Judge Sides with Philadelphia in ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Case

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, left, accompanied by City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante, speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the U.S. government from withholding a major grant that pays for public safety equipment because Philadelphia is a “sanctuary city.” (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

The Associated Press reports on a decision issued yesterday by a federal judge that blocked the U.S. government from withholding more than $1 million in funding for public safety equipment from the city of Philadelphia for being a “sanctuary city.” In his decision, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson wrote “there is no conflict of any significance” between the federal government’s need to carry out immigration enforcement and the “city’s promotion of health and safety.” The decision follows others made by federal judges in recent months to block the Department of Justice’s efforts to cut federal public safety funds received by “sanctuary cities.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said in his decision that he weighed the public interest and possible harm that could come from withholding such funds.

“Both the federal government and the city of Philadelphia have important interests at stake here and the court does not minimize either of their concerns,” the judge wrote. “In this case, given Philadelphia’s unique approach to meshing the legitimate needs of the federal government to remove criminal aliens with the City’s promotion of health and safety, there is no conflict of any significance.”

Baylson is the latest in a number of federal judges around the country to block efforts by the Department of Justice to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities.”

Last month, a U.S. district judge in Chicago denied a request by the DOJ to lift a national freeze on the policy. And a Seattle judge declined to throw out a lawsuit brought by Seattle and Portland, Oregon, calling the DOJ’s threats “unconstitutionally coercive.”

Find more on this story here.

Ninth Circuit Allows Part of Travel Ban 3.0 to Go into Effect

David McNew/Getty Images

On Monday November 13th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit restored the latest travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump. Jonathan Turley, who has criticized the challenges to the travel ban, opines here that “the Ninth Circuit is on solid ground in ruling the government can bar entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries with no connections to the United States.”

The connection to the United States are defined as family relationships which  include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.  The term can also include and “formal, documented” relationships with U.S.-based entities such as universities and resettlement agencies.

The decision reverses parts of the lower court decision by U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu.

For more details, click here and here.

The Facts on America’s Immigrant and Visitor Vetting System

Following the attack in New York City, President Trump swiftly pivoted to promoting his longstanding immigration agenda. The Brennan Center for Justice provides everything you need to know about the security features of the U.S. visa system, one of the world’s toughest, and the changes sought by the Trump administration.

Trump said that he has “ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program” and also that he has begun the process of terminating the Diversity Visa Lottery program. The Brennan Center recently released a report on Extreme Vetting and the Muslim Ban, which examines the security features of the U.S. visa system, and discusses changes the Trump administration is making to them. Though it does not specifically discuss the Diversity Visa Lottery program, many security measures examined in the report are common to all visa programs. Here are a few highlights:

  • The U.S. visa vetting system is one of the world’s toughest. Applicants’ biographic data, photographs, and fingerprints are collected and screened against a range of national security databases that contain millions of entries and include classified information from federal, state, local, and foreign governments. Applicants must provide voluminous documentation to verify their identities and backgrounds. Immigrant visa applicants – those applying to stay permanently in the U.S. – are generally subject to more scrutiny than temporary visa applicants, including a medical examination and other screenings.

  • Though terrorist attacks committed by foreign-born persons are statistically very rare, the Department of Homeland Security has found that such cases often involve people who developed violent inclinations years after their entry into the U.S., meaning increased visa vetting would not have been useful. In fact, decades of counterterrorism research has not been able to confirm traits that could be used to identify people who have a propensity for terrorism. Over the decades, policies designed to investigate ideology “have proven to be poorly equipped to actually predict what people are going to do,” according to former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner.

  • Our safety is bolstered by visa vetting processes that are the product of study, not reaction, and are responsive to “specific, credible threats based on individualized information,” in the words of over 40 former high-level national security officials across the political spectrum. Broad, ham-handed policy responses based on stereotypes and intuitions rather than evidence harm the “strategic and national security interests of the United States,” corrode relationships with allies, and reinforce terrorist propaganda, according to those same officials.

  • As with policy in any other realm, there are tradeoffs – economic and cultural – to banning or increasing the hurdles to travel into the country. Given the current system’s existing rigor and low error rate, any attempts at recalibration should be based on careful study.

For more information, view a fact sheet on Extreme Vetting ‘Myths and Facts,’ and the full report on Extreme Vetting and the Muslim Ban.

Visa reviews ordered for those already living and working in the U.S.

H-1B visa petitions wait in a truck for delivery to a processing center.                                         Photo: EROS HOAGLAND, NYT

Trisha Thadani of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that under a new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy issued Monday, foreigners applying for a visa extension will no longer be given “deference” if their job descriptions haven’t significantly changed. This means that regardless of how long a foreigner has been in the country, immigration officers must review the application as if it were new.

This is the first significant policy change ordered by Lee Francis Cissna, who was sworn in as director of the immigration agency this month.

It’s significant that the change is being made retroactively to people already living in the country and not just to new visa applicants, said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Extensions are common for H-1B visas, which are heavily used in Silicon Valley to employ foreigners with specialized skills for a three-year period. It is a common path for an H-1B holder to apply for extensions — in one- to three-year increments — until they receive permanent residency through a green card.

Previously, if a foreigner’s job description was unchanged, immigration officials would approve the extension under a 2004 rule that instructed them to “defer to prior determinations of eligibility,” except in extreme circumstances.

“By eliminating deference to prior decisions, it opens the door (for officials) to say, ‘I’m changing the rule now, and you didn’t comply with it two years ago when it wasn’t a rule — but, tough,’” Stock said.

More than 250,000 H-1B holders filed for an extension in fiscal year 2016. That compares to about 213,000 in fiscal year 2015.

The immigration agency argued that deferring to previous decisions “had the unintended consequence of officers not discovering material errors in prior adjudications,” according to the memo. “While adjudicators may, of course, reach the same conclusion as in a prior decision, they are not compelled to do so as a default starting point.”

Immigration officials have already been cracking down on certain work visas by issuing an increased number of “requests for evidence,” in which an employer must provide additional proof that a foreigner is needed to fill a certain job.

 

More on this story, click here.

A California Conversation About Immigration

 

The premise of the Talking Across Borders project is that progress will come when we figure out how to talk about the issue with civility — and the warring sides at least listen to the concerns of people with whom they disagree.

Making that conversation happen is the mission of Spaceship Media, a Bay Area nonprofit whose aim is to use journalism to bridge divides and reduce polarization. The media partners in the new project include the Bay Area News Group, the Southern California News Group and Univision, a national Spanish-language TV network.

As part of the project, more than 60 people across California will take part in a closed Facebook group over the next month. About half of them support greater enforcement of immigration laws. About half oppose increased enforcement. A smattering of those in the group have staked out middle-ground positions.

During the monthlong discussion, participants will be able to suggest topics and questions for the group to address. The effort will be moderated by Spaceship Media founders Eve Pearlman and Jeremy Hay, two veteran journalists who will also prompt conversation. Reporters from the media partners will write about the project and supply research to inform the discussions.

John Oliver Highlights Issues of Trump’s Plans to expand the Border Patrol

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” HBO/YouTube

On the latest episode of “Last Week Tonight,” Emmy award winning host John Oliver gave viewers an in depth look into the border patrol. The segment focused on the agents who guard our southern borders and revealed a number of issues including the hiring process. The story aired after news on President Trump signing an executive order to hire 5,000 more agents to assist the 20,000 who already are on our borders.

Oliver explained that border patrol agents have a tough job. They have to be a humanitarian in some occasions and law enforcer in others. It’s a unique task that not everyone can pull off, and for many in the government, that’s obvious, because the last hiring surge for border agents led to some horrible hires. In a post-9/11 move, President George W. Bush beefed up the border patrol from 10,000 agents to 20,000. And recruitment was very aggressive.

The segment also revealed that often a border patrol agent is working alone surveying miles and miles of terrain. They sometimes don’t see a single person for days.

“Boredom is a significant part of life as a border patrol agent and they should probably train for it,” Oliver said. “For every hour they spend in target practice they should probably spend ten hours watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle.'”

A US border patrol agent detains a man after entering the United States by crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico. That kind of job, combined with the fact that many who were hired during the surge were not fit for the job, led to some damaging repercussions.

The irony of all this is that there may not be a need for more border patrol agents. In a report in July, the Inspector General of Homeland Security questioned if 5,000 more agents were required. And Oliver showed that the apprehensions of undocumented Mexican immigrants has dropped from 404,365 in 2010 to 192,969 in 2016.

“This is a story about the danger of not learning from your mistakes and for the sake of absolutely everybody — people on both sides of the border, and the good border patrol agents just trying to do a difficult job well — if we are going to hire all these new people, the very least we can do is be more careful this time around,” Oliver said.

Watch John Oliver’s entire segment on the Border Patrol below:

Targeted ICE Raids Surge After Ninth Circuit Court Upholds Block on Travel Ban

(Photo by Tyler LaRiviere/Chicagoist)

Washington, DC–Week Three of Trump’s presidency continues to deliver blows to the immigrant community, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) launched a series of “targeted enforcement operations” across the United States. Specifically, there is an escalation in immigration raids in these seven states: California, Georgia, Kansas, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Business As Usual?

ICE released a statement explaining that these raids are “just business as usual,” and that the agency regularly conducts “targeted enforcement operations” with extra personnel. However, ICE agents have deviated from their usual tactic: instead of picking up what ICE labels “criminal aliens” from county jails, agents are now entering streets and neighborhoods to make these arrests.

Mexican Consul Carlos Gonzalez reported a significant increase of undocumented Mexican nationals apprehensions  in Austin, TX, with people being arrested because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I see a truck. And then police ICE on the vest of the guy,” says Margaret Saldana, who runs a child care business in North Austin. “[H]e’s putting handcuffs on the driver. And I was like – kind of, like, shocked. And then on the other side, there was another agent handcuffing the passenger.”

So, while the driver may have been the intended ICE target, the passenger–who was undocumented but has no criminal conviction–was also arrested because being undocumented makes one deportable.

“Operation Cross Check”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s headquarter in Washington, DC (“AILA National”) has received information about these targeted enforcement operations. Dubbed “Operation Cross Check,” these immigration raids focus on three populations:

  1. Fugitives – Anyone with an outstanding order of removal;
  2. Individuals who re-entered after they were deported, regardless if they have a criminal conviction  upon re-entry into the United States or not; and
  3. At large “criminal aliens” – Anyone with any criminal conviction.

AILA National reports that those individuals who are identified in the course of an Operation Crosscheck action against a specific person, may also be picked up if they fall within the broader enforcement priorities outlined in the Executive Order. Note that the new priorities are so broad that any undocumented individual could be deemed a priority. AILA National encourages people to report these targeted enforcement raids to advocacy@aila.org and other immigration advocacy groups.

Legal Tip: If you or anyone you know have been subjected to an ICE raid, make sure to appear at the immigration court hearing with an attorney. If you are appearing without an attorney, you may ask the immigration judge to give you more time to find one. The court will provide you with a listing of immigration attorneys in the area. If you do not show up in court, the immigration judge will order you summarily deported, without any chance of finding a way to lawfully stay in the United States.

Washington v. Trump: The Judges Have Spoken

These ICE raids have garnered further scrutiny because they seem to surge right after all three judges from the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals have unanimously ruled in Washington v. Trump to deny the federal government’s emergency request to lift the temporary restraining order (TRO), which is halting the implementation of the travel bans. This decision came in a lawsuit filed by the states of Washington and Minnesota. The states claim that the bans contained in the President’s January 27, 2017 Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” violate the Constitution and the laws.

This 3-0 decision sent a strong message to the President: (1) He cannot shield himself from court review by claiming “national security;” (2) He may only set policies that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution; and (3) Key parts of the Executive Order banning refugees and noncitizens from seven Muslim-majority countries are likely unconstitutional.

Here are five key points from Ninth Circuit’s decision in Washington v. Trump:

1. The President’s Executive Orders Are Reviewable by the Courts. 

The court rejected the federal government’s claim that the President’s immigration policies—even those involving national security concerns—are unreviewable by the courts. In fact, it is the court’s role to consider constitutional challenges to executive action. The court explained:  “[t][here is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

2. The States Have “Standing” to Challenge the Executive Order.

In order to bring a lawsuit, a plaintiff must have “standing,” which is a legal stake in the outcome of the case.  The Court found that Washington and Minnesota have an adequate stake because the states’ universities will suffer harm from the executive order.  Specifically, the executive order prevents students and faculty from the banned countries from travelling for academic or personal reasons.  It affects the universities’ ability to attract students and faculty from these seven affected countries.  And, some of their students and faculty will be stranded outside the United States.

3. The Federal Government Is Unlikely to Win Its Appeal Because the States Have Alleged a Due Process Violation.

The court declined to “stay,” or lift, the TRO because it concluded that the federal government was not likely to win on the appeal of the TRO. In fact, the court indicated that the district court properly issued a TRO because the plaintiffs have a viable due process claim.  The court stated that the federal government has not shown that “the Executive Order provides what due process requires, such as notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel.”

4. The Federal Government Did Not Establish Harm Resulting From the TRO.

The Court found that the federal government failed to allege any harm that would warrant staying the TRO. It pointed out that the government did not allege that any noncitizens from the seven countries perpetrated terrorist attacks against the United States. By contrast, the states did show harm to their public universities if the Executive Order were reinstated.

5. There Is A Strong Public Interest in Both Security AND the Free Flow of Travel, Family Relationships and Non-Discrimination.

The Court noted the competing public interests on both sides of this suit: “On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination. We need not characterize the public interest more definitely than this; when considered alongside the hardships discussed above, these competing public interests do not justify a stay.”

Now What?

The President Tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE,” which is almost comical, since he had just been soundly defeated in federal court by 3-0. What is far from a laughing matter is his accusation that the security of the United States is “at stake” because of how the Judiciary works: as a check and balance system that prevents the Executive office from usurping power with total disregard to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

So what happens now? The lawsuit continues in trial court  to determine whether this particular Executive Order is lawful and constitutional. In the meantime, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has resumed admission of nationals from the seven predominantly Muslim countries banned by the Executive Order. However, this case is far from over. The President can easily issue another Executive Order that would sidestep the complications of this current one, and in the blink of an eye, another travel ban would take effect.

Legal Tip: While the seven-country ban has been lifted, for now, one can never be too cautious when traveling, especially if you are a nonimmigrant, permanent resident (green card holder), or have dual citizenship. Make sure to consult with an immigration attorney prior to departing for an international flight. If possible, sign and execute a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredit Representative, and bring this form with you when you exit the United States. If you run into any complication upon your re-entry, contact your attorney so you have adequate counsel and representation.

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Kristine Tungol Cabagnot is an attorney, advocate, and author specializing in immigration and nationality law. She may be reached at kristine@tungollaw.com.

Understanding President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order

President Trump completed his first full week in office with another Executive Order. The American Immigration Council reported that order was the Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals, halts all refugee admissions for at least four months and bans entry into the United States for nationals of at least seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days or more.

While the order does not explicitly ban Muslims, in practice the new restrictions will do just that for many. The order prohibits immigrants and nonimmigrants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (with the explicit possibility that other countries may be added) from entering the United States for at least 90 days, declaring their entry to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Only extremely narrow exceptions are permitted. The visa ban will be revisited after a review of whether these and other countries comply with U.S. demands to provide information about their nationals that the order says is needed to adjudicate their nationals’ visas and immigration benefits.

The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and the United States will stop admitting Syrian refugees indefinitely. The four-month period is supposed to be used to review the refugee program and determine what additional screening processes are needed. If and when the United States begins accepting refugees again in Fiscal Year 2017, no more than 50,000 total will be admitted, a significant reduction from the previous cap of 110,000.  As of January 20, 2017, nearly 30,000 refugees had already been admitted this fiscal year.

2 Iraqis file lawsuit after being detained in NY due to travel ban

CNN’s breaking news provided more details from the lawyers for two Iraqis with ties to the US military who had been granted visas to enter the United States have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and the US government after they were detained when they arrived in New York Friday.

The lawsuit could represent the first legal challenge to Trump’s controversial executive order, which indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States by instituting what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants.
Trump’s order also bars Iraqi citizens, as well as people from six other Muslim-majority nations, from entering the US for 90 days, and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated “only for nationals of countries for whom” members of Trump’s Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.
“Because the executive order is unlawful as applied to petitioners, their continued detention based solely on the executive order violates their Fifth Amendment procedural and substantive due process rights,” the lawyers argue in court papers.

Trump’s Immigration Ban Excludes Countries With Business Ties

President Trump’s proposed list doesn’t include Muslim-majority countries where his Trump Organization has done business or pursued potential deals. Properties include golf courses in the United Arab Emirates and two luxury towers operating in Turkey.

See Trump’s full conflicts of interest.

President Trump’s First Executive Orders on Immigration

On January 25, President Trump signed a pair of immigration-related executive orders, one dealing with border security and the other with immigration enforcement in the interior of the country. The order on border security has received the most public attention—particularly the “great wall” that Trump is so anxious to build. But it is the other order that presents the greatest danger to unauthorized immigrants.

The order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, effectively makes all unauthorized immigrant in the United States an “enforcement priority,” regardless of whether they entered the country without inspection or overstayed a visa, and irrespective of whether or not they have a criminal record. And the order ramps up efforts to find and remove unauthorized immigrants from the country by expanding the ranks of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and transforming more local police into immigration agents.

This order is flawed at a number of levels. To begin with it is based on a false premise; that immigrants pose some kind of threat to native-born Americans. The order actually says:

“Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety.”

In reality, an enormous amount of evidence has accumulated over the past century demonstrating that high rates of immigration are associated with lower crime rates, and immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term.

A second major flaw in this order is that it treats unauthorized immigration as if it were exclusively a law-enforcement issue and nothing more. It calls for 10,000 new ICE agents; agreements between the federal government and local police that would enable the police to act as immigration agents, and consider withholding federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” in which police don’t ask people about their immigration status so as to maintain trust with the communities they serve. This fails to recognize that unauthorized immigration is a symptom of a larger problem: an immigration system in which avenues for legal immigration are out of sync with the economic and social forces which drive immigration.

A third key problem with this order is that it fails to establish any priorities for determining which immigrants to detain and deport first. The order states that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should prioritize the removal of any and all “aliens” who have been convicted of a crime, charged with a crime, or committed an act which could be construed as a chargeable crime—not to mention anyone who has crossed the border without permission or overstayed a visa. These priorities are defined so expansively as to be meaningless. Real enforcement priorities would zero in on violent criminals first—not unauthorized immigrants driving in a car with a broken tail light.

In the final analysis, this executive order is little more than a crass form of immigrant-bashing. Unauthorized immigrants are stereotyped as criminals and treated as such. No consideration is given to the financial costs of new enforcement measures, the social costs of tearing apart U.S. families and communities in order to deport non-violent individuals, and the undermining of community policing by turning police into immigration agents. No matter how you look at it, this order is a disaster.

Why Trump can’t simply build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border with an executive order

While Trump can start the wall by shifting around existing federal funds, he will need Congress to appropriate the $20 billion — and perhaps significantly more — required to complete the massive structure, the experts and former officials said.

“How is he going to fund it? You need money!” Rand Beers, a former acting Department of Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration, said Wednesday. “He’s got to have the money. And you can’t reprogram all that money without congressional authorization.”

The Trump administration will have to contend with private ranchers, farmers and other property owners with land along the border. Just one-third of the border is made up of federal and tribal lands, according to a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office, with private and state-owned lands making up the rest.

USCIS Announces Final Rule Adjusting Immigration Benefit Application and Petition Fees

uscis

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today a final rule published in the Federal Register today adjusting the fees required for most immigration applications and petitions. The new fees will be effective Dec. 23, 2016.

According to USCIS:

USCIS is almost entirely funded by the fees paid by applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits. The law requires USCIS to conduct fee reviews every two years to determine the funding levels necessary to administer the nation’s immigration laws, process benefit requests and provide the infrastructure needed to support those activities.

Fees will increase for the first time in six years, by a weighted average of 21 percent for most applications and petitions.   This increase is necessary to recover the full cost of services provided by USCIS. These include the costs associated with fraud detection and national security, customer service and case processing, and providing services without charge to refugee and asylum applicants and to other customers eligible for fee waivers or exemptions.

The final rule contains a table summarizing current and new fees. The new fees are also listed on the Form G-1055, Fee Schedule, and website. Applications and petitions postmarked or filed on or after Dec. 23 must include the new fees or USCIS will not be able to accept them.

“This is our first fee increase since November 2010, and we sincerely appreciate the valuable public input we received as we prepared this final rule,” said USCIS Director León Rodríguez. “We are mindful of the effect fee increases have on many of the customers we serve. That’s why we decided against raising fees as recommended after the fiscal year 2012 and 2014 fee reviews.  However, as an agency dependent upon users’ fees to operate, these changes are now necessary to ensure we can continue to serve our customers effectively.  We will also offer a reduced filing fee for certain naturalization applicants with limited means.”

Changes in the new fee schedule can be found here. Highlights follow:

  • A modest fee increase of $45, or 8 percent, from $595 to $640 for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
    • USCIS will offer a reduced filing fee of $320 for naturalization applicants with family incomes greater than 150 percent and not more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For 2016, this means, for example, that a household of four with an income between $36,000 and $48,600 per year could pay the reduced fee. Those eligible may apply for this option using the new Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee.
  • The fee for Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, and N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, will increase from $550 or 600 to $1,170.
  • A new fee of $3,035 is required for Form I-924A, Annual Certification of Regional Center.

In preparing the final rule, USCIS considered all 436 comments received during the 60-day public comment period for the proposed rule published May 4.

More on this report, click here.

With the Immigration Court’s Rocket Docket Many Unrepresented Families Quickly Ordered Deported

Figure 1. Ordered Removed at Initial Master Calendar Hearing
Figure 1. Ordered Removed at Initial Master Calendar Hearing

At the end of September 2016, according to very timely Immigration Court records obtained and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) show that a total of 38,601 cases on the court’s “rocket docket” involving “adults with children” (AWC) have been decided by immigration judges since July of 2014.

Two years ago the Immigration Courts adopted new docketing practices that gave priority to scheduling of these “AWC” cases involving women and children seeking refuge in this country. This followed the Obama Administration’s action seeking to expedite their removal, and was in response to the sudden influx of these families that began during the summer of 2014. This report examines the speed with which these cases have been closed, particularly for families without attorneys to represent them.

According to the case-by-case court data analyzed by TRAC, in 27,015 out of the 38,601 AWC closed cases – or 70 percent — the family was unrepresented. In the remaining 30 percent or 11,586 cases, the individuals had obtained representation.

Court records also show that it was exceedingly rare for an unrepresented family to file the papers in court needed to even seek asylum or other forms of available relief from deportation. Court records indicate that only 1 in 15 (6.5%) managed to do this without formal representation, despite efforts by a variety of initiatives to try to provide various forms of advice to these families short of formal representation. In contrast, applications for relief were filed by those who were represented in 70 percent of the cases.

Further, cases for the 70 percent who were unrepresented were often quickly disposed of. In fact, forty- three percent (43.4%) of unrepresented AWC cases were ordered deported at the initial master calendar hearing. More on this report is available at http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/441/.

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