Numbers of Unaccompanied Minors Migrating to the U.S. from Central American Countries Surges

May 28, 2014

EcuadorAccording to a recent New York Times article, the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to make their way into the United States from Central America has significantly increased since 2011. The number of unaccompanied minors found entering the United States is “expected to reach 60,000 in the 12 months ending Sept. 30,” according to Lisa Raffonelli from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Although it is difficult to point to a single issue resulting in the increase, economic conditions throughout the region pushing children to look for more opportunity appear to be a significant factor in the surge. For example, Noemi Alvarez Quillay left her home in, where she lived with her grandparents after her parents left in a home with no running water.

Noemi’s case is not unique. “A generation of children who grew up on their own” have begun to leave. They are often given some help from their parents living abroad, in the form of close and small sums of money, but they still must travel thousands of miles unaccompanied. Noemi, for example, traveled 4,000 miles alone attempting to reunite with her parents in New York City before reaching a premature end to her journey in Mexico, where she died from an apparent suicide. A man, thought to be a smuggler, was detained in connection with her death, but a judge released him due to lack of evidence. Although an investigation into her death is ongoing.

According to Federal Court Rulings, States and Localities Are not Required to Honor Immigration Detainer Requests

May 14, 2014

Clackamas County JailAccording to a recent article, a federal court ruling in Oregon is the latest in a series of federal cases clarifying the authority of local officials to deny immigration detainer requests issued by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). The rulings “make it clear that local officials are not required to honor immigration authorities’ request that someone in custody continue to be held even though their original charges were resolved.” Furthermore, the case affirmed other federal opinions finding local jurisdictions may be held liable for detaining individuals beyond the length charges allow.

In the Oregon case, a federal judge found that a woman’s constitutional rights were violated when she was held in a Clackamas County jail despite being eligible for pre-trial release and after her state charges were dropped. The woman was originally in jail on a 48-hour sentence for contempt of court, but ultimately spent two weeks in the County detained on a request from ICE.

This case comes in wake of a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision last month – along with a Rhode Island district court ruling – holding that state and local “authorities are not required to comply with requests from ICE to hold people on detainers without probable cause” and that jurisdictions that do comply with requests may be held liable.

Following the Clackamas County ruling, four Oregon counties have halted compliance with immigration holds. In addition, the regional jail servicing Sherman, Gilliam, Wasco, and Hood River will no longer honor detainer requests.

With Migrants Hoping for Asylum, Illegal Border Crossings Soar in Southern Texas

April 30, 2014

Border CrossingBorder Patrol agents in Texas have seen a spike in individuals illegally crossing into the U.S. in order to petition for asylum. According to the New York Times, there has been a 69 percent increase in detentions of individuals attempting to cross into the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley, with 90,7000 individuals detained in the last six months alone. The surge in border crossing numbers comes after six years of decline in illegal crossings.

Unlike past years, where border crossings were undertaken mainly by Mexican laborers, many of those attempting the journey are from Central America and include “many families with small children and youngsters without their parents.” These new crossers, according to the New York Times, are fleeing from their native countries due to rising poverty and extreme gang violence.

Border Patrol agent, Chris Cabrera, says that the increase in the number of individuals petitioning for asylum is because “word has gotten out that we’re giving people permission and walking them out the door.” Despite courts only approving 34 percent of asylum petitions in 2012, enough people are released pending review of their asylum petitions that friends and family in Central American countries believe that there is a good chance of staying if they can successfully cross the border.

The spike in asylum claims is significantly straining resources, overwhelming courts, asylum offices, and detention facilities. It is further frustrating border control strategies put in place by the Obama administration and possibly endangering immigration reform in the coming year.

Alabama High School Refuses to Enroll Latino Teen

April 16, 2014

Alabama High SchoolAccording to a recent CNN article, a public high school in Alabama has now twice denied enrollment to a student because he was not born in the U.S. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), after moving from Colorado to Alabama, the 17-year-old student, identified only as “J.T.,” was denied enrollment at Fort Payne High School “simply because he was born in Mexico.”

After J.T. was denied enrollment the first time, the boy’s family met Superintendent, Jim Cunningham, bringing with them the required documentation and a completed enrollment application. However, the Mr. Cunningham declined to enroll J.T. as well. Declining to comment on the reasons for the decision, in a prepared statement the Superintendent, instead, defended school district’s enrollment policy, saying the “School System in no manner utilizes or considers an individual’s national origin in its enrollment decisions.”

The school did tell J.T.’s family that they are not required to enroll the boy because of his age. The school was referring to a state law that requires school attendance for all children between ages 6 and 17. However, as the SPLC explained in a letter to Mr. Cunningham, the law does not give a school the right to deny enrollment to a child who is over 16 years old. SPLC also pointed out that the action violates Alabama Department of Education policies and is also counter to a letter issued by the U.S. departments of justice and education in May 2011.

De Blasio to give undocumented immigrants access to municipal IDs

March 26, 2014

According to a recent article, newly elected New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, will soon make a New York City municipal ID available to city residents regardless of immigration status. According to Mayor de Blasio, the ID “will protect almost half-million undocumented New Yorkers, whose voices too often go unheard.”De Blasio

The measure is a fulfillment of a major promise de Blasio made during his campaign. The ID will allow undocumented residents access to numerous city services. In addition, according to de Blasio, it will help foster better relations between police and those who may choose not to report a crime out of fear they will be deported because they lack legal immigration status.  In support of this, de Blasio points to New Haven, CT, which saw a 20 percent decline in crime in the two years following the introduction of a municipal ID. If the measure goes through, New York City will join several other prominent cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in providing IDs to their residents.

The Mayor’s proposal received support from New York state senators Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta. The senators expressed their support in a joint statement while also highlighting the need for allowing immigrants in the state to apply for driver’s licenses.  As the senators explained, extending access to driver’s licenses to immigrant residents is necessary because “it is unacceptable that hardworking immigrants are made to break the law in order to commute to work or take their kids to school.”

Immigrant friendly Utah bills may be repealed

March 12, 2014

Guest workersTwo controversial immigrant friendly bills adopted three years by the Utah legislature may be repealed if the federal government does not provide operational waivers.

One bill creates a state program allowing immigrants already in the state to obtain guest-worker permits and stay in the state by paying a fine, demonstrating English proficiency, and submitting to a background check. While the other bill establishes a pilot program allowing a “U.S. citizen who is a Utah resident to sponsor an undocumented immigrant not already in the state to live and work here — but those immigrants could not leave Utah.”

Utah Senator Curt Bramble is attempting to delay implementation for the bills until 2017, instead of 2015, with the introduction of Senate Bill 203. SB 203, which passed through committee and is headed to the Senate floor, would delay the earlier adopted laws because, according to Bramble, the laws will need federal waivers to work.  If the waivers do not come through, Senator Bramble will recommend that the legislature repeal the two bills.

The law was intended to send a message to the U.S. Congress that it is “possible to find a rational, reasonable solution” to the dysfunctional immigration system. However, according to Bramble, the law accomplished this, while, at the same time, showing what a state immigration program could look like.

Unlikely Friendship Could Be the Key to Immigration Reform

February 19, 2014

Immigration ReformAccording to a recent New York Times article, two women on opposite sides of the political spectrum might be the key to seeing immigration reform in the U.S.  Rebecca Tallent, a Republican, is a top aide in House Speaker John Boehner’s office, and former chief of staff to John McCain and advisor to Sarah Palin. Esther Olavarria, a Democrat, holds a post in the White House and was Senator Edward Kennedy’s top immigration lawyer.

Ms. Tallent and Ms. Olavarria built a friendship 10 years ago while they painstakingly tried to unify lawmakers around immigration reform through a series of “back-room deal-making sessions” while working under Senators McCain and Kennedy.

The two women are again attempting to pull the parties together to find a path forward on an immigration overhaul. Ms. Tallent is taking a central role in penning, what “House Republicans call guiding principles for an immigration overhaul.” Ms. Olavarria is responsible for constructing a compromise that will satisfy Democrats and activists.

The prospects for immigration reform seem brighter this time around. Latinos, a demographic that played a significant role in both of Mr. Obama’s elections to the Whitehouse, place continued pressure on the Obama administration to end its deportation practices and create a road to citizenship for undocumented populations.  At the same time, immigration reform is seen by many Republicans as a chance to repair the relationship it has with Hispanic voters.

Despite the current optimism, some are still skeptical, believing that more is needed for reform “than excellent staffers.”

Rates for Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases on the Rise

February 5, 2014

Prosecutorial JusticeFederal immigration prosecutors are using prosecutorial discretion more frequently, according to 2013 data, resulting in a higher likelihood that individuals facing deportation will have their cases dismissed.  As a recent Los Angeles Times article explains, prosecutors are increasingly likely to find mitigating factors allowing cases to be dismissed. “8.5% of cases closed in immigration court list ‘prosecutorial discretion as the reason for dismissal” in 2013, compared with 4.7% in 2012. Some courts have seen closure figures reaching up to 20%, with cases involving prosecutorial discretion as high as 24% in Los Angeles.

Despite the rising rate of the use of discretion, some jurisdictions experience significantly lower rates of cases involving prosecutorial discretion, such as New York City at 3.7% and Houston at 1.7%. Moreover, some researchers have suggested, “a high [prosecutorial discretion] court closure rate may be a sign that inadequate review of cases is taking place” before a removal order is filed.

John Morton, the formal director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) formalized the use of prosecutorial discretion in a 2011 memo. In the memo, prosecutors were instructed to consider factors like community ties, family member who are U.S. citizens or who have served in the military, whether the person came to the U.S. as a child, and how long they have lived in the U.S.

In recent years, two of these factors have become particularly important with specific protections being advanced for young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and those who have close relatives serving in the military.

New York City Continues to Reject Cooperation with Federal Secure Communities Program

January 8, 2014

ice deportationA set of laws restricting New York City’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities, adopted over the past two years by the City Council, are beginning to have an effect according to statistics recently released by the City.   The laws, passed in response to the federal Secure Communities data-sharing program, prohibit the City from honoring hold requests from Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) except under certain circumstances.  The federal program facilitates Homeland Security access to fingerprints of suspects booked at local jails.

In 2011, New York City prohibited city officials from honoring detainer requests except where the individual had prior convictions or outstanding warrants. Then in February 2013, the Council passed further restrictions limiting detainers for all immigrants but those who are facing serious misdemeanor charges, such as sexual abuse, assault, and gun possession.

According to the New York Times, “[f]rom July, when the most recent of the restrictive laws went into effect, to September, city officials responded to 904 federal hold requests,” 331 of which the city declined to honor. These numbers represent a significant departure from past practices, where every detainer request was customarily honored.  However, despite the significant impact on deportations in the City, New York City’s policy represents one of the more moderate positions cities have taken on the Secure Communities program, where cities like Chicago and the District of Columbia have all but prohibited any cooperation with ICE.

Despite the steps the City has taken to shield its immigrant residents from federal reach, immigrant advocates, now turning their advocacy efforts toward incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio, are arguing for even greater restrictions. Mayor-elect de Blasio  “vowed to end the city’s cooperation with federal immigration detainers except for detainees convicted of ‘violent or serious felonies.’”

Strict Alabama Immigration Law Provisions Blocked by Settlement Agreement

December 18, 2013

Alabama LawAfter two years of court battles over its 2011 immigration law, Alabama has agreed to a settlement with plaintiffs that will permanently block several portions of the law.  The settlement will strip the Alabama law, widely considered the strictest of all recent state level immigration policies, of the majority of its strictest provisions.

The settlement came after the US Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal of a lower court decision finding that the law conflicted with broad federal authority to regulate immigration.

The agreement will block some of the most extreme portions of the law, including: requirements to verify the immigration status of K-12 students; a provision making it a crime to rent to undocumented immigrants or provide them transportation; and a provision making it a crime to contract with an undocumented immigrant and making such contracts unenforceable. In addition, the state has also agreed to limits on the “stop and verify” provision of the law – “derided by critics as a ‘show your papers’ law — that allow[s] local police to check the immigration status of criminal suspects.”

However, the agreement left intact several provisions of the law limiting immigrants’ access to employment and higher education. These provisions include requirements for businesses to use the federal E-Verify database for new hires, prohibitions on undocumented immigrants from enrolling in public universities and colleges, and prohibitions on granting business licenses to immigrants without legal immigration status.

The agreement must receive approval by the federal court judge presiding over the case before it becomes binding.