Daily Dispatch 11/22/2019: USCIS wants to raise fees and give the money to ICE. We say no!

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Daily Dispatch

November 22, 2019

Among agencies that deal with immigration, United States’ Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the entity primarily responsible for assisting people with authorized immigration: Processing citizenship applications, asylum applications, DACA registrations and so on. As the name of the agency implies, it is providing a service to people. It is not an enforcement agency. 

However, since Trump came into office, and specifically under the tenure of acting director, Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS is increasingly playing an enforcement role – i.e., using rules to exclude people and limit immigration, instead of assisting people. Now Trump is actually proposing that USCIS fees be used to pay for enforcement.

USCIS is a fee based agency. It provides services and charges a fee in exchange. Income received from fees cover 96% of USCIS’ budget. Simple.

Under a new rule proposed by the Trump administration, the fee structure is to be revamped completely. A fee will be added for asylum applications. Fees for registering as a citizenship will almost double. DACA registration fees will go up significantly and so on. In essence the administration is using the fee structure itself as an enforcement mechanism – keeping out people who cannot afford to pay the new and/or increased fees. From CBS:

Araceli Martínez-Olguín, a staff attorney at the California-based National Immigration Law Center, said Friday’s proposed rule reinforces the notion that the White House is committed to building a “paper wall” to make it harder for low-income immigrants to access the nation’s lawful immigration system. 

“The administration is trying to ensure that low-income folks — and we know that within the United States, that’s going to be mostly people of color — face extra barriers either to immigrate in the first place or to adjust their status so they are kept from becoming citizens,” Martínez-Olguín told CBS News.

So why is USCIS doing this? Well, part of the proposed rule is that $207 million dollars raised through these increased and new fees will be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in FY 2019 and 2020! (FY 2019 is actually over – so the rule seems to be arguing for back payment to ICE for FY 2019 out of these fees!!)

Yes, the Trump administration is going to charge increased fees for services intended to support authorized immigration in order to offset ICE’s budget deficit racked up detaining asylum seekers and pulling kids away from their parents at the border.

The transfer to ICE is actually more – significantly more – than the money USCIS says it needs to hire more staff ($156 million over two years).

We know USCIS is not doing this because they have been doing a great job. USCIS processing times – which have gone up dramatically, an increase that cannot be accounted for by a surge in applications – were the subject of Congressional hearings this summer. USCIS has also closed its counselor offices overseas earlier this year as well. So, it is not a bigger workload.

Rather, the fee increases serve two purposes: 1. Make life harder for authorized immigrants and people seeking authorized entry, and 2. Use the money to fund ICE which is over budget due to its own unauthorized expenses. 

The rule has been published at The Federal Register. You can make a comment there between now and December 16 expressing your disagreement with the increased fees and transfer to ICE! We have created an easy way for you to do this! Check it out.

Click here!

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In Memoriam: Barbara Cullom

On September 8, 2019, the Quixote Center lost one of its prophetic voices with the death of Barbara Cullom, who worked at the Center from 1983-1986. Cullom earned advanced degrees in theology including a Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame and an M.Div. at Howard University School of Divinity.

At the Quixote Center, she worked on what was originally called the Theology Project and served as a bridge between the work of Priests for Equality and Catholics Speak Out. In her work, Barbara centered efforts to call out the sin of sexism and raise up the liberationist goals of feminism within a theological context. After moving on from the Center, she devoted much of her life to pastoral ministries and support to patients in hospice care.

One outstanding part of Cullom’s legacy is the Mary Canon, a liturgical text she co-authored with Dolly Pomerleau, a co-founder of the Quixote Center, which we include here:

Mary Canon

By Dolly Pomerleau and Barbara Cullom

We give you thanks, God of all, for Mary our sister.

We think of how she might tell us of her son’s life:

“While I waited with my cousin Elizabeth

I felt my child move,

felt him grow and kick and turn in my womb. I said:

This is the body of my body.

     This is the blood of my blood.

In Bethlehem, I held my newborn son,

keeping him close to me as he slept.

As I cradled my firstborn in my arms, I said:

This is the body of my body.

     This is the blood of my blood.

At Golgotha, I held my dead son,

feeling his brokenness and my own.

As I cradled his corpse in my arms, I cried:

This is the body of my body.

     This is the blood of my blood.

On Olivet, I held my risen son,

thrilled that he had triumphed over death.

As I held him in my arms, my heart rejoiced:

This is the body of my body.

     This is the blood of my blood.”

In closing, we quote Barbara’s own words from a piece she wrote for a Quixote Center publication titled Set My People Free: Liberation Theology in Practice, offering an eschatological vision of her work within Christianity – a vision that is still being fulfilled – and that now serves as a fitting way of capturing her memory and the fond memory so many hold of her:

We shall someday see the New Jerusalem, a heaven and an earth beautiful as one who is to be married, a place where there are no more tears. We shall see it, just as one day there were women and men who bore, touched, loved and struggled with Emmanu-el. I do not know when that day will come. But I do know that even now, women and women-children can sing in their souls: “I found God in myself, and I loved her, I loved her FIERCELY!!”

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Daily Dispatch 11/21/2019: Take Action Updates!

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Daily Dispatch

November 21, 2019

Over the last couple of weeks we have put out some call to actions and discussed other items in the news. For today’s Dispatch, we want to simply update folks about these actions.

Defund Hate 

Last week we circulated an alert for the National Call-in Day in support of the Defund Hate campaign of the Detention Watch Network. As a coalition we are not real sure how many calls, tweets and other communications resulted, but a rough tally from a few sources suggest at least 1,000 people took part around the country. If you were one of them, thank you!!!

So what does it all mean? The goal for the campaign is cutting Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection’s budgets as a means toward reducing – eventually eliminating – the incarceration of immigrants. That message has been received loud and clear – though remains a highly partisan frame. A proposed budget (not yet voted on in the House), for example, reduces daily average of people in detention to 34,000 from the current 45,000 budgeted for FY2019 (though ICE is holding 50,000 and wants capacity to hold 52,000 a day next year). The Senate proposal is higher, largely giving in to ICE’s demands for bed space and border agents (and funding for the wall). There is a big fight looming once these proposals hit the floor for debate in each house, and then have to be reconciled. We are not there yet.

We are now in the Continuing Resolution (CR) phase of the budget cycle. That time of year when the government is out of money because no budget has been passed, and in order to avoid shutting down, Congress passes CRs to keep the government funded at its current rate. So, the goal at the moment is to make sure the CRs are not padded with extra money for immigration enforcement. ICE and other agencies would love to get extra funds this time of year as a way of boosting their overall budget, and, in theory, give them leverage for even larger sums of money in the fight for FY2020.

A Continuing Resolution was passed in the House this week – and there was no extra money added for ICE or CBP – which means ICE and CBP must continue to operate, on a prorated basis, under the same budget as last year. The Senate votes today and is expected to support the House version of the CR. There is money for the wall in there – because there was funding for the wall added to last year’s budget. But no new money for detention or enforcement, which is a success. The CR runs until December 20th, at which point a budget will need to be passed, or another CR passed, or the government (more likely specific departments) will be forced to close again. This last option is actually likely as the CR will end during the most likely week for an impeachment vote in the House….

For now, keep up the pressure on Congress to cut funding for ICE and CBP in FY2020! We’ve made this case several places – most recently here. And no new funding in any future CR.

Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act – New cosponsors, need more

A couple of weeks ago we put out a call to action to encourage folks to contact members of Congress to request they become co-sponsors of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. We spend a lot of time talking about the problems with immigrant detention – the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act actually offers most of the solutions we want, at least what we can get out of legislation (more details here). The general consensus is that the bill will not get a vote this year, but that we need to use co-sponsorship as a means to build momentum for action next year (and a lot of this depends on the outcome of the elections).

You can still ask your member of Congress to do what they can to move it out of committee!! This probably won’t happen, but it is still a message they need to here.

You can still take action HERE!

Check the current list of cosponsors first. If your member of Congress is already here, thank them! And then ask them what they can to get it to a vote. Let us know what they say!

Scott Warren Acquitted!!

Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, was tried for a second time, charged with harboring and trafficking. Scott was tried back in June for the first time, with the result being a hung jury. Federal prosecutors dropped conspiracy charges, but chose to retry him on another charge. We have reported on his trials here and here

This week he was acquitted!! Great news for Scott and for everyone doing what they can to accompany and provide assistance to people risking their lives to cross the deserts in Arizona and Texas. One day, this work will be unnecessary. Until that day comes, we are thankful for the courage of Scott and other volunteers, who continue to be harassed by federal authorities.

SaveAsylum – Keep the calls coming!

Finally, Tuesday we put out a call to action along with LAWG, WOLA, Alianza Americas and other organizations. The goal – get congress to stop (and defund) the Remain in Mexico policy. This call to action, though more specific, is very much in line with the Defund Hate actions we’ve been involved in. We hope you have a made a call. If not, get the details here, and make a call.

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Family separations and U.S.-sanctioned trauma are not new

Sketch of a slave auction. (Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture)

This week hundreds of emails by Stephen Miller, senior immigration advisor to the president, were unveiled and we discovered what many of us knew already – Stephen Miller is racist. Big surprise. CNN states:

In the emails, Miller promotes a notoriously racist French novel that paints a dystopian picture of immigrants as subhuman hordes. He encourages a Breitbart reporter to emphasize stories about crime by  immigrants and non-whites. He expresses dismay that Amazon had stopped selling Confederate flags after the 2015 Charleston church shooting.

Miller’s white nationalist ideology explains why he and this administration have been so draconian in their immigration policies, specifically the explosive detention numbers, family separations and the number of children detained in the U.S. The Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border led to the incarceration of at least 3,000 children in the spring and summer of 2018. Some of these children have yet to be re-connected with parents. Over the course of FY 2019, the Office of Refugee Resettlement held 70,000 children. At the beginning of the fiscal year as many as 14,000 a day, and for an average detention of 93 days! These policies shocked many in this country, and probably more than any other development, energized a grassroots backlash to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Today’s Daily Dispatch: “Stephen Miller Must Go”

However, as we in church circles like to quote from the Bible, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Family separation, the criminalization of self-determined people seeking a better life, and the gross abuses of enslaved and indigenous people have been around since the founding of this country. These methods of oppression and disenfranchisement are as American as apple pie.

Africans who were enslaved by the founding fathers and colonizers were ripped away from their countries, religion, culture and families by the millions. The threat of having their families sold away was a regular torture tactic used by slaveowners to keep enslaved peoples in line. Those who are familiar with the history of indigenous people in the Americas know that many of their children were ripped away from their families and forced into boarding schools for assimilation. From the article, “Slavery and America’s Legacy of Family Separation:”

Harriet Mason remembered her mistress forcing her to leave her home and family in Bryantsville, Kentucky, to work in Lexington as a servant at the age of seven. She remembered, “when we got to Lexington I tried to run off and go back to Bryantsville to see my [mother].” The grief of a childhood spent away from her family at the whim of her owner led her to suicidal thoughts, “I used to say I wish I’d died when I was little.” Even in her old age she was firm that, “I never liked to go to Lexington since.”

Her recollections capture the cruelty of family separation and underscore how children were big business in the history of slavery. They were laborers and valuable property. They could be hired out just like Harriet Mason. Slaveholders borrowed against their human property. They gifted enslaved children to their white sons and daughters as children, upon their marriages, or as they struck out to begin their slaveholding legacy. And of course, slave children could be sold down the road and down the river. Children knew that at any moment this could happen to them.

The separation of Black families didn’t end with Emancipation. The “Black Codes” and Jim Crow ensured that Blacks would not have equal rights and resulted in uneven enforcement of laws and sentencing, which in turn, made their families more susceptible to forced separation. Malcolm X describes in his autobiography how the foster care system removed him and his siblings from their mother’s care after his father’s murder. More recently, studies have shown how the U.S. welfare system and prison industrial complex have separated families and instilled intergenerational trauma into Black families. The “man in the house” rule is a primary example of how the U.S. government has been intentional in destroying families. The North Carolina Law Review states:

Under the type of state welfare regulation popularly known as the “substitute father” rule, children otherwise eligible for benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children’ program are denied assistance if their natural parent maintains a continuing sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex. This person is deemed to be a non-absent parent within the meaning of the Social Security Act, thus rendering the family ineligible for AFDC payments. Whether this person is legally obligated to support the children is irrelevant; whether he does in fact contribute to their support is also irrelevant; eligibility under such a rule is determined solely by the relationship between the parent (usually the mother of the children) and the “substitute” (usually an unrelated male).

Children in poor families would not be eligible for welfare benefits if there was a man living in the home – whether that man was financially supporting the children or not. This forced many fathers to leave their homes and encouraged the explosion in Black children born in single-parent households. This was by design. One of my favorite movies, “Claudine,” with Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, shows how the welfare system was design to keep families separated, keep fathers out of the home, and keep Black and poor families trapped in poverty.

Stephen Miller’s emails and his position in the Trump administration confirm what we already knew about U.S’ immigration policies and many of the other unjust systems in this country. They are rooted in racism, and if do not force a change of course, generations of people will continue to suffer.

More information:
‘Barbaric’: America’s cruel history of separating children from their parents
The Racist Roots of Welfare Reform

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Daily Dispatch 11/20/2019: Miller must go….

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Daily Dispatch

November 20, 2019

A man holds an effigy of White House policy advisor Stephen Miller as he rallies with protestors against U.S. President Donald Trump in front of Trump Tower on the night of his State of the Union address, February 5, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As most are now aware, a former Breitbart editor, who had coordinated messaging on immigration with Stephen Miller, leaked emails she exchanged with Miller to the Southern Poverty Law Center. From NBC:

The first batch of emails, released last week, included correspondence in which Miller pointed McHugh to white nationalist websites that have been categorized as hate groups by the SPLC, including the white supremacist websites VDare and American Renaissance.

VDare and American Renaissance repeatedly push the “great replacement” and “white genocide” conspiracy theory, which posits that a shadowy group is attempting to eliminate white majorities in the United States through immigration and encouraging mixed-race families.

More emails were released yesterday that further show the ways that Miller coordinated messaging with Breitbart while he was working with the Trump campaign.

The tight connection between Breitbart editor Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Stephen Miller – who previously served as a legislative aide in Sessions office – was discussed a couple of weeks ago in detail as part of a Frontline special on the evolution of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The report discussed how Bannon, Sessions and Miller worked closely from 2014 on and were brought together by a clear desire to use immigration as a wedge issue to turn the GOP away from any compromise that could ease immigration restrictions. They saw this as a way to transform the GOP in electoral terms, though the commitment to white nationalism throughout their writing and talking on these subjects are clear enough. In 2016 Trump, in Bannon’s words, became their “imperfect vehicle” for that mission. 

That Miller is particularly driven by a commitment to racist ideologies is thus not surprising. That a marginal, largely truth free e-zine like Breitbart could come to have such an influence on U.S. political thought – while pedaling such nonsense – should be surprising, but in the current age of “post-truth” news, social mediated clickbait and hyper-partisanship, it is not. 

I fully support calls for Miller to step down. The policies he has pursued have been a human rights disaster and, whatever his personal motivations, warrant his removal from office. Immigration policy has long been a human rights disaster – and certainly the political justifications for the expansion of detention and criminalization over the last 20 years is hard to separate from nationalism. However, this administration has stood out for its cruelty (best exhibited in the purposeful separation of children from parents and extending child detention as a deterrent), its consistent attacks on authorized immigration, and for its unapologetic dismantling of refugee and asylum laws. 

Miller has been uniquely responsible for the cruel tenor of this administration’s policies. He has worked behind the scenes to shape not just what the message is, a la Breitbart, but who the messengers are. Miller is generally credited with forcing the removal of officials considered too moderate and replacing them with immigration hardliners. Thus, Miller has shaped who the personnel at the Department of Homeland Security are and how they frame policy. The result is an unaccountable cabal of “acting” or “temporary” officials – none of whom have even been confirmed.

From the beginning of Trump’s administration a point we have returned to in various ways, is that even if the infrastructure Trump employs for his anti-immigration practices was in place already, the messaging he has used in an effort to legitimate its expansion has done great damage. This administration has employed irresponsible rhetoric that demonizes immigrants. It has purposefully blurred the line between authorized and unauthorized channels of immigration in order to curtail legal immigration. And, of course, Trump simply lies over and over again about dynamics at our border in order to rally support for the wall, jail asylum seekers, and tear families apart. Miller is the one largely responsible for all of this. That this messaging has always been shaded by white nationalism is well known. That it is not accidental, but purposeful, seems obvious as well, and now that seems irrefutable. 

So, yes, Miller must resign or be forced to. 

However, we are left to wonder how an outlet like Breitbart could facilitate the distortion of the political process in this country to such an extent. Miller will likely be forced out. Trump may be as well. But for such a marginal group to achieve this kind of electoral influence through the manipulation of information channels is a lesson others will take note of – and seek to replicate. That our political process has come to this point is the truly scary part to me. 

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Daily Dispatch 11/19/2019: #SaveAsylum

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Daily Dispatch

November 19, 2019

This week we are joining with the Latin American Working Group, Alianza Americas, the Washington Office on Latin America and many others, to #SaveAsylum! Today, and through the week (indeed keep at it as long as necessary), we are getting the word out to call members of Congress and demand that they defund/end the Remain In Mexico program. This is a good follow-up action for those who took part in the National Call-in Day to Defund Hate – as it is the same set of policies! From the Latin America Working Group:

The Trump Administration’s immigration policies violate more human rights by the minute. 

Over 60,000 families, men, women, and children who have been returned to Remain in Mexico are waiting in danger throughout their asylum proceedings. And the numbers keep growing. The administration calls this the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” We call it the #MigrantPersecutionProtocols. This needs to end. We can’t let more people be turned away, waiting without shelter and in danger. 

Sham virtual courtrooms costing $20 million were created in tent facilities to hear 500-700 asylum cases per day. Apart from violating asylum seekers’ rights to due process, the public is also barred from entry. This is outrageous. The administration is trying to rush through these cases, denying asylum seekers their fair day in court to try to deport them more quickly. 

To add insult to injury, a transit asylum ban was implemented to deny protection to those who traveled through other countries first before arriving at our border, denying access to asylum to everyone but Mexicans. “Safe Third Country” agreements were signed with Central American countries that are not safe. This means that migrants from other countries will be sent back to the very conditions that they were fleeing in the first place.

These are not the principles under which this country was founded. We don’t turn our backs on people when they need us most. The actions of our government undermine what it means to be an American. Join us in speaking out. 

Take Action!!

Here’s what you can do to get involved:

Together, let’s make their phones ring: 

    •         Call your representative and two senators. Find them here >>>
    •         ​Sample Script: “My name is ____ and I am a constituent from ____. I urge Representative/Senator ____ to defund and terminate the harmful MPP policy. DHS must be held accountable for violations of the rights of migrants due to their policies. Asylum seekers should be allowed to wait for their asylum hearings in safety within the United States, not be sent to harm in Mexico to wait for months. I am alarmed that they are being returned to dangerous Mexican cities where they are at risk for kidnapping and extortion. I implore you to speak out against these policies. My community welcomes and values immigrants & refugees, and as someone who represents my community, I urge you to do the same.” 

Together, let’s get trending: 

Join us in this Week of Action to raise our voices and tell the administration that we will not let them shut the door on asylum. Your action is vital. 

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Daily Dispatch 11/18/2019: Are We Human Rights Abusers?

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Daily Dispatch

November 18, 2019

Members of a “caravan” of Central Americans spent weeks travelling across Mexico to the U.S. border, to ask authorities for asylum.Photograph by David McNew / Getty

On the This American Life podcast this week, in an episode entitled “The Out Crowd,” the reporters share stories of the Remain in Mexico program (formally called, in the most outrageous distortion of words, Migrant Protection Protocols). 

Some of the episode is organized around interviews conducted with migrants in Nuevo Laredo, one of the Mexican cities to which thousands have been sent awaiting further processing of their cases, and with the asylum officers who conduct credible fear interviews. If the goal is protection of migrants, finding a less safe place to send them than Nuevo Laredo would be difficult. As nurse and humanitarian aid worker Helen Perry describes the situation:

When I first saw it, I was literally just dumbfounded, because I’ve seen refugee situations like this. I’ve been to Bangladesh. I’ve seen Cox’s Bazar. I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve seen the IDP camps. I’ve seen the refugee camps from Syria.

I’d say this was the worst. Yeah, I would definitely say that this is the worst, if at a bare minimum for a lack of humanitarian accountability for what’s happening to these people.

Not only is there next to no data about who is in these camps and when they come and go, but they lie inside of territory controlled by cartels that regularly kidnap migrants and hold them for ransom. Indeed, in one segment, Emily Green, one of the reporters, describes and plays back pieces of calls with kidnappers who have abducted one of the families she has interviewed. 

If the destinations along the border seem not to prioritize protection of migrants, the process itself is also abusively bewildering. An asylum officer called “Ursula” in the story describes the MPP interview process from the point of view of the first family, this one from El Salvador, that she interviewed under these protocols:

You’re put into a cell. You’re separated from your kids and your wife. You have no idea what’s going on, because you thought today you were going to be interviewed about El Salvador and you were going to get to enter the United States.

A couple hours later, they lead you into this freezing cold cell where they chain your hands to a table in handcuffs, and someone is sitting across from you who doesn’t speak your language, and starts talking to someone in the phone who starts translating to you that you’re going to talk about Mexico. You smell like shit, because you’ve been living in a shelter, you know, without any running water for a month and half, plus you’ve traveled all the way across Central America to get there, and you don’t understand why someone is talking to you about Mexico.

This interview goes on for an hour and a half, and the person keeps pausing it so they can talk to someone on the computer, which they say is their supervisor, and another guard leads your wife in that you haven’t seen in the last 12 hours into the interview room, and you can, you know, brush her hand as she passes by. You’re so happy to see her because you’ve been separated, and you have no idea what’s going on.

So, where are my children? I don’t know, sir, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Your wife goes through a similar interview, but she keeps being confronted about the answers she’s giving because they’re different from yours, and the officer can’t understand why this story varies so differently between two people who experienced it.

Half an hour passes before her children are brought into the room, and then the officer has to talk to a 10-year-old boy about whatever his parents said, and then confront the 10-year-old boy on inconsistencies between his story and his parents’ story. And then, the wife is like, when am I going to see my husband again? 

One segment humanized in this reporting is the corps of asylum officers, called to carry out this policy with which many are in fundamental disagreement. As Molly O’Toole reports:

All three of the asylum officers I talked to said that the presentation left them with lots of questions, including the biggest one, how is this legal? These officers knew better than almost anyone how dangerous Mexico is, and this policy seemed designed to send tons of people back to Mexico.

It seemed to be in direct contradiction with U.S. asylum law, which says that, at the very least, we can’t send people back to a situation where they’d get harmed or killed. We can’t violate the principle of non-refoulment. […]

The three officers I spoke with are not alone. A union representing the asylum officers and USCIS employees filed a brief and a lawsuit against the administration arguing that MPP was illegal, and a ton of officers are quitting. I’ve heard this from a bunch of people in the asylum corps, and at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the parent agency.

Several used the word, exodus. And if officers can’t quit, they’re calling in sick– anything they can do to avoid MPP interviews. We tried to get some numbers from the government.

They wouldn’t tell us how many people had left. They did say that, by the end of the year, they hoped to have 771 asylum officers, but as of a month ago, they had something like 550, meaning they’re roughly 200 people short.

Another asylum officer, who is called Anne in this reporting, admits that the program seems to have achieved the goal of the current administration: 

They want negative decisions. They don’t want asylum seekers in this country. They don’t want people to get positive decisions or determinations for asylum. They have felt that the standards for screening interviews were too low, and they wanted those standards changed and those standards raised, and they’ve succeeded.

While Anne admits the success in achieving this goal of the administration, her personal feelings are another story. As reported here: 

Anne throws up in the shower almost every day. She has recurring nightmares. She says she can’t focus, can’t sleep. She thinks about the people she’s returned to Mexico all the time. It’s nearly 100. But there’s one family in particular that she can’t stop thinking about, a father and son.[…]

What’s my moral culpability in that? I interviewed that case, and my signature is on that paperwork, and that’s something now that I live with. So yeah, I feel– I feel in some ways that this administration’s made me a human rights abuser.

Anne is just one of hundreds of asylum officers struggling from within a system that sickens them. But I’m reminded that our taxes fund this system and it sickens me too. And if I miss any opportunity to oppose and dismantle this system – a system that willfully increases human misery – might I be a human rights abuser too?

Click here to listen to the full podcast, which profiles several other disturbing features of the treatment of migrants seeking asylum.

If you are looking for something to do right now, check out the #SaveAsylum campaign being led by the Latin America Working group this week. 

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Daily Dispatch 11/15/2019: For mixed-status families, the fear of family separation is constant

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Daily Dispatch

November 15, 2019

DACA recipients and others who attended oral argument are greeted by friends and supporters on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Family separation at the border is an enormous humanitarian crisis and makes daily headlines. But families across the country are separated or fear separation every day due to mixed immigration status. Nearly 9 million families in the U.S. have members with different immigration status – some are citizens or permanent legal residents, some are undocumented, while others are in a gray area – holders of DACA or TPS.

Both DACA and TPS have become political playthings for the Trump administration and their futures are unclear. As we shared earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday regarding DACA. What they decide will determine the future of 700,000 people and has the potential to rip apart thousands of families.

The fear and uncertainty undocumented immigrants and holders of DACA and TPS feel not only impacts them, but their entire families. In 2016, the APA published a study on the effects on U.S. born children living with undocumented parents and found numerous long and short-term consequences. The study states:

The possibility of losing a parent to deportation, having to hide a family member’s legal status, and living in fear of authority and in social marginality has consequences on children’s mental wellbeing including high rates of anxiety, depression, fear, attention problems and rule-breaking behaviors.

This is in addition to the many physical and financial hardships.

Miriam Gonzalez, a plaintiff in a case against the Trump Administration for ending DACA.

NPR podcast “Code Switch” has followed a family with mixed status. Two parents, three children and three different legal realities. Mom and Dad are undocumented. One sibling has DACA. One is undocumented, and one is a U.S. citizen. One of those children, Miriam Gonzalez, is a plaintiff in the case suing the Trump Administration for ending DACA. To hear in their own words what being a mixed-status family looks like and what the fear of family separation does to a family, click here.


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Daily Dispatch 11/14/2019: No more money for Trump’s enforcement nightmare

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Daily Dispatch

November 14, 2019

You might not remember this, but when Trump came into office (2017), border apprehensions on the southwest border were at a 40+ year low. In other words, no crisis. It is not that immigration policy was working well. Clinton, Bush and Obama had each added on features to an increasingly inhumane detention and deportation machine, and somehow this went under the radar of policy makers despite the protests of many. What years of congressional indifference had wrought, however, became clear once this machinery was handed over to Trump in January of 2017. 

Trump came into office committed to warring against immigrants, and he has. Nearly three years later, it is clear that the administration is out of control, violating the law and congressional oversight authority. For what? As a candidate, Trump spoke continuously about criminal aliens, violent thugs and gang members. This was always a lie. There aren’t enough “criminals” to go to war against. Indeed, Trump’s ICE has the lowest criminal removal rate of any administration bringing cases to immigration courts – and like past administrations, the most common lead charges for those “criminals” who are removed are traffic violations. So, who are we going after really? Refugees, children, and authorized immigrants (yeah, people we are supposed to be welcoming because they “stood in line” and did it the “right way”). Trump talks about MS-13 at rallies and then locks up people fleeing torture in Cameroon and sexual violence in Honduras or blocks H-1 visas for computer science majors. 

Which brings us to the would-be-funny-if-not-so-incredibly-tragic part. He keeps running out of money doing this – and none of the Atlas Shrugged-hugging, small government pinheads care. So, he wants more dollars, and he wants you to pay those dollars, all for a set of policies that don’t work and are morally repugnant. Congress has the power to shut it down, but instead has been way too generous (or too weak). 

Trump’s war on refugees

So, let’s get specific. Over the last year the Trump administration has taken unprecedented steps to disrupt all avenues for seeking asylum in the United States. This has included incarcerating people seeking asylum – even those who declare their intent to seek asylum at a port of entry, and even after those people have passed credible fear interviews. The administration is also denying bond hearings to those who cross between ports of entry, even though asylum law allows anyone, regardless of how they cross the border, the right to seek asylum. As a result, of the 47,260 people in ICE detention at the end of last week, 13,462 have already established a credible fear of torture or persecution if returned to their home country. Yet they are still being jailed (and tortured) in this country. 

Earlier this year, the administration expanded the Orwellian named Migrant Protection Protocols to cover the entire border with Mexico. Under this policy, piloted late last year just in San Diego, anyone arriving at the border seeking asylum is denied entry altogether and made to “Remain in Mexico” for a hearing before an immigration judge. When the policy was generalized to cover the whole border this summer, more than 6,000 asylum seekers already in the United States were sent back to Mexico. In total, 55,000 people have been returned to Mexico to await hearings. These hearings began in September and are a farce. Asylum seekers are allowed to cross the border for a day, taken into a tent where they speak to an immigration judge through video conferencing – the judge is elsewhere – and then have to return to Mexico to wait longer. The system, as volunteer attorneys attempting to provide services have argued, is designed to fail. Indeed, it is designed to make people so miserable they give up and go home, or seek permanent resettlement in Mexico.

Still not content, the Trump administration then published a new rule that actually denies anyone who arrives at our border the ability to even apply for asylum if they passed through any other country first – unless they have applied for asylum in that country and been denied. What this means is that basically no one from any country other than Mexico can apply for asylum at the southern border. The policy was clearly aimed at denying Central Americans the possibility of seeking asylum. It also seems to be a very clear violation of existing law – and yet the Supreme Court overturned an injunction put in place by district courts while the merits of the law are being challenged in court. So, even if likely to be overturned eventually, the new rule is being allowed to proceed for the time being. As a result, asylum seekers arriving since the July 16 rule went into effect are denied access to the asylum process completely and constitute a whole other class of individuals waiting in detention to be deported.

If the Trump administration had stopped here, it would already be a debacle by any standard of respect for human rights. But they didn’t. The administration went even further, pushing its enforcement regime into Mexico by blackmailing the government of Mexico under threat of tariffs to adopt stricter enforcement measures. The goal: to keep people seeking asylum from ever reaching the U.S. border. Mexico has complied with “requests” from previous U.S. administrations to step up enforcement, so again, nothing new in principal. But Trump went further – and so has Mexico. The Mexican government has added 6,000 people to patrols along its southern border and has stepped up deportations (Mexico was already deporting twice as many Central Americans as the United States before the new rules). Another impact is expanded detention within Mexico and a new crisis on Mexico’s southern border for immigrants not from Central America who cannot be easily deported. This group, primarily refugees from Africa and the Caribbean, have been trapped in camps along the border, denied the ability to travel through Mexico as they could before, to seek asylum at the U.S. border.

But we are still not done. The Trump administration has negotiated agreements with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras allowing the administration to send asylum seekers and other immigrants back to one of these countries – even though a large majority of the asylum seekers at the southern border are fleeing conditions in one of these countries. 

Big Paydays for Crisis (Mis)Management

Returning back to the United States, the Washington Post reported this week that the administration purposefully sought to extend detention times for children caught up in this dragnet as part of its broader “deterrent” strategy. They did this, in part, by changing the process for locating sponsors. The administration was using information sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (which oversees child detentions) to actually entrap unauthorized immigrants who might come forward as a sponsor for a relative child. This rule was eventually changed again, but only after children were being detained for up to 95 days on average late last year. This was before a surge of apprehensions at the border in the spring of 2019 pushed the whole system to the verge of collapse. The administration blamed this surge for the problems, but that is a well documented lie. The crisis was created intentionally before the surge in arrests began.

And yet, for the administration and its network of subcontractors/donors, the manufactured crisis paid off well. A $4.6 billion emergency supplemental was handed over by Congress – and that, only after the Senate stripped the bill of added oversight measures (and Democratic House leaders went along). 

But you know, for this gang, it is still not enough. When the administration ran out of money again in August they simply moved $267 million from other accounts, without congressional authorization. Yes, they paid for more detention beds with money from the Coast Guard, and paid for the unauthorized Remain in Mexico policy with money from FEMA. And did so without prior-notification to Congress (re-programming money is not a new thing, but is supposed to happen only after oversight committees approve). So, we can add a clear violation of Congress’ Article One powers to authorize expenditures to the list.

Now Trump wants even more money for ICE and Border Patrol for the FY 2020 budget. He wants 52,000 bed spaces a day for detention, more border patrol agents, and a wall. This administration has gone from a 40-year low in unauthorized border crossings, to a 10-year high, managed to lock up 70,000 children in one year on purpose, absolutely gutted the asylum process, and achieved the highest daily average of ICE detainees ever recorded by jailing people fleeing torture. In short, the biggest failure by any measure of a policy one can imagine. And he wants more money? Congress has to just say no. The budget for detention and enforcement needs to be cut, and cut dramatically. We need to demand that Congress defund this administration’s policies of hate now!!! Congress helped build this monstrosity. It is time to take it apart.

What better time than now?

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Daily Dispatch 11/13/2019: Tell Congress to #DefundHate

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Daily Dispatch

November 13, 2019

Today is a National Call-in Day to Congress demanding that they cut (not increase!!!) the budgets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We have written about specific issues concerning the Trump administration’s refusal to abide by Congressional authorizations concerning how money is spent. 

You can also personalize your communication with members of Congress. A summary of some points you might raise.

  • Congressed authorized funding for just over a 45,000 daily average of people in ICE detention in Fiscal Year 2019 (Oct 1, 2018 to Sept 30, 2019).
  • The intent was that detention would decline from the 49,000 daily average at the time the budget was passed, to 40,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
  • By August of 2019, ICE was holding 55,000 people a day.
  • In August, 9,000 of the people in detention were asylum seekers who had already passed their credible fear interview, and according to DHS’ own guidelines, it would “no longer in the public interest” to detain them.
  • They were not released. Instead, Trump administration officials shifted funds from the Coast Guard and other accounts to fund expanded detention.
  • Today, there are over 12,000 people still in detention that have demonstrated a credible fear of persecution of torture should they be returned home – even though overall detention has declined to 50,000 (still above authorized amounts). 
  • In other words, the reason that the administration is over budget is not a surge in border apprehensions, but the cruel decision to hold all asylum seekers throughout their entire process.

This should NOT be funded.

  • This summer the administration secured an extra $4.6 billion in emergency funding following disclosure of horrible conditions in Border Patrol stations, where children were being held for three weeks or more without adequate food or sanitation.
  • The administration blamed this on a backlog at the Department of Health and Human Services, which receives unaccompanied children from Border Patrol to detain while awaiting placement, because of a surge in apprehensions at the border.
  • Reality: HHS facilities were over capacity prior to the so called border surge, with average detention stays up to 95 days by November of 2018. Why?
  • The Trump administration policy to use children in detention as bait to catch undocumented family members who might come forward as sponsors – which, as reported by the Washington Post this week,  they knew would lead to a backlog at HHS.
  • Thus, the horror we witnessed at Border Patrol detention facilities this summer was the result of an intentional policy to deter children from coming here.

This should NOT be funded!

  • The Border Patrol does NOT need more agents.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America reported, “In all of 2018, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 14 single adults—one every 3.7 weeks—and 10 children or parents who sought to be apprehended. If staffing levels remained similar in 2019, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 18 single adults—one every 2.9 weeks— and had to process 33 children or parents.”
  • So, even with the increase in apprehensions last year, on average, a border patrol agent took 1 single adult and 2 children alone (or 1 child with a parent) into custody every 3 weeks.
  • As WOLA notes, what is needed is more staff to process asylum claims, not more agents to arrest people.
  • This is needed so that people can be processed and RELEASED!

No more detention dollars for ICE, no more enforcement dollars for CBP. They do not need the money. The crisis at our border is a real one – but it has been created by this administration’s cruelty, and the false notion that deterrence is an effective strategy to end migration. We are violating human rights and in effect torturing people in detention, in order to discourage immigration.

It is time to #DefundHate, and stop this!!

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