#Texas #immigration case is opportunity for #SCOTUS to show it’s not tainted by partisan politics

SCOTUS

Posted on The Hill Congress Blog by David Leopold

Earlier this month Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. lamented that “partisan extremism is damaging the public’s perception of the role of the Supreme Court, recasting the justices as players in the political process rather than its referees.” Roberts was referring to the very real danger of institutional mistrust—the widespread belief among the American public that the Court is no longer an impartial judicial body focused on impartial interpretation of the Constitution, but that its decisions are increasingly aimed at moving a partisan agenda.

Robert’s concern is well founded. The political pressure on the justices—particularly from the right—is perhaps more intense than at any time in the nation’s history.

Republican reaction to the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last week has only fed this perception. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)didn’t even have the decency to wait until Scalia’s body was flown back to Washington before he declared—despite the clear language of the Constitution–that President Obama should not be permitted to appoint Scalia’s replacement. McConnell’s intent to obstruct the confirmation process disrespects the legacy of Scalia himself who would have unquestionably upheld the president’sconstitutional authority to name his successor—an irony obviously lost upon McConnell and the other GOP senators who dutifully fell in line behind their leader.

Yet despite the politically charged atmosphere left in the wake of Scalia’s passing, the eight justices of the Supreme Court—and Chief Justice Roberts in particular—are presented with a critical opportunity to dispel the impression the Court has been corrupted by politics—something Linda Greenhouse noted Roberts had a hand in creating; that it is indeed the dispassionate umpire of “balls and strikes” Roberts described in his 2005 confirmation hearing. And, as the Court moves on to tackle a docket laden with cases ranging from abortion to worker’s rights to affirmative action, no case presents the justices with a greater opening to eschew the intrusion of politics into the courtroom as U.S. v. Texas, the challenge to Obama’s executive actions on deportations.

Here’s why:

The lawsuit is unquestionably a brazen political attack on the president’s November 20, 2014 deportation deferral known as DAPA and DACA expansion. Before the ink was even dry on the deferred action guidance, Republicans in Congress tried repeatedly to block the President’s actions – and they failed repeatedly. Taking another route, the state of Texas, joined by mostly GOP governors and attorneys general from 25 states, shopped for a friendly judicial forum in which to launch a legal assault. And they found one in the Brownsville, Texas, courtroom of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who’d made a name for himself in other cases excoriating the Obama administration for what he described as its “failure to enforce current United States law.” The GOP politicians took page from the playbook of birther queen Orly Taitz who identified Hanen as anti-immigrant and filed a lawsuit in Hanen’s court to stop the federal government from bussing immigrant minors from Texas to temporary detention centers outside the state. As predicted, Hanen blocked DAPA and DACA expansion and was later affirmed by the Fifth circuit, the most conservative appeals court in the country.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in January and until Scalia’s death many court observers speculated that the key to upholding the president’s executive actions was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been a key swing vote in several immigration cases and wrote the majority opinion in Arizona vs. U.S. which recognized the president’s broad discretion over deportation matters, including deferred action.

Since Scalia’s passing the media has been ripe with speculation that the eight justice Supreme Court will divide equally along ideological lines and deadlock 4-4 with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan voting to uphold the President’s executive actions and Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas voting to strike them down. A tie vote would not set a national precedent but would return the case to Hanen’s court. No doubt cases would be brought by advocates – and even states – to end the injunction in other states that welcome the president’s deportation deferrals. That’s the kind of judicial chaos that Roberts seems to want to avoid.

Fortunately, all this is rank speculation. It’s impossible to know what the Supreme Court—or any individual justice—will do in any case. The more important question is whether the justices will take the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that they will not allow the judiciary to be used as a forum for partisan political attacks. If they do, there is no doubt that a healthy majority of the court will vote to dismiss the lawsuit, lift the injunction and make clear to the nation that political disputes are to be decided at the ballot box, not in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Leopold, an immigration attorney, serves as counsel to immigration reform groups and is the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Is @JohnKasich Really a Moderate on #Immigration? Actions Speak Louder Than Words

GOP 2016 New Hampshire

Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Posted on Huffington Post by David Leopold

Ohio Governor John Kasich has seemingly positioned himself above the Trump induced anti-immigrant frenzy that has consumed the Republican primary. While the other GOP presidential hopefuls fall all over themselves trying to show the GOP base who’ll deport the most immigrants, who’ll be the first to cancel President Obama’s executive action and who’ll build the biggest wall, Kasich talks about legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the nation’s shadows–although he stops well short of offering them a path to citizenship.

At Saturday’s Republican debate Kasich claimed he’d send Congress an immigration reform plan within his first 100 days in office. A week earlier, just before his impressive second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Kasich even seemed to show compassion toward undocumented immigrants. “I couldn’t even imagine,” he said, “how we would even begin to think about taking a mom or a dad out of a house when they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, leaving their children in the house. I mean, that is not, in my opinion, the kind of values that we believe in.”

So it’s worth asking: Do Kasich’s actions as governor of Ohio match his kinder gentler tone on the presidential campaign trail?

Unfortunately, not so much.

Under Kasich Ohio has enthusiastically joined Texas and 24 other GOP-led states in a brazenly partisan lawsuit aimed at blocking President Obama’s plan to defer the deportation of nearly 5 million undocumented youth and parents of U.S. citizens, including an estimated 82,000 Ohio residents. Shortly after the President announced his actions–known as DAPA and DACA expansion–the Republican governors and attorneys general sought out a sympathetic judge who predictably enjoined the deferred action guidance which is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the very moms and dads that Kasich spoke so compassionately about on the GOP primary debate stage continue to live in fear that their families will be torn apart at any moment.

That’s exactly why 25 undocumented parents and their children from around Ohio met with Kasich at the statehouse in Columbus last year shortly after he announced his candidacy for president. Participants included Ohio mom Olga Flores whose 4-year-old son is currently battling cancer; an immigrant father of two small sons who recently lost their mother to a drunk driver; and a mother who has lived in the U.S. for 25 years and has lost her dad, sister and brother to deportation. The families begged Kasich to protect them, explaining how they and their children live their lives in fear, worried that a trip to the grocery store or school could end in a traffic stop and deportation. Their hopes were lifted when the President’s executive actions were announced, so they told Kasich, only to be crushed by the partisan lawsuit Ohio, under Kasich’s leadership, has engaged in.

Are these the very same moms and dads Kasich claims he could not imagine deporting? If so, why is he standing idly by while Republican governors and attorneys general–including Ohio’s Mike DeWine–target a program which will offer them a temporary reprieve from deportation and a chance to support their families?

Kasich’s response? He told the undocumented parents and children that it was Attorney General Mike DeWine, his fellow Republican, who signed the Ohio onto the Texas case, not him–a curious response from the state’s chief executive, and one that brings his leadership into question. He also, predictably, blamed president Obama for not getting an immigration reform package through the GOP-dominated U.S. House of Representatives. Let’s not forget the House was led by Kasich’s long-time House colleague and fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Never mind that had that Republican leadership allowed a vote immigration reform would have been enacted and the 25 families Kasich met with last summer would be earning their way toward citizenship.

Nor can Kasich defend his support for the Texas attack on DAPA and DACA expansion on economic grounds. Blocking the deportation deferrals hurts Ohio’s economy which stands to gain an estimated $41 million dollars in tax revenue to be paid by the undocumented Ohioans who’ll qualify for the program. Ironically, the same holds true for the state of Texas which bases its right to challenge the President’s immigration actions on costs in will incur through the issuance of driver’s licenses to qualified undocumented immigrants. In fact, according to theCouncil of Economic Advisors, the immigration actions will increase Texas’ GDP by $8.2 billion to $19.2 billion over the next ten years. And in South Carolina–where Kasich is hoping shore up his candidacy with a strong finish in Saturday’s primary–the deportation deferrals will increase the state’s GDP by as much as $2.3 billion.

Sadly, it doesn’t take much to sound reasonable on immigration in this year’s Republican primary. But actions speak louder than words–especially the words of a politician running for office. When it comes to actually protecting vulnerable families in Ohio and across the nation, John Kasich needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Follow David Leopold on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DavidLeopold

Two Key Takeaways from Yesterday’s Announcement by The Supreme Court

There are two big takeaways from yesterday’s announcement by the Supreme Court that it will review the President’s immigration executive actions–DAPA and DACA.

First, it’s good news for proponents and bad news for opponents.  It’s a huge win for 5 million parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents across the nation who will finally get their day in court after nearly a year of waiting.  It’s also a huge loss to Texas and the other GOP led states who sued in late 2014 to block Mr. Obama’s DAPA and DACA expansion from being implemented.  Make no mistake, despite what they may be spinning now, restrictionist opponents of DAPA and DACA expansion fought tooth and nail to keep the U.S. Supreme Court from taking it up, including filing a 40 page legal brief imploring the Justices to not hear it.

Second, it’s very good news that the Supreme Court has asked the parties to argue whether the executive actions violate the “Take Care” clause of the Constitution.  Judge Hanen’s decision blocking the DAPA and DACA was based on narrow procedural grounds–he did not rule on Texas’ claim that the President’s executive actions, which offer a temporary deportation reprieve to an estimated 5 million immigrants, violates his constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”.   If the Court ruled only on the narrow procedural grounds, the case would go back to Judge Hanen, a hand-picked judge whose determination to thwart immigrants and President Obama is well-established.  That the Court wants argument on the “Take Care” Clause signals that the Justices are intent on resolving the GOP lawsuit fully and completely.

That’s a good sign not only for immigrants, but for the entire country.

ICE raids are repugnant

Houston Chronicle

Published in the Houston Chronicle by David Leopold (A version of this commentary first appeared on CNN.com)

The Obama administration rang in the New Year with a series of heavy-handed immigration raids aimed at ferreting out and deporting Central American families who entered the United States after fleeing rampant violence in their home countries. According to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the focus of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation is families ordered deported by an immigration judge either because their asylum claims were denied or they didn’t appear for their immigration court hearings. The raids have caused widespread shock, fear and panic among immigrant communities in Texas and elsewhere.

The raids operation is shocking, outrageous and just plain wrong. This is something we would expect from a President Trump, not President Obama.

The president is reacting – actually overreacting – to a recent spike in the migration of Central American families and unaccompanied children to the United States. He apparently wants to deter others from making the arduous, life-threatening trip north to the United States and to show that his administration is adhering to its Nov. 14, 2014, immigration enforcement priorities that, in addition to criminals and national security threats, target noncitizens who entered the U.S. or were ordered deported after Jan. 1, 2014.

But it’s morally repugnant to send ICE agents into local communities to arrest and detain vulnerable families, including women and children, and deport them to places where their lives will be threatened by unspeakable violence – countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gang and drug violence force innocent families to flee north to the United States in search of a haven.

We know that most are eligible for asylum or other forms of protection because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data show that an overwhelming percentage of the mothers and children in family detention centers in the United States can show a reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries.

Other Central Americans ordered deported in absentia may not have had a fair chance to plead their asylum case because they did not get adequate information from government bureaucrats explaining their obligation to go to court. Clearly, being ordered deported under those circumstances is not due process.

And this is exactly what the CARA Project – which provides pro bono legal assistance to families held at ICE detention centers in South Texas – found among the cases of Central Americans arrested in these raids. After project lawyers filed emergency appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals temporarily stopped the deportation of at least seven Central American immigrants so their cases could be reviewed. As CARA Director Katie Shepherd cogently put it, “This is a clear indication that something is very wrong.”

Nor can it be said that deporting those whose asylum cases have been denied after a hearing before an immigration judge is any more reasonable or appropriate. Central Americans fortunate enough to make their case in court with a lawyer are burdened with complicated and exacting legal standards that govern asylum law.

An immigration judge’s refusal to grant a person’s asylum claim hardly means he or she does not face serious, life-threatening harm in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala. The bottom line is that for many Central Americans, deportation means the forcible return to a cauldron of life-threatening violence.

At a minimum, the continued ICE raids should be immediately and unequivocally stopped. Raids destroy families, ruin economies and erode the community trust essential to effective local law enforcement.

Fearing deportation, undocumented immigrants may hesitate to report serious crimes to local law enforcement. Immigration raids targeting families, including women and children, should be assigned to the dustbin of history.

Unfortunately, Obama appears to be doubling down. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that the enforcement strategy will not change.

The president is making a colossal mistake by viewing this crisis solely through the lens of immigration enforcement. It’s much bigger than that – it’s a regional humanitarian crisis that demands a regional solution.

What’s needed now from Obama is leadership, not brutal enforcement policies targeting vulnerable families. Understanding the administration’s legitimate concern about preventing a new border surge, including its concern that those Central Americans who flee north to the United States face a life-threatening journey, Obama must do better than resort to ICE raids.

The president should work with regional partners toward a comprehensive regional solution aimed the root causes of the migration and devote resources to improving the economic and social situation in Central America. That solution includes regional safe havens, so Central American families fleeing violence can find shelter in the area rather than being forced to risk the treacherous journey north.

In the meantime, even if one accepts the administration’s argument that the Central American families targeted for deportation have received fair hearings – which I don’t – that still doesn’t explain why the administration is dispatching armed ICE agents into communities to arrest, detain and forcibly deport families. ICE has the power to allow people who’ve exhausted court proceedings to leave the country on their own. This heavy-handed approach tells me that the president is trying to send a broader message to Central American refugees – that they need not look to America for safety or shelter. That’s reprehensible, and something we’d expect from a President Trump, not President Obama.

Leopold, founder and principal of an immigration law firm in Cleveland that carries his name, is the past president of the Washington-based American Immigration Lawyers Association. 

Immigration raids belong in a Trump, not an Obama, administration

Originally posted on CNN.com by David Leopold

The Obama administration is planning a series of ICE raids beginning in January to ferret out and deport thousands of Central American immigrants who entered the United States in 2014 after fleeing rampant violence in their home countries, according to The Washington Post.

An immigration judge ordered these families deported either because their asylum claims were denied or they didn’t appear for their immigration court hearings. The administration’s plan is shocking, outrageous and just plain wrong. This is something we would expect from a President Trump, not President Obama.

David Leopold

David Leopold

If the raids take place, the President would appear to be reacting — actually overreacting — to a recent spike in the migration of Central American families and unaccompanied children to the United States. He apparently also wants to deter others from making the arduous, life-threatening trip north to the United States and to show that his administration is adhering to its November 14, 2014, immigration enforcement priorities that, in addition to criminals and national security threats, target noncitizens who have entered the U.S. or been ordered deported after January 1, 2014.

But It’s morally repugnant to send Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents into local communities to arrest and detain vulnerable families, including women and children, and deport them to places where their lives will be threatened by unspeakable violence; countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gang and drug violence force innocent families to flee north to the United States in search of a haven. Reports such as one in the Guardian recount that undocumented immigrants deported to Central America have faced unspeakable violence, even murder, just days after their return.

Donald Trump's clueless immigration plan

We know that most are eligible for asylum or other forms of protection under the law because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data show that an overwhelming percentage of the mothers and children detained at family detention centers in the United States are able to show a reasonable fear of persecution in their home countries.

Other Central Americans ordered deported in absentia may not have had a fair chance to plead their asylum case because they did not get adequate information from government bureaucrats explaining their obligation to go to court. Clearly, being ordered deported under those circumstances is not due process, and families should not be summarily removed from the United States for failure to appear at an immigration court hearing.

Nor can it be said that deporting those whose asylum cases have been denied by a judge is any more reasonable or fair. Central Americans fortunate enough to make their case in court with a lawyer are burdened with complicated and exacting legal standards that govern asylum law.

A key to America's power

An immigration judge’s refusal to grant a person’s asylum claim hardly means he or she does not face serious, life-threatening harm in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala. That could include, for example, a woman whose asylum claim has been denied by an immigration judge after she fled gang and drug violence to save her children’s lives.

The bottom line is that for many Central Americans, deportation means the forcible return to a cauldron of life-threatening violence.

At a minimum, the use of ICE raids to execute this plan should be immediately and unequivocally scrapped. The specter of armed ICE agents invading communities early in the morning harkens back to the darkest days of chaotic immigration enforcement. Raids like the ruthless ones inflicted onPainesville, Ohio, in 2007 and Postville, Iowa, in 2008 destroy families, ruin economies and erode the community trust essential to effective local law enforcement.

Faced with the fear that they or a relative might be deported, undocumented immigrants may think twice about reporting serious crimes like domestic violence to local law enforcement. Immigration raids targeting families, including women and children, should be assigned to the dustbin of history.

What’s needed now from the President is leadership, not brutal enforcement policies targeting vulnerable families. Understanding the administration’s legitimate concern about preventing a new border surge, including its concern that those Central Americans who flee north to the United States face a violent and life-threatening journey, we must insist that Obama do better than resort to ICE raids to force the immediate removal of vulnerable families.

Rather than sending families back to the very danger and violence they’ve fled, the administration should work toward a comprehensive regional solution to the humanitarian crisis that’s causing the migration and devote resources to improving the economic and social situation in Central America.

In the meantime, vulnerable families, whether or not they’ve had their day in immigration court, must be provided temporary haven, not threatened with roundups and deportation of the sort envisioned by the likes of Donald Trump.

5 things to know about the fight over Obama’s #immigration actions

Originally posted on MSNBC.com

By David Leopold

Late Monday night, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive actions on deportations, which were challenged in federal court by Texas and 25 other states.

The immigration actions, which were set to begin going into effect today, expand DACA to undocumented immigrants over the age of 30 who arrived in the U.S. as children and create DAPA, a discretionary temporary deportation reprieve for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful residents. For now, both initiatives are on hold while the administration files its appeal with the court of appeals.

Here’s what else you need to know.

What is the Texas lawsuit about?

At bottom, the states claim that President Obama unconstitutionally bypassed Congress last year by offering deportation reprieves through executive action. The administration – with the support of 12 states, the District of Columbia, 33 cities, 27 police chiefs, highly respected legal scholars and nonprofit organizations – counters that DACA expansion and DAPA are solidly legal and that presidents of both parties have used their executive authority to grant similar deportation reprieves.

Why did the judge block the executive actions?

Judge Hanen focused on Texas’ claim that it would suffer financial loss by having to issue driver’s licenses to DACA and DAPA recipients. As he has done in previous cases, the judge used his 123 page order as a bully pulpit to excoriate the administration’s immigration enforcement policies. (The DACA program, which went into effect in 2012, was not affected by the judge’s order.)

Yet despite halting the immigration initiatives, Hanen did not rule that Obama in anyway exceeded his lawful authority or violated the constitution. Instead he ruled on very narrow, highly technical legal grounds: That the executive actions did not comply with the rule making requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The administration argues that the deportation reprieves are solidly legal and well within the president’s authority to focus limited immigration enforcement resources on the deportation of terrorists, felons and gang members – not DREAMers, and mothers and fathers of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

What happens now?

Judge Hanen’s order is of course an unwelcome setback for supporters of the president’s executive actions, but it’s hardly a fatal blow to DACA expansion or DAPA. The final decision – which most legal experts are confident will uphold the president’s immigration actions – will come from a much higher court; probably the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s how it will work: The Obama administration will appeal Judge Hanen’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court. The higher court will likely take several weeks or months to decide the case. In the meantime, both the DACA expansion and DAPA will remain on hold. The government will not accept applications for either program, but potential applicants would be well advised to continue to collect documents so they are ready to apply when the injunction is eventually lifted.

If the Fifth Circuit reverses Judge Hanen’s order – as many experts expect it will do – the DACA expansion and DAPA processes will go forward as planned. If not, the president’s executive actions could be delayed for many more months while the administration asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Importantly, Judge Hanen’s order is hardly the final word. It’s just the first act in what could be a very drawn out play that may conclude in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, what happens to the DREAMers and parents who qualify for DACA plus and DAPA?

The law requires Obama to set immigration enforcement priorities – to decide, in effect, which undocumented immigrants should be deported first. Last November, when he announced his immigration executive actions, the president said he’ll prioritize the deportation of “felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a Mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

What that means for immigrants who would qualify for the DACA expansion and DAPA is that, as long as they are not a deportation priority, their cases will remain at the bottom of the enforcement barrel while the Department of Homeland Security focuses on getting rid of those who threaten the safety of American communities.

How does the judge’s decision affect the larger battle over comprehensive immigration reform?

At the time Judge Hanen ruled on Monday, congressional Republicans were trying to figure out how to break a stalemate that threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over GOP opposition to the president’s executive actions on immigration.

Hanen’s injunction clearly complicates things for the GOP. Conservative Republicans may harden their position against compromise with Democrats and the administration on homeland security funding. On the other hand, Hanen’s order temporarily halting the implementation of DACA expansion and DAPA arguably takes the issue off the table – at least for now – undercutting those in Congress intent on using homeland security funding to kill the president’s immigration initiatives.

Yet despite the GOP’s apparent obsession with creating an immigration system characterized by chaos and mass deportation, one thing is crystal clear – the DREAMERs and undocumented parents the Republicans long to deport are not going anywhere. They are already home.

Stay tuned.

A personal postscript to an amazing week of #immigrationAction

2014-11-22 West WingFriends, I was honored to be among a handful of civil rights and immigration leaders and advocates invited to meet with President Obama in the West Wing of the White House on Thursday afternoon shortly before he announced his Immigration Executive Actions.

As I sat in the Roosevelt room with the President I was taken with thoughts of my grandparents and my dad, Holocaust survivors from Germany, who were given refuge in this great country. We owe so much to those who brought us to this day. And we owe a lot to future generations. I was truly humbled to be a part of this historic moment.

Last night families across America who’d grown accustomed to living in fear went to sleep knowing that in the morning they would wake up safe and together.

That’s not hyperbole, that’s a reality for families throughout the country.

There is a Talmudic saying that “if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.” This week the President used his authority to make the immigration system work better until Congress finally fixes it. And, in so doing, the President has “saved the world” for millions and millions of hard working honest people.

At the same time we must remember that what the President has done is only a first step; millions more families continue to live in the shadows, fearful of being separated from their loved ones every time they leave their homes to buy milk at the corner store, medicine for their children, or simply fill the car with gas. This is not who we are as a nation, as people, as a culture.

The step Mr. Obama has taken to make the immigration system work better is a bold and courageous (and yes–solidly legal) use of his lawful authority as President of the United States. But only Congress has the power to fix the antiquated, rigid and outdated immigration policy that plagues this country, devastates families, stymies American business and inhibits job creation.

We can only hope that amid the calls for lawsuits and legislation to block the President’s executive actions Republican congressional leaders will find the guts to do the right thing by the American People.

WATCH VIDEO: SELESTE ASKS PRESIDENT OBAMA NOT TO DEPORT HER HUSBAND PEDRO

From America’s Voice

Watch Seleste’s message begging President Obama not to deport her husband below, then sign the petition to keep Pedro at home!

There’s so much at stake for this family — will you take a moment and help?

Send a message telling immigration officials in the Obama Administration to stop Pedro’s deportation now!

More nastiness from @SenatorSessions on #immigration

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) injected his own brand of nastiness into the debate over the plight of the Central American refugees fleeing Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for other countries in the region, including the U.S.

Not surprisingly, Sessions fails to offer a single constructive policy solution; just more partisan rancor, including the absurd claim that the crisis is the result of the Administration’s failure to enforce the immigration law.

Of course Sessions does take the opportunity to call for an end to DACA and the deportation of DREAMERs.

Read the letter here:  2014-07-14 Sessions Letter

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.

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