For the past couple of years, there have been waves of migrant caravans that have made there way from Central America to the U.S./Mexico border. While we know that the majority of them are seeking asylum due to the increasing violence and death in their native country, we rarely hear about individual stories. For example, what happens to these people once they have secured asylum from the U.S., then what?
The process for many undocumented people, who are living in the U.S. and are awaiting their court hearings, trying to figure out the judicial system that’s not written in Spanish can be quite difficult and overwhelming to comprehend.
For one family in Houston, Texas, we are learning that the process may cost them to lose one of their family members.
Due to what looks like to be a clerical error, an 11-year-old has been ordered by a Texas judge to leave the U.S. without her entire family.
Dora Alvarado and her two daughters — Adamaris, 15, and Laura, 11 — turned themselves into the border patrol last fall seeking asylum. Since then they have gone to all of their hearings. However, in March one of their hearing notices did not include Laura’s name, which she found extremely odd. After that court visit, a few days later, Dora got a letter stating that her daughter Laura was ordered to be deported, but she couldn’t read it because it was all in English.
When they went to court this week a translator told them what the letter said, and it broke their hearts. If Laura gets deported, she would be the first asylum migrant to be separated from her family and deported.
“I don’t want to leave my mom,” Laura said yesterday, according to The Houston Chronicle. “I want to stay with her.”
The family’s lawyer Silvia Mintz is filing to appeal the motion and says they cannot be at fault for an error made by immigration officials.
“This mistake done by the immigration court has put this family in jeopardy,” Mintz said, according to the publication. “They will be separated if this is not stopped.”
Another reason why the family has faced such a prolonged process is that their regular scheduled hearings had to be rescheduled due to the government shutdown.
The Houston Chronicle also reported that their lawyer has 30 days to try and reopen the case, which may not be easy to do.
“She’s terrified of going back and so is the family,” Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle told The Washington Post. “It seems baffling to threaten to deport an 11-year-old while her immediate family is fighting their deportation cases.”
The Trump administration has proposed denying work permits to asylum seekers who cross the border illegally, and any that have been convicted of a felony or arrested for certain crimes. The plan would also make it so that qualified asylum seekers have to wait longer to even apply for a permit. Currently, any asylum seeker is allowed to apply for a work permit regardless of how they entered.
The Department of Homeland Security also wants asylum seekers to pay an application fee to obtain a worker’s permit, which would make it one of four countries on the planet to do so. The proposals are another tactic to deter asylum seekers from the southern border altogether.
Advocates find the attacks on asylum seekers to be cruel and unlawful.
“Asylum law explicitly permits applications regardless of the manner of entry,” an asylum officer told BuzzFeed News. “To single out those asylum seekers who couldn’t afford a visa and prohibit them from obtaining lawful employment is cruel and has no basis in the law.”
The policy would make receiving a work permit nearly impossible for any migrant who does not enter at the United States port of entry. It would also change the waiting time to apply for a permit from 150 days to 365 days from the day migrants filed their asylum applications.
“Employment authorization ensures asylum-seekers the ability to support themselves while the government processes their claims. It often means access to a temporary driver’s license that has a huge liberating impact in a ton of car-centric places,” said Andrew Free, an immigration attorney. “These changes would leave more asylum-seekers dependent, vulnerable to exploitation, and in the shadows, which is exactly where the regime wants them.”
The new guidelines would broaden the scope of which officials could terminate work authorization for asylum seekers who have unfavorable outcomes in immigration court and from asylum officers. For example, immigration officials could request an asylum application or work permit request if a migrant missed an appointment.
“Make no bones about it, denying asylum seekers the ability to work during the two to three years the asylum process can take—thus forcing them to starve, rely on charity, or work under the table—is arbitrary and capricious,” immigration attorney Eneida M. Román told Common Wealth.
The new policy could affect tens of thousands of people.
According to CBS News, the policy would extend retroactively, which means the government could reject work permit renewals from asylum seekers that are already authorized to live and work in the United States.
“The effects of this would be seriously significant,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told CBS. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of people potentially losing their jobs and hundreds of thousands no longer being eligible for work authorization.”
Some cases can drag on for years, thus a work permit is of the utmost importance for migrants living here while they are being processed. According to Common Wealth Magazine, on average it takes two to three years for asylum to be granted.
“Because of the long delays in asylum processing, this rule means that some individuals would have to wait five or six years without being legally allowed to work,” Reichlin-Melnick said.
According to BuzzFeed, the White House began aggressively pushing the policy in April. President Trump signed a memo asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to create a proposal for the policy which would then go through a process before being enacted.
The Trump administration claimes asylum seekers are “gaming the system.”
“Let’s not forget: People seeking asylum are legal immigrants,” said Doug Rand, a former immigration official under the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed. “This proposed rule sounds like another rush job calculated to scare vulnerable people in advance of inevitable lawsuits.”
However, Ken Cuccinelli accused many asylum seekers of being frauds.
“Illegal aliens are gaming our asylum system for economic opportunity, which undermines the integrity of our immigration system and delays relief for legitimate asylum-seekers in need of humanitarian protection,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “These proposed reforms are designed to restore integrity to the asylum system and lessen the incentive to file an asylum application for the primary purpose of obtaining work authorization.”
Following publication in the Federal Register, the new policy will have to go through a 30-day review period where the public can provide feedback.
“When we wonder if the administration can go any lower, they prove that there is no bottom to the swamp by proposing a fee for asylum applications,” said Mahsa Khanbabai, the New England chapter head of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“These are people who flee their homes with little but the clothes on their back, often enduring precarious conditions because of the dangerous conditions they face back home.”
While the US Supreme Court’s conservative-majority justices are seemingly ready to allow Trump to rescind Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Justice Sonia Sotomayor clearly stated her opinion that the court’s decision, “is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.” The 2012 policy shields immigrants, who were brought to the United States as children without documentation, from deportation and allows them to work for up to two years at a time. Research shows that DACA has reduced the number of undocumented immigrants living in poverty, and has improved mental health status for DACA participants and their children. The Trump administration rescinded DACA protections for nearly 700,000 recipients in 2017.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to end DACA and is expected to deliver a decision by Spring 2020.
Two memos lie at the heart of the decision.
The first memo was begrudgingly given by then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine C. Duke. Duke’s volunteer history included offering legal aid to immigrants. During a White House meeting with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she was pressured to issue a memo that would end DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Duke that DACA was illegal, on the grounds of it exceeding presidential power. Duke issued a bare-bones memo that offered no policy reason for the end of DACA, except that it was unlawful. She later resigned.
Her replacement, Kirstjen Nielsen, retroactively justified the decision with a second memo, which included a new reason to end DACA: to project a message of consistency of enforcement of all immigration laws.
Now, US solicitor general Noel Francisco is arguing that Obama’s decision to introduce DACA exceeded presidential power.
“Basic administrative law is you look at what’s first given to you,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Francisco, not “what you add later.” Still, she said that even if “you ignore that and even look at the Nielsen memo, I think my colleagues have rightly pointed there’s a whole lot of reliance interests that weren’t looked at.” What’s crucial to this decision, according to Sotomayor, is that President Trump had told “DACA-eligible people that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here. And so he hasn’t and, instead, he’s done this.”
In 2017, Trump tweeted, in reference to DACA recipients, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”
Trump tweeted Tuesday that DACA recipients are “far from angels.”
“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,'” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!”
A major requirement for DACA recipients is that they have no criminal record. “Trump is fear-mongering and falsely accusing people of color,” Dr. Eugene Gu tweeted. “Many DACA recipients are doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, teachers, and integral members of society. Many have never set foot in their original countries for their whole lives and speak mainly English. Threatening to deport them through racist fear-mongering is evil.”
The events leading up to the memo led Sotomayor to believe “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”
Trump’s promise to protect DACA recipients during his campaign and his about-face is “something to be considered before you rescind a policy. Not just say I’ll give you six months to do it – to destroy your lives.” At the end of the day, Sotomayor is pointing out that Francisco’s argument is not evident in the memos. “Where is all of this in the memo? Where is all of this really considered and weighed? And where is the political decision made clearly,” she asked. Sotomayor concluded, “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”
Sotomayor also argued that DACA simply allows law enforcement agencies to prioritize its use of its limited resources.
“I have always had some difficulty in understanding the illegality of DACA,” Sotomayor offered her opinion. “We all know [ICE] has limited resources. It can’t, even when it wants to remove the vast majority of aliens we have here. And so I’ve always had some difficulty in understanding what’s wrong with an agency saying, we’re going to prioritize our removals, and for those people, like the DACA people who haven’t committed crimes, who are lawfully employed, who are paying taxes, who pose no threat to our security, and there’s a whole list of prerequisites, we’re not going to exercise our limited resources to try to get rid of those people. I — I still have an impossible time.”
Oh, and Sotomayor was interrupted numerous times by Francisco and her male peers.
A 2017 Northwestern Pritzker School of Law study found that male justices interrupt female justices three times as often as each other during oral arguments. The study also found that conservative justices were twice as likely to interrupt liberal justices than liberal justices were to interrupt their conservative peers. According to Supreme Court transcripts, Justice Sotomayor was interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch. The two both awkwardly apologized to each other when Sotomayor graciously told Gorsuch, “No, no, continue.”
When Justice Sotomayor was in the middle of her arguments, General Francisco interrupted her, saying, “So I guess I have three responses, Your Honor.” Sotomayor bluntly said, “All right. But let me just finish my question.” Francisco casually said, “Oh, sure,” to which Sotomayor incredulously asked, “Okay?” “Yeah,” Francisco responded to the Justice.
A decision is expected to be made public by Spring 2020.