Articles Posted in Unlawful presence

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In early August of this year, reports began to emerge indicating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was planning a large-scale nationwide immigration operation, to crack down on undocumented criminals and gang members. The coordinated effort which purported to detain criminals and gang members, known within the agency as “Operation Maga,” was set to begin on September 17th and was expected to continue over a five-day period.

Thanks to an internal memo circulated within the agency, details quickly came to light of the operation. According to an internal memo, ICE had been planning to conduct the nationwide immigration raids since at least mid-August of this year. In addition, law enforcement officials reported that the immigration raids were expected to target 8,400 undocumented immigrations, which according to the internal memo would make Operation Maga, “the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE.” Officials familiar with the operation reported that while the agency instructed officials to target only persons of interest, including gang members or perpetrators of serious crimes, DACA recipients not suspected of crimes, could inevitably have been detained in the frenzy.

When news outlets began to question ICE regarding the rumored raids, the agency had reported that it was “not able to speculate about potential future targeted enforcement actions.”

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37047550995_996d754972_zGiven the recent termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the controversy surrounding the immigration system as of late, in this post we address the numerous myths surrounding the DACA program and of immigration law in general. Although there are numerous studies and empirical research debunking the common myths attributed to the immigration system, as well as detailed economic reports published by governmental agencies corroborating the positive effects of immigration, Americans continue to hold a negative perception of immigrants and are increasingly skeptical of the immigration process. In truth, much of these perceptions are perpetuated by the unwillingness of Americans to obtain readily available information on the internet, to discover that the immigration process for individuals who entered the United States illegally is riddled with obstacles. More and more we are seeing Americans rely on news stations to accurately deliver the news and do the work for them. Unfortunately, the best way to understand the immigration process itself is to go straight to the source, and not rely on such sources for information.

The public needs to know the facts to better understand that the average immigrant actually has very few immigration options available to them under the current immigration system.

MYTH #1 It is easy to get a green card under current immigration laws

Most Americans believe that it is relatively easy to get a green card. This cannot be further from the truth. Immigration laws are highly complex and are designed to make it more difficult for extended family members, low-skilled workers, and undocumented immigrants to immigrate to the United States. Under current immigration laws, there are generally only two ways to immigrate to the United States and obtain permanent residency, outside of special immigrant categories specifically reserved for special categories of individuals including: asylees, refugees, certain witnesses of crimes, victims of abuse, and individuals who may qualify for withholding of removal. It is extremely difficult for individuals to qualify for permanent residency under one of these special categories.

Outside of these special categories, foreign nationals may immigrate to the United States and obtain permanent residency, only if they have a qualifying family member (such as a US Citizen or LPR spouse, child, etc.) who may petition for them or if the beneficiary works for a U.S. employer on a valid visa who is willing to sponsor the foreign national by petitioning for their permanent residency.

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As early as Friday, September 1, 2017, President Donald Trump is expected to make a formal announcement regarding his decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that started on November 20, 2014 under President Barack Obama. The DACA program was introduced as part of a series of executive actions, signed into law by President Obama, to shield hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Young undocumented immigrants eligible for DACA were those who:

(1) were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;

(2) came to the United States before reaching the age of 16;

(3) maintained continuous residence in the country since June 15, 2007;

(4) were physically present in the country on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making a request for consideration of deferred status;

(5) were currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or were an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and

(6) had not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors, and did not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Individuals who qualified for DACA were given a renewable 2-year temporary employment authorization card (EAD) and “deferred status” to shield them from deportation. It is estimated that more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants have received relief from deportation through this program.

A senior administration official has reported to Fox News as of today, August 31, 2017, that the President is expected to announce the end of the program, despite challenges from the GOP to keep the program intact. The official stated that although Trump will announce the end of the program, he will allow current DACA holders to remain in the program, and have lawful status in the United States until their employment authorization cards run their course. This means that the DACA program will not end abruptly, rather the program will be phased out, and immigrants will no longer have the option of renewing their benefits once they have expired. In recent years the number of DACA applicants has dwindled. According to USCIS statistics, in fiscal year 2016, 40,378 initial DACA applications were approved, while 83,788 renewal applications were approved that same year. This is in stark contrast to the 472,131 applications approved in 2013.

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Trump Administration ends the Central American Minors Program

On August 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security terminated the Central American Minors (CAM) program started under former President Barack Obama in 2014 in response to Central America’s humanitarian crisis. Beginning in 2014, the number of accompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States swelled to the thousands. Although these numbers have decreased significantly under President Trump, it is estimated that there are still over 3,000 unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence and organized crime in Central America in the hopes of settling in the United States. In the past two years alone it is estimated that approximately 33,000 people have been brutally murdered. Unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence hail from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The CAM program previously granted safe passage to unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence in Central America, as well as admission to the United States, so long as the unaccompanied minor could establish that they had a parent legally residing in the United States who would care for them. The creation of the CAM program was a progressive step in the country’s immigration policy given that the United States through the creation of this program recognized the importance of resolving the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children, and acknowledged the refugee status of individual’s fleeing the brutal violence in Central America. The Trump administration’s decision to terminate the program signals an unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of the humanitarian crisis and an unwillingness to acknowledge that individuals fleeing Central American violence are “refugees.”

True to the ethos of the Trump administration, this decision signals a cautious administration that does not see Central American children as being in danger and by extension in need of protection from the United States.

Immigration Crackdown

On Friday August 18, 2017 ICE agents conducted a sting operation on the U.S.-Mexico Border detaining more than 400 people including individuals accused of smuggling unaccompanied minors to the United States. The operation specifically targeted undocumented parents and guardians who it is alleged paid smugglers to bring their children to the United States illegally. Some of these children were unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence in Central America. A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement stated that the operation was part of the Human Smuggling Disruption Initiative. ICE has confirmed that its focus will shift from conducting immigration raids to ending the transnational smuggling trade that is responsible for bringing many unaccompanied minors from Central America to the U.S. Mexico border.

The most recent series of immigration raids involved a four-day operation that took place at the end of July, in which 650 people were arrested, 70% of which were not a target of the raid, but were swept up in the frenzy.

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On Monday August 14, 2017, the state of California filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice dragging the state into yet another contentious legal battle against the Trump administration. The lawsuit challenges an executive order signed by the President which seeks to withhold federal grant money to cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities, otherwise known as “sanctuary cities,” in the apprehension and detention of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

The President’s executive order, if enforced, would have an adverse impact on the state of California given that California has fiercely opposed cooperating with federal law enforcement in apprehension efforts of undocumented immigrants. The state of California is home to more than 2 million undocumented immigrants—more than 6% of the state’s population. As it stands, California’s refusal to comply with the President’s executive order would allow the government to withhold federal grant money to the state of California, a state that makes the greatest contribution to the U.S. economy as a whole.

As you may recall, the President signed the controversial executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” on January 25, 2017. The order claims that, “sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.”

Section 9 of the order states in pertinent part:

Sec. 9.  Sanctuary Jurisdictions.  It is the policy of the executive branch to ensure, to the fullest extent of the law, that a State, or a political subdivision of a State, shall comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373. 

(a)  In furtherance of this policy, the Attorney General and the Secretary . . .  shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.  The Secretary has the authority to designate . . . a jurisdiction as a sanctuary jurisdiction.  The Attorney General shall take appropriate enforcement action against any entity that violates 8 U.S.C. 1373, or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of Federal law.

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In the United States and across the world, a climate of fear and uncertainty has taken over our day to day lives and crept its way into the politics of the country. This climate of fear has in many ways taken shape because of our President’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, the series of executive orders he has signed on immigration which aim to discourage American companies from hiring foreign nationals, and which ultimately aim to deter undocumented immigrants from attempting to cross the United States border illegally. While the United States has an interest in buying American and hiring American, the President’s stance on immigration has made the best and brightest look elsewhere for the “American Dream.” Another cause for concern is the highly publicized immigration raids taking place across the country against undocumented immigrants. What is perhaps the most unsettling for undocumented immigrants is what is yet to unfold under the Trump administration. In recent weeks, we have seen the President harden his stance on immigration for both undocumented immigrants and foreign entrepreneurs with his plan to dissolve the “International Entrepreneur Rule” and his plan to build a “wall” along the Southern border.

For undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years, and who have raised their children as U.S. Citizens, there is much at stake. Living in this climate of fear has become our “new normal.”

The reality is that many families across the country are scared to remain in the United States. Some of these families have willingly returned to their countries of origin or relocated their families to other countries altogether. Still others, are being torn apart. Gone are the days when Dreamers were not made priorities for removal.

If you came to the United States illegally or no longer have a valid status country because you overstayed your visa, or just simply don’t have a status anymore, it is very important for you to take steps to protect yourself, and to realize that you have rights in this country.

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Credit: Mathia Swasik

On May 23, 2017, President Donald Trump unveiled his controversial budget proposal “A New Foundation for American Greatness” for FY 2018 which intends to make good on his promise to crack down on illegal immigration and apprehend undocumented immigrants with a criminal record. In a message accompanying his budget proposal, the President stated, “In these dangerous times, our increased attention to public safety and national security sends a clear message to the world — a message of American strength and resolve. It follows through on my promise to focus on keeping Americans safe, keeping terrorists out of our nation, and putting violent offenders behind bars.” To that end, the President has requested an additional $2.7 billion in funding to bolster border security and immigration enforcement measures. In addition to tightening the southern border, the budget proposal seeks to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving tax credits by requiring individuals claiming child tax credits to provide a verifiable Social Security Number valid for employment purposes.

The budget also takes aim against “sanctuary cities” throughout the United States which serve as haven communities for undocumented immigrants. One of the proposals seeks to force local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities by detaining undocumented immigrants in local jails, and complying with orders from immigration officials to assist federal authorities in holding and detaining undocumented immigrants for removal. Noncompliance would result in withholding of federal grants.

Although federal law requires that local governments allow employees to share information about undocumented immigrants with federal officials, local governments are not required to assist federal law enforcement in the detention process, those that do, do so voluntarily. A provision in the President’s budget proposal attempts to change this by changing federal law to force local government to comply with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants in local jails. As part of this provision, federal grants would be disseminated only to cities complying with federal authorities.

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New developments have recently unfolded since the passage of Texas’ controversial SB4 law—a law that bans sanctuary cities in the state of Texas, and requires local jurisdictions and law enforcements officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to apprehend undocumented immigrants in the state of Texas.

The controversial bill has suffered its first blowback. The border town of El Cenizo has sued the state arguing that the ban is unconstitutional. The Mayor of El Cenizo, Raul Reyes, told reporters that the bill “hinders the relationship between police departments and the community,” and “decreases criminal activity reports which opens up the door to more domestic violence and more sexual assaults against immigrants.” The city of El Cenizo has been joined in their lawsuit against the state by Maverick county, El Paso county, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The small town of El Cenizo, Texas first came to national attention when the Spanish language was declared the city’s official language.

The Texas Attorney General envisioned a pushback from “sanctuary cities.” At about the same time that the governor of Texas signed SB4 into law, the attorney general sought to protect the state against future challenges to the law, by filing a lawsuit against known “sanctuary cities” in the state of Texas that have limited the federal government’s power to detain undocumented immigrants by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials. The lawsuit was filed on May 7, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The state of Texas filed the lawsuit so that they could have a single court ruling upholding the constitutionality of SB4 that would invalidate any lawsuits filed against the state.

Among the cities which have been identified as “sanctuary cities” that have been noncompliant with the federal government’s demands are: Travis County, the city of Austin, and other local officials including Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who has limited cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

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On May 7, 2017 Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed the controversial “Texas Senate Bill 4” into law which will take effect on September 1st. Among its major provisions, the bill outlaws the establishment of “sanctuary cities” which serve as safe havens for undocumented immigrants, requires local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities by holding undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, and permits local law enforcement officials to question individuals regarding their immigration status in the United States. In September, the bill will be enforced by officers throughout the state of Texas including by police officers on college campuses. The bill, however, will not apply to officers contracted by religious groups, schools, government mental health care facilities, and hospitals.

More specifically SB4:

  • Blocks local entities from passing laws and/or adopting policies that prevent local law enforcement officials from inquiring about a person’s immigration status
  • The law makes it a crime for sheriffs, constables, police chiefs, and local leaders to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities (Class A misdemeanor)
  • Imposes sanctions on law enforcement officials and local jurisdictions that do not comply with the law
  • Cities who fail to comply with the law may face fines of up to $25,000 per day, and the police chiefs, sheriffs, or mayors of noncompliant jurisdictions may be charged criminally and/or removed from office
  • Allows police officers to question anyone they believe to be residing in the United States unlawfully about their immigration status, including at routine traffic stops

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8358967030_aef1cd0812_zThe Trump administration is quickly mobilizing resources to facilitate the massive deportation of undocumented persons living and working in the United States, and to secure the U.S. border.

A new 90-day progress report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security outlines how the agency is planning on implementing the provisions of the Executive Order 13767 entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” signed by President Trump earlier this year. Although the progress report is only a preliminary assessment of how the agency will enforce the executive order, the report reflects what immigration enforcement might look like in the near future.

Securing the border: Regarding border security, the progress report outlines that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is taking immediate action to plan, design, and construct a physical wall on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Specifically, the report states that CBP is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct prototypes to expand the southern border, and has submitted a request for funding from Congress for $20 million.