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.

The Lies Behind Deportation Statistics

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.

“That Awkward Moment When You Run Away from Your Home Country Due to Discrimination For Being Queer, To Be Locked Up in the Land of the Free…”

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Full text: “That awkward moment when you run away from your home country due to discrimination for being queer…Only to be locked up in the land of the free with a lot of machista, and sexist, homophobic, transphobic ICE officers.” – Alejandro Aldana

Yesterday, I received this bittersweet postcard from my dear friend, Alex Aldana, who is currently detained at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego.

Alex lived with his family in California for ten years, where he graduated from high school and worked hard to make his community a better place. He left the U.S. to go back to Mexico five months ago to care for his sick grandmother.

Over these past few months, Alex discovered how crime and corruption made life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico. In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now, Alex wants to return to California, where his mother and sibling reside so that he can continue to take care of them, and lead a life that does not entail the amount of violence he would face if he remained in Mexico.

Even with the heightened standard for credible fear instituted by the new Lafferty memo in light of the numerous claims for asylum from Mexico and Central America, Alex has already passed his credible fear interview. This means that according to Immigration and Customs officials, Alex has established a clear and convincing chance of winning asylum before an Immigration Judge based on his fear of persecution in Mexico. According to ICE guidelines, Alex should be released from detention to pursue his asylum case as he is neither a threat nor a flight risk. However, he has been detained at Otay for more than a month for no real reason, and subjected to abuse inside the facility. 

Sign the petition to demand that ICE release Alejandro (Alex) Aldana.

President Obama Tortures Dreamers – Six of the DREAM 9 Are Now In Solitary Confinement

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Six of the Dream 9 are in solitary confinement at Eloy Detention Center as of Friday afternoon. At first, they refused food because of their restricted phone access, and now they are refusing food until they are released. The six in solitary confinement are Lizbeth Mateo, Claudia Amaro, Ceferino Santiago, Lulu Martinez, Marco Saavedra, and Mario Felix.

This is utterly despicable, alas routine practice in detention nowadays.

Solitary confinement is considered by many to amount to torture. UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez has reported that “considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…” On many occasions, the solitary confinement of political activists in other countries has been considered grounds for asylum in the United States. Alas, this is how the U.S. treats our young civil rights leaders trying to seek refuge, humanitarian parole, and asylum in a country that is their home but considers them ‘illegal.’

Conditions at Eloy Detention Center are particularly horrific and ground zero for immigrant suicides. The Corrections Corporation-run detention center is under investigation already after Jorge Garcia-Mejia, 40, and Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales, 24, were found hanging and lifeless in their cells earlier this year. John Ferron, a U.S. veteran and father of eight, who has suffered in prolonged mandatory detention at the Eloy Detention Center, went on a hunger-strike and was subject to force-feeding just this month. Our friends could suffer the same fate if they are not released soon.

ICE officials are probably taking these atrocious actions because they are petrified at the prospect of the undocumented youth leaders organizing inside the detention facility. Before they were placed in confinement, the DREAM 9 were able to interview and collect stories from at least 7 people who were also detained at Eloy, even though they had committed no crimes.

Thus far, we have heard nothing but silence from those who are part of the non-profit immigration reform complex. Even if you disagree with the tactics of our friends who risked their lives to effect change in a brutal immigration system, silence at this point is not just complacency. Silence is support for President Obama’s 1.7 million deportations and broken families. Silence is support for the detention of Dreamers trying to come home. Silence is support for torture.

It is perplexing why advocates are silent considering this is turning out to be a PR nightmare for the Obama Administration. You’d think they would use their all-access White House pass to tell the President to end this nightmare before every single immigration reform townhall for the month of August turns into a BRINGTHEMHOME event. Alas, they aren’t every bright — if they were smart, they wouldn’t be trying to pass the same bill for the past decade. There should be no doubt that we will take to the streets, storm offices, refuse to leave, get arrested, and detained ourselves, if our friends are tortured any longer.

And do not forget — this torture is your tax dollars at work, more than $11,000 to detain 9 peaceful activists for 5 days and counting.

Please keep calling your Representatives and ask them to sign on to the Rep. Honda letter requesting for parole for the #DREAM9. When you call, please let your Representative know that the Dreamers are being held in solitary confinement.

If you are part of an organization, consider signing on in support of bringing them home.

Here is a map of Solidarity actions for the DREAM 9.

Early next week, the officials will conduct “credible fear interviews” with the DREAM 9 to ascertain their fear of returning to Mexico. If officials turn them down, the DREAM 9 have the option to request review by an Immigration Judge (IJ). If they don’t seek review, ICE would remove them from the United States.

Time is of the essence.

“This is a movement about peoples’ lives. Now is not the time for silence.”

Media requests should be directed to media@theniya.org.

 

Update: #DREAM9 Detained at Eloy Detention Center. Make The Call To #BringThemHome

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In a radical, transnational action at the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday, 8 “dreamers” walked up to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and asked to be admitted to the United States.

The initial DREAM 8 grew to DREAM 9, when Rosie Rojas, formerly from Tucson, Arizona, joined the action and presented herself to CBP. She went back later but thirty other formerly deported dreamers showed up, asking to come back home. CBP did not know how to react.

The DREAM 9 requested humanitarian parole as formerly deported Dreamers who should never have been deported or forced to leave in the first place. CBP waited until late at night to take them to the Florence Detention Center.

Update: As of now the 9 are at Eloy Detention Center. Keep making those calls.

You’ve to wrap your head around this one — and not just the political ramifications.

Three undocumented youth leaders left the country WITHOUT a visa, WITHOUT any sort of advance parole.

They brought back SIX other undocumented persons who had left the country previously or had been deported.

They ALL entered LEGALLY.

And now, they will be organizing hundreds of other detainees at Florence Detention Center in Arizona, getting legal status for many others while we make the calls to ERO and ICE to let them out of detention.

Why did they take this radical action? “Millions of families like mine have been separated for far too long,” Lizbeth Mateo wrote in a blog piece published by The Huffington Post on Monday. “I waited 15 years to see my grandfather again, and to meet the rest of my family.”

Put simply, the fight to end deportations does not end after deportation. We would not need to take this bold step if the Obama Administration was not deporting and ripping apart families every second at more than 1000 deportations per day. We would not need to take these actions if people were free to see their families on both sides of the border. It is time to bring them all home — they deserve to be home!

How You Can Help

  1. Join the real immigrant rights movement in one of the solidarity events happening across the country in Boston, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Ohio, Pomona, California, Chicago, Illinois, Asheville, North Carolina. More will be added in the coming days.
  2. Make calls and send emails to release the #DREAM9
  3. Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio:  AdrianaLuisMariaClaudiaCeferino.
  4. This entire effort has not been funded by anyone but the grassroots. Donate to help #DREAM9 pay for calls to and from their detention center. You can now also make a tax deductible donation online to NIYA.
  5. Call your Congressperson and ask them to sign on to a letter of support being circulated in support of the DREAM 9 now.

If you support immigrant rights, you support our individual and collective agency to make decisions for ourselves and take the action necessary to stand up and fight back when our communities are under attack on both sides of an arbitrary border.

The promise of immigration reform — is simply an empty promise. While we sit and wait for Congress to act, families are being separated every second by Obama’s mass deportation and detention policies.

Bringing them home is just a start. I see the campaign as a BOLD intervention into the pervasive duality and dichotomy of everyday discourses regarding immigrants and immigration reform. The transnational border action challenges the dichotomy created between us and them, between legal and illegal, between “dreamers” and our parents, between home and not-home, between a “path to citizenship” and rights for all. Disruption of the hegemonic narrative is not just necessary; it is emancipatory.

After the disruption, is when the real work begins of building bridges, which for me is not a shady compromise but a metaphor for fluidity, change, channeling, multiple levels of positioning that culminate into a meeting point: we’ve to stand up and fight back against punitive policies, secure our own communities, reunite our own families.