Newspaper Deep-Dives  Into Asylum-Seeker Jailings

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee through the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, where around 2,000 detainees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement await hearings on their immigration status. John Moore/Getty Images

A guard escorts an immigrant detainee through the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, where around 2,000 detainees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement await hearings on their immigration status.
John Moore/Getty Images

The Colorado-based High Country News has published a deep-dive into how some asylum seekers looking for refuge in the United States are ending up being held in jail for longer times than might be necessary, and hinting that there might be financial incentives to do so. Shadowing once such seeker, the HCN says that “…he, like many of the other asylum-seekers held in the detention center, had passed a ‘credible fear’ interview and had no criminal record. Back in Ghana, [he]  had always imagined America as a country of freedom; a country where basic human rights were protected. Why keep us locked up? he thought. If you don’t want ustell us to go back.”
The HCN backgrounds that “… under government policies, asylum seekers who pass their “credible fear” interview should be released from detention if their “identity is sufficiently established, the person poses neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and no additional factors weigh against release.”
But the HCN report details an array of incentives, including financial motives both public and private, for keeping people in jail longer. For example, the paper says, “… in 2012, 80 percent of asylum seekers who passed their credible fear interview were granted parole. By 2015, the number had dropped to 47 percent. The sharp drop coincided with an influx of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, many of them asylum-seekers. On June 20, 2014, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced a plan to significantly expand detention capacity to detain and quickly deport Central Americans, in an attempt to ‘send a message’ to those seeking asylum or attempting to cross the border illegally.

The Los Angeles Times has a good deep-dive report into the Trump administration’s “expedited deportation” policy

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. (Jose Mendez / European Pressphoto Agency)

Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly. (Jose Mendez / European Pressphoto Agency)

The Los Angeles Times has a good deep-dive report into the Trump administration’s “expedited deportation” policy, noting that legal challenges are being planned. The report notes that “… [the] administration’s efforts to step up immigration enforcement and streamline deportation — outlined in memos from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly — could affect far more people, including potentially most of the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.”
And it adds that “… one part of that effort — the expanded use of what the law refers to as expedited removal — is almost certain to face a constitutional challenge in the courts.”
The Times backgrounds that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly said that immigrants, even those who are here illegally, are protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law. The justices cite the 5th Amendment, which says, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Because the language refers to “no person,” not to “no citizen,” its protections cover “even one whose presence in this country is unlawful, involuntary or transitory,” the court said unanimously in 1976.
But how much process is due for immigrants who entered illegally or overstayed their visas remains “a gray area,” said UCLA law professor Hiroshi Motomura.
Read the very fine not-fake-news report here:
Trump’s fast-track deportations face a legal hurdle: Do unauthorized immigrants have a right to a hearing before a judge?

Obama Said To Be Planning Big Immigration Move

While early reports do not focus on the more than 300,000 recent Central American “border kids” awaiting deportation hearings, it does seem President Obama is making good on his immigration policy promises. The New York Times reports that “… part of Mr. Obama’s plan alone could affect as many as 3.3 million people who have been living in the United States illegally for at least five years, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration research organization in Washington. But the White House is also considering a stricter policy that would limit the benefits to people who have lived in the country for at least 10 years, or about 2.5 million people.”
The NYT added that “… extending protections to more undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, and to their parents, could affect an additional one million or more if they are included in the final plan that the president announces.” Immigration cases, thought by many to be criminal cases, are actually civil actions. For example, immigration “judges” are actually employees of the Justice Department.
But officials also said, according to the Times, that patrol agents and judges at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement and judicial agencies, “will make clear that deportations should still proceed for convicted criminals, foreigners who pose national security risks and recent border crossers.”

Feds Demanding Interpreters In Civil Cases

In a situation sure to echo nationally, California is scrambling to “voluntarily” remedy a civil rights violation for not providing interpreters in certain civil cases, The Los Angeles Times reports. The Times notes that “… unlike those charged with a crime, people in civil court do not have the constitutional right to an interpreter. For many of California’s nearly 7 million limited-English proficient speakers — about one-third of whom live in Los Angeles County — that makes the system practically impenetrable… the problem led the U.S. Department of Justice last year to conclude that L.A. County and the state’s Judicial Council were violating the Civil Rights Act.
The Times explained that the investigation “was prompted by a complaint filed by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of two low-income clients. One had been sexually assaulted and sought a restraining order against her attacker; the other had filed for custody and child support for her son. Both were denied Korean interpreters. Federal authorities have given California the chance to voluntarily improve services. But failure to make the court system accessible to all could result in federal intervention.”
The Times story comes in a context of diminished civil court services and delays in family court, among other challenges. Top court officials have said mere access to courts become a civil rights issue.

ICE Holds Down Under ‘Trust Act’ Policy

Some new numbers are confirming that law enforcement officials are holding fewer immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. The change comes under policies of the Trust Act that went into place earlier this year and follow court decisions on the “holds.” The Associated Press reports that “… immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.”
The AP story explains that “… the Trust Act limits the ability of local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants longer than their scheduled release date to give ICE time to take them into custody.” Immigration issues are nearly always “civil,” not criminal issues.
California’s San Diego County was among the five counties nationwide with the most federal immigration requests declined, according to newly released ICE data. Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Miami-Dade, FL, were the other four. In northern California, the number of detainees transferred to ICE custody fell 53 percent during fiscal year 2014, according to ICE. In the Los Angeles area, the number fell by 15 percent. Similar figures weren’t available for San Diego, but in fiscal year 2013, immigration authorities requested that 3,020 detainees be transferred to ICE custody from San Diego and Imperial counties, reports the AP.
See the story via California public radio here: Immigration Holds Plummet In First Year Of California’s Trust Act

Supreme Court Considering Key Low-Level Drug Deportation Issue

The United States Supreme Court famously likes to use small cases to make big decisions, and thus we have the case of a man deported over a sock. The International Business Times explains that “… Moones Mellouli, an immigrant from Tunisia who has been fighting the grounds of his deportation order since 2012. A high court ruling against him could widen the deportation net for immigrants convicted of low-level drug-related crimes — even if the drugs in question aren’t designated controlled substances under federal law.”
The Times offers the backstory: “Mellouli came to the U.S. in 2004 on a student visa. He completed two master’s degrees, taught mathematics, secured a job as an actuary and received his green card. In 2010, he was stopped and detained in Kansas for driving under the influence, and then charged and convicted with possession of drug paraphernalia — specified under Kansas law as anything used to “store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce a controlled substance into the human body.” In this case, it was a sock containing an unspecified drug… in Kansas, this counted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Under federal law, and in many other states where “drug paraphernalia” has a stricter definition, Mellouli’s behavior wouldn’t have amounted to a crime at all.”
The idea was that his sock, where he had stashed four Adderall pills, was paraphernalia. The Justice Department’s Immigration Court upheld the deportation. Now, says the Times, “… if the Supreme Court agrees, it could open the way for more of these types of low-level drug crimes to become deportable offenses… the case also highlights the degree to which the variability of state laws factors into deportations: If Mellouli had been in California, rather than Kansas, he may not have been convicted in the first place.

Immigration Judges The ‘Cinderellas’ Of Justice System?

San Francisco immigration judge Dana Leigh Marks, who sidesteps a Justice Department gag order on her profession because she is also president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, is continuing to give voice to those who work inside the “border kid” crisis. She tells ABC News that “… we call ourselves ‘the legal Cinderellas’ in the Department of Justice, because we feel that we have been ignored resource-wise.”

She told ABC that, this year, “… $18 billion was spent on immigration law enforcement and only 1.7 perfect of that went to the courts…” Marks also cited non-functioning equipment and understaffed offices as key culprits in the “massive dysfunction” that immigration judges are currently facing. The judges are actually Justice Department employees.

Judge Marks outlined the scope of the problem: “Nationwide there’s more than 375,000 pending cases before 227 immigration judges who are sitting in the field,” Marks said. This works out to more than 1,500 cases per judge, but individual caseloads vary across the country. For example, Marks’ docket in San Francisco has more than 2,400 pending cases. The judge said the administration’s decision to “flip” the docket to move border kids to the front has meant longer delays for others. 

Read the story from the front lines of immigration court here: Immigration Judge Says Court System Has Been Ignored, Underfunded

‘Kafka’s’ Immigration Trials Spark State and National Response

CCM’s publisher, Sara Warner, has another post up on Huffington Post regarding the Border Kids legal representation issue. Take a look!

Most ‘Border Kids’ Show Up For Court

It’s been a nagging part of the “border kids” immigration crisis: How many of those children actually show up for court? Especially since many are sent to live with relatives and may have court dates set months into the future – easy enough to miss. A new government report, covered in the Wall Street Journal, says that “… the vast majority of migrants who recently entered the U.S. illegally are showing up for their scheduled deportation hearings, even as the government said most adults who arrived with children have skipped separate required check-ins with immigration offices.”
Reports the WSJ: “Between July 18 and Sept. 30, about 85% of unaccompanied minors showed up for a scheduled first hearing, and about two-thirds of adults with children appeared, according to data obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency that oversees the nation’s immigration courts. The agency said on July 18 that it would expedite deportation hearings for the two groups, following the Obama administration’s decision to prioritize their cases to discourage further illegal immigration.”
About 30,000 unchaperoned children and 40,000 people entering in family units flocked to the U.S. during a surge of such immigrants between May and August this year, the latest month available, said the WSJ, adding that “… that surge has since subsided.” Some states and the federal government have allotted millions of dollars to provide legal representation for the border kids, who are not provided with lawyers because the violations are potentially civil, not criminal.

Jails Refusing ICE Requests On Immigration Holds

“Emboldened by recent court rulings, more and more counties and cities across the country are refusing to jail inmates extra days to give federal authorities time to deport them,” reports Governing Magazine in an important trend story from the civil immigration wars, adding that “… in most jails until recently, inmates booked on criminal charges and suspected of being in the country illegally were often held for an additional 48 hours at the behest of federal immigration officials.”
Governing explains that “.. these ‘holds’ created a pipeline for the deportation of thousands of people from the United States in the last decade. Now, that enforcement tool is crumbling. Although some localities started limiting the number of immigration holds a few years ago, the trend of completely ignoring the requests gathered steam this spring after a series of federal court rulings determined that the immigration holds are not mandatory and that local agencies should not be compelled to follow them.”
In California, for example, a new state law this year orders that Golden State law enforcement can only honor immigration holds if the inmate has been charged with a “serious” crime. And Governing reports that “… most law enforcement agencies in the state — including the Los Angeles Police Department — adopted policies ignoring the immigration holds altogether after the federal rulings came down.” And Colorado this year became the first state to pass a law compelling local agencies to ignore immigration-detain requests.
In all, Governing says more than 225 local law enforcement agencies nationwide have adopted policies to completely ignore requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials for the 48-hour holds.
Read the story, and the immigration enforcement response, here: More and More Localities Rejecting Federal Deportation Requests