Things That Matter

The Trump Administration Has Made Dozens Of Chilling Changes To Immigration That Haven’t Made The Headlines

QZ has compiled a list of all the ways the Trump administration has quietly and secretly dismantled protections for immigrants. These efforts include revoking citizenship, alleged covert policies, and making it more difficult for poorer migrants and refugees to enter the U.S.

Trump’s anti-immigrant bigotry was always just anti-immigrant bigotry,” Catherine Rampell wrote in the Washington Post. “Trump’s rhetoric may focus on ‘llegals,’ but recent data releases suggest this administration has been blocking off every available avenue for legal immigration, too.”

Denaturalizing citizens.

In one of its most unusually cruel moves, the Trump administration has sought ways to undermine the citizenship of naturalized Americans. The ongoing project since 2017 has wielded little results despite being costly and using questionable methods.

“The Trump Administration has launched a denaturalization operation—a project to strip a large number of Americans of their citizenship. Denaturalization is a drastic measure that should only be taken in the most extreme circumstances. But the administration is dramatically expanding denaturalization, using questionable standards and proceedings,” the ACLU said in a statement.

The efforts required $200 million in funds to investigate naturalized citizens for irregularities. Fewer than 100 citizens were found to have such irregularities between 2017 and 2018.

“In its 2019 budget request, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed its intention to review the files of 700,000 U.S. citizens, putting even more individuals into the denaturalization pipeline,” the ACLU wrote. “Despite the administration’s statements minimizing their denaturalization efforts, their own numbers indicate a dramatic shift from the last several decades—throwing away standards, due process, and fairness, and devaluing the sanctity of American citizenship.”

Credible Fear Interviews

“Credible Fear Interviews” are preliminary interviews to determine if an asylum seeker has a legitimate threat back home. Since July, something strange has happened with these interviews. Before the summer, “experts” who conducted the interviews found that 97 percent of asylum seekers were credible since then only 10 percent have been found credible.

“This administration is trying to end asylum in the United States,” Elora Mukherjee, an attorney who worked on the lawsuit, told the Guardian. “What we’re seeing in the credible fear process is one part of a systemic effort by this administration to end asylum.”

QZ found three factors contributed to this massive drop: the Migrant Protocols Protection requires asylum seekers to apply in any country they pass through to get to the United States, credible fear interviews are being conducted by Border Patrol officers instead of asylum specialists, and according to a September lawsuit the administration is not publishing these new policies.

“This seems to be based on secret policies and procedures that have not been made public by the administration,” said Mukherjee. 

Because the Trump administration is not transparent about their new regulations, if they have modified the credible fear policies in any way, according to the lawsuit, the Trump administration would have circumvented Congress illegally. 

Attorneys believe Donald Trump’s administration made secret changes to the credible fear process at the same time it announced it would force people to seek asylum outside the US before they can seek it at the southern border,” according to the Guardian

Social media tracking of migrants.

In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security implemented a policy that required migrants list their social media handles on forms. The intention is to monitor the applicant’s activity, any of which can be interpreted to deny the migrant legal entry to the U.S.

Even after a migrant becomes naturalized, the social media records are kept. According to QZ, “That detail is worrisome in light of the administration’s push to denaturalize citizens, which includes investigating old records in search of inconsistencies on applications the government could interpret as fraud.”

Denying Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

The Trump administration has attempted to revoke TPS from countries like the Sudan, Nicaragua, Nepal, Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador and has only been thwarted by various court rulings. Most notably, this September TPS was not granted to the Bahamian victims of hurricane Dorian.

The public charge rule.

The new October rule was designated to hurt the poorest migrants the most. If a migrant will require financial assistance or public services from the government for 12 months out of 36, they can be denied legal entry. The system is particularly cruel, if two different benefits are used in the same month that counts as two months of benefits rather than one. This means migrants would have to prove they won’t use Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps or housing support.

Domestic violence no longer qualifies for asylum.

Despite international asylum law, migrants fleeing domestic violence, largely women and LGBTQ people, no longer qualify as refugees. Attorney general Jeff Sessions claimed it wasn’t the United States’ job to provide refuge for those whose countries didn’t protect them — a so-called point that literally contradicts the entire purpose of a refugee program in the first place.

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A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Things That Matter

A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Sharon Shischilly / Getty Images

Indigenous communities in the Unites States have often been forgotten or deliberately excluded from federal policy. Many nations have been forced to go it alone and, as Covid-19 ravages Native lands, many tribe members have died.

After more than two centuries of exclusion, amid a global epidemic, Indigenous communities are once again being excluded from the decision-making process in Washington even as Covid-19 devastates their communities.

But while Indigenous peoples haven’t always had success before the courts, there has been real momentum of late. In July, the Supreme Court recognized roughly half of Oklahoma as Indigenous land, in a ruling that will have far-reaching consequences in the state justice system and beyond.

Now, Native Americans are having to fight once again for what they’re owed as the federal government distributes the more than $150 billion in stimulus money. More than a dozen Indigenous organizations warned, starting in early April, that if the Trump administration did not listen to tribal governments, they ran the risk of turning the relief package into a “grave injustice.”

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to give Native tribes their withheld stimulus money.

Credit: Sam Wasson / Getty Images

Frustrated and disgusted that it has taken so long for the Treasury Department to distribute federal stimulus funds to Native American tribes, a federal judge ordered Secretary Steve Mnuchin to distribute the money immediately, according to HuffPost. The judge said that tribes should have received their portion of the CARES Act months ago when other Americans received theirs.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin’s decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding, as The Hill reported.

In his ruling, Mehta said “Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable.”

Over the past three months, the Treasury Department has managed to send out billions of dollars in loans to small businesses, checks to families and aid to corporations. But distributing the $8 billion pot set aside for tribal governments has proved more difficult. As a result, tribes, already critically underfunded and among the nation’s most vulnerable communities, have not received all the money they need to weather the pandemic and begin recovering from the economic toll.

“Congress made a policy judgment that tribal governments are in dire need of emergency relief to aid in their public health efforts and imposed an incredibly short time limit to distribute those dollars,” he wrote in an order released late Monday night. “The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough.”

Some tribes were owed $12 million in federal funding and yet got nothing from the government.

Credit: Mark Ralson / Getty Images

Much of the fault is with the Treasury Department which counted the populations of Native tribes differently that Congress had intended. This meant that some tribes would end up with zero funding while some for-profit tribal companies could end up with millions.

Since some tribes do not have a designated reservation or service area, their population counts were listed as zero and they received only the minimum $100,000 allocation.

“We are not races — we are sovereign nations,” said Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. He added “How can a tribe have zero people?” noting that more than 3,000 people belong to his tribe. “It was a simple clerical error, but no one at Treasury tried to fix it.”

The oversight was even more egregious, Barnes said, because there is also a census count that, while not completely accurate, would have ensured the tribe got closer to the $12 million it believes it is entitled to based on enrollment numbers.

As the legal wrangling continues, the picture on the ground is disastrous.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) reports there have been nearly 33,000 COVID-19 cases reported to IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health organizations. In May, the outbreak in the Navajo Nation surpassed New York as the highest infection rate in the country—today, its infection rate is double any state. Today, the nation has more cases, in terms of raw numbers, than several states.

And while the funding threats and lack of resources threaten everyone, Indigenous elders—sometimes the only remaining speakers of nearly lost languages—face particular danger.

In recent years, there have been furious efforts to collect Indigenous histories and preserve nearly lost Indigenous languages. COVID-19 threatens to undo much of that work as it cuts through the elderly population.

“COVID-19, like many diseases, renders Indigenous elders—our knowledge-keepers and language holders—particularly susceptible to illness and death,” wrote Gina Starblanket and Dallas Hunt, two Indigenous professors and writers in the Globe and Mail in late March. “This virus not only places us at risk, but the future well-being of coming generations as well

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In its continuing campaign against immigrants and refugees, the Trump administration has increased the costs of immigration proceedings – in some instances by more than 80%. These new fees could make the cost of seeking asylum protection in the U.S. or becoming a citizen out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes.

The Trump administration announced major changes to the fees charged for immigration proceedings.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would dramatically increase the fees for U.S. immigration services on everything from refugee asylum requests to naturalization services. The new fee structure, released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is expected to take effect on October 2.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes. It will also have an outsized impact on business that hire foreign workers.

The agency, which has closed offices and suspended most services during the pandemic, has said it faces a significant revenue shortfall that could trigger furloughs. Earlier this year, the agency requested $1.2 billion in emergency funds from Congress.

The U.S. will now be one of just a few countries that actually charge refugees to file asylum requests.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

With the new fee charged to refugees and asylum seekers, the U.S. will become one of just four countries that actually charge for this application. The new fee for asylum is a blatant attack on the most vulnerable among us and is another way for the administration to target and restrict protections for those fleeing their home countries.

The $50 application fee for asylum applications now puts the U.S. in the same ranks as Iran, Fiji, and Australia. The new rule would also raise the cost for an asylum applicant to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) from the current zero to $490, one of many policy changes to discourage potential asylum applicants. DHS commented, “DHS does not believe that the EAD fee is unduly burdensome for asylum seekers.”

However, one asylum officer who spoke with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the fee was discouraging.

“The larger problem is that humanitarian applications by their nature should be free,” the officer said. “The idea of charging people who are fleeing — and not helping if they don’t pay up — is disgusting.”

Another asylum officer said it will cost the agency more to collect the fee than $50, “which doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application.”

Other fees – from green card replacements to citizenship applications – will also be going up.

The new fee changes impact several categories of services offered by USCIS that will impact our community. Two of the most common types of visas issued by the agency (L and H-1B visas) will increase by 75% and 21% respectively.

The L visa – which is used for short term work in the U.S. – will increase from $460 to $805. The fee for an H-1B petition (which is used by employers to hire highly-skilled workers) will rise from $460 to $555.

For season workers in the U.S., of which there are hundreds of thousands, their fees will also increase by almost 50%. The current fee for these visas is $460 but the H-2A (season agricultural) will rise to $850 and the H-2B (seasonal non-agricultural) will rise to $715.

USCIS would increase the cost of the application (N-400) to become a U.S. citizen by more than 80%, rising from $640 to $1,160 (for online filings, although a separate $85 biometrics fee would be eliminated). 

The new increased fees come as the agency faces a financial crisis that many say are of its own making.

Many are concerned about the timing of these fee increases because USCIS is in the midst of historic mismanagement, that has face the agency from a substantial surplus to a deficit so severe USCIS has requested a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, held a July 29, 2020, oversight hearing that helped explain how the Trump administration caused the financial problems at USCIS through its policy choices on immigration.

“Under the Trump Administration, USCIS has issued a flurry of policies that make its case adjudications more complicated, which reduces the agency’s efficiency and requires more staff to complete fewer cases,” testified Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. “There are dozens if not hundreds of such policies.” 

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