Articles Posted in Unaccompanied children

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The Department of Homeland Security has released its end of the year statistics for fiscal year 2016 reflecting immigration enforcement priorities for convicted criminals, threats to public safety, border and national security. The report found that during fiscal year 2016, 530,250 individuals were apprehended nationwide, and a total of 450,954 individuals were removed and returned to their countries of origin. For their part, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a total of 415,816 apprehensions nationwide, an increase in 78,699 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. For their part, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 114,434 individuals during fiscal year 2016, a decrease in 10,777 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. During fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations identified 274,821 inadmissible individuals at ports of entry nationwide, an increase in 21,312 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. Lastly, ICE reported that during fiscal year 2016 they removed or returned 240,255 individuals, an increase in 4,842 individuals when compared to fiscal year 2015.

The report highlighted that the Department of Homeland Security has successfully honored the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement priorities announced in November 2014, which prioritize the deportation of national security threats, individuals attempting to enter the United States unlawfully, and convicted criminals. As evidence of this, the report states that during fiscal year 2016, ninety-eight percent of initial enforcement actions involved individuals which fell into one of three enforcement priority categories. The report indicates that ninety-one percent of apprehensions fell within the top priority for individuals who either presented a national security threat, attempted to enter the United States unlawfully, or were convicted of a crime (including gang members).

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In this segment, we bring you the latest immigration news. This month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a status report on border security in the Southwestern border region. In other news we provide you with an update on the Proposed International Entrepreneur Rule, and finally we would like to remind our readers to tune into the final Presidential Debate on October 18th.

Department of Homeland Security Releases Report on Border Security for the Southwestern Border Region

On October 17, 2016 the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, released a report on the state of border security in the Southwestern region of the United States for fiscal year 2016. The Secretary reported that the total apprehensions by border patrol on the southwestern border have increased, relative to the previous fiscal year. During fiscal year 2016 there were a total of 408,870 unlawful attempts to enter the United States border without inspection by a border patrol officer. Although the number of apprehensions during this fiscal year were higher than the previous year, the number of apprehensions in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 were much higher than fiscal year 2016.  Johnson also reported that illegal migration in this region has changed demographically. Today, there are fewer Mexican foreign nationals and adults attempting to cross the Southwestern border illegally. The problem now is that more families and unaccompanied children from Central America are making the dangerous trek from Central America to the United States, fleeing gang related violence, organized crime, and poverty. In 2014 for the first time in history, the number of Central Americans apprehended on the Southern border outnumbered Mexican nationals. The same phenomenon occurred during fiscal year 2016.

How is DHS dealing with the influx of undocumented immigrants from Central America?

DHS is struggling to deal with this humanitarian crisis. Thus far the United States has implemented an in-country referral program for foreign nationals of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The program gives certain immigrants the opportunity to apply for refugee protection in the United States. DHS has also expanded the categories of individuals that may be eligible for the Central American Minors program, although adults may only qualify for this program if they are accompanied by a qualified child. The Government of Costa Rica and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration have developed a protection transfer agreement to relocate unaccompanied children and their families to safer regions. DHS was given $750 million in Congressional funds this fiscal year to provide support and assistance to this vulnerable population of migrants. Johnson recognized that there is much work to be done to secure and border, while at the same time addressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

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The Department of Homeland Security is currently under pressure to provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ecuadorians, following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Northern coast of Ecuador on April 16, causing nearly 600 fatalities. Dozens of people remain missing under the rubble, while thousands of Ecuadorians have sustained injuries. The Obama administration is expected to respond to a request from American lawmakers, which would allow Ecuadorians physically present in the United States, to apply for an extension of stay to remain in the country temporarily. Furthermore, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other politicians have called on the Obama administration to intervene, by designating Ecuador as a country temporarily eligible to receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In a statement issued last week, De Blasio noted that New York City alone is home to nearly 140,000 Ecuadorian immigrants. Many of these New Yorkers face additional uncertainty about whether it is safe for them to return to Ecuador at this time. We must extend whatever support we can at this critical moment.” Approximately 143,000 Ecuadorians currently reside in the United States illegally in the states of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California and Florida.

The administration is also being pressured by lawmakers to extend temporary protected status to migrants from Central America, due to the criminal and security concerns in the region including gang violence. The administration has not yielded to this pressure as of yet.

Enacted by the United States Immigration Act of 1990, TPS allows the government to extend the stay of foreign nationals whose countries have been affected by war, civil unrest, violence, natural disasters, or other emergent needs that concern the safety of foreign nationals from troubled regions. The provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allow this temporary status to exist, as well as other blanket forms of relief from removal of individuals from these affected regions. Under the INA, the executive branch and legislative branch are authorized to grant TPS as relief from removal for individuals from designated countries. The Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State, are given the authority to issue TPS for a period of 6 to 18 months that can be extended if conditions remain the same in the designated countries. TPS recipients receive a registration document and temporary employment authorization for the duration that the foreign national is granted Temporary Protected Status. Temporary Protected Status is NOT a visa or a path to permanent residence. Foreign nationals who have been found inadmissible to the United States or in other words have been subject to a “bar” are not eligible to receive Temporary Protected States.

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The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments for United States v. Texas, a lawsuit challenging the President’s executive actions on immigration, on Monday April 18th.  We have learned that attorneys representing the Republican led House of Representatives will be given 15 minutes to argue against Obama’s executive actions on immigration, included the expanded Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. This move comes after the House of Representatives voted in favor of filing a brief before the Supreme Court challenging the executive actions on immigration. The court has also authorized a group of undocumented mothers of U.S. Citizen children to speak before the Supreme Court for 10 minutes. The Obama administration is currently at a disadvantage, given that only eight Supreme Court justices will ultimately be handing down one of the most important decisions of our generation come June. Obama had hoped that the House of Representatives would hold hearings in consideration of his Supreme Court pick, Chief Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Merrick Garland, by the time oral arguments would begin. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Republicans have refused to hold hearings in consideration of Judge Garland. It is likely that they will continue to delay hearings until the next President of the United States takes office next year.

Oral arguments on April 18th will be no more than 90 minutes long. The majority of the time will be divided by the Obama administration and attorneys representing Texas and 25 other states challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s executive actions on immigration. United States v. Texas is unique because it will finally put to rest the issue of whether or not the executive action on immigration is within the President’s constitutional powers. This case is also unique because it will be one of the few times that the Supreme Court has addressed the issue of illegal immigration and the rights of unlawful immigrants under the constitution.

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The Obama administration may announce its choice for the Supreme Court nomination as early as this week. We have learned that there are three contenders being considered for the Supreme Court nomination. All three candidates serve as judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and are well respected by both parties. They include Sri Srinivasan, Merrick Garland, and Paul Watford, who is rumored to be at the top of the President’s list. The Supreme Court nominee will be required to face a Republican Senate, in order to be formally appointed to the Supreme Court. Senate Republicans have already warned the White House that they will not hold hearings for any Supreme Court nominee suggested by President Barack Obama. As soon as Republicans heard of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, they urged caution from the White House. Senate Republicans anticipate that the next President of the United States will be the party’s Presidential nominee. It is for this reason that they claim that the Supreme Court nomination should be made by the next President of the United States, and not by Barack Obama. In a televised announcement, following the death of Antonin Scalia, President Obama made it very clear that his intentions were to choose the Supreme Court nomination, despite warnings from Republicans. Senate Republicans responded by stating that they would block any of the President’s advancements.

President Obama will need to choose a Justice that will have a tendency to vote liberally in order for his expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program to survive. The expanded DACA and new DAPA program were introduced in November 2014 as part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. These programs have been temporarily suspended following a federal court order filed by Texas and other states. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case, United States v. Texas, this April with a final ruling made by summer time.

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A new factsheet published by AILA and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) provides statistics on the representation and removal of unaccompanied children and families facing removal proceedings before immigration court. The data concludes that an overwhelming number of unaccompanied children and families are ordered removed from the United States, despite having demonstrated a legitimate fear of persecution or torture and passing a credible fear interview, making these individuals viable candidates for asylum, prosecutorial discretion, or other relief from deportation. This is due to a lack of legal representation and legitimate concern for the due process of law.

Families Passing Credible Fear in preliminary interviews with federal asylum officers

On the whole, the majority of families in detention centers demonstrate a legitimate fear of persecution or torture and maintain a high rate of approval during credible fear interviews;

  • In preliminary interviews with asylum officers, approximately 90% of families successfully demonstrated a credible fear of persecution or torture;
  • Upon completion of these interviews, approximately 88% of detained families pass their credible fear interviews;
  • The USCIS Asylum Office has indicated that the credible fear passage rates remain unchanged—at a rate of 90%;
  • DHS data indicates that 53% of 121 individuals, arrested by DHS during the January raids, lacked legal representation before immigration court;

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Following a recent surge in apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the Southwest border, the Department of Homeland Security announced that, beginning January 1st Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in a concerted nationwide crackdown, taking adults and some children into custody, who have evaded their orders for removal. In a recent press release, the Secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson indicated that the crackdown occurred as a result of President Obama’s November 2014 executive action on immigration, which put in place new priorities for removal, including the removal of convicted criminals, individuals posing a threat to national security, individuals apprehended at the border or who were found to have entered the United States unlawfully after January 1, 2014. In November 2014 President Obama had implemented these new priorities in an effort to secure the border. In the press release, Jeh Johnson added, “as I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values…individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children will be removed.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, Central American migrants were removed and repatriated at an increasing rate since the summer of 2014. During this time, there was a surge in the number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross the southern border illegally. In response to this surge, DHS collaborated with the Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadorian governments to decrease these numbers. According to Jeh Johnson the collaborative efforts were temporarily successfully. In 2015 the number of apprehensions by the U.S. Border Patrol decreased dramatically to 331, 333. Fiscal year 2015 experienced the lowest amount of apprehensions on the southern border since 1972. Recently, an increased rate of apprehensions resurfaced. This sudden spike resulted in the January 1st crackdown prompting ICE to action. As part of the crackdown, dozens of female agents and medical personnel were deployed to assist with the apprehension and removal process. According to DHS, in cases involving medical urgency or other reasons, ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion. As stated by DHS, enforcement operations will continue as needed in collaboration with state and local law enforcement.

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According to new reports released by the U.S. Border Patrol, the surge in Central Americans crossing into the United States is dropping at an alarming rate—approximately 60% fewer unaccompanied minors were apprehended during the month of August, in comparison to the summer months, a time when the migration crisis was in full effect in Central America. These unaccompanied minors make the perilous trek north from their Central American countries due to the violence they have encountered right at home.

The report suggests that the primary reason for the sudden drop is owed to the Mexican government’s crackdown on Central American immigrants. According to the report, increasing pressure on Mexico to instill effective deterrents has resulted in increased arrests and deportations of thousands of Central Americans, making it harder for such migrants to reach the American border.

Bowing to American pressure, the Mexican government recently announced a plan to militarize the southern border by placing federal forces along it. As part of these plans, the government will be setting up interior checkpoints, whereby authorities can inspect buses and vans carrying passengers into northern Mexico. Setting up checkpoint will also allow the authorities to ID passengers and question them. Additionally, Mexican authorities have forbidden migrants to board the infamous lumbering freight train known as ‘La Bestia,’ or the Beast in English. Many Central Americans and children have died while attempting to board such freight trains bound for the United States border. What does this mean for Central American immigrants journeying north? A longer and more dangerous journey ahead of them. According to the Mexican interior ministry, since the crackdown, approximately 30,000 Central Americans have been apprehended and sent back home; 20,000 of which were minors. Central Americans who have sought shelter from authorities in Mexico say that they are afraid of being turned in by Mexican authorities, according to news reports by NPR. Pro-immigrant activists argue that the work being done by Mexican authorities should be done by United States authorities which are better staffed and have better resources. Moreover, they argue, that despite the crackdown, nothing has changed in Central America. Central American countries remain impoverished, and innocent children are left to suffer the consequences of living in a country where impunity and violence run rampant. These critics argue that much more must be done and the issue is much more complex than the American and Mexican government are admitting. Critics insist that the issue is bilateral and humanitarian in nature. Congressional oversight will be necessary to tackle the issue.

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Jose Antonio Vargas has quickly become the face that has humanized the struggle for immigration reform. Unlike other immigrants, Jose is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Washington Post reporter, activist, and the founder of an immigration awareness campaign called ‘Define American’. Back in June of 2011, Vargas courageously revealed to the world that he was undocumented in a column he wrote for New York Times magazine. In it he describes what his move to the United States was like, the lengths he went to as a child to fit in to the American lifestyle, and what it has been like residing in the United States unlawfully. Jose’s journey to the United States began much like that of any other immigrant. He was smuggled into the United States from the Philippines when he was only 12 years old by an individual he believed to be his relative. Once in the United States, Vargas was raised by his hardworking grandparents who afforded him a better future. From the outset, his upbringing in the bay area of San Francisco appeared to be much like that of any other American child.

It was not until he made a visit to the DMV to obtain his driver’s permit that he realized the green card he was given by his grandfather was in fact fake when he was told by the woman at the DMV window not to come back there again. For years, Jose Antonio Vargas has dedicated his life to standing in solidarity with the thousands of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States illegally. He has done this by serving as the voice of the undocumented, attending hundreds of conferences and speaking engagements, in addition to writing as a distinguished columnist.

Up until July 15th Vargas was able to advocate for the plight of undocumented immigrants without being apprehended despite constantly being in the public eye. A few days prior to July 15th Vargas appeared at a shelter housing Central American children and refugees and attended a vigil to honor them near the Rio Grande Valley. His presence in the region was meant to call attention to the humanitarian nature of the subject. In order to attend the event, Vargas crossed the McAllen, Texas TSA checkpoint, an area known to be highly secured and militarized. Vargas had not given much thought to the possible risk of being detained once he would return to the United States through the same checkpoint. According to the Department of Homeland Security Vargas was detained once he told TSA officials that he was residing in the country illegally. He was then taken to the McAllen Border Patrol Station and was given a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge. He was released within the same day after speaking with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Unfortunately for Vargas, until comprehensive immigration reform is passed, he will continue to be forced to live under the radar. Vargas was not able to qualify for the Dream Act or for DACA, because his age did not meet the cutoff age as required by law. Shortly after being released Vargas issued a statement saying that the undocumented are constantly having to live in fear as a result of the failure of Congress and President Obama to act and bring about a viable solution to the problem. Jose Antonio Vargas challenges Congress to act by asking them the question: how do we define American?

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The rise in the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States illegally has dominated talks between lawmakers, pundits, political analysts, and humanitarian organizations, all of whom have a stake in bringing about comprehensive immigration reform. According to reports by the New York Times, since the month of October, over 50,000 children have been caught crossing the United States border illegally; a number that is double the amount of children who crossed illegally in 2013. This issue has become a point of contention not just for pro-immigration reform advocates, but has also transformed into a humanitarian issue worthy of continued debate, due to the dangerous nature a child succumbs to in making the dangerous trek to the United States unaccompanied and vulnerable.

Where are these children coming from you might ask? The vast majority of these unaccompanied children are coming from poverty stricken towns across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which are also notorious for their violence. The New York Times reports that unaccompanied children from Mexico make up less than a quarter of the total amount of children coming to the United States illegally. The increase in the number of children crossing into the United States illegally began in 2012. Of the children that were apprehended, more than 70% were caught crossing through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, while only 13% were caught crossing through Tucson, Arizona.

Though experts have continuously debated the reasons why these unaccompanied children are coming to the United States, most agree that there are various factors which drive these children to escape the conditions in their country: poverty, violence, and the desire to re-unite with their families. Among the countries mentioned, Honduras boasts the world’s highest murder rate. Children coming from Guatemala and El Salvador tend to come from very poor and rural towns. Some of the problem may lie in the fact that previously, minors who were detained were not immediately deported. This may have led many Central Americans with the perception that the Department of Homeland Security would allow these children to remain in the United States.