Daily Dispatch 6/10/2019

Mexico and the United States reach a deal

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Daily Dispatch

June 10, 2019

With the Trump threat of tariffs on products from Mexico looming, the governments of the United States and Mexico issued a joint memorandum on migration through Mexico on Friday. The details of the agreement, as spelled out in a State Department communique, are vague. But the agreement revolves around four key points:

Firstly, Mexico agreed to step up enforcement through expanded use of the National Guard to police the border with Guatemala and interdict migrants within Mexico. Other news reports put the number of guardsmen being mobilized at 6,000.

Secondly, the United States will expand its current “Migrant Protection Protocols” across the entire border with Mexico – meaning that people crossing the border to seek asylum in the United States will be returned to Mexico to await adjudication of their asylum claim. The State Department statement includes this Orwellian passage:

In response, Mexico will authorize the entrance of all of those individuals for humanitarian reasons, in compliance with its international obligations, while they await the adjudication of their asylum claims. Mexico will also offer jobs, healthcare and education according to its principles.

The United States has its own international obligations to accept people seeking asylum and is offshoring this responsibility to Mexico, which is committing to offer work permits and provide health care and education to asylum seekers.

Thirdly, the agreement will be monitored and further steps taken if needed after a 90-day review.

Finally, announced, but not “negotiated,” Mexico and the United States will continue to work with countries in Central America on issues of economic development and security (really?). Mexico has already launched its own Comprehensive Development Plan to coordinate with countries of Central America – meanwhile, Trump is trying to cut development assistance.

Of course, the devil is in the details. And those are not yet available. Trump indicated, via Twitter, that the deal would have to go before Mexico’s legislature suggesting it is a much more specific agreement than the announced outline would indicate. We’ll have to wait and see.

And, of course, being Trump this point came with a further threat: If Mexico’s congress does not pass the agreement, tariffs will be reinstated (not that they ever went into effect).

TAKE ACTION: As part of Mexico’s renewed crackdown on immigration, two human rights defenders, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica , were arrested last week in Mexico. Take action to get them released. Details here.

24 immigrants have died in detention since Trump took office

NBC and other news outlets ran a story over the last few days about the number of immigrants who have died in ICE custody since Trump took office. The number is 24. The story has been used to discuss the horrendous conditions that immigrants are being held in – as indicated by yet another DHS Office of Inspector General report that documents a lack of access to health care, spoiled food, and a host of other violations.

None of the companies contracted to provide these “services” have lost a contract yet.

While NBC’s story notes that the highest number of deaths in detention was in 2004 (32 in one year), none have mentioned that in Obama’s last year 12 people died in detention – more than in 2017 and the same number as 2018. Which is to say, detention conditions and deaths in the context of those conditions have been a problem for a very, very long time. Trump’s expanded use of detention (52,000 people are being held on average each day) is making a bad situation much worse.

Not included in this number are the five children who have died over the last year. They were not held in ICE facilities – child detention typically takes place through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.


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Daily Dispatch 6/7/2019

Take action edition

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Daily Dispatch

June 7, 2019

Since last Thursday we have written a couple of times about Trump’s efforts to penalize Mexico for not doing enough (in Trump’s mind) to stem the flow of refugees from Central America. There is obviously a high human toll to this effort – and we’re already seeing it. Below is an alert from the Alliance for Global Justice about two human rights defenders detained in Mexico this week – activists who have been speaking about the treatment of refugees from Central America in Mexico. You can read the background below and follow the link to take action in support of Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica.

Also, join the “Where are the Children” March, June 9th, 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on the National Mall. 

Connect with local organizations and get involved to support justice for immigrant communities.

Contact Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, to demand freedom for Human Rights defenders Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica (from the Alliance for Global Justice)

Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica were arbitrary detained on June 5 in Mexico City and Sonora, respectively on fabricated charges of human trafficking. Cristóbal Sánchez was detained outside his house in Xochimilco, Mexico City at gunpoint and without a warrant by six men in plain clothes that identified themselves as judicial police. In Sonoyta, Sonora, Irineo Mujica was detained by three officers in plain clothes who handcuffed him and took him to Hermosillo, Sonora. The arrests of these human rights activists, just minutes apart, come after several days of threats from Donald Trump to increase tariffs on Mexican goods if Mexico does not take steps to detain Central American migrants and refugees who are seeking safety in the United States.

Both Cristóbal and Irineo have been victims of harassment, criminalization and threats by different administrations of the Mexican government, including the current government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well as by organized crime groups. Only in February this year, prior to a meeting with the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kristen Nielsen, Sánchez Cordero publicly attacked the humanitarian work of Sánchez and Mujica leading to harassment and several death threats against them and other human rights activists.


Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez has worked on migration issues for the past 15 years and is a founder of the Cultura Migrante Collective (Migrant Culture). He has denounced violence against refugees and provided food and water to them. Due to his human rights work, he was previously detained in 2011 in Tapachula and in February 2019 when documenting human rights violations against migrants. Irineo Mujica has been a human rights defender for more than 15 years, working in Mexico and the United States to promote respect for migrants’ rights and immigration reform. He has founded and supported numerous shelters for migrants and refugees within Mexico and documented human rights abuses against migrants by authorities. Mujica has been unjustly arrested on numerous occasions and he has been target of death treats and subject to an intense campaign of criminalization in the media by Mexican and U.S. authorities. Both organizers are in the process to receive protection as part of Mexico’s Mechanism of Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

Tweet Olga Sánchez Cordero (@M_OlgaSCordero), and ask her to stop the criminalization of Cristóbal, Irineo and immigrant rights activists in Mexico.
Ask Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard (@m_ebrard) to stop using immigrant rights activists criminalization as a tool to please Donald Trump.

By arresting Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, the Mexican government is trying to appease Trump and prevent them from continuing their human rights work with vulnerable migrants and refugees. Join us to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Sánchez and Mujica and an end to the criminalization of immigrant rights activists.

March to defend children

On International Children’s Day, a coalition of organizations are organizing a demonstration in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall. If you are in the area, come out to the demonstration and show your opposition to Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that has led to a dramatic increase in family separations at the border.

Where are the children?
Details: June 9, 2019 from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm to oppose
National Mall in Washington, DC, between 12th and 14th Streets.

If you are not in Washington, D.C., there are a few simple actions you can take to support the goals of the march including signing a petition to shutdown the Homestead “temporary” shelter that is detaining children well in excess of the 20-day limit imposed by the Flores Settlement agreement. For more information, and to sign the petition click here.

Get connected

If you are outraged by Trump’s immigration policies or simply want to help out in some way, but aren’t sure what to do, check out our Local Action Map to get connected with organizations doing work in your area. The map is a work in progress – so if you know of work being done that is not included there, let us know so we can add the organization!

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Daily Dispatch 6/6/2019

Trump administration cuts educational and legal services for unaccompanied minors

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Daily Dispatch

June 6, 2019

Migrant children play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Good Friday, April 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla.WILFREDO LEE / AP

There are 13,200 migrant children currently being held in facilities around the country (almost half in Texas). These facilities operate under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Children in these facilities are held an average of 48 days while waiting for sponsors – usually family members – to be located, so they can be released to await trial dates on their immigration status. The vast majority of these children arrive in the United States unaccompanied, and are transferred from Border Patrol custody to ORR. A smaller number are children who have been separated from family members upon arrival at the border.

Facilities contracted by ORR have to meet federal legal requirements for the care they provide, and are also required to meet state licensing requirements for the provision of child care. State licensing typically means a requirement to provide education and recreational activities. Under new directives from the Trump administration, these facilities will no longer be reimbursed for these activities. Legal services, such as know your rights trainings so that the children are prepared for immigration court hearings, will also no longer be paid.

Rochelle Garza, a staff attorney with the ACLU Texas, works in Brownsville, Texas, near Casa Padre, the former Walmart that has been converted into a shelter for approximately 1,500 boys ages 10 to 17, explained to NPR:

an average day for children housed in a regular security shelter [is] comparable to a full day of school that includes English, math, science and reading classes. The children get periods of outdoor activity and often play basketball and soccer. There are even sporadic outings to a nearby church, park or zoo.

She said without those programs, housed children are “going to be sitting in prison like conditions.” She noted many of the minors are vulnerable children from Central America who have escaped violence.

Trump has requested an additional $3 billion in emergency budget support to deal with an increase in arrests along the U.S./Mexico border. These funds, if approved, would go to expanding detention capacity – not to funding services for those held.

Mexico and the U.S. in Discussions on Migration

Last Thursday, Trump announced (on twitter no less) that the U.S. would begin assigning tariffs on all products coming from Mexico unless the country did more to stop migration to the U.S. border. As we explained last week, Mexico has expanded its enforcement activities steadily since 2014. What Mexico is supposed to do is not clear – though the administration’s point person on these discussion, Peter Navarro, identified three “specific” items they are looking to Mexico to commit to:

  • Mexico should crack down on asylum seekers.
  • Mexico should strengthen its enforcement of its own southern border with Guatemala, he added.
  • And Mexico should put an end to government corruption at immigration checkpoints in the country.

Where to start….

On asylum, Navarro explained in a CNBC report:

The “No. 1” issue on Navarro’s list would be for Mexico to “commit to taking all the asylum seekers and then applying Mexican laws, which are much stronger than ours.”

“Look, here’s the thing,” he said. “If the people who are moving up with scripts to claim asylum from their narco-trafficker, human-trafficker handlers simply understood that that script ain’t gonna work anymore getting into America,” then the stream of migrants coming up to the southern border to claim asylum “will go to a trickle.”

The administration continues to argue that people are being coached to make certain statements to get into the country under asylum laws, and that their asylum claims are unsubstantiated. If this were actually true, then maybe this would work. But it’s not true. Most of the people arrested at the U.S./Mexico border recently are from Honduras and Guatemala, where violence and political instability are widespread. One of the reasons for the unauthorized border crossings is that regular ports of entries are now largely blocked, as the administration makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico – many for months, extending to over a year in some cases. With ports of entry blocked, people are crossing elsewhere in larger numbers in order to make asylum claims from within the U.S. So, the “crisis” of an increase in arrests is not the result of bogus asylum claims, but this administration’s failure to put sufficient resources toward processing claims for what is a very real refugee crisis at our border. Expecting Mexico to crack down on false claims makes no sense. It is not clear what Mexico could actually do, and the claims themselves are not false. People will keep coming.

Mexico has already expanded enforcement along its southern border significantly. Detentions of people migrating through Mexico has increased, and Mexico deports many more people each year than the United States. We wrote more about this last week.

Ending corruption at border crossings might well be a good thing. But the administration creates a cartoonish image of the problem and, we might add, is so clearly indifferent to corruption in its own ranks that speaking out about this elsewhere seems highly disingenuous.  

At this point, talks have faltered. Tariff increases of 5 percent are scheduled to go into effect on Monday, and will increase 5 percent each month (up to 25 percent in October) until Trump gets what he wants from Mexico – and what he wants is unrealistic. Navarro indicated yesterday that tariffs may no longer be necessary because the administration now has Mexico’s attention. The whole episode may well be a bluff to deflect attention from many other problems Trump is facing.

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Daily Dispatch 6/5/2019:

House passes (weak) immigration bill

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Daily Dispatch

June 5, 2019

Win McNamee / Getty

The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would offer a path to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants in this country who were brought here as children (“Dreamers”). It would also extend permanent residency to holders of Temporary Protective Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The bill does not include provisions concerning border security. It was passed alongside a separate bill that takes back some funds for the border wall.

It will almost certainly go nowhere in the Senate, and should it pass there, Trump has promised to veto.

The bill passed largely along party lines, with all Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor (237 in favor, 187 opposed).

So what does the bill do?

Not nearly enough – this is absolutely not a “comprehensive” bill – but some good things are here. The Dream and Promise Act deals specifically with the future of people here under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Enforced Departure. As many as 2.5 million people could be offered a (circuitous) path to citizenship.

Trump has sought to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects “Dreamers” from removal proceedings, provided they have registered with the program (for a fee) and have no criminal record. DACA was issued as an executive order by Obama after Congress failed to pass the “Dream Act.” Trump’s effort to end DACA has been tied up in Federal Court. Should the law pass, the court proceedings would become moot. However, the path to citizenship envisioned here is a long one.

Those who register in the program would be offered conditional permanent residency — for 10 years! In order to qualify for actual permanent residency at the end of that time, they would:

  • need to have arrived in the U.S. before turning 18 and have been in the U.S. for at least four years.
  • need a relatively clean record — a felony conviction or three separate misdemeanors involving total jail time of 90 days would be disqualifying.
  • need a high school diploma or GED, or to be enrolled in a program to get either one.
  • need to pass a background check and other eligibility requirements.

The bill does offer provisions for Dreamers to get a green card sooner – through two years of military service, three years of work (which they can only do “legally” if they register under the conditional program), or if they receive a college degree. Once people are granted permanent residence, they must then wait five-years to apply for citizenship.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) are both “humanitarian” categories. Both protect people from specific countries from removal proceedings due to political instability and/or natural disasters in their countries of origin. DED applies primarily to Liberians. TPS extends to people from nine countries, the largest groups coming from El Salvador and Haiti. Trump has refused to renew TPS for most countries, but his effort to do so is being blocked by several cases currently in Federal Court. Trump similarly has tried to end DED, but is now focused on fading it out.

Under the new bill, holders of TPS and DED will be allowed to apply for green cards immediately, and then could apply for citizenship after five years as is the case for other permanent residents.

Absent major revision in the Senate to incorporate border security measures and/or elements of Trump’s proposed visa reforms announced two weeks ago, this bill will almost certainly die there alongside other measures passed by the House. Everyone celebrating yesterday knows this. What the bill does do, however, is give us a glimpse of the outer limit of what Democratic leadership is willing to do on immigration this election cycle. We might summarize this strategy as holding up the “good” immigrants who are here as the result of decisions made by others or disasters outside their control for protection, which has the effect of casting  Democrats as slightly more compassionate than Republicans.

This is not addressed in the new bill

Meanwhile, there is nothing of substance in the works concerning the fundamental flaws of an immigration system that criminalizes migration, creates an expansive network of for-profit detention centers (within which companies operate with absolute impunity), leaves the application of immigration law under the sole discretion of the Attorney General, and continues to militarize our border. Some candidates have broached elements of this, but few in the party’s leadership seem willing to take it on.

If the point of legislation such as this bill is, in essence, virtue signaling, why not go further? The truth is, the Democrats helped build this deeply flawed system too. And would rather not talk about it.  

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Daily Dispatch 6/4/2019

Pew Releases statistical profile of immigration

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Daily Dispatch

June 4, 2019

The Pew Research Center released a new report on immigration in the United States providing some interesting insights into immigration trends. Among some key findings:

  • The United States has the largest foreign born population of any country at just over 44 million people. Immigrants are 13.6 percent of the U.S. population – below the historic high set in 1890 when foreign born persons were 14.8 percent of the population. [Note: Not mentioned in the Pew report is that the U.S. foreign born population is significantly lower than many other countries as a percent of population, “about half the share in places like Switzerland (30 percent) and Australia (29 percent), and still lower than New Zealand (23 percent), Canada (22 percent), Austria (19 percent), Sweden (18 percent), Ireland (17 percent) and elsewhere” (Justin Gest, Politico)].
  • 43 percent of immigrants are naturalized citizens, 27 percent are permanent residents, 5 percent are temporary residents, 25 percent are unauthorized immigrants (a number that has declined since 2008).
  • Immigrants from Mexico make up the largest group of foreign born persons – though migration from Mexico has declined in recent years.
  • In 2017, the country with the highest new migration to the United States was India.
  • Overall, immigration from Asia is increasing faster than from other regions. Asian immigrants are expected to make up the largest share of the foreign born population by 2055.
  • 24 percent of immigrants live in California, followed by Texas (11 percent) and New York (10 percent). Two-thirds live in 20 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
  • Nationally, immigrants do not make up the majority workers of any category of work.
  • Deportations of immigrants declined in 2017, well below the peak achieved under the Obama administration (Not discussed – detentions have increased dramatically). In no year since 2001 have people with a criminal record made up the majority of those deported!
  • Border apprehensions are also down – from 1 million in 2006 to 397,000 in 2017 (this number will likely increase this year – though stay well below 2006).
  • People from countries other than Mexico make up the majority of arrests along the U.S./Mexico border, with those from Central America being the largest group.
  • 70 percent of those polled felt that immigration should be kept at current level (38 percent) or increased (32 percent). Those saying immigration should be reduced were 24 percent.

You can read the full statistical overview with accompanying interactive charts here.

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Daily Dispatch 6/3/2019

Immigration through Mexico is not just from Central America

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Daily Dispatch

June 3, 2019

Migrants wait at Siglo XXI in Tapachula. They will be spending few days in detention while Mexican authorities approve their exit permit to leave the country, which will allow them to travel legally to the northern border with the United States.
 Photo: Encarni Pindado

In the discussions of migration across the Mexico/U.S. border a recurrent theme is the increase in people from Central America, who currently make up the majority of those seeking asylum at the border. However, people from many other countries end up in Mexico seeking entry into the United States and have been caught up in the border crackdown. Roughly 10 percent of people detained in Mexico between 2015 and 2018 (one measure of the diversity of migration through the country) are from Africa and Asia. Leading countries are Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Eritrea from Africa, India, Bangladesh and Nepal from Asia. Another nearly 5 percent are from Haiti and Cuba – detention of Haitians skyrocketed in 2016, when over 17,000 Haitians were detained in Mexico, though last year less the figure was just under 500.

The Voice of San Diego offers an interesting background article on the situation of people from Eritrea stuck in Tijuana while waiting to cross the border to file asylum claims. The situation of black migrants in Mexico is often difficult. There are fewer resources to assist people, and language barriers can be very difficult. A general overview:

The number of Haitians arriving in Tijuana was much larger in 2015 and 2016 than the number of African migrants has ever been, said Guerline Jozef of Haitian Bridge Alliance. Some Haitians decided to stay in Tijuana, rather than go to the United States, and start lives there. Now there is some infrastructure for Haitian migrants in Tijuana – churches, a shelter and a community where they can seek help. African migrants have no such community to turn to because their numbers have always been smaller and because most haven’t chosen to put down roots in Tijuana.

Cameroonians have been able to access the Haitian community to some extent because like the Haitians, they speak French. Some have signed up for Spanish classes at places like Espacio Migrante in Tijuana that work with Haitian and other migrants, while they wait to seek asylum in the United States. But most Eritreans speak Tigrinya – and sometimes other languages, like Amharic – that aren’t as widely spoken.

“Their guard is up,” Alemayehu said. “They’ve been through a lot already – they’ve seen people die on the journey. They’ve been robbed at gunpoint, raped. On top of that, they’re thinking, ‘There’s no one who speaks my language or looks like me.’”

Jozef and Alemayehu are trying to bridge some of those cultural gaps to bring all the black migrants into a community in Tijuana. It’s been difficult to build trust between the advocates and asylum-seekers, but their trips to Tijuana every few weeks have started to pay off.

“When it comes to the black migrants, there is no spotlight on their ordeal,” Jozef said. “We have to literally go find them, which is very disconcerting and heartbreaking. We have a community of black migrants since 2015 who have never been a central focus of the immigrant justice movement. There is a lack of narrative. Therefore, there are no services for them.”

Read the full story from the Voice of San Diego here.

In 2016, the Miami Herald ran a long article on the situation of Haitians migrating from Brazil, where many had relocated after the 2010 earthquake. This was the peak year of migration through Mexico, and the article is worth sitting with to reflect on what people endure trying to reach the United States. The journey is 7,000 miles crossing through 11 countries. As noted above, many have simply decided to try and make a life in Mexico along the border. We wrote about this last year as the other country that many Haitians had been moving to following the recent economic crisis in Brazil, Chile, began to make it harder for Haitians to stay.

From the Miami Herald:

More than two dozen migrants interviewed by the Miami Herald in Tijuana, San Diego and Miami say they employ both high-and-low-tech skills to find their way across borders, over mountains and past state security forces. Social media, including Facebook and the WhatsApp messaging system, help them find information from others who have gone ahead. But the most basic systems work, too: Remnants of clothing tied to trees along the way help them locate the trail in the wilderness.

They also admit to hiring the smugglers who stalk jails, refugee camps and border crossings. They promise safe passage for a negotiable but hefty fee. The trip can last two to four months and end up costing anywhere from $2,500 to $13,000, depending on negotiating skills, migrants said.

Monelus, who spent four months to reach Mexico, says she lost a total of $2,350 from three failed attempts to cross Nicaragua. On the fourth, she hired a smuggler for $1,000. He got her to Honduras on foot and then on horseback. Monelus’ mother paid for both trips, the first to Brazil five years ago and the most recent one to get to California, by selling a plot of land and a family store, Monelus said.

At the time of the article, an estimated 40,000 Haitians were in transit from Brazil to the Mexico/U.S. border. Migration from Haiti through Central America and Mexico has slowed some in the last two years, but these trends tend to be cyclical. As Chile clamps down on residency requirements for Haitians a new exodus could well begin.

In short, migration through Mexico is complex, as it is in the rest of the world. While certainly enforcement measures have increased inside Mexico and along the border with the UNited States in response to the Central American refugee crisis, the reality is that many other refugees are seeking passage through Mexico and are caught up in the crackdown at the border. The situation is likely to only get worse as Trump continues to pressure Mexico, with recently announced tariffs, to crackdown on migration.

Organizations that are doing more to lift up the situation of migrants from Haiti and Africa and offer support include the Haiti Bridge Alliance and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

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Daily Dispatch 5/31/2019

Bait and Switch: Trump announces tariffs to “punish” Mexico on immigration

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Daily Dispatch

May 31, 2019

Yesterday Robert Mueller held a press conference on his last day as Special Counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Donald Trump. Not long after Trump went on a rampage about immigration and announced his administration would be implementing tariffs against all products coming into the United States from Mexico beginning at 5 percent on June 10th and increasing up to 25 percent by October 1st until Mexico does more to stem the flow of Central American refugees.

It is difficult not to see the two developments as related. On the press conference (from The New York Times):

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mr. Mueller said, reading from prepared notes behind a lectern at the Justice Department at a hastily called public appearance.

He also noted that while Justice Department policy prohibits charging a sitting president with a crime, the Constitution provides for another remedy to formally accuse a president of wrongdoing — a clear reference to the ability of Congress to conduct impeachment proceedings.

Although it lasted less than 10 minutes, the news conference presented an extraordinary spectacle of a top federal law enforcement official publicly stating that the president’s conduct had warranted criminal investigation, even though it was impossible to indict him for any crimes. Mr. Mueller delivered his statement on his last day as special counsel, saying it was his final word on his investigation and he was returning to private life.

Not long after, Trump was questioned about this – in which he repeated denials of wrongdoing, but then went on to say he would be making a major announcement about Mexico later in the day. The announcement yesterday outlined the increased tariffs. Trump said, “If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the tariffs will be removed.”

Interestingly, Mexico’s legislature began the process of ratifying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) – the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement – yesterday as well. Predictably, Trump’s announcement throws that process into disarray and also led to a collapse in stock market prices for a number of firms that manufacture products in Mexico for sale in the United States. Mexico is the United States’ largest trading partner.

Given the economic stakes, Trump’s announcement seems a very calculated move to overshadow the Mueller press conference and the ongoing calls for the House of Representatives to open an impeachment inquiry. We’ll see how that plays out.

Does the U.S. border begin in Chiapas?

As far as the substance of Trump’s claim that Mexico is not doing enough to halt immigration from Central America, there is little to hold onto. Since 2014, Mexico has stepped up its own enforcement of immigration laws, especially targeting people migrating from Central America. This was in part a response to pressure from the Obama administration, which provided expanded security assistance to Mexico for this purpose. Mexico routinely deports more people than the United States – some years twice as many people are deported from Mexico to Central America – last year over 500,000. According to the Congressional Research Service,

Since 2014, Mexico has established 12 naval bases on the country’s rivers, three security cordons stretching more than 100 miles north of the Mexico-Guatemala and Mexico-Belize borders, and a drone surveillance program. Mexico does not have a border police; instead, its National Institute of Migration (INM) is the only agency with legal authority to detain migrants, with some assistance from the federal police. These unarmed agents have worked to increase immigration control along known migrant routes, including on northbound trains and at bus stations. INM has improved the infrastructure at border crossings and created numerous mobile highway checkpoints. It also has increased the number of cases it refers to prosecutors for crimes against migrants.

In an NPR Report last year, Priest César Cañaveral, who heads migrant outreach for the Catholic Church’s local diocese, said, “Today the Mexican government is hunting migrants without sympathy, even though the exact same thing is happening to Mexicans at the U.S. border.” He says, “The border security measures here in Chiapas are even harsher than on the U.S.-Mexico border.”

In addition to increased security at Mexico’s southern border, Mexico has also felt the brunt of the Trump administration’s crackdown on its northern border with the U.S. The United States policy of “remain in Mexico” applied to asylum seekers has led to a crisis for Mexico, as refugees seeking asylum in the United States are stuck in refugee camps in Mexico awaiting their turn for credible fear interviews. Trump seems unable to connect the dots between this policy and the fact that more people are (as a result) trying to cross irregularly between points of entry to file asylum claims from U.S. soil. Of course with Trump it may well be the case that he understands this well; generating this crisis is the whole point.

That said, Mexico has already cracked down on immigrants under pressure from the United States – it is not clear what more Trump wants Mexico to do. Last month 1,300 people escaped from a detention facility in Chiapas – half of whom returned within a day. The people being detained at the Siglo XXI detention facility were from Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – though the largest group is from Cuba. In short, U.S. immigration enforcement has already been outsourced to Mexico. U.S. authorities going back to Obama’s administration at least have acted as though the U.S. border extends to Chiapas, Mexico.

This latest announcement then is hard to take. What more is Mexico supposed to do? It doesn’t matter. Trump is using immigration as he has since he was a candidate – to deflect from other issues and ramp up resentment. Hundreds of thousands of people are paying the price.

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Daily Dispatch 5/30/2019

The key immigration issues during the presidential campaign

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Daily Dispatch

May 30, 2019

Photo courtesy of www.ivn.us

USA Today offers a decent summary of the ten key issues that are emerging in the presidential campaign regarding immigration. The issues they identify are:

  • DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – DACA provides protection from removal proceedings for unauthorized immigrants who arrived in this country as children.
  • TPS (Temporary Protected Status) – TPS provides protection from removal proceedings for immigrants from select countries that have faced severe political crises or natural disasters.
  • Undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. – There are an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, should they be offered a path to citizenship?
  • Family Separation – Families are often separated at the border when parents are charged with illegal entry. Trump escalated this approach last year as a deterrence strategy. What is congress’s role here in changing the legal regime underlying this practice?
  • Asylum and Refugee systems – Should the asylum system be changed? The refugee cap, now at historic low, raised?
  • Treatment of migrants in detention – The conditions under which people are detained are clearly inadequate. What should be done?
  • Aid to Central America – Will more targeted aid to Central America help reduce incentives to migrate?
  • Merit-based visa system – Does our visa system need to be changed?
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE has become a controversial agency leading to calls from some to abolish it.
  • Sanctuary Cities – Some localities refuse to cooperate with ICE especially when it comes to detaining people picked up by local law enforcement and/or sharing arrest and court records.

The summary certainly captures much of what people are talking about. Missing from this list is obviously border security. Perhaps because both Democrats and Republicans agree on tightening border security this will be less of an issue – though it will be the launching point of every Trump speech, and of course, “the wall” remains a focal point of divisiveness.

You can read the full summary, with more background on each issue here.

So where are we at…

Of course it is still an open debate how much Democratic candidates will engage immigration on the campaign trail. They will not be able to avoid the issue, of course. But thus far only two of the 23 Democrats running have offered detailed plans for reforming the immigration system, neither of them are front-runners. It is no coincidence that both of these candidates are from Texas – Beto from El Paso and Julian Castro from San Antonio. Both cities have been on the frontline of the immigration debate for years.

Tuesday this week Beto O’Rourke laid out his plan to address immigration. The three “pillars” of his plan, “In Our Own Image” are:

  • On day one of his presidency, Beto will use executive authority to stop the inhumane treatment of children, reunite families that have been separated, reform our asylum system, rescind the travel bans, and remove the fear of deportation for Dreamers and beneficiaries of programs like TPS.
  • Beto will also immediately engage with Congress to enact legislation – focused on the key role families and communities play – that will allow America to fully harness the power of economic growth and opportunity that both immigration and naturalization will bring to our country’s future.  
  • Finally, Beto’s plan would strengthen our partnership with our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. We need to refocus on supporting democracy and human rights and invest in reducing violence because the only path to regional security runs through a more democratic and prosperous Latin America.

You can read his full plan here.

Julian Castro was the first candidate to offer substantial reform ideas. His plan was laid out in detail in a Medium post, and is further detailed on his campaign’s website. Some of key specific ideas:

  • The next president must start by reversing the cruel policies of the Trump administration — including the Muslim ban, wasteful spending on a pointless wall, and cuts to the refugee program — and ending the vile rhetoric that has scapegoated and vilified immigrants.
  • We need a pathway to full and equal citizenship for the 11 million people living here peacefully, and contributing to our culture and our economy. We must protect Dreamers and their parents, and folks under protected status who fled natural disasters, persecution, or violence. We need to revamp the visa system and end the backlog of people who are waiting to reunite with their families.
  • We must end the three and 10 year bars that require undocumented individuals — who otherwise qualify for legal status — to leave the country and their families behind, in order to attain citizenship.
  • We need to create a secure and humane border. The worst of the government’s actions stem from a little-known, but significant policy that is central to today’s inhumane and flawed immigration system: Section 1325. (This is the law under which people are charged will “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry.”)
  • Castro also argues for “21st Century Marshall Plan” for Central America, a package of expanded assistance targeting governance reform and economic development.

Anti-Trump is not enough

Thus far the driving force in the debate and issue formation is Trump. The issue summary from USA Today, while fairly comprehensive, leads with Trump’s position and how Democrats have responded. Beto and Julian Castro frame their proposals entirely as a response to Trump – not surprising as they are hoping to run against him. Campaign politics aside though, we have to press the conversation further than Trump.

Our immigration system was a disaster prior to Trump taking office. Indeed Clinton’s presidency gave us many of the institutional features we see today, including mandatory detention, which led to a rapid increase in the number of those detained and expanded the role of private contractors managing detention and expanded border barriers the drove people into deserts where an estimated 7,000 have died in the last twenty years. Obama’s presidency was also deeply problematic in many ways – massive levels of deportations, reopening family detention centers, metering at the border with Mexico, doubling of border patrol, and yes, family separations.

The system is deeply flawed. We need to move beyond personalities and work toward new solutions. We may get some reforms out of this campaign that would make a big difference. But I hope we are able to recognize the deeply rooted problems here. We have never been a nation welcoming of immigrants, but one that at best tolerated them. Today’s inhumane policies are not new. They are reiterations of things done before. If Trump’s abject cruelty makes us finally face this, maybe we can get somewhere. But it goes far beyond Trump.

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Daily Dispatch 5/29/2019

Scott Warren goes to trial

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Daily Dispatch

May 29, 2019

The Intercept released a video earlier in the month about volunteers that provide support to people crossing the desert in Arizona, leaving water and at times, documenting the location of the remains of immigrants.

One of the volunteers, Scott Warren, has been charged with a felony for offering assistance to people in the desert. From a Guardian report last year:

On 17 January [2018], No More Deaths released a report documenting the systematic destruction by border patrol of water and food supplies left in the desert for migrants. Over a nearly four-year period, 3,856 gallons of water had been destroyed. The report linked to video showing border patrol kicking over gallons and pouring them out onto the ground.

Hours after the report was released, Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, was arrested and charged with a felony for harboring migrants after Border Patrol allegedly witnessed him giving food and water to two migrants in the west desert near Cabeza Prieta.

The Intercept has a detailed story about the border and Scott’s case, as well as contextualizing the work of No More Deaths and other volunteer organizations doing work on the border.

The number of people who die crossing the border has increased dramatically since 2000. And it is important to make clear that this is the result of an intentional policy, “prevention through deterrence,” enacted by the Clinton administration in 1994. The program sought to block irregular border crossing through adjacent urban areas on the U.S./Mexico border by constructing barriers and forcing people into the desert. From the Intercept:

Prevention through deterrence was meant to act in conjunction with the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA would bring prosperity to the working Mexican, prevention through deterrence would make the dash across the border too big of a gamble, and illegal crossings would go down. Migration flows did indeed move away from cities once the policy was implemented, but the “hostile terrain” could not disperse the ineluctable forces that drive human beings to move. That’s when the dying began.

Experts can only guess at the true number of lives lost over the last two decades. At a minimum, more than 7,000 people have perished, though the true total is guaranteed to be higher. During the 1990s, the Office of the Pima County Medical Examiner dealt with an average of 12 migrant deaths annually. Over an 18-year period beginning in 2000, once prevention through deterrence was humming along, that number rose to 155 per year. According to the medical examiner’s office, 2,943 sets of human remains have been found in southern Arizona from 2000 to the present; a death toll nearly double Ajo’s summer population.

Scott Warren was one of nine volunteers arrested last year for providing support to people crossing the desert. The actual charges range from entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandonment of property (gallons of water) to operating a vehicle in a protected area; misdemeanor offenses and in Scott’s case, “felony harboring.” The first four to go to trial were found guilty in January of this year. From No More Deaths:

A verdict of guilty was issued by Federal Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco today, convicting No More Deaths volunteers on all charges. Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachila Orozco were charged with entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandonment of property, and Ms. Hoffman was also charged with including operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area, all misdemeanor offenses.

They were eventually sentenced to 15 months probation and required to pay a $250 fine.

Scott Warren’s trial begins this week. He wrote an article for No More Deaths yesterday in which he offered a view of what is at stake:

My case in particular may set a dangerous precedent, as the government expands its definitions of “transportation” and “harboring.” The smuggling and harboring laws have always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of “criminal” networks but leniency for big agriculture and other politically powerful industries that employ scores of undocumented laborers. Now, the law may be applied to not only humanitarian aid workers but also to the millions of mixed-status families in the United States. Take, for instance, a family in which one member is undocumented and another member, who is a citizen, is buying the groceries and paying the rent. Would the government call that harboring? If this family were driving to a picnic in the park, would the government call that illegal transportation? Though this possibility would have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, it has become frighteningly real.

You can keep up to date on Scott’s trial and the work of No More Deaths on their website.

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Daily Dispatch 5/28/2019

Immigration Continues to Decline

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Daily Dispatch

May 28, 2019

The Trump administration’s policies and practices have had a dramatic impact on immigration through official processes. Nearly every category of “legal” immigration is down as the result of delays in processing applications and increases in the denial rate. From Forbes:

“It’s a bunch of different policies and decisions that have added up to a significant shift,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “I think one reason the slowdown in legal immigration hasn’t gotten as much attention is because it’s not just one big newsworthy change, but rather a bunch of clever, smaller changes that have added up to a large impact.”

Net migration to the United States is down 12 percent (we reported on this a couple of weeks ago here). Some of the specific steps taken in recent years that have led to this decline:

Denials have increased: “From student visas and work authorizations to travel visas and petitions for foreign workers, vetting is up and admissions are down. Data released by USCIS in April shows the rejection rate was 80 percent higher in the final three months of 2018 than the same period in 2016, the last quarter of the Obama administration.”

Time in processing has increased: “The previous high for delayed applications was 1.7 million in fiscal year 2004, as the entire immigration and homeland security apparatus was redone in the wake of 9/11. Now, USCIS reports the backlog reached 2.3 million cases in September 2017 and continues to grow despite just a 4 percent increase in applications. The wait time for some visa categories has nearly doubled.

Failure to admit refugees: “‘In Obama’s last year in office, the country admitted roughly 85,000 refugees. Two years later in 2018, the United States admitted just 22,000. ‘Trump has set the refugee admission ceiling at the lowest level, and we’re not even meeting that very low ceiling’ Pierce said.’”

Attacking the asylum system: “Any person on U.S. soil has the right to ask for asylum, but the metering system—a numbered waiting line at clogged border crossings—has kept some potential asylees from entering the country. Additionally, the administration has raised the bar for getting past the first step in the process, the credible fear interview.”

Read the full story and analysis of impacts from Tovin Lapan, writing in Forbes.

And things are likely to get worse…

Image result for lee cissna

Lee Cissna

Late last week Trump requested, and received, the resignation of current United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Lee Cissna. This is the latest in a purge of Department of Homeland Security officials, as Trump seems determined to “get tougher” on immigration. Trump has indicated his intention to appoint Ken Cuccinelli, former Attorney General in Virginia, to the post.

Danielle Spooner, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees union representing USCIS employees, had this to say about Cuccinelli’s appointment:

It has become clear that the goal of this Administration is to end immigration all together. How better to do that then by appointing as the leader of USCIS someone who knows nothing about immigration, Adjustment of Status or Naturalization, and whose sole purpose is to destroy the agency that grants these benefits.

That seems to sum up Trump’s agenda well.

Meanwhile, at the border…

As the human rights situations in Guatemala and Honduras continue to decline, the number of people, especially families, seeking asylum in the United States has increased dramatically. Partially because of the hold up at ports of entry – where tens of thousands of refugees are waiting for their “number” to be called so they can cross over from Mexico and apply for asylum, there has been a sharp increase in recent months of people crossing irregularly and then being arrested by Border Patrol agents.

In response to this increase, we would argue the administration would be better served to utilize community release programs on an expanded scale; community release is effective, more humane, and yes, cheaper. As is, the administration only views community release as a last resort – and frames its use as a security crisis, a claim with no empirical foundation.

The actual response of the administration is to build two new “tent” cities to detain families in indefinitely. The New York Times reports on the building of two massive “temporary” shelters in near the Donna and El Paso border crossings in Texas in the video below.

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