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.

#Immigration Court Publishes Phase I of Plan to Provide Enhanced Procedural Protections to Unrepresented Detained Immigrants with Mental Disorders

Read the Plan here—->EOIR Phase I Guidance

.@ImmPolicyCenter: Bordering on Criminal: the Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System

From the Immigration Policy CenterDecember 10, 2013

Washington D.C. – The Immigration Policy Center, together with the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona and the Department of Sociology at George Washington University, release Bordering on Criminal: the Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System.  The reports reflect the findings of the Migrant Border Crossing Study—a binational, multi-institution study of 1,110 randomly selected, recently repatriated migrants surveyed in six Mexican cities between 2009 and 2012. The study exposes widespread mistreatment of migrants at the hands of U.S. officials in the removal system.

Part I: Migrant Mistreatment While in U.S. Custody focuses on the mistreatment of unauthorized migrants while in U.S. custody. Overall, we find that the physical and verbal mistreatment of migrants is not a random, sporadic occurrence but, rather, a systematic practice. One indication of this is that 11% of deportees report some form of physical abuse and 23% report verbal mistreatment while in U.S. custody—a finding that is supported by other academic studies and reports from non-governmental organizations. Another highly disturbing finding is that migrants often note they are the targets for nationalistic and racist remarks—something that in no way is integral to U.S. officials’ ability to function in an effective capacity on a day-to-day basis.

Part II: Possessions Taken and Not Returned focuses on the issue of repatriated migrants’ belongings being taken and not returned by U.S. authorities. Overall, we find that the taking of belongings and the failure to return them is not a random, sporadic occurrence, but a systematic practice.  One indication of this is that just over one-third of deportees report having belongings taken and not returned. Perhaps one of the most alarming findings is that, among deportees who were carrying Mexican identification cards, 1 out of every 4 had their card taken and not returned. The taking of possessions, particularly identity documents, can have serious consequences and is an expression of how dysfunctional the deportation system is. Our study finds that migrants processed through Operation Streamline, or held in detention for a week or longer, are most likely to have their possessions taken and not returned.

To view the papers in full, see:

Bordering on Criminal: the Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System  (IPC Special Reports, December 2013)

Agreement Reached in National Class Action Lawsuit on Work Authorization for Asylum Seekers

From the American Immigration Counsel Legal Action Center

April 15, 2013

Washington D.C. – The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have agreed to settle a nationwide class action lawsuit challenging the denial of work authorization to asylum seekers who have been waiting six months or more for a decision on their asylum applications. If approved by a federal judge, this agreement will help ensure that asylum seekers, who have fled persecution in their home countries, are not unlawfully prevented from working and supporting their families while the government adjudicates their cases.  The settlement agreement represents the culmination of years of advocacy by the American Immigration Council’s Legal Action Center (LAC) and other groups on behalf of deserving asylum seekers.

The agreement stems from a case filed in December 2011 by the LAC and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), with co-counsel from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Seattle law firm Gibbs Houston Pauw.  The complaint challenged widespread problems with the “asylum clock”—the system government agencies use to determine when immigrants who have applied for asylum may obtain permission to work lawfully in the United States.

The case, filed on behalf of asylum-seekers around the country, alleged that the current system unlawfully denies asylum applicants the opportunity to obtain employment authorization if their asylum application has been pending for six months or more. Some end up waiting several months or years for the government to make a decision on their asylum application.  Indeed, one plaintiff from China has been waiting nearly 10 years for his case to be resolved. Employment authorization is critical given that most applicants have fled their home countries without any resources, and thus have no means to support themselves.

“The settlement agreement includes significant changes to ensure that vulnerable asylum-seekers are no longer arbitrarily deprived of the ability to work while the government decides their cases,” according to Mary Kenney, Senior Staff Attorney with the Legal Action Center.

“We are extremely pleased that we were able to achieve a solution that we believe will help hundreds, if not thousands, of people seeking asylum,” said Chris Strawn, director of the asylum unit at NWIRP. “Many asylum seekers who were stuck in limbo, without any way to support themselves or their family members while waiting for their asylum applications to be resolved, will now be able to obtain employment authorization.”

“Getting work authorization has been a huge benefit to me and my family, allowing us to sustain ourselves while waiting for a decision on my asylum application,” said B.H., one of the named Plaintiffs in the suit.

Because the suit involves a class action, the settlement agreement, filed April 12, 2013 in a federal district court in Washington State, will have to be approved by Judge Richard Jones, the judge overseeing the case.

For press inquiries, contact Wendy Feliz at wfeliz@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7524

 

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