A new film called The Infiltrators tells the story of two activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance who went undercover to infiltrate an Immigration and Customs Authority facility in Florida. The undocumented activists pretended to be newly-arrived in the country who spoke little English. In this Politics and More podcast from The New Yorker, Dorothy Wickenden has more on the new quasi-documentary and how it affected one of the two protagonists.
CNN reports that some Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in a five-state region have been using warrants that haven’t been reviewed by authorized supervisors. The news came out after a fired ICE officer challenged his termination and presented proof that he wasn’t the only one who had been breaking the rules. CNN reviewed internal emails and other ICE documents that showed it happened a lot on evenings and weekends. Some ICE supervisors even gave officers blank pre-signed warrants. According to CNN:
Legally, the signature on a warrant attests that an authorized supervisor reviewed it and determined that there was probable cause to believe the person named was deportable. The Immigration and Naturalization Act doesn’t offer the option of letting unauthorized officers sign for supervisors.
Lawyers and advocates for migrants say this opens the door to challenging arrests that were made with the improperly signed warrants.
How one migrant family got caught between smugglers, the cartel and Trump’s zero-tolerance policy
“How one migrant family got caught between smugglers, the cartel and Trump’s zero-tolerance policy” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a collaboration between TIME and The Texas Tribune to track the family separation crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. To watch a documentary about Carlos and Heyli’s journey through the migrant-smuggling industry, go to time.com/borderhustle or watch it here.
Carlos had been thinking about migrating to the U.S. since he was a kid.
In San Francisco de la Paz, a valley outpost ringed by lush hills in the lawless “Wild East” of Honduras, about the only business that’s booming is home construction — fueled by American dollars sent home each month from migrants living in the U.S. Remittances from former villagers helped Carlos scratch out a living, but with every dab of mortar he splashed on vacant homes, he longed to join their owners.
Making $13 a day as a construction worker, he could barely afford to take care of his wife and daughter, let alone help his parents buy medicine for a range of ailments including diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disease. Plus, the street violence that has ravaged Honduras hit too close to home a few years ago, when a cousin was murdered by suspected drug traffickers.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/TIME
So last year, Carlos, 25, did what most Hondurans do when it’s time to get out: He approached one of the three local smugglers who operate in rural San Francisco de la Paz, which has a population of about 20,000. The smuggler gave him a price: $7,000 to cross the Rio Grande and seek asylum — but only if he took his little girl and they surrendered to the U.S. Border Patrol on the other side. Otherwise it would cost $10,000 to traverse Mexico and then evade a gantlet of law enforcement at the border and the interior checkpoints beyond.
Carlos’ wife, Claudia, pushed back. She feared sending their only daughter, Heyli, who was 6 at the time, on a nearly 1,700-mile journey in uncertain conditions. She’d heard grisly stories of migrants suffocating in 18-wheelers or getting assaulted on the long trek through Mexico. Why couldn’t Carlos go by himself? “I told [the smuggler] many times, ‘Better alone,’” Claudia recalls. “But he said, ‘No, it will be easier, better with the girl.’” And cheaper.
The decision was wrenching. Leaving would break up their tiny family and require them to go deep into debt. But Carlos and Claudia always dreamed of an easier life for Heyli, away from the grinding poverty of Honduras. So the deal was struck.
Thousands of Central Americans are making the same calculation every month. Despite the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy designed to deter illegal border crossing, the apprehension of “family units” on the U.S.-Mexico border has skyrocketed to record levels in recent months, according to the Border Patrol. In the past five months, Border Patrol agents were apprehending family units at a rate 338 percent higher than in the same period a year earlier.
Unlike the attention-grabbing caravans that have been making their way to Tijuana, the movements of migrants who hire smugglers — and most migrants do — are not tracked by media outlets or in President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Like Carlos and Heyli, they slip through Mexico with smugglers, known as coyotes, who bribe cartels and corrupt cops and immigration agents along the way. (Carlos is a pseudonym; the rest of his family members are referred to in this story by their real first names.)
The money that desperate people are willing to scrape together to come to the U.S. has turned humans into cash cows. According to a 2018 U.N. report, the migrant-smuggling industry was worth $5.7 billion to $7 billion worldwide in 2016. Since the U.S. remains the top destination for migrants, the North American market is the crown jewel of the global smuggling trade.
It’s a system that runs on people like Carlos and his family, who are willing to carve up their meager assets to pay off a sophisticated network of smugglers, cartels, stash houses, drivers and lookouts. “It’s like a cake,” a coyote who goes by the nickname Sultan said in an interview. “Everyone gets their little piece.”
In gang-infested Honduras, Sultan’s piece of the cake is big money. He estimates he makes $700 to $800 a head on his clients, which can add up to around $3,000 every two weeks — a small fortune in Central America.
Sultan, whose prices vary slightly from other smugglers’, offers his clients three package deals. There’s a $10,000 VIP plan, for a single adult to be driven all the way to Houston. There’s a $7,500 deal for single adults to be delivered to the border, from which they make their own way by foot around a checkpoint 80 miles north of it before getting picked back up. Finally, there’s the popular bargain-basement deal: for $6,000, Sultan will arrange to deposit a parent and child on the U.S. side of a South Texas riverbank, at which point they are left to turn themselves in to U.S. border officials and claim asylum. (Carlos and Heyli, who paid a different smuggler, were charged a higher rate for the same arrangement.) It is the cheapest option because it frees coyotes of the cost and hassle of delivering their clients to the U.S. interior, explains Sultan. He also recommends that adults bring a child because when they do so, they are typically released by immigration authorities to await a court date. Single adults, by contrast, are usually sent to detention centers.
Although taking Heyli offered a steep discount, Carlos and Claudia still didn’t have the money to pay off their smuggler, who wanted roughly half his $7,000 fee up front to get the pair to Reynosa, a Mexican city just across the Rio Grande from McAllen. The other half would help pay off the Gulf Cartel, a crime syndicate that charges a “tax” of $1,000 to $1,500 per person to let migrants cross its territory.
The cartel began trafficking booze across the border during Prohibition before switching to narcotics decades ago. More recently, it has increasingly turned to human cargo for a variety of macroeconomic and geopolitical reasons. Marijuana-legalization efforts have driven down prices in the U.S., while periodic crackdowns on border crossings over the past 15 years have driven up the amount the cartel can charge migrants for allowing them safe passage.
Carlos was counting on a network of friends and family from San Francisco de la Paz to help him pull together the money once he got to the border. But that still left him more than $3,000 short of the up-front cost. So Claudia was stunned one Monday last May when Carlos came home early from his construction job, two blocks down their unpaved street, and asked her to start packing a bag for their daughter. “Get Heyli’s things together because we’re leaving tomorrow,” he said.
“How did you get the money?” Claudia asked. He told her the coyote had offered to take them on credit, backed by a relative’s land. Carlos would pay back the money once he started working in the U.S. “We’re leaving at 4 a.m.,” he said.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/TIME
Claudia felt blindsided, overcome by a mixture of fear for her daughter and hope that the journey might bring her a better life. She gathered the items Heyli would need for an international journey — shot records, birth certificate, three days’ worth of clothes — and stuffed them into her purple school backpack. At that point, the family had no idea what to expect. They didn’t know the Trump administration had begun separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. They knew only what they’d learned from the smuggler: The trip would be mejor con la niña. Better and cheaper with the girl.
The night before they left, Heyli was bursting with excitement. Carlos had told her they were going to visit her Aunt Lilian; Heyli didn’t realize she lived thousands of miles away in Southern California. “Mami! I’m leaving, and I’ll be back in two days,” she gushed.
“Yes, my love,” Claudia responded, fighting back tears. “Don’t worry. You’re going to come back.”
On the morning of May 15, Carlos and Heyli began the long journey to America. The first leg was easy. Hondurans can travel freely through neighboring Guatemala, so Carlos and Heyli took public transportation all the way to a tiny Guatemalan village called La Técnica, perched on the Usumacinta River. It sits across from touristy Frontera Corozal, downriver from the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilán, in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
La Técnica is a tiny town with only one visible industry: the movement of people. Up and down its lone commercial strip, merchants hawk everything from fried chicken to phone cards to the roughly 300 migrants who pass through the village each day on their way to the U.S. Every few hours, buses drop off a new load of migrants. “In La Técnica, migration isn’t just a part of the economy,” says Stephanie Leutert, a University of Texas at Austin migration expert who visited the town in October. “Migration is the economy.”
From La Técnica, Carlos and Heyli took a $2 motorboat ride to the Mexican side, where they slipped into a private car waiting for them on the riverbank. The next day, they were in Villahermosa, a hub for Central American migrants heading north. Their smugglers took them to a two-story stash house filled with about two dozen migrants. After three days, the crowd had swelled to more than 100, each assigned to one of the thin white mattresses that covered nearly every inch of floor. The migrants were treated rudely, Carlos remembers, and forbidden to go outside. But they were fed fried eggs and allowed to phone their families back home. Heyli was happy to have plenty of young playmates.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/TIME
After the third day, Carlos and Heyli boarded a tractor trailer that went from stash house to stash house, picking up dozens of other migrants. Thanks to a friendly fellow migrant who’d paid extra to travel in the cab, Carlos and Heyli were allowed to join her in the back seat with a dozen others, behind the driver. There, covered with curtains, they rode 400 miles to Puebla. The rest of the migrants, including children, were stuffed like sardines in the back of the trailer, crouching and kneeling as the truck breezed through law enforcement checkpoints.
As the hours dragged on, Heyli grew tired and began asking for her mom. “It won’t be much longer before we get to your aunt’s house,” Carlos told her. “She has some gifts for you.”
On the next legs of the journey — from Puebla though Mexico City, Monterrey and finally up to the Texas border — Carlos and Heyli took regular buses alongside Mexican travelers. But life was about to become more difficult. Up until then, their trip had been prepaid: the food, the stash houses, the bribes. When they got to Reynosa, everything changed.
Tourists no longer roam the streets of Reynosa, the Mexican border town just south of McAllen. Once known for its boozy nightlife and binational maquiladora industry, the city has seen some of the fiercest cartel shootouts in the country in recent years. But as tourism shriveled, a thriving human-trafficking industry has bloomed.
Just ask 31-year-old Ramon, who has been in the smuggling business here for most of his life. At 17, he started out as a lookout for stash houses, eventually working his way up to coyote. When Ramon began smuggling migrants to the U.S., he paid the Gulf Cartel about $50 a head for his clients to ford the Rio Grande. But over time, heightened U.S. border security measures helped push up the fees. In the early 2000s, migrants paid $1,000 to $3,000 for a coyote’s help crossing the border, according to a 2017 Department of Homeland Security report. Now, smugglers’ fees average double and triple that.
With U.S. marijuana prices down and much of Mexico’s cocaine moving through other routes, Ramon says migrants have become the Gulf Cartel’s main profit center. The cartel tells him whom he can take across and when, and charges him $1,200 per migrant for the privilege of using its territory. “Everything is controlled by the cartel,” Ramon says. “Since drugs aren’t booming, their business now is also people. … It gives them more profit. It’s easy money and fast.”
The cartel assigns each smuggler what’s known as a clave — a password that coyotes then pass on to their customers to prove they have paid for passage. Migrants who can’t furnish a clave in Reynosa, the kidnapping capital of Mexico, are held until they pay ransom or are forced to work for the cartels. Or they simply disappear. “If you don’t pay, they will capture you. They will fuck you up,” says Sultan, the Honduran coyote. “They’ll either kill you or get more money from your family.”
When Carlos and Heyli arrived at a safe house in Reynosa in late May, they found themselves in a tough spot. The friends Carlos was counting on to wire the money hadn’t come through. Panicked, Carlos called his father, José. Carlos told him he needed about $3,000 to pay the cartel. “I told him not to worry, that we would find a way to get the money,” José recalls. “We didn’t sleep a night or two, thinking of how we were going to get it.” Claudia quickly sold a couple of televisions and a phone, and Carlos’ mother sold a television set, too. Then some cousins chipped in. But the family was still about $2,000 short.
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/TIME
So they did what many Central American families have done: They borrowed the money from a loan shark, at 5 percent monthly interest, and put up their house as collateral. It’s the house Carlos’ parents live in, built with remittances from their undocumented daughter, Lilian, who for the past 14 years has been wiring home what she saves each month from fast food jobs in California. Now the one-story cinderblock house was financing a tiny transaction in a vast smuggling ecosystem nourished by the desperation of migrants like her brother. “There was no other choice,” Claudia says, “other than to pawn it.”
In the meantime, Carlos and Heyli waited. Nobody told him where their family’s money was going or who was in charge of the territory they needed to cross. “They only say that the quicker you pay, the quicker you get out of there,” Carlos says.
On May 25, he and Heyli were taken from the safe house in Reynosa to another one near the Rio Grande that was decorated with candlelit altars and statues of a female folk saint popular with gangsters. Tattoos of the saint — a skeletal figure resembling the Grim Reaper, known as St. Death — covered the arms of the men inside. “They apparently worship la Santa Muerte,” Carlos says. “You can tell they’re with the cartel.” Heyli was scared. “This is giving me goosebumps,” she told her father. Carlos comforted her, trying not to let his little girl see the fear in his eyes.
After about 45 minutes, Carlos and Heyli were taken to the river, where they climbed into an inflatable raft with five other migrants and gave the smugglers the cartel’s clave. With the payment confirmed, they pushed off from the Mexican riverbank and paddled toward the U.S. As the raft floated across, the smugglers took a cellphone video of their passage, which was later sent to Carlos’ family in Honduras to show the delivery was complete.
“We could see [Heyli and Carlos] in the raft, and then they crossed and went into what looked like a forest,” Carlos’ father, José, recalls. “I said, ‘Thank God,’ because that was the hardest part.” But within days, Carlos’ family would discover the hardest part was yet to come.
When they set foot in the U.S. at last, Carlos and Heyli did what their smuggler had instructed: They walked down a road near the river, looking for U.S. Border Patrol agents so they could turn themselves in and ask for asylum. When they found the officials, they were taken to a chilly processing facility known as la hielera, the icebox, and fingerprinted.
What happened next was a radical departure from what countless asylum seekers have experienced for decades. On May 29, government agents told Carlos they were taking him to the federal courthouse in McAllen, where he would be charged under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy with the misdemeanor crime of crossing the U.S. border without authorization. The agents told Carlos that Heyli would have to stay at the holding facility while he was at court. But they assured him she would soon be returned to him. As Carlos let Heyli slip from his arms, she began to cry. “Don’t leave me here,” she said, reaching for her dad. “Where are they taking you?”
“Don’t worry,” Carlos told the child. “I’m going to see someone, and then I will be right back.” Agents took Carlos in leg chains to the courthouse, where he remembers pleading guilty in a mass trial with roughly 60 other migrants. He returned to la hielera expecting to find Heyli. But she was gone.
Carlos, now worried, began asking after his daughter, but no one would give him a straight answer. One official told him that the girl couldn’t be with criminals. Another said that Heyli was in different cell. Yet another said she’d been sent to California to stay with his sister Lilian, the aunt Heyli thought she visiting during their journey north.
None of those explanations turned out to be true. Heyli had been sent nearly 1,200 miles away to a shelter for migrant children in Phoenix operated by the nonprofit Southwest Key. Carlos, meanwhile, was shackled and sent to a migrant detention center run by the Management and Training Corp. in Livingston, north of Houston.
For weeks, Carlos and Heyli remained separated, only vaguely aware of the other’s location. Both were inconsolable. And back home in Honduras, Claudia was frantic. In phone calls from the Arizona shelter, Heyli sobbed and begged her mother to come get her. “I never imagined this would happen, Mami,” Heyli told Claudia. “If I had known this would happen, I wouldn’t have come.” Sometimes Heyli would dream that she was back in Honduras with her parents, her mother said, only to wake up in a panic when she realized she was still at the shelter. Meanwhile, several of her bunkmates left for reunions with their own families, prompting Heyli to ask her mom: Why them but not her?
The calls left Claudia desperate and heartbroken. “If I had known that my daughter was going to suffer like this, never in my life would have I have let her leave. Never,” Claudia said in an interview last July. “I regret it 1,000 times over.” Carlos, too, said he would have picked a better moment to leave.
The Trump administration’s policy of incarcerating asylum seekers and separating families may have deterred or delayed some migrants last summer. But the temporary lull in new crossings didn’t last. The forces driving families like Carlos’ north — violence, poverty, hunger, persecution — have persisted, and traffickers have capitalized on the growing demand. While the total number of apprehensions of undocumented border crossers has dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to fewer than 400,000 in 2018, according to federal data, the number of family units attempting the passage has skyrocketed. “We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented influx of family units at our southwest border,” Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost told Congress in late February.
For their part, traffickers on the U.S. side of the border are drawn to the market not only for the profits but also because they face more lenient penalties for smuggling humans than they do for smuggling narcotics. Emilio Trejo Jr., who spent nearly 12 years in federal prison for trafficking cocaine in 2004, is now serving just 30 months for transporting undocumented migrants. He was caught in late 2017 at a Border Patrol checkpoint with 25 people hiding between boxes of produce in the back of his refrigerated tractor-trailer. The going rate for hauling migrants on the U.S. side: $2,000 a head, Trejo told the Texas Tribune from the Coastal Bend detention center outside Corpus Christi. In fiscal year 2018, the number of migrants caught in the back of tractor-trailers in the busy Rio Grande Valley Sector rose 39 percent. “Right now,” Trejo says, “the money’s in the people.”
Carlos and Heyli were separated for nearly two months. In late June, their case generated national attention when Carlos told The Texas Tribune that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had promised to reunite them if he agreed to voluntary deportation. Desperate, Carlos signed the papers. But national politics soon overtook the deal.
On June 26, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to reunite most separated migrant families within 30 days. A few days before the deadline, Heyli was moved from Arizona to Port Isabel, and on the evening of July 23, Carlos was led out of his cell and into an adjacent building. There, among a sea of migrant kids, he found his daughter waiting for him. “It was the best moment of my life,” he says. They hugged and cried together. “I don’t ever want this to happen again,” Heyli told her dad. Carlos looked into her eyes.“I told her that it would not,” he says. “That I would always be with her and that I was going to take care of her.”
Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune/TIME
For the past six months, Heyli was enrolled in first grade in a Los Angeles suburb, where she was living with her dad, her Aunt Lilian and two cousins. But the scars of their separation were still evident.
For weeks after she was released from the shelter, Heyli would break down in tears or hide in the corner anytime her dad would leave for work. She still won’t talk about her time in the shelter.
Carlos is also anxious. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about his legal status, said Derek Loh, Carlos’ lawyer. It’s also unclear how Carlos’ family will pay off the $3,000 they owe the coyote and the $2,000 they owe the loan shark while still affording medicine and food. The family is paying roughly $80 a month toward interest on the loan, but if they don’t pay it off by May, they will lose the house. Meanwhile, Claudia worries that Carlos will be ordered deported before he can pay everything off. With debts looming, Carlos and Heyli recently moved to Florida in search of more steady work.
Despite the heartache it caused, both Claudia and Carlos say they believe their decision was the right one. “In a way, I do think the coyote lied because if I had known [about the separation policy], I would have waited a little bit longer to come” with Heyli, Carlos says. “But thank God we are already here, and now we have to forget about the past and start a new life.”
They might soon have company. Carlos’ brother Juan, 27, says nothing that happened to Carlos and Heyli will deter him. When the time is right, he too will pay a smuggler and head for the border.
“Donald Trump’s policies don’t affect the coyote,” Juan says. “As the crisis continues in Honduras — hunger, unemployment and crime — people are going to continue to leave. Immigration will never stop. That is how I see it.”
Shannon Najmabadi contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: This story is not available for republishing by a national news organization until 6 a.m March 8. Texas news organizations may run it at any time. For more information, email email@example.com.
Disclosure: The University of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/03/07/migration-us-border-generating-billions-smugglers/.
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Val Kleyman, Esq., a New York divorce lawyer with the The Kleyman Law Firm and a National Advocates Top 30 Matrimonial and Family Law member, announced today that the number one rule for divorce lawyers is to tell their clients the hard truth about divorce even though it may be difficult for them to hear it and may push them away.
“Having to tell your client that divorce may devastate them emotionally and financially, that their actions hurt their own children, or that they are acting without reason or logic is very difficult for someone to hear,” says Kleyman.
Yet, Kleyman says this necessary dose of harsh reality is absolutely crucial from the very early stages of divorce to help couples understand the potential setbacks and collateral damage a prolonged and acrimonious divorce process can cause them and their loved ones. “We find our clients driven by strong negative feelings of hate, empathy, and selfishness,” Kleyman says, “but letting these powerful emotions take the steering wheel of a divorce will likely lead to a very unfavorable outcome for everyone involved.”
At the same time, while guiding your clients towards a peaceful and cooperative resolution certainly will decrease the amount of time a divorce will take, it will also reduce the billable hours and income a divorce attorney can earn – which explains why some lawyers choose to stoke those emotional fires. Kleyman believes that divorce lawyers must pursue a higher calling and put their clients and their families above the lawyer’s own business interests on every case. In service of this higher calling, The Kleyman Law Firm is actively participating in and supports the Matrimonial Mediation Pilot Program in Brooklyn developed by Judge Jeffrey Sunshine, Supervising Matrimonial Judge for Kings County. This program provides divorcing couples the opportunity to sit at a table with a neutral mediator to try to settle their disputes – a much faster and less costly process than pursuing extensive litigation.
“Telling divorcing clients what they want to hear may benefit you financially as a lawyer. Telling them the truth, however, no matter how difficult it may be, will absolutely benefit them,” says Kleyman, “and that is what we are here to do.”
When a relationship ends, whether it’s a breakup or a divorce, some people can feel overwhelmed by what comes next. A new company called Onward is making life a little easier for those who may not know how to handle the next phase of their lives. It’s like a concierge service for people struggling after a split. Marketwatch has more on Onward, and how newly-single people can hire them to help for as low as $99. It’s currently available only in New York City, but the company says it plans to expand to more major US cities over the next year.
The lives of immigration lawyers aren’t often the subjects of Hollywood movies, but one in particular is being currently featured in theaters. Saint Judy is a movie about crusading immigration lawyer Judy Wood, who has fought for decades to make it easier for migrant women to seek asylum in America. Michelle Monaghan plays Wood in the movie, and she describes Wood as a “force to be reckoned with.” CBS Sunday Morning has more on the 72-year-old lawyer’s lifetime of work and the movie about her life, that was written by one of her former interns. A trailer for the movie is below, and you can watch an interview with Wood and Monaghan at CBS News.
Busy lawyers looking for legal news have a new, free place to turn to get the latest updates, developments and analysis: News.Law. Created and curated by experienced attorney-journalist Larry Bodine, News.Law is a quick, easy way to get the legal news lawyers need now. The website is designed to give attorneys all of the current legal news that matters to them, for free, in one glance.
News.Law also offers the security and reliability of a centralized news source where attorneys can find information either through the website, or from e-newsletters. It’s designed to provide information to busy attorneys who don’t have time to search through several sources of legal news.
The News.Law website is designed to help attorneys find news about specific areas of the law, such as Big Law, Civil Plaintiff, Consumer Law, Criminal Law and Political and Legislative. Unlike other legal news organizations that require users to pay for subscriptions, News.Law is completely free of charge.
News.Law is owned and operated by Legal Brands, Inc., a vertically-focused legal management company that focuses on two areas: consumer legal brands and law firm services brands.
“You’ll see engaging legal news stories first on News.Law, often before other national news outlets find them,” said attorney and journalist Larry Bodine, editor in chief of News.Law. “News.Law provides relief for busy attorneys, so you don’t have to search multiple sources of legal news. And you’ll never hit a paywall.”
The Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies have increased immigrants’ vulnerability to swift deportation, making the ability to access safeguard more important than ever. The Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws, has refused to disclose critical information about how it implements life-saving mechanisms that would allow these individuals to seek reopening or reconsidering of their immigration cases, and prevent the irreparable harms that can result from deportation.
In response, the American Immigration Council and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court to compel the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Department of Justice to release policies, practices, and data that disclose how the BIA interprets mechanisms to reopen or reconsider immigration cases, and legal actions to temporarily prevent deportation of vulnerable individuals.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, challenges the BIA’s failure to disclose information—in response to two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted in July and November 2018— about its policies and practices regarding requests to halt removal while an individual seeks review of an unlawful deportation order. The suit asks the court to produce documents that will provide the public with information on requests to prevent unlawful or unjust deportations, including statistical information on these decisions and guidance on the standards for deciding such requests.
“The BIA’s failure to properly implement these crucial mechanisms for reopening cases and protecting against harm places asylum seekers at risk of serious bodily harm and death,” said Yael Ben Tov, law student intern at the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “In order to prevent more erroneous deportations, it is critical that the BIA produce these documents so that noncitizens may access their statutory and regulatory rights.”
“The motion to reopen and stay processes exist to protect individuals from irreparable harm as a result of erroneous deportations. Yet by operating in secrecy and opacity, the BIA undermines Congress’ intention and allows this exact population along with many others who have valid claims for relief to be deported, without so much as a glance at the merits of their case,” said Claudia Valenzuela, FOIA staff attorney at the American Immigration Council. “We cannot allow the BIA to continue to shield its practices from public scrutiny.”
“Individuals seeking to avail themselves of their statutory rights, especially those that are pro se, need clear guidance from the BIA on how these mechanisms work,” said Geroline Castillo, law student intern at the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Without it, they risk losing their families and communities, even if they have valid claims and can lawfully remain in the United States.”
Since the Trump administration took office in 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up arrests, detention, and quick deportation of people residing in vulnerable immigrant communities. Many targeted individuals have lived in the United States for years with the federal government’s permission.
In many cases, these individuals are now afraid to return to their country of origin because of changed circumstances there and hope to reopen their immigration cases to seek protection from persecution. In other cases, individuals can now show that their underlying deportation order was invalid or that they merit some other form of relief. While immigration law provides mechanisms for reopening and reconsidering cases and preventing the irreparable harms that can result from deportation, current EOIR practices often render these protections ineffective and result in unjust deportation of individuals before their cases are even considered by the immigration courts. Many of these deported noncitizens are forced to live in hiding in fear of their lives and often lose touch with their friends, family, and advocates in the United States.
More than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied migrant minors have been received by the Department of Health and Human Services in the past four years, CNN reports. CNN and Axios say Rep.Ted Deutch (D-FL) released internal HHS documents supporting the claims, along with 1,303 complaints that were reported to the Justice Department. Axios first reported on the agency documents.
“I am deeply concerned with documents that have been turned over by HHS that record a high number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement,” Deutch said. “Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children.”
According to Axios, “Allegations against staff members reported to the DOJ included everything from rumors of relationships with (unaccompanied minors) UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals.”
Stars and social media groups are showing their support for rapper 21 Savage, who was arrested by ICE agents on Sunday. Savage is British, and he overstayed his visa as a youth, USA Today reports. Even feuding rappers Nicki Minaj and Cardi B have united in supporting Savage. Both women came to his defense after conservative activist Tomi Lahren taunted Savage about his arrest.
I got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight ICE agents ready to deport ya. https://t.co/tivP1Ljj8V
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) February 3, 2019
CNN has more on Savage’s arrest and the backlash.