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.

Is the politically charged Texas immigration case about to become more politically charged?

As the 9 justices of the U.S. Supreme Court ponder whether to review the Republican lawsuit attacking President Obama’s immigration executive actions, back in Brownsville, Texas U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen—whom Republican politicians, led by the state of Texas, sought out late last year to block the actions known as DAPA and DACA expansion—appears to be making an already brazenly political lawsuit more political.

In a little noticed order issued earlier this month Hanen commanded the parties to appear in his courtroom on Tuesday December 15 to explain the effect of a procedural decision of the 5th Circuit Appeals Court “on the rights of individuals to intervene in the case.” (The intervenors are people who have expressed an interest in becoming parties to the Texas immigration case).

When I read Hanen’s order the first question that came to my mind was: Why have a hearing now?  Hanen’s temporary injunction blocking the immigration executive actions is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court.  If the Court agrees to hear the case this term the lawsuit will not likely return to Hanen’s court room for months, if ever.  Most legal scholars and observers believe that Hanen was wrong to block the president’s executive actions last February.  If the Supreme Court hears the case this term there’s a pretty good chance they’ll toss out the entire case, rendering a hearing on the intervenors pointless.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for Hanen to put the whole case on hold until after the Supreme Court reviews it?  Why waste precious tax payer dollars and limited judicial resources on a procedural hearing about the role of the intervenors if there is a chance the case won’t survive Supreme Court review?  On that point even the GOP politicians who brought the case seem to agree. They’ve joined the Obama administration in a motion asking Judge Hanen to shelve the case until after the Supreme Court makes a decision.

What’s driving Hanen to go forward with a hearing at this point? Doesn’t he have other cases on his docket that need his immediate attention?

Maybe Hanen’s sense of urgency has more to do with who the intervenors are? Among those seeking to impose themselves on the litigation are Orly Taitz, queen of the disgraced and discredited birther movement, which challenged President Obama’s U.S. citizenship and legitimacy as President (Taitz specifically sought out Hanen to file several anti-immigrant lawsuits) and the infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s built his brand by terrorizing Latino neighborhoods, surreptitiously investigating the wife of a federal judge and violating folks’ civil rights.  Arpaio lost a case on this same issue in the D.C. District and on appeal at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  It’s difficult to imagine that either Taitz or Arpaio have a “concrete, personalized, and legally protectable” interest in the case as required for intervention. Yet Hanen has set the hearing for Tuesday, December 15 and that presumably means the interests of Taitz and Arpaio will be heard.

All this underscores the real nature of the Texas GOP attack on DAPA and DACA which, as a panel of the 5th Circuit appeals court observed in its order affirming Hanen’s hold on DAPA and DACA expansion, involves “policy disagreements masquerading as legal claims”. Taking the court’s apt description a step further, the Republican challenge to the deportation deferrals is more about the party’s rabid disdain for “anything Obama” than the sanctity of the law.  DAPA and DACA wouldn’t have even been necessary if the GOP House leadership had allowed an up or down vote on comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.  Everyone knows that immigration reform would have passed Congress and the President would have signed it into law obviating the need for a deportation deferral.  In the aftermath of the House GOP’s intransigence Obama set forth immigration enforcement priorities which target felons, national security threats and recent border crossers rather than DREAMers and undocumented parents.  While he was able to slap a temporary hold on DAPA and DACA expansion, Hanen—who has not shied away from launching gratuitous attacks on the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies—knows that the President’s enforcement priorities are unassailably legal.

Is that why Hanen appears so eager to open his courtroom to a discussion of the role of the intervenors, including the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio and birther queen Orly Taitz, as the Supreme Court decides whether it will hear the Texas immigration case this term?

It seems that the participation of Apraio and Taitz will do little more than inject more nasty politics into the GOP’s shamelessly political lawsuit.

DAPA Eligible Immigrants Will Not Be Deported and 3 Other Things You Need to Know About the GOP #Immigration Lawsuit

Originally posted on Huffington Post

By David Leopold

Since Judge Hanen issued his controversial midnight order blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration there has been a lot of speculation about what will happen next. Will the Court of Appeals quickly reverse the ruling? How long will it take for the case to wind its way through the appellate courts? Will the U.S. Supreme Court have to weigh in?

I’ve been answering questions like these on DAPAQuestions.org and will continue doing so, but there are three key questions that many people are asking today.

What does the Republican Lawsuit against expanding DACA and the new DAPA program mean for the 5 million immigrants that would qualify for these programs?

The Republican lawsuit against DACA expansion and DAPA was undoubtedly a bump in the road, but it is not the final word. The law is clear and DAPA/DACA expansion policies are legal, despite what Judge Hanen thinks. Until the Texas case is resolved on appeal, DREAMers and parents who were preparing to apply should continue to do so.

Importantly, applicants for the DACA program created in 2012 can and should continue to apply. The lawsuit does not affect them.

Applicants for DACA expansion (the changes announced in 2014) should continue to collect documents and other proof showing of arrival in the U.S. before the age of 16 and that they were in the U.S. on January 1, 2010.

DAPA applicants should collect all necessary proof that they’ve lived in the U.S. since before January 1, 2010 and, on November 20, 2014–the day President Obama announced his immigration executive actions–were the parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

And, of course, applicants should be prepared to pay the expected $465 application filing fee which includes the cost of criminal background checks.

Does the Republican lawsuit block all of President Obama’s immigration actions?

No! While the future of DAPA and DACA expansion could be tied up in the courts for the next few weeks or (maybe even months), Republicans cannot touch Obama’s immigration actions that are already being implemented.

Judge Hanen’s order does NOT affect the original, existing DACA program. Individuals who qualify for deferred action based on the criteria outlined in 2012 can and should continue to apply.

Judge Hanen’s order also has NO effect on the immigration enforcement priorities that President Obama laid out as part of his executive actions. These new priorities, which are detailed in a memorandum from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, direct immigration agents to focus on the deportation of aliens who are national security threats, felons, criminal gang members, visa abusers and serious immigration violators.

This means that DREAMers and parents of U.S. citizens who meet the criteria for DACA expansion and DAPA generally should not be deported–even if they come into contact with ICE or CBP. They are only at risk if their deportation would service an “important federal interest” such as individuals who pose a threat to community safety.

Nobody has (or can) seriously question whether or not President Obama’s immigration enforcement priorities are legal. And they go beyond the confines of DACA and DAPA to prevent unjust deportation of other undocumented immigrants with roots and ties to the United States.

But how can we trust that these priorities are being implemented?

This is an important question given past experience with various iterations of “enforcement priorities” memos.

The good news is that so far ICE field offices seem to be following the new enforcement priorities. In Ohio, for example, ICE agents took it upon themselves to postpone the imminent removal of an undocumented mother of a U.S. citizen child after the policies were announced. While the woman still needs DAPA to get stability, at least her low priority removal status allows immigration enforcement agents to focus on dangerous criminals and national security risks. Vox’s Dara Lindreportedlast week that 1000 people have been released from immigration custody since DHS released its enforcement priorities in November.

Nevertheless, immigration advocates must remain vigilant. If a DREAMer, undocumented parent or long-term resident is apprehended, detained or facing removal, ICE officials should be notified immediately that the person is not an enforcement priority and should not be detained or removed. Ideally this should be done through a licensed attorney who is experienced with the deferred action process. If local officials appear to not be following priorities, attorneys should sound alarm bells to higher immigration agency authorities and immigration advocacy groups like America’s Voice Education Fund who can work to ensure that ICE agents closely follow the President’s smart enforcement priorities.

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.

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!

Obama cannot afford to break another promise on #immigration

Posted on The Hill Congress Blog

Is President Obama about to delay his executive authority to make the immigration system work better until Congress acts?

It’s an important question, especially in light of what he said on Labor Day.

“Hope” Obama declared “is what gives young people the strength to march for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights and voting rights and gay rights and immigration rights.”

Obama’s inclusion of “immigration rights” together with the epic struggles of American democracy – civil rights, women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights and workers’ rights – suggests he sees the struggle for immigration reform as an historic movement not tied to party or politics but inherent to the American democratic experience.
Notice the president used the term “immigration rights” not “immigrants’ rights”?

“Immigration rights” carries with it political, social and cultural significance while “immigrants’ rights” is a more direct reference to redress of rights through the courts. “Immigration rights” on the other hand suggests something inherent; rights that may not yet be on the books, but are nevertheless embedded in our Constitution as are the rights of minorities, women, and LGBTs.

If the president truly views “immigration rights” with the same reverence he does the rights of minorities, women, and LGBTs then how can he morally, ethically or politically justify not using his constitutional authority to fix the system where he can? Did President Kennedy, postpone confronting Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama when he tried to block the admission of African American students in 1962 before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act?

It’s also a question of integrity. The president stood in the Rose Garden on June 30, lambasted the House GOP for refusing to take up immigration reform, and promised that he would “act without delay” once he received recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s a promise Obama cannot afford to break.

Those words resonated loudly among Latino voters, nearly a quarter of whom have a relative or friend who’s been detained or deported by the Obama administration. Latinos remember that in 2008 candidate Obama promised he would champion immigration reform during his first term in office, but then he broke his promise and deported two million people. They remember that June 2012 when he needed support for his reelection, Obama apologized to the Latino community, granted a deportation reprieve to young undocumented immigrants, and again promised he would fix the immigration system if he was reelected. And Latinos remember that the president was reelected with over 70 percent of their vote.

It’s true that the president is under pressure from some in his own party to wait until after the midterm election to act on immigration. They believe it’s the “safe” thing to do. But voters actually prefer politicians who keep their word, exercise leadership, and take chances over those who play it safe. And the political considerations are far less salient than the moral imperative of doing what the President knows is right—using his executive authority to blunt the harshness of an outdated, rigid, anti-family immigration law.

The president has been called the “Deporter-in-Chief,” and after six years of relentless deportations, his legacy is surely on the line. If he wants to be remembered for an immigration record other than record deportations, he must keep his word to the American people and do what he can to make the immigration system work—without delay.

Leopold is an Ohio-based attorney and the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

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