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.

Podcast: Wall, slats, barrier at the border

Mexico mapPresident Trump took his campaign for a wall to the US-Mexico border this week, hoping to drum up support for a $5.7 billion barrier while some federal workers struggle to survive without pay because of the government shutdown. Earlier, the president denied that he ever said Mexico would “write a check” to pay for the wall, which was a cornerstone of his campaign. Trump has also said the barrier could be built out of steel slats instead of concrete. In this podcast, Tamara Keith of NPR examines the history of Trump’s wall and how his statements sometimes contradict each other.

How Trump’s national security threat to build wall would face legal challenges

President Donald TrumpPresident Trump says he’s considering inflating what he claims is a crisis into a national emergency so he can find a way to build a wall at the US-Mexico border that Congress has so far refused to fund. The federal government remains in a partial shutdown over the $5 billion the Trump administration is holding out for to fund construction of the wall. Reuters has more on the twin legal challenges the Trump administration is likely to face if it decides to declare the situation a national emergency to circumvent congressional funding.

Video: Fact-checking Trump’s latest border claims

President Donald TrumpPresident Trump continues to keep parts of the federal government shut down over his demands for $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall along the Mexican border. CNN’s Dana Bash and Abby Phillip fact check Trump’s latest claims about the wall that he once claimed Mexico would pay for.

Video: A visitor’s guide to the border wall

Mexico mapWhile President Trump and Congress continue to wrestle over the $5 billion the administration wants to build a wall along the Mexican border, filmmaker David Freid noticed something was missing: no one was talking to the people who actually live there. So, Freid went to Big Bend National Park, which contains 13 percent of the US-Mexico border. Once there, he talked to Mike Davidson, the captain of the only international ferry operating on the Rio Grande river. According to The Atlantic: 

Freid’s short documentary Ferryman at the Wall is the story of two countries that, for the most part, peacefully coexist where it matters most: at the dividing line. “When there’s a fire in Big Bend National Park, residents from Boquillas, Mexico, come up to help fight it,” Freid said. Davidson, an American, has homes in both Texas and Mexico; he speaks Spanish and English fluently. Freid found that this cultural melding was commonplace in the towns adjacent to Big Bend.

“There isn’t just a straight line where one country ends and the other begins,” Freid said. “People’s family and friends extend in both directions. The land on either side of the Rio Grande is identical, and the people are close to identical as well. The two countries bleed into each other.”

Thanks to The Atlantic for making this video available.

Asylum claims jump nearly 70% in 2018

migrant familiesDespite the Trump administration’s tougher immigration policies, the Department of Homeland Security says the number of migrants seeking asylum in the US along the border with Mexico went up nearly 70% from 2017 to 2018, according to CNN. You may recall that President Trump signed a proclamation in November preventing migrants who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says the dramatic increase in asylum-seekers is “straining border security.” He also says Congress needs to “Address these vulnerabilities in our immigration system which continue to negatively impact border security efforts.”

Appeals court upholds DACA

A federal appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling preventing President Trump from ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by President Obama. DACA protects young undocumented immigrants born in the United States from being deported. The ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals means the DACA program can stay in place for now. The Trump administration has already asked the Supreme Court to review the injunction, according to CNN. 

You can read the 9th Circuit’s ruling here. 

Migrant mothers describe being separated from their children by the US government

immigrant child in custodyMost of us can only imagine the pain, terror and uncertainty caused when immigrant mothers seeking asylum in the United States are forcibly separated from their children. CNN has details in letters from some of the mothers who have since been reunited with their children, but who say their nightmare is not over.

“My children were far from me and I didn’t know if they were okay, if they were eating or sleeping. I have suffered a lot,” wrote a mother identified as Elena. “ICE harmed us a lot psychologically. We can’t sleep well because my little girl thinks they are going to separate us again. … I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone.”

The comments come from letters written by parents being held at the Dilley detention center in Texas. The Immigration Justice Campaign provided the letters to CNN as part of their pro bono project to give legal help to migrant families being held in custody.

Number of migrant children held by government reaches new high

immigrant child in custodyDespite a court order instructing the Trump administration to reunite migrant families who were forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border, The New York Times reports that the number of children still in custody has reached a record high level. The Times reports that there are currently 12,800 migrant children in federally-contracted shelters this month, five times as many since last summer, when 2,400 children were being held. Most of the children did not have their parents with them when they crossed the border. The information was shared with members of Congress, who in turn shared it with the Times. 

Video: Traumatized children at the border

migrant familiesIn June, a Honduran woman seeking asylum in the US and her five-year-old son were forcibly separated at the Mexican border. A pro bono lawyer, Jodi Goodwin, helped reunite them after they spent a month apart. The Atlantic has produced a documentary called The Separated that shows the chaos and trauma caused by migrant families being torn apart.