Immigration Reform Has Some Dry Bones

Originally posted on TIME:

Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.

The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law…

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STATEMENT BY SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY JEH JOHNSON BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY

Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Thompson, and Members of the Committee:

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about our efforts to address the recent rise of unaccompanied children and others crossing our border in the Rio Grande Valley.  With me today to answer questions are Craig Fugate, the Administrator of FEMA, and Ron Vitiello, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.

 

To be clear, we face an urgent situation in the Rio Grande Valley. Last fiscal year, CBP apprehended more than 24,000 unaccompanied children at the border.  By mid-June of this fiscal year, that number has doubled to more than 52,000.  Those from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras make up about three quarters of that migration.

 

On Friday, I traveled to South Texas for the fourth time in six months in office, this time to lead an interagency team to oversee our efforts there.  While there we met with officials at McAllen and Lackland to review the situation and hear directly from those on the ground what their needs are.  While there I spent time talking with the children again.  It was a vivid reminder that this is a humanitarian issue as much as it is a matter of border security.  We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border—hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable. How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and our values.

 

Therefore, to address this situation, our strategy is three-fold: (1) process the increased tide of unaccompanied children through the system as quickly as possible; (2) stem the increased tide of illegal migration into the Rio Grande Valley; and (3) do these things in a manner consistent with our laws and values as Americans.

 

So, here is what we are doing:

 

First, on May 12th, I declared a Level IV condition of readiness within DHS, which is a determination that the capacity of CBP and ICE to deal with the situation is full and we need to draw upon additional resources across all of DHS.  I appointed Deputy Chief Vitiello to coordinate this effort within DHS.

 

Second, on June 1st, President Obama, consistent with the Homeland Security Act, directed me to establish a Unified Coordination Group to bring to bear the assets of the entire federal government on the situation.  This Group includes DHS and all of its components, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Justice, State, and the General Services Administration.  I, in turn, designated FEMA Administrator Fugate to serve as the Federal Coordinating Official for the U.S. Government-wide response.  Under Administrator Fugate’s supervision, there are now more than 140 interagency personnel and members stationed in FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center dedicated to this effort.

 

Third, we have established added capacity to deal with the processing and housing of the children, we are creating additional capacity in places, and we are considering others.  To process the increased numbers of unaccompanied children in Texas, DHS has had to bring the children to our processing center at Nogales, Arizona before they are sent to HHS.  We are arranging additional processing centers to handle the rise in the RGV.  Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has provided space at Lackland air base in Texas for HHS to house the children before HHS can place them. DoD is also providing facilities at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Ventura, California for the same purpose. FEMA, DHS, and HHS are working to continue to identify additional facilities for DHS and HHS to house and process the influx of children.

 

Fourth, DHS and HHS are increasing Spanish-speaking case management staff, increasing staff handling incoming calls from parents or guardians, raising awareness of the Parent Hotline provided by FEMA and operated by HHS, surging staff to manage the intake of CBP referrals to track shelter bed capacity, and facilitate shelter designations.  We are developing ways to expedite background checks for sponsors of children, integrate CBP and HHS information sharing systems, and increase capacity to transport and place children.  (Here I must note, from personal observation, that our Border Patrol and other CBP personnel, as well as personnel from HHS, ICE, FEMA, and the Coast Guard, are doing a remarkable job in difficult circumstances.  I have also witnessed how the not-for-profit Baptist Child Family Services stepped in quickly and is also doing a remarkable job housing the unaccompanied children at Lackland, identifying and then placing them consistent with HHS’s legal obligations. All of these dedicated men and women deserve our recognition, support and gratitude.)

 

Fifth, DHS is building additional detention capacity for adults who cross the border illegally in the Rio Grande Valley with their children.  For this purposeDHS is establishing a temporary facility for adults with children on the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s campus at Artesia, New Mexico. The establishment of this temporary facility will help CBP process those encountered at the border and allow ICE to increase its capacity to house and expedite the removal of adults with children in a manner that complies with federal law.  Artesia is one of several facilities that DHS is considering to increase our capacity to hold and expedite the removal of the increasing number of adults with children illegally crossing the southwest border.   DHS will ensure that after apprehension, families are housed in facilities that adequately provide for their safety, security, and medical needs. Meanwhile, we will also expand use of the Alternatives to Detention program to utilize all mechanisms for enforcement and removal in the RGV Sector.  DOJ is temporarily reassigning immigration judges to handle the additional caseload via video teleconferencing.  These immigration judges will adjudicate these cases as quickly as possible, consistent with all existing legal and procedural standards, including those for asylum applicants.  Overall, this increased capacity and resources will allow ICE to return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly.

 

Sixth, DHS has brought on more transportation assets to assist in the effort.  The Coast Guard is loaning air assets to help transport the children. ICE is leasing additional charter aircraft.

 

Seventh, throughout the RGV Sector, we are conducting public health screening for all those who come into our facilities for any symptoms of contagious diseases or other possible public health concerns.  Both DHS and HHS are ensuring that the children’s nutritional and hygienic needs are met while in our custody; that children are provided regular meals and access to drinks and snacks throughout the day; that they receive constant supervision; and that children who exhibit signs of illness or disease are given proper medical care.  We have also made clear that all individuals will be treated with dignity and respect, and any instances of mistreatment reported to us will be investigated.

 

Eighth, working through FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center, we are coordinating with voluntary and faith-based organizations to help us manage the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border.  The American Red Cross is providing blankets and other supplies and, through their Restoring Family Links program, is coordinating calls between children in the care of DHS and families anxious about their well-being.

 

Ninth, to stem the tide of children seeking to enter the United States, we have also been in contact with senior government officials of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico to address our shared border security interests, the underlying conditions in Central America that are promoting the mass exodus, and how we can work together to assure faster, secure removal and repatriation.  Last week President Obama spoke with Mexican President Peña Nieto about the situation, as has Secretary Kerry.  This past Friday, Vice President Biden also visited Guatemala to meet with regional leaders to address the influx of unaccompanied children and families from Central America and the underlying security and economic issues that are causing this migration. The Vice President announced that the U.S. will be providing a range of new assistance to the region, including $9.6 million in additional funding for Central American governments to receive and reintegrate their repatriated citizens, and a new $40 million U.S. Agency for International Development program in Guatemala over 5 years to improve citizen security. An additional $161.5 million will be provided this year under the Central American Regional Security Initiative to further enable Central American countries to respond to the region’s most pressing security and governance challenges. I will travel to Guatemala on July 8-9. The government of El Salvador has sent additional personnel from its consulate in the U.S. to South Texas to help expedite repatriation to its country.

 

Tenth, DHS, together with DOJ, has added personnel and resources to the investigation, prosecution and dismantling of the smuggling organizations that are facilitating border crossings into the Rio Grande Valley.  Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of ICE, is surging 60 additional criminal investigators and support personnel to their San Antonio and Houston offices for this purpose. In May, ICE concluded a month-long, targeted enforcement operation that focused on the logistics networks of human smuggling organizations along the southwest border, with operations in El Paso, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, and San Diego that resulted in 163 arrests of smugglers. ICE will continue to vigorously pursue and dismantle these alien smuggling organizations by all investigative means to include the financial structure of these criminal organizations.  These organizations not only facilitate illegal migration across our border, they traumatize and exploit the children who are objects of their smuggling operation.  We will also continue to work with our partners in Central America and Mexico to help locate, disrupt, and dismantle transnational criminal smuggling networks.

 

Eleventh, we are initiating and intensifying our public affairs campaigns in Spanish, with radio, print, and TV spots, to communicate the dangers of sending unaccompanied children on the long journey from Central America to the United States, and the dangers of putting children into the hands of criminal smuggling organizations.

 

In collaboration with DHS, the Department of State has launched public awareness campaigns in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, to warn families about the dangers encountered by unaccompanied minors who attempt to travel from Central America to the U.S., and to counter misperceptions that smugglers may be disseminating about immigration benefits in the United States. Our embassies in Central America have collaborated with CBP to ensure both the language and images of the campaign materials would resonate with local audiences. I have personally issued an open letter (see attached) to the parents of those who are sending their children from Central America to the U.S., to be distributed broadly in Spanish and English, to highlight the dangers of the journey, and to emphasize there are no free passes or “permisos” at the other end.  We are stressing that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA,” does not apply to children who arrive now or in the future in the United States, and that, to be considered for DACA, individuals must have continually resided in the U.S. since June 2007.  We are making clear that the “earned path to citizenship” contemplated by the Senate bill passed last year will not apply to individuals who cross the border now or in the future; only to those who have been in the country for the last year and a half.

 

Twelfth, given the influx of unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, we have increased CBP staffing and detailed 115 additional experienced agents from less active sectors to augment operations there.  I am considering sending 150 more border patrol agents based on my review of operations there this past week.  These additional agents allow RGV the flexibility needed to achieve more interdiction effectiveness and increase CBP’s operational footprint in targeted zones within its area of operations.

 

Thirteenth, in early May I directed the development of a Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Planning effort that is putting together a strategic framework to further enhance security of our southern border.  Plan development will be guided by specific outcomes and quantifiable targets for border security and will address improved information sharing, continued enhancement and integration of sensors, and unified command and control structures as appropriate.  The overall planning effort will also include a subset of campaign plans focused on addressing challenges within specific geographic areas, all with the goal of enhancing our border security.

 

Finally, we will continue to work closely with Congress on this problem, and keep you informed. DHS is updating Members and staff on the situation in conference calls two times a week, and we are facilitating site visits to Border Patrol facilities in Texas and Arizona for a number of Members and their staff.

 

I have directed my staff to be forthright in bringing to me every conceivable, lawful option for consideration, to address this problem.  In cooperation with the other agencies of our government that are dedicating resources to the effort, with the support of Congress, and in cooperation with the governments of Mexico and Central America, I believe we will stem this tide.  Thank you.

Opinion: Why Can’t The Children Be Turned Around At The Border And Sent Home?

Originally published on Fox News Latino

There is a humanitarian crisis in South and Central America. Political turmoil, ravaged economies, and social problems have led tens of thousands of children to flee Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to escape abuse, criminal gangs and violence. Others are forced leave their home countries as victims of human trafficking or abandonment.

While the U.S. is not the only country effected, thousands of victims of violence have made their way north to the Southwest border. Among the latest inflow are growing numbers of female victims and children under the age of 12. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 60,000 fleeing children will enter the U.S. by the end of this fiscal year. That’s a staggering 35,000 more than entered in 2013 and nearly 55,000 more than entered just a decade ago.

What’s being done to respond to the crisis?

The Obama Administration has set in motion an interagency effort to deal with the crisis and protect the children. FEMA is leading and coordinating a government-wide effort to identify appropriate facilities to house the minors, transport them to Health and Human Services custody as required by law, and provide medical and other services to children in the overcrowded Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

But more must be done to protect them. The Administration must ensure that these children are not subject to further abuse and neglect while it the custody of the U.S. government.

Why can’t the children simply be turned around at the border and sent home?

While the immigration laws provide for the expedited removal of noncitizens seeking to enter without valid documents, there are humanitarian exceptions for children and others fleeing persecution and violence.

Children who flee to the U.S. from countries other than Canada or Mexico cannot be immediately returned across the border. Our laws further require that vulnerable youngsters who are forced to make a long, arduous and dangerous trip north from South and Central America be transferred by the Department of Homeland Security to the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

The policies behind these laws – which were enacted well before the Obama Administration – reflect Congress’ belief that children, particularly those who have been abandoned or are victims of human trafficking or other horrible crimes, are the most defenseless immigrants. Ensuring their safety is a fundamental priority. They are deserving of special protection.

Nevertheless, children fleeing danger – many of whom have suffered unspeakable violence, including sexual assault and human trafficking – are subject to deportation from the U.S. While some may be eligible for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status or visas which protect crime victims, most will eventually be ordered deported to their home countries – Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras – and back to the violence and dead ends they originally fled.

Nor does the system provide unaccompanied minors legal representation in immigration court, even though very few have the means to hire an attorney. Thankfully, the Obama Administration, in an unprecedented move, has sought to make lawyers available to the children so they do not have to face the daunting task of representing themselves in complicated legal proceedings.

It’s also important to note that the children fleeing violence and arriving at the Southwest border will not qualify for DACA, the deportation reprieve President Obama put into place for DREAMERs in 2012, or earned legalization under the various immigration reform bills passed by the Senate or pending in the House of Representatives. All reform legislation cuts off eligibility for undocumented immigrants who recently entered the U.S.

Predictably, anti-immigrant politicians and their supporters seek to capitalize on the humanitarian crisis in an effort to kill immigration reform efforts in the U.S.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for example, whose rabid hatred of immigrants and immigration reform has made him the darling of the nativist/restrictionist movement, has been quick to falsely claim that it’s the result of the Obama Administration’s alleged failure to enforce the immigration law. Never mind that, according to the Congressional Research Service, illegal immigration has dropped nearly 75 percent since 2000, or that more than 1 million undocumented immigrants have been deported under the President’s watch. Cynical politicians bank on the fact that perception is often more valuable than reality.

In fact, the surge of children fleeing South and Central America is an international humanitarian crisis — the result of regional social, economic and political turmoil in the region. While it may be tempting for some to use the agony of victimized children to score cheap political points, responsible members of Congress ought to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan effort to ensure that vulnerable children are protected, and their lives back home are improved so they aren’t forced to make this difficult and dangerous choice.

David Leopold is the former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and currently practices immigration law in Cleveland, Ohio.

Detroit ICE director Adducci missed the Morton memo

Posted on The Hill Congress Blog

Nearly three years ago former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton issued a memo directing agents to replace the rubber stamp in deportation cases with common sense.

Unfortunately, not all ICE directors seem to have gotten the memo.

Meet Rebecca Adducci the Detroit-based ICE bureaucrat who oversees immigration enforcement and deportation in Michigan and Ohio. The Morton memo explicitly lists all the factors Adducci is supposed to consider before ordering a deportation, but her decisions suggest that she hasn’t read it or is refusing to comply.
Take the case of Luis Nicasio-Padilla, an undocumented immigrant in who lives in northern Ohio. Luis’ wife is a legal immigrant and his three children are United States citizens. Luis works hard, provides for his family—including two children with serious medical issues—owns a home, pays his taxes, and is a talented musician who performs locally in a Mariachi band.

And Luis has tried best to play by the rules of a dysfunctional and unforgiving immigration system. With his wife’s sponsorship he applied for and received immigrant visa classification by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services a bureau of the Department of Homeland Security. But, because of the antiquated and inadequate visa system he has been stuck waiting for his green card in a seemingly interminable “legal immigration line”.

In the meantime ICE, another bureau of the Department of Homeland Security, charged Luis with deportation and sent him to an immigration judge. With no immediate way to comply with the law Luis, despite his immigrant visa classification, found himself at the wrong end of a deportation order. For the past year and a half Luis—despite having been approved for immigration by USICS, has had to report to ICE to prepare for his deportation.

Go figure.

To be sure Luis has dutifully complied with the arduous demands made on him by ICE which include the weekly hour and half trip to the ICE Cleveland office and frequent contact with enforcement agents. It’s all worth it if he has a chance at legal immigration status and the ability to go to sleep each night without fearing arrest, detention, deportation and separation from his family.

But Adducci has other ideas.

Last week she abruptly, and with precious little explanation, refused to extend Luis’ request to remain in the U.S. with his wife and children. Never mind the compelling equities in Luis’ favor—his loving family, his excellent work record, his payment of taxes, his talent as a musician, or his approved visa petition. And never mind the fact that Luis would qualify for status under the bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate and pending in the House.

True, the hopes of millions of undocumented immigrants like Luis are currently being held hostage by House GOP leadership’s refusal to allow a vote on immigration reform. But that’s no excuse for ICE bureaucrats like Adducci to patently ignore policy directives from the Administration requiring that they enforce the immigration law with common sense by focusing on removing dangerous criminals and security risks, not hard working mothers and fathers.

Nor is it an excuse for the Obama Administration to fail to control ICE field directors like Rebecca Adducci who thumb their noses at national enforcement priorities and brazenly continue to tear apart American families at will.

The Obama administration must ensure that not one more American family is destroyed because a parent, sister, brother or grandparent is prevented by a dysfunctional policy from complying with the immigration law. If Congress refuses to act, the president must.

And he can start by demanding that ICE officers like Rebecca Adducci follow the guidelines he has already laid out.

Leopold is an Ohio based immigration attorney, reform advocate and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is currently representing Luis Nicasio-Padilla in his case.

When It Comes To immigration Reform, GOP Insists On Being The Party Of ‘No We Won’t’

Originally Posted on Fox News Latino

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, an undocumented immigrant has, quite literally, turned to his church for an eleventh hour stay of deportation.

Since last week Ruiz, his wife and his U.S. citizen son have been held up in the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona after it offered him refuge from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which seems to have an insatiable appetite for devouring mixed immigration status American families.

Ruiz, who is from Mexico, was scheduled to be deported last week but instead chose indefinite detention in the church, which has a three decade history of offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Until Boehner and Cantor decide to show some political courage, good people like Mr. Ruiz will be forced to seek sanctuary in churches to protect their families from ICE agents looking to meet deportation quotas.
– David Leopold

There is more than a little irony in an undocumented man fleeing to a church to protect his family while the GOP controlled House of Representatives – whose leaders are quick to tout religion and “family values” – do nothing to keep mixed immigration status American families safe and together. Never mind that recent polls show overwhelming support by Republicans (64 percent), Democrats (78 percent) and Independents (71 percent) for immigration reform, including a legal route to lawful immigration status for the 11 million undocumented noncitizens living in America. And that’s not just a cold statistic. That’s 11 million undocumented Americans – mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers – who came to this country like generations of immigrants before them, to build a better life for future generations.

Of course it’s not quite fair to say that the House GOP has done nothing on immigration. To the contrary, they have voted to deport DREAMERs and, as I write this, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is devoting his energy (and your tax dollars) to blocking the Enlist Act which would allow some undocumented immigrants to serve in the U.S. military and, under certain circumstances, earn green cards. The legislation was introduced Monday by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Va.) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. But Cantor is vowing to not even allow debate on the bill.

It’s almost like House Republican leaders are looking for ways to further alienate Hispanic voters and threaten the GOP’s national viability.

Imagine if Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the rest of the GOP leadership paid the same deference to the will of the American people that they do to the extremists in their party. An immigration overhaul would likely already be the law of the land and hard-working fathers like Mr. Ruiz would be supporting their families, continuing to pay their taxes and further contributing to the fabric of their communities.

But until Boehner and Cantor decide to show some political courage, good people like Mr. Ruiz will be forced to seek sanctuary in churches to protect their families from ICE agents looking to meet deportation quotas at the expense of common sense enforcement.

If the Republicans insist on being the party of “No We Won’t” when it comes to immigration reform, then President Obama should once again insist that “Yes We Can.” There is plenty the President can do to stop the humanitarian crisis which plagues the nation and bleeds American families in places like Tucson, Arizona, Seattle Washington, and Painesville, Ohio. Mr. Obama has the legal authority to broaden DACA, the temporary deportation reprieve he gave to qualified undocumented youth in June 2012. He could also order Attorney General Holder to review the onerous evidentiary burdens placed upon immigrants seeking waivers from immigration judges due to the extreme hardship that deportation would cause their U.S. citizen and lawful resident family members. Further, the President could use statutes already on the books to allow the qualified undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for green cards without having to leave the country and risk being banned from returning to their families for 10 years.

It’s a sad day in America when an undocumented immigrant is forced to seek haven in a church to keep his family together. I am sure that many Americans will pray for him and other undocumented immigrants who are caught in the web of a broken, rigid and unforgiving immigration system.

In the meantime, it shouldn’t take a miracle for the House of Representatives to do its job and pass immigration reform.

Immigration Activists Try to Ramp up Pressure on Obama Again

Originally posted on TIME:

For months now, the pattern has been the same. Immigration activists, frustrated with inaction, latch onto some small glimmer of hope: a new campaign to pressure the powerful, or an approving remark by someone who can break the legislative stalemate. Each time the prospect of progress fades as quickly as it appeared.

In the 10 months since the Senate passed a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration law, it has become abundantly clear that the GOP-controlled House won’t follow suit before November’s midterm elections. A report last week that House Speaker John Boehner was “hellbent” on passing an immigration overhaul in 2014 was swiftly shot down by his spokesman. “Nothing has changed,” said the spokesman, Brendan Buck.

With reform stalled in the House, immigration reformers have once again ratcheted up pressure on President Barack Obama. They hope to convince Obama to take executive action to slow the tide of deportations.

A…

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Watch: Could Congress Pass #Immigration Reform This Year

Could Congress Pass #Immigration Reform This Year?

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