Lawsuit Demands Government to Disclose Information About Unjust Deportations

ICE agents immigrationThe 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.

American Immigration Council Condemns Administration’s Proposal to Indefinitely Detain Children

immigrant child in custodySeptember 6, 2018

Washington, D.C.— Today, the Trump administration proposed new regulations that could lead to the indefinite detention—and needless suffering—of asylum-seeking children. The new guidelines are related to the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which concerns the care and custody of immigrant children. Although these proposed regulations are supposed to ensure the appropriate treatment of children, instead, they would weaken protections for children and place them at greater risk of trauma and mistreatment.

The following statement is from Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council:

“Under the Flores settlement, all children must be treated with ‘dignity, respect, and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors,’ but these new regulations would do the opposite. The federal government’s proposal would expand family detention, lock up parents and children indefinitely, and hold them in unsafe conditions. From our hands-on work providing legal services to detained families through the Dilley Pro Bono Project, we have seen the indecency and serious harm caused by detaining children. And we know, after witnessing the trauma-inducing practice of family separation, child welfare has never been a priority for this administration. This proposal is further evidence of that fact.”

“The manner in which this administration treats migrant children shocks the conscience. Harsh treatment of children must never be the solution. There are viable alternatives to detention that are more humane, less costly, and just as effective at ensuring people comply with their obligations as they face removal proceedings.”

Judge Rules USCIS Must Adjudicate Employment Authorization for Asylum Seekers Within 30 Days

A judge has ordered that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must adjudicate work authorization applications for asylum seekers within the prescribed 30-day deadline.

In Rosario v. USCIS, a federal district court judge in Seattle found USCIS’s delay unreasonable and ordered the agency to adjudicate asylum seekers’ initial employment authorization applications within 30 days of filing.

Asylum seekers must wait 150 days after filing their asylum applications to be eligible to apply for work authorization. Then, USCIS must act on their applications for work authorization within 30 days after applying. USCIS has regularly failed to adhere to this deadline, often delaying adjudication of applications for months at a time. This delay can cause severe hardship for asylum seekers, many of whom are left in precarious situations with no ability to legally work while their applications are pending.

“This decision helps many vulnerable asylum seekers and gives them the opportunity to work and support themselves and their families while their asylum applications are pending,” said Trina Realmuto, directing attorney at the American Immigration Council.

“Asylum-seekers already face so many difficulties in getting their cases heard. When a decision on their case is delayed, it negatively impacts their ability to support family and build a life here in the United States,” said Chris Strawn, staff attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

“We are hopeful that this decision will enable class members to promptly receive the work authorization documents to which they are entitled under law,” stated Devin T. Theriot-Orr, principal attorney at Sunbird Law, PLLC.

Members of the class are represented by the American Immigration Council, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Sunbird Law, PLLC, and Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale, LLP.  The named plaintiffs also are represented by Scott D. Pollock & Associates, PC, and Gibbs Houston Pauw.

The judgment can be found here. The court’s decision is not yet publicly available.

American Immigration Council’s Statement on the Trump Administration’s Failure to Reunite Separated Families

migrant familiesThe Trump administration will miss the court deadline to reunite the nearly 3,000 children separated from their parents under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. The government’s failure to meet the deadline leaves hundreds of children separated from their parents, including 463 parents who have already been deported.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an attorney at the American Immigration Council, led a team that interviewed over 90 parents detained in the El Paso, Texas area and learned firsthand how many felt pressured into relinquishing their rights or were unaware that they had done so. His account is captured in a declaration filed in the ongoing family separation litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The following is a statement from Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council.

“The government’s failure to comply with the court order to reunify the thousands of separated children and parents confirms the administration’s utter disregard for the humane and fair treatment of families coming to our country in search of protection. We have grave concerns about the large number of parents who have been coerced into signing papers ensuring their deportation. Many signed these papers without knowing what their options were and without first consulting an immigration attorney.

“No one should be forced to make decisions about their deportation or potential indefinite separation from their children under these circumstances. The U.S. government must ensure that no asylum seeker is pressured to waive their rights and prevented from having a fair day in court.”

American Immigration Council demands Trump family separation policies

ICE agents immigrationThe Trump administration’s plans around family separation and reunification of separated family members have been hidden from the public and Freedom of Information Act requests for information about their policies and procedures have gone unanswered. In response, the American Immigration Council filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a coalition of immigration groups demanding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release policies, guidance, and data regarding the practice of family separation.

The lawsuit, filed by the Council and international law firm WilmerHale in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asks the court to compel the agencies to produce documents in response to FOIA requests submitted in April. The requests, filed by the Council, in collaboration with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Women’s Refugee Commission, and WilmerHale asked for information including but not limited to:

1. Records related to any past, current, or planned policy, guidance, or recommendations regarding the separation of families who arrive at the border, including ports of entry.

2. Systems for tracking children and adult family members who are separated.

3. Policies and protocols related to efforts to reunite separated family members.

4. Training of ICE and CBP officers regarding screening of adult family members for referral for criminal prosecution for immigration violations.

5. Training regarding treatment of family members and minor children in ICE or CBP custody who have been separated.

6. Practices and protocols for coordinating communication (telephonic, video, or in-person) between a detained adult family member and a related minor child, following separation.

7. Coordination among CBP, ICE, DHS, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice regarding the processing and handling of the separation of adult family members from related minor children.

8. Practices or protocols for verifying a family relationship prior to or after separation.

9. Data regarding the number of minor children separated from adult family members; the number of referrals of adult family members for criminal prosecution where families were separated; the number of referrals for credible fear interviews after separation; and the number of children and parents who departed the United States after separation.

10. Complaints received by the agencies regarding the separation of families.

“The government has taken thousands of immigrant children—including infants—from their parents yet there is no known system for how this vulnerable population is being managed and when the parents can expect to be reunited with their children—if ever,” said Emily Creighton, the Council’s deputy legal director. “This lawsuit intends to uncover documents supporting the policies that the government would rather remain hidden from view. Among them are justifications for family separation, communication among agencies detailing coordinated efforts to separate families, and comprehensive data showing the systemic implementation of family separation and removal.”

American Immigration Council’s Statement on Trump’s Executive Order on Family Separation

Mexico mapPresident Donald Trump signed an executive order today to try to stem criticism of his family separation policy. He has offered an unacceptable alternative: imprisoning mothers and fathers with their children. The president is also asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request that a court modify and effectively dismantle the Flores settlement. That settlement protects children held by the government and sets forth standards of care.

The following is a statement from Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council:

“Today’s executive order does nothing to change the fact that the Trump administration is attacking families and criminalizing asylum seekers. The zero-tolerance policy is cruel and unnecessary. We should not have to choose between separating parents from their children and expanding the shameful practice of imprisoning families. Our experience defending families in detention, first in Artesia, New Mexico and now in Dilley, Texas, has taught us that family detention is never humane.”

The criminalization of immigration in the United States

Studies over the past century have examined the issue of crimes being committed by immigrants, and they have confirmed two truths: immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than natural-born Americans; and high rates of immigration are associated with lower crime rates. Walter Ewing, Ph.D., Daniel E. Martínez, Ph.D. and Rubén G. Rumbaut, Ph.D. have researched the issue, and have a report on their studies at the American Immigration Council’s website. A PDF of the report is available for download here.