that removals under Obama’s administration have indeed increased, from a record low of 165,168 during the Bush administration in 2002 to a record high of 419,384 in 2012. However, the number of returns has plummeted — dropping sharply from 2008 to 2009, when Obama first took office, and declining steadily since. In 2001, there were 1,349,371 returns, but in 2012 there were only 229,968 — a drop of nearly 83 percent.
What’s the difference between removals and returns? Well, deportation is a rather harsh word, so lawmakers have opted to move away from it since 1996, and categorize deportations as “removals” and “returns.” Removals are actual deportations, and returns constitute voluntary departure. For the government, voluntary departure expedites and reduces the cost of removal. For the non-citizen, voluntary departure removes the stigma of deportation and allows a person more time to depart the country at her or his expense. Many times, non-citizens are actually forced into accepting voluntary departure, so the phrase is a euphemism in practice, and literally means deportation from the country, without the harsh legal consequences of removal.
The 2 million figure contains both removals and returns. However, as the NDN reports admits, Obama has presided over more removals than returns, which means people face harsher consequences if they are deported nowadays. The Immigration Policy Center confirms that the trend has been towards removal rather than return:
The end result is that the number of “removals” (deportations) has trended upward since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions has fluctuated widely, primarily in response to changing economic conditions in the United States and Mexico, and nose-dived when the recession of late 2007 hit. The number of “voluntary returns” has tracked apprehensions closely. However, since 2005, voluntary return has been made available to fewer and fewer apprehended immigrants as deportation (with criminal consequences for re-entry into the country) becomes the preferred option of U.S. immigration authorities.
Another colleague, Anna Law, who is a professor at CUNY Law, penned “Lies, damned lies, and Obama’s deportation statistics” only to be somehow caught up in the web of lies. She concludes in her well-written article that Obama has emphasized returns over removals even though the statistics from ICE and the NDN report tell us otherwise. Law also appears to be downplaying the harmful impact of “expedited removals” by pointing out that “two-thirds of Obama’s overall expulsion numbers consist of returns of people who have previous final orders of removal and who are recently arriving entrants.”
Surprisingly, nowhere in the article does Law analyze that many of these “recently arriving entrants” who have final orders to leave the country actually have family members in the United States, and that “expedited removal” tears apart American families without due process of law. Law does not even mention how the Administration has steadily given more people criminal convictions for mere entry and re-entry such that immigration convictions account for the largest portion of federal convictions. In effect, the Obama Administration is increasingly criminalizing immigrants–giving us criminal records, locking us up in detention centers, and deporting more people who have such minor criminal records.
In conclusion, Obama has presided over more actual removals than former President George W. Bush, criminalized immigrant communities to prioritize us for removal, and in total, the number of returns and removals under his Administration surpasses 2 million.
This is all beside the point. Numbers can be skewed in many ways, and we’ll continue to see both conservatives and liberals spin numbers for political reasons. But numbers don’t tell us the real stories of how people across the country continue to suffer the devastating impact of immigration enforcement. Numbers are impersonal–they do not tell of the violence and terror done to our communities. It does not matter whether Obama or Bush deported more people–what matters is that actual people are suffering due to harsh enforcement programs carried out by the Executive Branch ranging from Operation Streamline to Secure Communities to the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative.
The President can change this, but thus far, he has refused to act. And so we continue the hunger strikes on his lawn, carry on with shutting down ICE, and do what we must to put the pressure where it belongs.
While the President sits with his hands tied behind his back even as he deports people in record numbers, and Congress remains as ineffective as ever, here are some cases of deportations that need your immediate attention:
- Ana Cañenguez & her four sons face deportation to El Salvador, where they fear for their lives.
- Alfredo Reyes, an Undocuqueer activist from Los Angeles, CA and a member of the Immigrant Youth Coalition is facing deportation after police officers in his county handed him to ICE in violation of the state TRUST Act.
- In New Jersey, the Anandarajah family needs our help.
- Not One More Deportation Campaign: Edgar, Jose Luis and Israel
- And then there are dozens of petitions to sign from the Bring Them Home campaign of asylum and humanitarian parole seekers who are detained.
- Ricardo Lugardo, a community member in Maryland, who was serving out his probation for a first-time DUI offense when ICE agents arrested and detained him. Due to ineffective assistance of counsel, Ricardo took voluntary departure. He has no prior orders or criminal history, and deserves a second chance. I’ll put a link up to his petition shortly.
These are just less than 1 percent of the numbers of people deported daily from the U.S. Now I don’t believe that deportation is the worst thing that can happen to a person. The invisible detention regime that keeps the undocumented imprisoned inside the cages of America and separated from their loved ones at home is far more insidious, sinister and life-threatening than deportation in many scenarios. Our advocates do not talk about it because it means answering critical questions about America’s role in creating and sustaining conditions that lead us to leave our homes, and serve as a reserve army of the marginalized and exploited here in the U.S.
But at the same time, our communities need relief now, and they are not likely to get it through Congress. In the meanwhile, keep signing these petitions and keep organizing.