About Me

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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Children Swarming Southern Border Prove a Test to Obama's Immigration Policy

Washington Times
By Stephen Dinan
May 28, 2014

Children traveling without their families, including an “overwhelming” number younger than 12, are flooding across the southwestern border in the latest test of the Obama administration’s immigration policy.

Homeland Security Officials predict that 60,000 minors will cross the border this year and that the number will double next year, accounting for an astonishing percentage of people trying to jump the border — braving the tremendous perils of crossing Mexico and trying to evade border authorities, hoping to eventually connect with family in the U.S.

The administration seems powerless to stop most of the border breaches and instead has searched for ways to manage the flow of vulnerable, and politically sympathetic, immigrants.

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will raise the issue with Congress. He will recount his trip this month to the border in Texas, where he saw such children, which the government calls “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs.

“I have been closely following this emerging issue since coming into office, with a particular focus on the Rio Grande Valley,” Mr. Johnson will tell the House, according to his prepared testimony. “I traveled to McAllen, Texas, to view the situation and saw the children there firsthand — an overwhelming number of whom were under 12 years old.”

Officials are grappling with how the U.S. should handle children inside the border and whether there is any way to stop the flow.

Under U.S. law, the children are entitled to special protections and can’t be put straight into deportation proceedings, as adults are.

Instead, they are screened for trafficking concerns. Once processed, they are placed with either foster families or sent to their own families in the U.S. while they apply for asylum or a special juvenile visa, said Marc R. Rosenblum, deputy director of the Migration Policy Institute’s U.S. immigration policy program.

“Those policies make a lot of sense because these are a vulnerable population,” he said.

In some cases, Homeland Security officials are sending the children to be with their parents — even when those parents are known to be living in the U.S. illegally. A federal judge in Texas blasted the department for that practice late last year, saying the government essentially had become complicit in criminal activity.

“The DHS is rewarding criminal conduct instead of enforcing the current laws. More troubling, the DHS is encouraging parents to seriously jeopardize the safety of their children,” Judge Andrew S. Hanen wrote in a court order.

The children are chiefly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and have to cross through Mexico, braving the elements and smugglers to eventually arrive at the border in Texas, where they generally try to cross. Reports of rape are common among the girls.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released a study this year that surveyed more than 400 of the children as they arrived in the U.S. and found nearly half of them were fleeing drug cartels or gangs in their home countries. Still others were fleeing abusive homes.

“I am here because the gang threatened me,” one 15-year-old girl from El Salvador, identified only as Maritza, told the UNHCR investigators. “One of them ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm. In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags.”

The number of unaccompanied children has spiked even in the past few weeks, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron, who said the rise has strained her department and the Department of Health and Human Services, which under the law is responsible for caring for the children.

HHS has asked for space to house up to 1,000 children at Lackland Air Force Base, and the government is trying to find even more facilities.

Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson has sent staff to southern Texas to make sure children are receiving medical care. He also has directed his department to develop “an aggressive public messaging campaign to outline the dangers of and deter” the children from trying to cross, the spokeswoman said.

“DHS is expanding awareness campaigns targeting potential crossers, in their home countries, in an effort to warn them of the extreme dangers associated with attempts to illegally enter the United States while also underscoring the fact that illegal crossers — including children seeking to reunite with families — are not eligible for legal status, including under prospective legislation,” Ms. Catron said.

But she acknowledged that the government has limited tools to stem the flow.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the numbers have been rising steadily for several years, and that the administration should have been better prepared.

“This is a crisis on the level of the Mariel crisis. This far outstrips the agency’s capacity to deal with it in the normal way,” she said, referring to the 1980 mass emigration from Cuba. “But they saw this coming, too.

They estimated months ago that it was going to be double the prior year and they don’t seem to be taking any steps to prevent it from happening.”

She said releasing the children into the community, where they live for years while awaiting a final decision on their cases, will encourage more families to send their children.

“I would argue that it would be perhaps more humane to deal with it firmly so that people stop taking the risk of putting children through this smuggling ordeal,” Ms. Vaughan said.

That is probably unthinkable for an administration that has carved most illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S. out of danger of deportation, and is searching for more ways to halt deportations.

Left with few other options, the administration has pleaded for help from Mexico, which is the first to see the border crossers.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry raised the issue during a recent visit to Mexico City.

For now though, the administration continues to struggle.

Mr. Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute said he is able to come up with good policy answers to most immigration questions, even if they are not politically possible. But in this case, he said, that’s not true.

“On this one, there’s really not a good policy answer,” he said. “Anything you do to protect those kids creates perverse incentives for other families to send their kids, and anything you do on enforcement puts them back in those bad situations.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

On Immigration, Eric Cantor Can't Win

By Seung Min Kim
May 28, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. — Eric Cantor is simultaneously blocking immigration reform and plotting a way to grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants – it just depends on whom you ask.

For liberal activists, Cantor is the sole man who stands in the way of a sweeping immigration overhaul making its way into law. But to his primary challenger, the House majority leader has been insufficiently conservative on immigration — and he needs to be voted out of office for it.

Those dueling dynamics were on full display here in Cantor’s home turf Wednesday, as immigrant-rights advocates — led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) — led a rally at the state Capitol in Richmond aimed at pressuring the second-ranking House Republican to move on immigration reform this year.

“What Eric Cantor represents is the future of the Republican Party, and if you do not give a vote on comprehensive immigration reform, let me assure you of the consequence: The Republican Party will be a party of regions, of localities,” Gutierrez told the crowd. “The Republican Party no longer is the dominant party in the state of Virginia, and that is because of the growing power and the growing influence of the immigrant and Latino communities.”

More than 70 people gathered at the mid-afternoon rally, waving yellow signs that read: “Eric Cantor: The One Man Blocking Immigration Reform” and wearing stickers that pleaded: “Eric Cantor Give Us A Vote.” A handful of activists hailing from Cantor’s district revealed they were facing deportation orders and tearfully urged for action to stop the removals. Posters promoted the hashtag “#HearUsCantor,” and the event was sporadically peppered with chants of “Give us a vote!” and “Si se puede!”

That was a sharp contrast to the scene just outside the state Capitol shortly before the rally. Amid the pillars of the statehouse, Dave Brat – Cantor’s challenger in the June 10 primary – stood before a gaggle of reporters, insisting that the majority leader was heading up the “amnesty drive” in the Republican-led House and he was “working in cahoots” with Gutierrez to push immigration measures through the chamber.

“Eric Cantor saying he opposes amnesty is like Barack Obama saying he opposes Obamacare,” Brat claimed.

Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican who holds the keys to the chamber’s floor schedule, has increasingly been hit from both the left and right for what his critics see as a shifting stance on immigration – though his camp says the lawmaker has stayed consistent on the issue.

Much of the attacks come from a primary challenge by Brat, an economics professor who has seized on a number of issues to accuse the Republican leader of not being conservative enough. Brat, who opposes legalization and wants to cut future legal immigration, has become a hero of sorts for the loud group of reform opponents who not only see the tea party activist as a way to oust Cantor, but to send a message that Congress should avoid taking up an immigration overhaul.

But at the same time. immigration advocates have zeroed in on Cantor as they make their final push for immigration reform this year. Though activists have long targeted Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House’s top Republican, they want Cantor to use his position in leadership to steer the chamber toward reform.

Wednesday’s rally, organized by CASA de Virginia, an immigrant- and civil-rights group in the state, came just days after Cantor’s campaign blanketed voters in the district with a mailer that proclaimed his tough stance on “illegal aliens” — a phrase used only by the most ardent of immigration hardliners in Congress.

The flier stated: “Barack Obama & Harry Reid: Pushing amnesty to give illegal aliens a free ride. Conservative Republican Eric Cantor is stopping this liberal plan.” Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen said the mailer refers to the Senate immigration bill that House GOP leaders have long opposed.

The tough stance Cantor takes toward illegal immigration in the mailer is “absolutely” consistent with his broader views on the issue, Allen said. Though Brat accuses Cantor of supporting broader amnesty for undocumented immigrants, Allen said that is “clearly not Congressman Cantor’s position.”

Still, he noted Cantor’s support for smaller-scale measures — such as a path to legal status for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. As for Brat’s attacks, Allen said it was proof that his campaign was becoming more “desperate” and that Brat was becoming “more shrill and more silly.”

“We are not for the Senate bill and we are not for that kind of blanket amnesty, but at some point in the future, we should be able to find some common ground,” Allen said. He later added: “Seventh District voters are just much smarter than Dave Brat gives them credit for.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

More Political Maneuvering on Immigration Reform?

Wall Street Journal
By Jim Manley
May 28, 2014

President Obama has reportedly asked the Department of Homeland Security to delay–for now–its ongoing review of the administration’s deportation policies.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who finds himself under pressure thanks to a tea-party primary challenge, has decided to play the immigration card by bragging in new campaign advertising of blocking amnesty for “illegal aliens.”

The spin out of the White House is that it is delaying the DHS review to go the extra mile and demonstrate to House Republicans that the administration is serious about working with them in good faith to achieve immigration reform. Now, that may be true, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that if the House does not act by the start of the August recess, the administration could take steps on its own.

Taken together, it sure looks like this delay is more about clearing the field of any and all excuses as Democrats get ready to pound away at Republicans in the fall for their inability to act on immigration reform.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Boehner: Obama 'Playing Politics' on Deportations

The Hill
By Justin Sink
May 28, 2014

The delay in his review of deportation policies is part of President Obama "playing politics" with the nation's immigration laws, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday.

"Enforcing the law as written isn't a 'concession' — it is the president's solemn responsibility," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. "Now isn't the time to be playing politics with immigration enforcement or our national security."

On Tuesday, the White House said President Obama had asked the Department of Homeland Security to pause its review of how it enforces the nation's deportation laws in a bid to spur congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform. Labor and immigration groups had requested the delay, saying it would give Republican leaders space to pursue a deal.

"While the review is ongoing, the president believes there is an opportunity for congressional action this summer, and has asked Secretary [Jeh] Johnson to hold on releasing any results from his review while this window for congressional action remains open," a Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday.

But the chilly response from Boehner's office would seem to indicate the delay may not do much to help move House Republicans on a bill.

Last week, Boehner said there was “nobody more interested in fixing this problem than I am,” but blamed the president for reticence among lawmakers to move ahead with a bill. Boehner argued the president’s implementation of ObamaCare had eroded trust in his ability to enforce immigration reform.

"When he continues to ignore ObamaCare, his own law, 38 unilateral delays, he reduces the confidence of the American people in his willingness to implement an immigration law the way we would pass it," he said.

Obama, for his part, blasted Republicans for having "refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system" during a Democratic fundraiser last week.

He said that opposition came “despite the fact that every economist who’s looked at it says it's going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country."

“When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism,” the president continued. “We say we're going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Obama Loses left Flank by Dithering on Immigrant Deportations

Washington Times
By Stephen Dinan
May 28, 2014

President Obama’s decision to delay unilateral action on halting deportations isn’t earning him points from Republicans, and it is costing him friends on the other side of the debate, with immigration advocates saying it means thousands of immigrants will be kicked out of the country every day.

United We Dream, a group that has been begging for Mr. Obama to halt deportations, said it was “outraged” at the president’s move.

“To say that we can wait is to be complacent with the more than 60,000 deportations that will happen between now and August,” Lorella Praeli, the groups director of policy and advocacy, said in a statement Wednesday morning.

In March, under intense pressure from immigrant-rights groups, Mr. Obama had ordered the Homeland Security Department to come up with ways to halt even more deportations, following on several earlier memos and policies that have already made it unlikely that most illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S. would be deported.

But late Tuesday the White House leaked word that Mr. Obama had ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to wait until later this summer before presenting his findings. The White House said it wanted to give Republicans in Congress one last chance to take action on its own.

White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed the move to reporters traveling with Mr. Obama on Wednesday, saying they didn’t want Republicans to use the impending action to halt deportations as “an excuse for not taking action.”

House Republicans said the move was hollow, and they are looking for something more substantive from Mr. Obama if he wants to prove he’s serious about enforcing the laws.

“Enforcing the law as written isn’t a ‘concession’ — it is the president’s solemn responsibility,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner. “Now isn’t the time to be playing politics with immigration enforcement or our national security.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Obama Delays Deportation Review Amid Push for Immigration Overhaul

Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler
May 28, 2014

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama has ordered a delay in an administration review of deportation policy in hopes that the House of Representatives will take up the larger immigration overhaul this summer, in what is seen as the last chance for action this year and maybe beyond.

The decision puts the focus squarely on House Republicans, who must decide whether to bring legislation to the House floor before Congress breaks for its annual August recess.

This spring, Mr. Obama directed his secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, to look for more "humane" ways to enforce federal immigration law, a response to complaints from immigration advocates about record deportations.

But Republicans have said they don't trust Mr. Obama to enforce any law that they may pass, with administrative action to alter deportation policy likely to have fed those complaints.

Administration officials said the president ordered the delay to remove any excuse for inaction. "The president didn't want the discussion of the secretary's review to interfere with the possibility of action in the House," a White House official said.

The delay was first reported by the Associated Press.

Some activists have been pressuring the White House to change deportation policy without delay, but the president received backup for his approach on Tuesday, when several pro-immigration groups issued a statement urging him to wait until the legislative window has passed.

"We strongly urge President Obama and his administration to allow for this process to take place before issuing administrative action. We believe the president should move cautiously and give the House leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote," the statement said.

The statement came from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Immigration Forum, Service Employees International Union, Sojourners, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Obama Asks Homeland Security Secretary to Delay Deportation Review

New York Times
By Michael D. Shear
May 27, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night.

Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, has spent the last two months searching for ways that the president could legally shield some of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation. Among the ideas was new guidance for law enforcement officers to focus on people who have committed serious crimes or who are caught on the border.

Some immigration activists have demanded that the president take even bolder actions to reduce deportations. But senior White House officials said the president was worried that any action would be viewed by House Republicans as an abuse of executive power and would fuel the already intense opposition to a more long-lasting solution to the country’s immigration problems.

“There are a number of folks suggesting that anything that the administration does could become an excuse for inaction in the House,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the president’s top immigration adviser.

Ms. Muñoz said Mr. Obama decided to put off any recommendations arising from Mr. Johnson’s review of deportation policy to give lawmakers one more chance to negotiate a compromise on an immigration overhaul. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill, but House Republicans have balked, saying it does not do enough to secure the border and goes too far in providing a path to citizenship for people who broke the law to get here.

Officials said that Mr. Johnson would continue to conduct his review, which includes conversations with a variety of interest groups. But they said he would not present any findings to the president for several months. The Associated Press first reported the president’s decision to delay the review.

“The president has been saying for months that he believes there is a real possibility for action in the House, and that the best window is over the next couple of months,” Ms. Muñoz said. “We have to keep the pressure on.”

Mr. Obama had hoped that opposition to an immigration overhaul among House Republicans would soften after the Republican primaries this spring, officials said, and that the lawmakers might be willing to compromise before the general election season begins in earnest in September.

But the president’s optimism has been tested in recent months as opposition to an immigration overhaul in the House has solidified among some Republicans. In January, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio unveiled a set of principles that he said could guide a Republican immigration overhaul, but they were roundly rejected by many of his own members.

Since then, Mr. Boehner has repeatedly suggested that there is little appetite among House Republicans for anything like the bill passed by the Senate. But he has also mocked members of his caucus for not having the courage to tackle a tough issue like immigration. In comments during an appearance in his home district in April, he mimicked some Republicans saying: “Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.”

Ms. Muñoz said Mr. Johnson briefed the president on his deportation review last week. At that meeting, Mr. Obama told Mr. Johnson to continue the review, but to hold off making any recommendations.

That decision may expose a split among those advocating on behalf of immigrants.

The decision should please some immigrant advocates, who have been worried that any aggressive move to ease deportations would backfire in Congress.

“During this interim, we strongly urge President Obama and his administration to allow for this process to take place before issuing administrative action,” several advocacy groups said in a statement on Tuesday. “We believe the president should move cautiously and give the House leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.”

But leaders of immigrant youth groups said they were outraged at the decision to postpone action that was expected to slow the pace of deportations.

“Now they want us to cater to the Republicans’ strategy of death-by-delay for immigration reform and continue to put our families at risk,” said Lorella Praeli, a leader of United We Dream, a national network of young immigrants. “The time for space has come and gone.”  

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Obama Orders Delay of Immigration Deportation Review

Washington Post
By David Nakamura
May 27, 2014

President Obama has delayed a review of deportation policies until the end of summer in hopes that Congress will approve a legislative overhaul of immigration laws, administration officials said Tuesday.

Obama instructed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to continue his review, but the results will not be announced before lawmakers take their summer recess in August, officials said. The White House is concerned that Republicans would balk if the administration takes unilateral action to stem the deportation of undocumented immigrants, ending any slim remaining hopes of a legislative compromise.

"While the review is ongoing, the president believes there is an opportunity for congressional action this summer and has asked Secretary Johnson to hold on releasing any results from his review while this window for congressional action remains open," said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal decision-making. The Associated Press first reported the White House's decision to delay the review.

A separate White House official said Obama's priority is "to enact a permanent solution for people currently living in the shadows and that can only come with immigration reform ...  He believes there’s a window for the House to get immigration reform done this summer."

Obama announced the review this spring under escalating pressure from immigration advocates to use his executive authority to stem deportations. The president said Johnson would seek to make policies more "humane," though Obama cautioned that he did not have authority to expand a 2012 executive action that halted deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Johnson has been meeting with stakeholders. He said this month he was looking to potentially make changes to a program called "Secure Communities," which is designed to have local law enforcement officials turn over undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings. Immigration advocates have said the program has targeted immigrants arrested for less serious crimes, while supporters of the program said it targets violent criminals and repeat offenders.

Some advocates have called on Obama to move quickly to relieve pressure on the undocumented. But others who support immigration reform have said they fear the House GOP would accuse Obama of failing to enforce existing law and use that as a reason not to support legislative reform.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he supports immigration reform but will not allow a vote on a comprehensive bill approved by the Senate last year. Boehner said the House would pursue smaller, piecemeal bills if Obama restores trust among the rank-and-file Republicans.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Immigration Reformers Ask Obama for Time

By Seung Min Kim
May 27, 2014

A growing chorus of immigration groups is sending the same message to President Barack Obama: No executive action until August at the earliest, to allow Congress time to act.

The coalition of influential advocacy organizations — spanning from religious groups to labor — issued a statement Tuesday that urged the House Republican leadership to act on immigration during a “real window of opportunity” from now until August. During that time, Obama should hold off on announcing any changes to how his administration enforces immigration laws, the groups said.

“For the good of the country, we urge Speaker Boehner and his colleagues to seize this moment,” the groups said in the joint statement, referring to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “After so many promises, inaction now would be more than a lost opportunity; it would be a moral and economic loss.

“During this interim, we strongly urge President Obama and his administration to allow for this process to take place before issuing administrative action,” the advocates continued. “We believe the president should move cautiously and give the House leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.”

The groups issuing the statement included the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Immigration Forum, Service Employees International Union, Sojourners, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.

For months, immigration groups have focused on two targets: the Republican-led House, which has yet to put reform bills for a vote on the floor, and the president, who advocates believe has some discretion to tweak immigration enforcement that would effectively slow down the rate of deportations.

But key Senate Democrats urged immigration advocates at a strategy session last week to hold their fire against the White House and instead focus on House Republicans to urge them to enact an immigration overhaul this year.

Still, some advocates argue that they can put the pressure on House Republicans as well as on the administration at the same time. And other activists have lost hope in Congress altogether and are solely focused on the White House to relieve the deportations, which have become a sore spot between Obama and immigrant rights activists.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Immigrant Advocates Urge Obama to Wait for Congress Before Enacting Reform

By Julia Edwards
May 27, 2014

(Reuters) - U.S. immigrant groups urged President Barack Obama on Tuesday to hold off on making changes to how the United States deports undocumented immigrants so as not to anger members of Congress who they believe could pass a broad immigration bill that could be more effective at protecting immigrant rights.

Among the groups issuing the statement were the National Immigration Forum and the Service Employees International Union, which were present at a March meeting at the White House when Obama announced he was looking to take unilateral action to curb the number of undocumented immigrants being deported. At the time, the House of Representatives appeared stalled on passing broad reform over concerns the bill would grant amnesty to those who had broken U.S. immigration law.

House Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, have indicated in recent weeks that they might be open to working on such a bill. But they said any changes from the Obama administration would deteriorate their trust in the president to enforce whatever law they may pass.

The advocates said there is a "real window of opportunity" for the House to pass immigration reform before the legislative recess in August and they cautioned Obama against taking unilateral action.

"We believe the President should move cautiously and give the House Leadership all of the space they may need to bring legislation to the floor for a vote," the advocates said in a statement.

But, the statement added, should July pass without a new immigration law, the Obama administration will "have an obligation to use whatever tools are at its disposal."

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Advocates Seek to Make Courthouses Off Limits for Immigration Officials

New York Times
By Kirk Semple
May 26, 2014

Rosario Socope, a Guatemalan immigrant in the country illegally, had an unwelcome surprise waiting for her when she attended a pretrial hearing on a felony charge at a courthouse in Brooklyn this month. As she stepped out of the courtroom into a public hallway, she was approached by immigration agents seeking to deport her.

As her husband, her social worker and one of her lawyers looked on aghast, the agents hauled her away.

The encounter was only the most recent in a long series of such cases across the country that immigrant advocates and politicians say have spread fear of courthouses among immigrants and eroded their willingness to participate in the judicial system, with profound civil rights implications.

“If they feel like the court is not a safe place where they can go, they may not show up to court,” said Nyasa Hickey, Ms. Socope’s immigration lawyer.

For years, even as the number of deportations has climbed to record levels, immigration agents have generally refrained from questioning or detaining immigrants in and around locations deemed “sensitive,” including schools, houses of worship, hospitals and public demonstrations.

Now a growing lobby of immigrants’ advocates and politicians is seeking to add courthouses to that list.

Advocates argue that the use of courthouses by immigration officials deters undocumented immigrants from exercising their constitutional rights of due process; petitioning for redress of grievances, such as wage claims against employers; and satisfying their civic duties, such as paying traffic tickets.

Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said she had heard about dozens of cases since the beginning of 2013 in which immigrants have been interrogated or detained at courthouses, including while trying to attend hearings, get married or obtain a domestic violence restraining order.

“I have no doubt that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Lin said. “Courthouses need to be open, accessible and safe to all community members, regardless of immigration status.”

In 2011, John Morton, then the top official at Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, an arm of Homeland Security commonly known as ICE, issued a memorandum that reaffirmed the agency’s list of “sensitive locations” where enforcement actions were discouraged except under extraordinary circumstances, such as cases involving dangerous felons.

In March, top officials at the agency updated their guidance for field agents conducting enforcement actions at or near courthouses, Virginia Kice, an agency spokeswoman, said. Agency officials declined to publicly discuss the contents of the new courthouse guidance, saying it was confidential. But officials did not modify the 2011 memo to extend its protections to courthouses.

Ms. Lin said that in a private meeting in March with several top officials from the agency, they told her that under the new guidelines agents would conduct enforcement actions at courthouses only against undocumented immigrants considered top priorities, including those convicted of serious crimes and people deemed a threat to public safety.

All actions would occur in nonpublic areas of the courthouse, the officials said, according to Ms. Lin. The officials also told her that courthouses were “well suited” for detentions because they were safer for the agents than confronting someone in their home where encounters were more likely to escalate into violence.

But advocates contend that despite the new guidance, immigration agents continue to use courthouses to go after immigrants who do not appear to be the agency’s utmost priority.

Ms. Socope, 30, first entered the United States in 2008 but was picked up at the border and immediately deported, Ms. Hickey said. She returned the same year and moved to New York City, where she was living with her husband in Brooklyn and worked as a house cleaner.

Last year, after an altercation with a landlord, Ms. Socope — who has never been convicted of a crime, her lawyers said — was arrested and charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Her lawyers and social worker were negotiating for a plea that would include a mandate to enter an alternative-to-incarceration program where she would receive help for mental health issues and substance abuse, Ms. Hickey said.

According to current federal enforcement priorities, Ms. Socope would appear to be a tertiary priority, below groups of undocumented immigrants deemed of greater concern, including those convicted of serious crimes or considered threats to public safety. And though her lawyers acknowledge that Ms. Socope did not have immigration papers, they said that a public hallway in a courthouse was no place to detain her. (Ms. Socope has since been released under government supervision with a monitoring bracelet strapped to her ankle while Ms. Hickey tries to block her deportation.)

In an interview last week, Ms. Socope said that as she was being taken away, her initial thought was that her lawyers had somehow been involved in the detention.

“I didn’t know how it happened,” she said, as she choked back tears.

“The arrest has totally broken her trust,” Ms. Hickey said.

Advocates said they did not know how immigration agents had selected certain immigrants for enforcement in courthouses. Ms. Lin said officials may be using a combination of methods, including randomly questioning immigrants who are doing business at courthouses or cross-referencing criminal court dockets against federal immigration databases.

Some elected officials around the country have also been pressuring immigration authorities on the issue. In Wisconsin, a group of state lawmakers sent a letter to the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement requesting that he order a halt to immigration interrogations and detentions at all Wisconsin courthouses.

A United States congresswoman from that state, Gwen Moore, a Democrat, has been soliciting signatures from her colleagues for a similar letter, which she plans to send to Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, this week.

“By deterring people from utilizing court services, ICE is creating a culture of fear that undermines public safety and the ability of law enforcement and the state’s judicial system to carry out essential functions,” the letter reads.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Why Immigration Reform Has GOP Leaders Eating One of Their Own

Los Angeles Times
By Lisa Mascaro
May 23, 2014

Not only have House Republican leaders ditched a comprehensive immigration overhaul from the Senate, now they are even blocking a more modest effort from one of their own.

House GOP leaders have refused to allow a vote on legislation from Republican Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) that would provide legal status and a path to citizenship for immigrants who serve in the military.

Last week, Denham tried to attach his bill to the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping must-pass annual spending bill. But GOP leaders blocked a vote on the amendment. Denham has vowed to try again.

The country has a long history of naturalizing immigrants through military service. In 2002, President George W. Bush expedited citizenship for those who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks -- including those here illegally. Since then, the Immigration Policy Center estimates, 53,000 immigrants, those with legal status and not, have obtained citizenship through military service.

Denham, a former Air Force crew chief who served in Desert Storm, argued to his GOP colleagues that he knew many immigrants during his time in the service, and that they served the nation faithfully.

Just as important to Denham, he represents a Central Valley agriculture-heavy district in California that is 40% Latino, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

But Denham is a bit of an outlier in the party. Most Republican lawmakers represent districts that have been gerrymandered into conservative strongholds, with few minority populations.

With the upcoming election, party leaders want to protect lawmakers from having to take votes that may be unpopular back home.

Call it the incumbent protection program.

A similar episode unfolded earlier this month in the Senate, where leaders could not agree to vote on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Some Democrats were less than thrilled to go on the record with an issue that is toxic among environmentalists. And Republicans were loath to give a handful of endangered Democrats, mostly from states that support the pipeline, a chance to demonstrate their party independence by voting in favor of the project.

The protectionist strategy appeared to be at play on the immigration bill this week when both House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) made sure Denham's bill did not become part of the defense bill.

Both leaders have insisted they still support the ENLIST Act, believing that young people in the country illegally, often brought by their parents as children, should be able to pursue legal status if they agree to serve.

"We have supported it in the past," Boehner said.

But Boehner is not the keeper of the floor schedule. In fact, when pressed later in the week about why he was holding up immigration legislation, almost a year after a bipartisan bill already passed the Senate, the speaker sounded almost incredulous.

"Me?" he protested.

Organizing the floor schedule is a job that largely falls to the majority leader, which is why advocates of immigration reform have increasingly set their sights on Cantor.

The Republican majority leader has his own brewing primary challenge from the right next month, but Cantor has insisted the leadership decision to tank Denham's bill had less to do with elections than with finding the appropriate venue for the legislation. No decision has been made if Denham's bill will get a separate vote later, the leaders have said.

None of that has stopped the two-term congressman from pushing his colleagues, as he appeared before the Rules Committee on Tuesday to make his case for his bill.

"There is no better way to show your patriotism," he said, than serving in the military. And that should offer a route to "earned citizenship."

Immigration advocates have grown weary of what they see as endless delays in Washington, especially as families are being divided, they say, by the White House's deportation policies. They have taken their protests to new and different audiences in a plea for support.

For the holiday weekend, a group of law enforcement, business and faith leaders sponsored an ad at the Indianapolis 500, hoping to reach about 300,000 race fans. Their Jumbotron video reads: "No More Excuses."

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

Homeland Security May Reduce Deportations of Nonviolent Immigrants

Los Angeles Times
By Christi Parsons and Brian Bennett
May 24, 2014

As city and county jails across the country increasingly refuse federal requests to hold foreigners who have overstayed their visas or slipped across the border, the Obama administration is moving toward a new policy that would limit deportations chiefly to immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is expected to recommend small but significant changes to Secure Communities, a controversial program that now ranks repeat immigration violators alongside violent criminals on the priority list for deportation.

The change would slow the pace of deportations and potentially ease concerns of immigrants who now fear any contact with police. It also could help relieve political pressure on the White House from labor and Latino groups that have criticized President Obama as the "deporter in chief" for his administration's aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Advocates say the move would help local police concentrate on dangerous criminals and make immigration enforcement more "humane," as the president ordered in March.

Obama is driven by "the issues and concerns of families being separated" but is leaving the policy analysis to Johnson, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

In private meetings with police, Johnson has said he is considering limiting when immigration agents can contact local jails to ask them to hold undocumented immigrants. In a May 15 interview with "PBS NewsHour," he said Secure Communities needed "a fresh start."

Republican leaders in Congress have made clear they would oppose any effort to scale back Secure Communities through rule changes while a proposed overhaul of immigration law is stalled in the House.

In 2012, facing a similar outcry from pro-reform advocacy groups, Obama acted to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people, so-called "dreamers" brought to the U.S. as children, through a program that he ordered without congressional approval.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) warned that changing regulations now to slow deportations more could further sour White House relations with suspicious House Republicans and douse hopes of reaching a permanent legislative solution this year.

"Until the president gives us some confidence that we can trust him to implement an immigration reform bill," Boehner said, "we really don't have much to talk about."

Secure Communities, which began under the George W. Bush administration, was meant to coordinate federal enforcement efforts with immigration procedures in every city and town.

The FBI collects fingerprints of anyone arrested or booked by local or state police to see if he or she has a criminal record, is a fugitive or is wanted elsewhere. Under Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can check those fingerprints against immigration databases to see if a suspect is in the country illegally or deportable because of a criminal conviction.

More than 283,000 people were deported under the program between 2008 and April of this year, according to ICE.

The program asks state and local law enforcement agencies to hold detainees up to 48 hours, plus weekends if necessary, until an ICE agent arrives. Only federal officers are authorized to enforce immigration laws.

But many police chiefs say that Secure Communities has made undocumented immigrants less likely to come forward to report crimes when they have been victims or witnesses, and that it has strained local budgets as jails hold nonviolent prisoners.

"The immigrant community are the prey; they are not the predators," said Ron Teachman, chief of police in South Bend, Ind. "We need them to be the eyes and ears. They are exploited in their workplace, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes with domestic violence."

The number of cities and counties that cooperate with Secure Communities has grown from 14 in 2008 to more than 3,000 today, including all those along the Southwest border with Mexico, according to ICE.

But a growing number of communities are refusing to participate.

California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia passed laws limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. In addition, 12 cities and at least 37 counties in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin have adopted similar policies.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter decided on April 16 that city police would no longer automatically honor requests to hold immigrants for deportation. Two days later, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland announced a similar policy reversal for the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center.

Across the country, in Portland, Ore., U.S. District Judge Janice M. Stewart ruled April 11 that detention requests from ICE do not provide sufficient legal basis to hold an immigrant in a local jail. After the decision, 26 of the state's 36 counties said they would also stop cooperating with ICE.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for lower immigration levels, called the backlash a threat to public safety.

"To suggest that sheriffs can individually decide if they would comply with an ICE hold or not — it's a broad threat to the constitutional framework under which immigration law exists," Stein said.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com