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


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why is Mexican migration slowing while Guatemalan and Honduran migration is surging?

By Kevin Sieff

URUAPAN, Mexico — Not long ago, it seemed as if every young person in this city was heading north, part of a mass exodus from Mexico that sent millions of people to the United States illegally.

But that flow has since slowed to a trickle. Migration from Mexico has dropped 90 percent over the past 20 years; this year, for the first time ever, Guatemala and Honduras are on pace to surpass it as the leading sources of illegal immigration to the United States.

The young men and women of Uruapan, which has grown to become the world’s avocado capital, are doing something historic: They’re staying here.

Jose Garduno Hernandez, 33, works as an agricultural engineer, inspecting avocado orchards that send their vegetables to the United States.

“Our parents saw no other option but to migrate,” he said. “But for us, we see alternatives.

“If I go to the United States, it will be as a tourist.”

The dramatic changes in migration flows from Mexico are the product of multiple factors. Among them: the growth of the country’s economy, an aging population, more visas for temporary work and increased U.S. border enforcement.

Those factors might seem loosely connected, but analysts say the sharp decline reflects a natural pattern that’s likely to be repeated in Central America as the populations of Guatemala and Honduras age and as their economies grow.

“That’s what history shows from countries all over the world,” said Princeton University’s Douglas Massey, founder of the 37-year study known as the Mexican Migration Project.

“Migration reaches its peak and then it comes down,” he said. “They reach a certain level of development and then it slows down.”

President Trump has suggested that migration is best slowed through enforcement — such as sending troops to the border and building a wall — and changes in America’s asylum system. The dramatic collapse of migration from Mexico has received almost no public attention from the White House. But examining what happened here could serve as a useful window into the future of immigration to the United States.

Fewer than 75,000 Mexicans have been apprehended at the U.S. border so far this year. The number apprehended from Guatemala, a country with less than one-seventh of Mexico’s population, is more than 132,000.

In Guatemala, some analysts see a version of what Mexico was two decades ago: a country approaching its “migration hump” — the peak of a wave that will rise and fall as such flows typically do.

“The same story played out in Italy, Ireland and the Czech Republic many years before it played out in Mexico,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “And it probably will play out in Central America, too, as the population gets older and the economies expand. But it’s not predetermined when or how it will happen.”

Jorge Durand, a scholar at the University of Guadalajara, has studied migration from the Los Altos de Jalisco region for 30 years. When he began working there, he said, “it was like everyone was leaving for the United States.”

But when Durand returned for another round of research last year, he observed “a radical change.”

“Mothers there once had at least eight children,” he said. “Now, they have two. The women are working, so for the first time families have two incomes, and the region is full of economic opportunities. It’s one of the country’s biggest egg producers. They make tequila. There are clothing factories.”

“The people now say, ‘If I can make $400 per month here, why do I need to go to the United States?’ The cost of living is a lot cheaper. In the U.S. you can make three times more, but it doesn’t help if you need to pay $3,000 for a coyote and an expensive rent.”

Here in Uruapan, a city of more than 250,000 midway between Mexico City and the Pacific Ocean, residents have benefited from one particular corner of the country’s agricultural industry: The post-NAFTA boom in avocados.

Eighty-five percent of the 4 billion avocados consumed in the United States last year came from Mexico. Mexico’s avocado exports were worth $2.4 billion, which has made the city attractive for would-be migrants.

Alejandro Chavez worked in San Francisco for 20 years as a construction worker, building everything from townhouses to high-rises. He was undocumented, but his children were U.S. ­citizens.

When he heard about the economic growth in Uruapan, his hometown, he decided to return with his family voluntarily. They bought an apartment building in a part of Uruapan called ­Caltzontzin. They rent out each of the five units for $200 per month.

“There’s no reason for us to be in America when we can make a living here,” said Chavez, 38.

The family worried briefly about their 15-year-old son, Pablo, who was more comfortable in English than Spanish and who was accustomed to life in California. But Pablo’s transition has been smoother than expected.

“There’s even a Little Caesar’s here,” Pablo said. “It tastes exactly the same as San Francisco.”

In 2000, at the peak of Mexican migration to the United States, 1.5 million Mexicans were apprehended at the border. Back then, critics of illegal immigration talked about a flood of Mexicans overwhelming the United States.

But by 2019, the North American Free Trade Agreement had produced an increase in economic opportunity. Over the past two decades, average income in Mexico has risen by roughly 20 percent. Education attainment has gone up by 50 percent. Public services such as health care have dramatically improved. Immigrants in the United States sent billions in remittances back to Mexico, which paid for university educations and provided capital for small ­business.

The growth has been uneven. The minimum wage here is just over $5 per day. And a huge portion of the Mexican population still lives in dire poverty — 60 percent in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, for example. Many young people from those states are now migrating within the country to work. Roughly 4 percent of Mexicans are internal migrants.

Jose Bacilio, 38, makes about $25 per day picking avocados. He thinks about working in the United States — but only with a visa. He spent six months picking berries in Southern California last year on a temporary visa for agricultural workers. This year, roughly 300,000 Mexicans will receive those visas, known as ­H-2As, a massive expansion from previous years, which has further diminished Mexicans’ interest in illegal immigration.

“Most of my friends go with visas or they don’t go at all,” Bacilio said.

Philip Martin is professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California at Davis, and editor of Migration News and Rural Migration News.

“The bottom line,” he said, “is that we are replacing aging unauthorized farmworkers with legal Mexican H-2As.”

But while Mexicans now have greater access to U.S. visa programs, relatively few of those visas are awarded to Guatemalans and Hondurans, in part because those countries are farther from the border and transporting those workers costs more.

The demographic story is also important. In 1995, Mexico’s median age was 21. By next year, it will be about 30. Mexico’s baby boom is over, due to a combination of economic growth and cheaper contraception, thanks in part to the Mexican government’s family planning policy. That change has led to a looser labor market and a smaller population of young people, who are seen as the likeliest to migrate.

The dual factors of an improving economy and an aging population have caused declines in migration for hundreds of years across Europe and Asia. It appears that those factors are already slowing the migrant flow out of El Salvador, which has an older population than either Guatemala or Honduras, both still in the midst of their “youth bulges.” The number of Salvadorans apprehended at the U.S. border fell from 72,000 in 2016 to 31,600 in 2018.

Violence and political instability remain major factors that can influence migration from Central America. But for now, a large number of migrants from Guatemala and Honduras are primarily fleeing poverty.

For those who have studied migration here, the fact that Mexico is no longer the largest source of illegal immigration to the United States doesn’t come as a surprise. It was always an inevitability, based on how the country was developing.

“A lot of people thought it was a boom that was never going to end,” Massey said. “But I could see things unfolding in real time. I could see that the peak had been reached and rates were coming down. There’s no sign it will ever return.”

Prosecutors sue feds to stop courthouse immigration arrests

By Alanna Durkin Richer

BOSTON — Prosecutors in Massachusetts sued Monday to block federal authorities from making arrests at courthouses of people suspected of being in the country illegally, arguing the practice is making it harder for them to hold defendants accountable and get justice for victims.

The top prosecutors for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, and Middlesex County say in the lawsuit joined by public defenders and others that some cases are grinding to a halt because witnesses, victims or defendants are too afraid to come to courts staked out by immigration agents.

“When we cannot hold anyone accountable for their actions — let me be clear — that is not justice and not one person in this commonwealth is safer because of that practice,” Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan told reporters.

The federal lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, is the latest fight between state and federal authorities over President Donald Trump’s stepped-up immigration efforts.

It comes days after federal prosecutors in Massachusetts charged a state court judge and former court officer with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping a man sneak out a back door of the courthouse to evade a waiting immigration agent.

Such courthouse arrests, which immigrant advocates say have increased across the country under Trump, have led to protests by lawyers representing immigrants and calls for an end to the policy from current and retired judges . Earlier this month, New York state courts officials barred immigration agents from making arrests inside courthouses without judicial warrants or orders.

The Trump administration has said it’s only going to halls of justice for certain targets, like public safety threats, and that courthouses are among the safest places to arrest immigrants because visitors typically have to go through metal detectors.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman declined to comment Monday.

But Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson slammed prosecutors for bringing the case, saying they should be “working with law enforcement instead of partnering with criminal illegal immigrants.”

The lawsuit seeks to bar federal authorities from arresting people for civil immigration violations while they’re coming to, leaving or are inside a courthouse. The lawsuit does not aim to block immigration agents from arresting people who are brought in court while in state custody on a criminal charge.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal of Lawyers for Civil Rights, one of the groups bringing the case, said it’s the first federal lawsuit challenging ICE’s practice of courthouse arrests.

“This case creates a blueprint for advocates across the country who want to protect immigrants,” the executive director said.

A judge on Massachusetts’ highest court last year rejected a similar state court case that sought to bar agents from arresting immigrants at courthouses.

Among other things, the federal lawsuit argues that the practice violates the constitutional right to access the courts.

“I am not asking nor am I intending to interfere with the federal government when they engage in and exercise their lawful authority,” Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said. “I simply ask that they pay us the same respect and not interfere with ours.”

Lawyers said they don’t have data on how many cases have been disrupted by ICE arrests, but say immigration arrests are reported at courthouses across the state several times a week. Ryan said her office has seen two cases that were interrupted because someone needed in court disappeared during the day.

The complaint cites several cases of victims being too afraid to come forward because of the courthouse arrests. For example, immigrants who were duped into investing in a shell company have refused to bring a case against the fraudster to get their money back because they fear they could be arrested and deported if they have to show up in court, the lawsuit says.

“Our courts are places where individuals, regardless of income or influence or status must be able to seek justice, to exercise their constitutional rights, to seek safety from physical harm or compensation for economic harm,” said Wendy Wayne, director of the immigration impact unit at Massachusetts’ public defender agency, the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Trump tightens asylum rules, will make immigrants pay fees to seek humanitarian refuge

By Maria Sacchetti, Felicia Sonmez and Nick Miroff

President Trump ordered major changes to U.S. asylum policies in a White House memo released Monday night, including measures that would charge fees to those applying for humanitarian refuge in the United States.

Trump’s directive also calls for tightening asylum rules by banning anyone who crosses the border illegally from obtaining a work permit, and giving courts a 180-day limit to adjudicate asylum claims that now routinely take years to process because of a ballooning case backlog.

The order, announced in a presidential memorandum, comes as the president is seeking to mobilize his supporters with a focus on illegal immigration ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign.

“If the Democrats don’t give us the votes to change our weak, ineffective and dangerous Immigration Laws, we must fight hard for these votes in the 2020 Election!” the president wrote on Twitter after the White House published his order.

The surge of migrants from Central America arriving at the U.S. southern border with Mexico has frustrated the Trump administration, which has been trying various methods to stem the flow, all of them thus far unsuccessful. The proposed changes to the asylum system aim to address one of the most confounding aspects of the surge: Families seeking safe passage using long-standing U.S. asylum protections.

More than 103,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month, the highest level in more than a decade. About 60 percent were Central American parents traveling with children who, upon arrival on U.S. soil, have the legal right to request refuge from persecution.

Their numbers have overwhelmed the government’s ability to hold them in custody and quickly process their claims. Adults who arrive with children are typically assigned a court date and are released into the country, often reuniting with family members and taking jobs while their claims are pending.

Trump in recent weeks has increasingly mocked asylum seekers as fraudsters trying to game the system by making up stories about their hardships and fears of return to their native lands. Though homicide rates in Central America are among the highest in the world, many of those now arriving acknowledge they are fleeing poverty and hopelessness, which are not grounds for asylum protections.

The new White House measures, which call for new regulations in 90 days, follow one week after Trump issued a separate memorandum directing the secretaries of state and homeland security to find ways to combat visa overstays; it is another example of the administration trying to squeeze migration as it argues that the influx of undocumented people amounts to a national emergency.

“The extensive resources required to process and care for these individuals pulls U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel away from securing our Nation’s borders,” Trump’s latest memorandum reads.

The goal of the move, the document states, is “to strengthen asylum procedures to safeguard our system against rampant abuse of our asylum process.”

The memorandum directs Attorney General William P. Barr and acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan to propose regulations within 90 days that would change various aspects of the way asylum cases are handled.

It calls for the United States to charge a fee for asylum applications, and it seeks to ensure that, “absent exceptional circumstances,” all asylum applications will be adjudicated within 180 days of filing.

The moves would prohibit those who have entered the United States illegally from receiving provisional work permits until they have been approved for relief or protection from removal.

U.S. immigration law grants the attorney general the authority to impose fees on asylum applicants, but does not require such payments, and migrants seeking refuge to avoid deportation have not been charged.

David A. Martin, a former Homeland Security deputy general counsel who helped make changes to the asylum system in the 1990s, said that he had never heard of charging a fee to applicants and that it would be a “bad idea.”

Asylum seekers are fleeing for their lives — fearing torture or death in their home countries — and often cannot afford to survive without assistance in the United States, he said.

“Genuine asylum seekers by definition leave in the most urgent of circumstances,” Martin said. “As a group, they tend to be very short on resources. If you’re going to leave the possibility of refuge for people who legally qualify truly open, you wouldn’t impose a barrier of a fee.”

Charging a fee for asylum claims would put the United States in the clear minority. A study of 147 countries found that the “vast majority” did not charge a fee to apply for asylum, according to a December 2017 report by the Law Library of Congress’ Global Legal Research Center. Some nations charged migrants fees for temporary or permanent protection visas, though migrants could apply for waivers.

Proposing and implementing regulations typically takes months and requires a period of public comment. But Martin said the Trump administration could carry out the changes more quickly if it declares an urgent need.

In February, Trump declared a national emergency to free up federal funding to expand the wall on the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Several lawsuits are pending against the emergency, including one filed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Trump referred to the national emergency in the memo, saying the border situation is growing “increasingly severe.”

Federal law already requires that the government adjudicate asylum cases within 180 days, Martin noted. The requirement took effect in the 1990s and helped reduce asylum fraud and slash a large backlog of cases. Under that earlier change, the government also restricted work permits to migrants whose cases had been pending at least six months.

But almost a decade ago, Martin said, asylum cases started to pile up again and the government failed to invest enough in the immigration courts to keep up. Now the court backlog exceeds 850,000 cases, including asylum, with approximately 400 judges to handle them.

Clearing cases in six months is a good objective, Martin said, but “it’s not like a brand new idea.”

The White House memo directs the Department of Homeland Security to reassign personnel to improve screening of asylum applicants, “strengthen law enforcement” and enforce deportation orders from immigration courts.

Advocates for immigrants predicted that Trump’s proposals would face swift legal challenges and a protracted battle in federal court.

But they said the presidential memo could cause chaos in the already overwhelmed immigration courts, intensifying pressure on immigration judges who would be subject to case-completion quotas.

Keren Zwick, associate director of litigation for the National Immigrant Justice Center, said the court system is not equipped to handle cases as quickly as would be required. She worries that immigrants would not have fair hearings because they wouldn’t have time or money to gather evidence, find a lawyer, and support themselves while they await a hearing.

“It’s not that asylum seekers don’t want other cases to be quickly adjudicated,” she said. “There’s a fine line between quick adjudication and being railroaded through the system. . . . It’s not like asylum seekers want to sit here in limbo forever,” she said. “But they also don’t want to be punished for seeking asylum.”

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

ICE is holding $204 million in bond money, and some immigrants might never get it back

By Meagan Flynn

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding on to more than $200 million in bond money that belongs to immigrants who have been in the agency’s custody, cash that has yet to be returned to thousands of immigrant families or the U.S. citizens who bailed them out, according to data obtained through open-records requests.

The unreturned bond money stood at $204 million as of July 31, 2018, according to the data, which immigration-law clinics at Stanford University and the University of California at Davis obtained and shared exclusively with The Washington Post. The pot of money grew by $57.3 million between September 2014 and July 2018, the data shows.

More than 18,000 bond payments went unclaimed in that four-year period, according to the data.

Although the trust fund — which the Treasury Department maintains — cannot be used for any other purpose, getting the money back to immigrants and their friends and families has proved a difficult and lengthy process. ICE officials said the agency makes multiple attempts to reach the people who posted the bond, but paperwork and checks mailed to them sometimes are undeliverable or receive no response, and it can be impossible to find the people if they have moved out of the country. Those who do submit claims, ICE said, receive their money within a month.

ICE did not provide data on average wait times to claim the money, and several lawyers and immigrants told The Post they have in some cases waited a year or longer after submitting for reimbursement.

Numerous immigration attorneys said the system for reclaiming the funds is mystifying and nearly impossible to navigate without a lawyer or English-language proficiency, and some who pay the bonds are unlikely to see the money again. As bond amounts remain on the rise, lawyers said thousands of people are putting their life savings in ICE’s hands to secure an immigrant’s temporary freedom without any idea of when or if they’ll see the money again. Many immigrants say it takes far longer than a month to reclaim their money.

“The toll on a poor family having to pay thousands of dollars in bond can’t be overstated,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, director of Stanford’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. “Clearly, something is breaking down when there are hundreds of millions of dollars sitting in an account that belongs to those immigrant families. If nothing else is clear, that is clear.”

Srikantiah and Holly S. Cooper, co-director of UC Davis’s Immigration Law Clinic, said they intend to push for congressional oversight of ICE’s bond system. They said the amassing of bond money indicates a serious problem and could amount to a massive theft from people who can least afford it.

Marco Antonio Torres Rojas, a father of three from Mexico, won his immigration case in August, but it took roughly seven months for ICE to return the $25,000 bond his family and friends paid to gain his release — seven years ago.

When he was detained in 2012 — for overstaying an H-2B work visa — an immigration attorney assured his family that paying the bond would be the only way to stave off deportation. But for Rojas, a landscaper and snowplow driver in Minnesota, $25,000 appeared impossible. He and his wife had just a few thousand dollars in savings.

So they started pooling money: Three thousand from an aunt. Four thousand from a cousin. Eight thousand from Rojas’s closest friend. Sums that drove each into debt.

“We felt a sense of desperation,” Rojas said.

While criminal defendants typically can pay a bondsman 10 percent of the set bail amount to gain release, in the immigration system about 90 percent of bonds require cash for the whole amount upfront.

ICE initially sets bonds on a “case-by-case basis,” the agency said, though not everyone is eligible for bond or release.

For those who are eligible, bonds have been steadily rising since the second half of the Obama administration, after an influx of Central American immigrants. The average bond set by a judge was $3,000 to $5,000 for years, but it rose to $8,000 in fiscal year 2016, according to data from the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Bonds have remained at that level or slightly higher into the first months of fiscal year 2019.

Lawyers say the unexplained rises in fees have forced detainees into an impossible choice.

“I hear from people who call me asking, ‘Should I use the money to pay legal fees or pay the bond fees?’ ” Cooper said. “ ‘I only have one truck. If I sell it, it’s $5,000.’ ”

Once the money is raised — often from numerous people in each case — only a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident can post the bond. Because many immigrants don’t have a close relative who fits the definition, they sometimes turn to acquaintances or neighbors, said Michelle N. Mendez, an immigration attorney at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network in Silver Spring, Md. That person, according to ICE policies, is the only one who will ever get a copy of the bond paperwork.

Mendez said many immigrants don’t know that once the bond is posted, only the person who posted the bond can get it back.

“Then life happens,” Mendez said. “Maybe they don’t keep in touch with the obligor. Maybe the obligor is not a person of integrity — he’s a fraudster. Or they just lose touch with the obligor, because the obligor is some random person they found to post the bond.”

The person who posted the bond money might move across the country or even out of the country; they might lose the original paperwork required to reclaim the money back, creating additional hurdles; the obligor might die.

Gloria Contreras Edin, an immigration attorney in Minnesota, said she had one undocumented client whose obligor was on the brink of dying of cancer. Before the man died, her client wheeled him into her office so he could sign over the bond responsibilities to someone else. Her client, Anibal El Verengue, a Guatemalan who lives in Minnesota and was ordered removed in 2015 for entering the country illegally, said he would not have known to do this if he did not have an attorney to advise him.

A friend who lives in Idaho and is married to a U.S. citizen offered to be responsible for El Verengue’s bond; El Verengue said he has been waiting on a refund of the bond payment since December. He then had to pay a second bond after he was arrested on DUI charges, a bond that is still open, his attorney said.

“One friend who I owe money won’t even speak to me, because he doesn’t trust me anymore,” said El Verengue, whose application for asylum is pending.

Mendez said she discovered how dire the problem was in 2009, two years after a well-publicized immigration raid at a Baltimore 7-Eleven resulted in numerous deportations. When Mendez checked in on some of the families of the deported men, she discovered they were living in poverty.

“I wanted to make sure that when the breadwinner got deported, the family would have some money,” Mendez said. “Those were the cases where I started to think: How do we get this money back? Nobody really knew . . . At that point, they’re really so far removed from the bond posting — thinking, ‘Oh well. I lost my case. I’m not entitled to anything’ — that they just let it be.”

To assist the Baltimore-area families, she started investigating the process for bond refunds: Once an immigrant’s case is closed — win or lose — the bond is “canceled” so long as they met the legal conditions that went along with it. The person who posted the bond, not the immigrant, should receive notice by mail.

“ICE does not notify the alien for whom the bond was executed, because its contract is with the obligor,” ICE said in a statement.

ICE makes three attempts to locate the person, but if the person who posted the bond did not file paperwork indicating a change of address, it might not be possible to find them.

And even those who follow the procedures said the process is rife with delays.

María Sosa, a legal permanent resident in California, said that her husband won his immigration case in October but that she did not receive a bond cancellation notice from ICE until January. Unable to speak English, she made numerous visits to an ICE office to understand what she needed to do to get her money back; she received it on March 29.

To pay the $3,000 bond in the first place, Sosa, who works at a factory that makes prepackaged food, borrowed money from three people and dipped into her savings, which were supposed to fund a visit to Mexico to visit family. While she was waiting for the check from ICE, she said, her father-in-law in Mexico grew seriously ill and died.

She said she and her husband could not afford to attend his funeral.

“The whole system is created in a way that doesn’t foster the accessibility to those funds,” Contreras Edin said. “And so many times the money is left and just sits there.”

ICE pays interest on bond money while unclaimed, up to one year. After that, the funds are transferred to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department said it does not know what year the $204 million began accumulating. The U.S. government is not allowed to use the money unless immigrants fail to adhere to bond conditions and forfeit it, otherwise known as a bond breach.

Bonds can be breached for reasons such as failure to show up in court or failure to turn the immigrant over to authorities if ICE asks the obligor to do so. But there can also be mistakes. Mendez recalled a case in which ICE breached her client’s bond for failure to show up to be deported — but her client was still appealing the removal order, and ICE had apparently missed that information, according to 2015 correspondence with ICE she provided to The Post.

About $34.5 million in bonds is forfeited each year, money that ICE uses to defray detention and apprehension costs.

Advocates at Stanford and UC Davis argue that the arrangement creates a conflict of interest.

“They obviously have incentive to not exercise discretion favorably and to breach more bonds,” said Emily Child, who worked on the Stanford and UC Davis research with Cooper. “That money goes right back into their pockets.”

ICE said that all breach decisions can be appealed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. When breaching bonds, agents consider whether the violation was an accident or intentional and whether the obligor or immigrant was acting in good faith, ICE said in a statement.

Rojas was getting nervous. It was March, and he had been waiting seven months for a check that would be addressed to his brother’s wife, the U.S. citizen who posted his bond.

He called his attorney, Contreras Edin, expressing his fear that something had fallen through the cracks. The lawyer’s office contacted ICE bond specialists. A few weeks later, the check arrived.

Cooper and Srikantiah said they believe that working with an attorney is crucial to recovering the bond money, and many immigrants and those who post the bonds don’t have lawyers or can’t afford one.

They argue that ICE’s systems are outdated and cumbersome, and they believe immigrants should receive copies of their bond paperwork in a language they can understand, something that could mitigate the possibility of fraud and ensure that those who pay bonds receive the money back when they are entitled to it.

“While something like $5,000 or $10,000 might not be a lot of money to the federal government, to an individual family that has pulled all of their money together in order to get a loved one out of detention, it’s an incredible amount,” Srikantiah said. “With detention growing at the rate it is, we think this is a really good time for Congress to provide some oversight and actually investigate why this is happening.”

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

Hours after mass escape, migrants chant for food, freedom

By Mark Stevenson

TAPACHULA, Mexico — About 600 mostly Cuban migrants who were part of a mass escape from a southern Mexico immigration detention center a day earlier remained at large Friday evening, immigration authorities said.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said in a statement that rather than the 1,300 escapees it reported Thursday night, only 645 migrants had actually fled. It said only 35 of those who escaped had returned without explaining why it had lowered its figures.

The center was holding 1,745 people at the time, nearly double its capacity, the statement said.

The escape began with Cuban migrants escaping their holding area into an area reserved for women, who were mostly Honduran. That caused a commotion and migrants gained access to other parts of the detention center before eventually making it to the main entrance. Immigration agents were unarmed and unable to intervene.

Hours after the mass escape, throngs of detained migrants raised their fists in the air Friday and chanted “We want food! We want out!”

It was the largest mass escape from a Mexican immigration center in memory and the latest example of how the government has become overloaded by a flood of Central American, Cuban and Haitian immigrants.

Residents of Tapachula, a city on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, reported seeing hundreds of migrants running through the streets late Thursday, some only half dressed, some cramming themselves into passing minivans to escape.

Those with family members inside the Siglo XXI detention center said the escape arose from a dispute over food and sleeping space, both of which were in short supply in the overcrowded center. Authorities said Friday the Siglo XXI center was holding 1,745 migrants at the time of the escape. The facility was built to hold fewer than 1,000 people.

Laisel Gómez Cabrera, a Cuban who now lives in Texas, was worried about his wife, Anisleidys Sosa Almeida, who has been held at the center for weeks.

On Friday, Gómez Cabrera stood outside the station — as he has most days since his wife was detained — trying to get information about her. He said there had been a fight at the facility prior to the escape, and it was provoked by overcrowding.

“They made it so they had to fight among themselves for a place to lie down, to get a little bit of food,” Gómez Cabrera said.

A distraught Raisa Torres Espinosa was waiting for news of her daughter, Cynthia Barbara, 21, who was being held at the center along with her husband. Both left Cuba recently, traveling through Panama and then overland to Mexico, where they were detained.

Torres Espinosa said her daughter had told her conditions at Siglo XXI, which means “21st century” in Spanish, were “very bad” and had worsened in the last week.

“This week they have put 20 busloads of migrants, all of them, in there,” she said, motioning toward the metal gates.

Gómez Cabrera said she suspected authorities may have opened the gates Thursday night to let migrants flee as a way of reducing pressure on the system, knowing that those who left would no longer be allowed to apply for any kind of humanitarian visa, asylum or residence permit in Mexico.

“All the ones who left are going to get put on a red list,” Gómez Cabrera said. “If they catch them again, they are going to be subject to automatic deportation.”

Buses arrived Thursday and Friday apparently to take women and children out of the overcrowded facility.

But while conditions may improve somewhat, the prospect of deportation drives the Cuban families to despair.

Carlos Labada, another Cuban who lives in the United States, said his father, mother and younger sister are all being held at the center.

“The girl is subjected to psychological torture. Every day (authorities) tell her, ‘We’re going to deport you, we’re going to deport you,’” Labada said. “It would be like a living death” to be sent back to the island, he said.

Other Cubans said the government would deny work and education opportunities to those sent back.

In January 2017, the outgoing administration of U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped longstanding rules under which Cubans who reached American soil were automatically allowed to apply to remain. The end of the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy means U.S. immigration authorities now treat Cubans more like immigrants from other countries, although Cubans still are more likely to be granted asylum.

Cubans also still retain the right to apply for residency after a year in the U.S., a privilege other nationalities do not receive.

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

DHS: More than 1,600 migrants have been returned to Mexico

By Priscilla Alvarez

Washington (CNN)The US has returned more than 1,600 migrants to Mexico to await immigration hearings, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The individuals have been returned under the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, informally known as Remain in Mexico, that requires some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their immigration hearing.

It’s one of many policies that the Trump administration has deployed to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border, and like others, is being challenged in court.

This week, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a case challenging the policy.

The three-judge panel — made up of two judges appointed by Democratic presidents and one appointed by a Republican — grappled with whether the policy should be allowed to continue, diving into technical matters and raising concerns about the process itself without providing much indication about where they stood overall.

The policy has drawn the ire of immigration advocates and lawyers who argue that it puts migrants who are predominantly from Northern Triangle countries and seeking asylum in the US in harm’s way.

Earlier this month, Judge Richard Seeborg of the Northern District of California blocked the policy. His reasoning was that the provision on which the government was relying was never intended to permit the return of asylum seekers to Mexico, and even if it did, the current screening procedures were not adequate, said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, however, put the order on hold, allowing the policy to temporarily continue.

The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols program was initially rolled out at the San Ysidro port of entry in January. It’s since expanded to include Calexico port of entry, San Diego sector, Paso del Norte port of entry, El Paso sector and El Centro sector, according to DHS.

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

Friday, April 26, 2019

Trump Won't Make Immigration Adviser Available to Congress

WASHINGTON — The White House blocked adviser Stephen Miller from testifying before congressional committees on immigration and a staff shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security, prompting lawmakers on Thursday to demand internal communications on the topic from Homeland Security officials.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the White House counsel said Miller and other members of President Donald Trump’s executive staff could refuse the request.

“The precedent for members of the White House staff to decline invitations to testify before congressional committees has been consistently adhered to by administrations of both political parties,” counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in his letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Trump has said he is opposed to aides testifying.

Miller is Trump’s top immigration policy adviser, and several people familiar with the matter say he orchestrated the effort to replace top leaders at Homeland Security when Trump’s frustrations boiled over again recently on border security. The people were not allowed to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The shakeup started with the withdrawal of Ron Vitiello to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen then resigned, and so did Undersecretary for Management Claire Grady. Some, like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services head Lee Francis Cissna, were rumored to be on the chopping block but have not yet left.

The Democratic heads of the House Judiciary, Oversight and Homeland Security Committees sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Thursday saying they were investigating the shakeup and asked for all internal communications related to the departure of several top officials.

“We are deeply concerned that the firing and forced resignation of these officials puts the security of the American people at risk,” the lawmakers wrote.

The decision not to allow Miller to testify comes as Trump contests Democrats’ efforts to ramp up investigations following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump declared on Wednesday.

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

State Judge Charged With Helping Man Evade Immigration Agent

BOSTON — A Massachusetts judge was indicted Thursday on charges that she helped a man who was living in the U.S. illegally sneak out a back door of the courthouse to evade a waiting immigration enforcement agent.

Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and former court officer Wesley MacGregor were charged with obstruction of justice based on accusations that they schemed to let the man escape after a hearing last year on charges that included drug possession.

The charges against Joseph and MacGregor were swiftly condemned in a statement from the state’s attorney general, who called the case “a radical and politically-motivated attack” on the courts by federal authorities.

Lawyers, judges and advocates have criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for stepping up immigration arrests at courthouses, saying it is disrupting the criminal justice system and scaring people away from halls of justice.

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the charges were not meant to send a message about immigration policy. He said everyone must be held to the rule of law, even the privileged and powerful.

“From certain corners I have heard the occasional gasp of dismay or outrage at the notion of holding a judge accountable for violating federal law,” Lelling said. “But if the law is not applied equally, it cannot credibly be applied to anyone.”

Joseph, 51, and MacGregor, 56, pleaded not guilty during brief appearances in Boston federal court. Joseph appeared to fight back tears as she left the courthouse.

“This prosecution is absolutely political. Shelley Joseph is absolutely innocent,” her attorney, Thomas Hoopes, told reporters.

An email seeking comment was sent to a public defender for MacGregor.

Joseph, who was appointed as a District Court judge in 2017, has been suspended without pay, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said.

Authorities say an immigration agent was in the courtroom to detain the man when he appeared in the Newton courthouse in April 2018. The Dominican man had twice been deported and had been barred from entering the U.S. until 2027, prosecutors say.

Authorities say Joseph’s clerk asked the agent to leave the courtroom and told him that the suspect would be released into the courthouse lobby.

Instead, after the hearing, MacGregor led the defendant downstairs to the lockup and let him out a rear door, prosecutors say.

The man was caught by immigration officials about a month later, Lelling said, and is now in immigration proceedings.

The Trump administration has resisted calls to add courthouses to the list of so-called “sensitive locations” that are generally free from immigration enforcement, like schools and places of worship.

Immigration officials have said communities are forcing their hand by refusing to transfer immigrants in local prisons and jails to the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. They also argue that courthouse arrests are safer for agents because people have to go through metal detectors when they enter courthouses.

Courthouse arrests happened under former Democratic President Barack Obama, but advocates and lawyers across the country have said the practice has increased under Trump.

MacGregor, the former court officer, was also charged with perjury. Authorities say he falsely told the grand jury that he was unaware that immigration agents were in the courthouse before he let the suspect out the door.

“Abuses of power hurt us all,” said Peter Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations in Boston. “It undermines the core mission of government to serve the people. It has no place in a just and accountable society.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey blasted Lelling for the charges, saying the matter could have been handled by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and the trial court.

“Today’s indictment is a radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts,” Healey said in an emailed statement. “It is a bedrock principle of our constitutional system that federal prosecutors should not recklessly interfere with the operation of state courts and their administration of justice.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, called the case “preposterous, ironic, and deeply damaging to the rule of law.”

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

How armed citizen militias roam the border — and legal gray areas — to detain migrants

By Alex Horton

The camera panned across dozens of exhausted migrants crouched in the New Mexico night, fenced in by armed civilians. The woman filming issued a stern warning.

“Don’t aim the gun,” she called out to a member of the group off-screen, before she commented with wonderment about how many children were in the group being held.

The April 16 video of armed civilians holding migrants tore across social media and news outlets amid concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union that the actions of the United Constitutional Patriots amounted to armed kidnapping and coercion.

The video and the stories that followed prompted stern denunciations from the state’s governor and rights groups, and elements of that video and others are fueling inquiry over the legal gray areas in which self-described militias can operate.

That activity has placed armed civilians within feet of federal immigration agents at night in wild shrub land, with migrants caught in the middle, confused about who has actual authority on the border and what their rights are on U.S. soil.

“Menacing or threatening migrant families and asylum seekers is absolutely unacceptable and must cease,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said after the ACLU brought the video to light.

The men in these videos wear military-style uniforms, surround migrants with rifles and issue commands to stop and sit. One member can be seen walking in front of the camera with an AR-15 rifle.

In at least one video that has since been restricted, the group yells “Policia, alto!” — Police, stop! — at migrants, BuzzFeed News reported. In another, “a member of the militia is heard yelling in Spanish, ‘Pistola, pistola’ — gun, gun — at a group of people moments after they crossed the border at night,” BuzzFeed wrote.

Photos show the men wearing police-style star badges.

In the April 16 video, Customs and Border Protection agents arrive and collect migrants but do not ask the group with guns to disperse or take their weapons elsewhere.

“Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down,” Jim Benvie, a group spokesman, told the New York Times in a story April 18.

Benvie did not reply to requests for an interview for this story, but he has been active on Facebook and described his group’s motivation for their actions in two videos Tuesday night.

“We are simply there because President Trump declared a national emergency on the border. We came down to find out what that emergency is,” Benvie says. “We are sitting here right now, and we’re doing what we need to do.”

Experts say these groups exist in a murky legal world. What is the status of this group? Is it a militia? Are its actions protected by the Constitution, or does the conduct rise to the level of kidnapping or impersonating law enforcement?

“Militia is a term used in a rather fluid manner,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “It’s loosely defined as an armed group engaged in some paramilitary operation.”

The Supreme Court has ruled it’s an individual right to bear arms, Turley said, and if the members lawfully assemble without trespassing, they can exist in the ways neighborhood patrols do — albeit armed with AR-15 rifles.

“In some ways, these groups are George Zimmerman on steroids,” Turley said, referring to the man who followed and killed Trayvon Martin and was exonerated on the basis of Florida’s stand-your-ground self-defense law.

According to the group’s Facebook page, its objective is to “uphold the Constitution of the United States of America” and to protect citizens’ rights “against all enemies both foreign and domestic” — phrasing that mimics the oath taken by U.S. service members.

Dave Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law at Denver University, explained that in the American Revolution, militias were auxiliary forces that supplemented Continental troops across swaths of territory where an army presence was not always possible. Militias were crucial in raids and harassment campaigns against British soldiers.

Now, organized militias are National Guard units and some state guard groups, he said. All able-bodied men between 17 and 45 years old are members of an organized militia subject to mobilization, according to U.S. law.

The difference between those groups and the organization at the border, Kopel explained, is a matter of oversight. Governors command National Guard troops. Presidents can activate them for federal service.

It is legal to carry firearms openly in New Mexico, and there is not a law banning the use of military-style uniforms, though Turley said some behavior could catch the eye of prosecutors.

Most attorneys rely on explicit statements of misrepresenting oneself as law enforcement, but wearing police-style badges may get group members “dangerously close to the line of impersonating an officer.”

The group has sought to distance itself from the appearance of coercion, with Benvie calling its activities “a verbal citizen’s arrest” and suggesting that their activity is not actual detainment.

“We can’t make them stay if they don’t want to,” Benvie told the New York Times.

Still, Turley said, confusion may reign on the border when militiamen emerge from the dark with weapons drawn. “It’s very likely they view these militia members to be law enforcement,” he said.

Benvie told the paper the members were instructed not to point weapons and that military-style rifles were no longer permitted on patrols, though handguns were permissible. The April 16 video shows rifles in the hands of group members.

New Mexico has no statute on citizens’ arrests, Alan M. Malott, a since-retired judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court in New Mexico, wrote in 2011, saying someone can arrest a private citizen who “committed a felony-level crime or a breach of the peace in his presence.”

In a statement on Twitter, Customs and Border Protection said it “does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

It followed that tweet with phone numbers to call “if a member of the community witnesses or suspects illegal activity.”

Carlos Diaz, a CBP spokesman, declined to comment on the content of the videos, which appear to show armed civilians alongside Border Patrol agents.

“We have repeated time and time and time again, this is not a militia,” Benvie said in a Facebook video Tuesday. “This is not an armed vigilante group. This is not the KKK. This is not a terrorist organization.”

“If we did anything wrong, if there had ever been anything wrong, not only would those videos have not been done live, but the Border Patrol would have immediately acted,” Benvie said. “They don’t want civilians to enforce the law.”

“However,” he continues, “if you read the second part of their statement, they do encourage citizens to observe and report illegal activity relating to immigration, and they do welcome that. They’ve even posted the phone number, okay? So the point I’m trying to tell you is, is that ‘observing and reporting’ more or less is what we’ve been doing.”

The United Constitutional Patriots’ leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, appeared in court Monday on charges from 2017 of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. The FBI also contends his group was training for assassinations of liberal politicians and donors.

Hopkins, who goes by the pseudonym Johnny Horton and is referred to within the group as “Striker,” was arrested and accused of impersonating a law enforcement officer in 2006.

“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” Hector Balderas (D), the state attorney general, said in a statement after Hopkins’s arrest. Balderas said the arrest “indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not vigilantes.”

A letter sent by the New Mexico chapter of the ACLU asked Balderas to investigate the group. “We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” it said.

Benvie has said his group was welcomed by local law enforcement and said police were “happy we were there.” However, the group’s outpost in New Mexico was abandoned amid pressure from law enforcement, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra said officers would take action if group members pointed weapons at migrants.

“We can arrest them for assault,” Guerra said, according to the AP.

But in the April 16 video, the woman narrating the incident sought a more influential audience.

“Donald Trump needs to see this,” she said.

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

White House rejects Democrats’ call for Stephen Miller to testify on immigration

By Colby Itkowitz and Rachael Bade

The White House will refuse to allow senior adviser Stephen Miller to testify before the House Oversight Committee, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.

Oversight panel Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) received a letter from the White House counsel Wednesday denying his request that Miller come before the committee to testify on the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“We are pleased that the Committee is interested in obtaining information regarding border security and much needed improvements to our immigration system,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote, offering to make available “cabinet secretaries and other agency leaders” to discuss the issue.

In his original request sent last week, Cummings asked that Miller appear before the panel on May 1 “because it appears that you are one of the primary moving forces behind some of the most significant — and in my view, troubling — immigration policies coming out of the Trump White House.”

Few expected Miller to comply, given precedent that White House staff traditionally do not testify.

But Miller, Democrats worry, has had more power than a traditional White House staffer, particularly over immigration.

Miller was behind a controversial proposal to bus undocumented migrants to the jurisdictions of political foes of the president, Department of Homeland Security officials told The Post. He also pushed the policy that led to migrant children being separated from their parents after they crossed the southern border illegally, even if they were seeking asylum.

And Miller was reportedly the driving force behind the shake-up of the Department of Homeland Security at its highest levels, making room for the White House to install officials who will do Trump’s bidding despite concerns about legality.

Although Miller is effectively running immigration policy in the Trump administration, he is not a Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary. That means he is not accountable to Congress the way a traditional agency head would be.

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

Visa overstays outstrip border jumpers as biggest source of illegal immigration: Study

By Stephen Dinan

Some 5.5 million immigrants this century came to the U.S. legally but overstayed their visas, according to a new report Wednesday that suggests President Trump’s focus on the border may be missing a massive part of the immigration problem.

The Center for Migration Studies, based in New York, says 410,000 visa overstays arrived in 2016, or nearly double the 210,000 migrants who jumped the border and managed to sneak into the U.S. that year.

And while the border has heavily Mexican and Central American migration, the visa overstays come from all over, with Asia the top sending region, followed by South America, according to the think tank’s figures.

Border-jumpers used to far outstrip overstays, with some 945,000 people sneaking into the country in 2000, versus 445,000 overstays that year. But the number of new immigrants from illegal border crossings dropped and by the end of the last decade overstays were higher on an annual basis.

Visa overstays have long been one of the more complicated parts of illegal immigration.

Unlike border jumpers, those arriving on visitors’ passes have undergone some screening and presented identification, meaning the government has some idea who they are and had a chance to vet them.

But the Department of Homeland Security has never put much of a priority on trying to track down overstays to pressure them to go home, leaving millions remaining in the U.S.

Of the 5.5 million who arrived and overstayed from 2000 to 2016, 31% eventually went home or managed to earn some legal status in the U.S. But that left 3.8 million who were still in the country in 2016 without legal status, the Center for Migration Studies calculated.

A border wall, Mr. Trump’s immigration focus for much of last year, would have no effect on those migrants. Neither would his new calls for closing the border or demanding Mexico do more to stop the surge of people crossing its territory en route to the U.S.

Mr. Trump on Monday seemed to take note of the visa overstay problem, signing a memo asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security to report back on new steps that could be taken to tackle the issue.

One option would be to ban entry of people from countries with high overstay rates. Another would be to require visitors to pay “admission bonds” that would serve as an incentive for them to leave.

Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director, said it may make more sense to study what worked on Mexico, Korea or Poland, each of which saw visa overstays plummet dramatically over the decade.

“The measures being considered to reduce overstays should reflect these facts,” Mr. Kerwin said.

Trump critics said the White House’s plans would particularly strike at visitors from some African nations, which have the worst overstay rate.

Djibouti recorded an overstay rate of nearly 44% in 2018, while Eritrea came in at 24%, Chad at 30% and Angola at 15%, according to Homeland Security statistics.

Douglas Rivlin, communications director at America’s Voice, a leading immigration advocacy group, said the White House’s attempted crackdown is part of an “underlying white nationalist” scheme.

Mr. Rivlin summed the message up as: “If your country has ever won a medal at the Winter Olympics, you can apply to come here, and the rest of the world, just keep out.”

While jumping the border is a crime, overstaying a visa does not carry a criminal penalty. The punishment, if someone is actually caught, is deportation and a bar on reentering the U.S. for some period of time.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made major news this year when officers arrested Atlanta-area rapper Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, whose stage name is 21 Savage, for having overstayed a visa.

ICE said federal agents had targeted someone else in the car they stopped, but when they encountered Savage and determined he had a felony history, ICE moved to take him into custody for the immigration violation.

The rapper was released on an immigration bond the week after his arrest and is awaiting his hearing. Since he’s not being detained, and since judges are stretched by the recent surge of migrants at the border, it could be years before his case is decided.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Lopez-Aguilar v. Barr

In the context of aggravated felonies, a generic theft offense is defined as a taking of property or an exercise of control over property, without consent, with the criminal intent to deprive the owner of rights and benefits of ownership, even if such deprivation is less than total or permanent. Third-degree robbery under Oregon Revised Statutes Sec. 164.395 theoretically could cover a consensual taking due to its incorporation of theft by deception, but there is no realistic probability of a person being prosecuted under the statute for such conduct. The incorporation of unauthorized use of a vehicle under Oregon Revised Statutes Sec. 164.135(1)(b)-(c) into Sec. 164.395 does not make the statute over-broad.

Lopez-Aguilar v. Barr - filed April 23, 2019 
Cite as 2019 S.O.S. 17-73153 

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

Trump threatens crackdown on high visa overstay countries

By Jill Colvin

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering suspending or limiting entry to the U.S. for individuals from countries with high rates of short-term visa overstays — a proposal vaguely reminiscent of the controversial travel bans President Donald Trump pursued during his first year in office.

In a memo signed Monday, Trump directs officials to examine new ways to minimize the number of people overstaying their business and tourist visas as part of a renewed focus on immigration as the 2020 campaign kicks into high gear.

And it says the administration is considering developing “admission bonds” — people entering the country would pay a fee that would be reimbursed when they leave — in an effort to improve compliance.

“We have laws that need to be followed to keep Americans safe and to protect the integrity of a system where, right now, there are millions of people who are waiting in line to come to America to seek the American Dream,” Trump said in a statement.

More people are in the U.S. because they overstay visas than because they cross the border illegally, according to the nonpartisan Center for Migration Studies. Some of the countries with high overstay rates include Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Liberia, the Solomon Islands, Benin and Burkina Faso. Officials say 20 countries have rates over 10 percent.

The memo gives the secretaries of state and homeland security 120 days to come up with recommendations, including potentially limiting how long visas last.

The idea of restricting travel from high overstay countries is part of a long list of proposals being tossed around by officials as they try to appease a president who has been seething over the influx of migrants at the border as he tries to make good on his 2016 campaign promises and energize his base going into 2020.

The ideas have ranged from the extreme — including Trump’s threat to completely shut down the southern border and resume the widely denounced practice of separating children from parents — to more subtle tweaks to the legal immigration system.

Plans are also in the works to have border patrol agents, instead of asylum officers, conduct initial interviews to determine whether migrants seeking asylum have a “credible fear” of returning to their homelands. And the administration has been weighing targeting the remittance payments people living in the country illegally send home to their families and moving forward with plans to punish immigrants in the country legally for using public benefits, such as food stamps.

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Trump administration says immigrants working in legal marijuana industry lack ‘moral character’ for citizenship

By Colby Itkowitz

Immigrants who use marijuana or who work in the cannabis industry can be denied citizenship, even if they are doing so in states where it is legal, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday.

The guidance, issued — coincidentally or not — just before pot advocates’ national celebration of their 4/20 holiday, confirms what immigration and marijuana advocates have cautioned is a legal gray area that penalizes would-be citizens because they’ve broken a federal law.

Although recreational marijuana use is legal in 10 states and decriminalized in 14 more, it is still classified as an illegal substance federally.

“The policy guidance … clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws,” the guidance states.

Earlier this month, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr asking him to clarify and adjust policy that threatens permanent residents’ path to citizenship if they have worked in the marijuana industry. Colorado was one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana use, in 2012. The expansion of marijuana use beyond prescribed medical purposes has cultivated a thriving retail cannabis industry in the state.

In his letter, Hancock wrote:

This week, I met with two legal immigrants – one from Lithuania, another from El Salvador – who have lived here for more than two decades. They have graduated from our schools. They have paid their taxes. They are working to achieve the American dream and complying with the processes in place to become a part of our great society, but were denied naturalization solely because of their cannabis industry employment.

Denver understands the need for federal laws and regulations regarding citizenship and immigration, but we are seeing the heartbreaking effects that those federal laws and regulations are having on our residents. However, under current federal policy, lawful, permanent residents like the Denver residents I have met with are being denied naturalization and may lose their legal status based on their lawful employment in the cannabis industry.

The war on drugs has disproportionately hurt communities of color, and this is just another example of that, said Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. But Collins views this particular crackdown as more indicative of the Trump administration’s views on immigration than drug policy.

“Taking a step back, this has nothing to do with cannabis — this has to do with this administration never passing up an opportunity to prosecute immigrant communities,” Collins said. “They see cannabis as a ripe opportunity for persecuting these individuals.”

“The Trump administration has used the war on drugs since the beginning to go after migrant populations,” Collins added, pointing to President Trump’s rationale that a border wall would keep drugs out of the country and his blaming of migrants for the opioid epidemic.

In an emailed statement, USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins said the agency is “required to adjudicate cases based on federal law. Individuals who commit federal controlled substance violations face potential immigration consequences under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which applies to all foreign nationals regardless of the state or jurisdiction in which they reside.”

During the Obama administration, the federal government eased up on enforcing federal laws against marijuana, allowing states to chart their own paths on the issue. In January 2018, Jeff Sessions, while he was attorney general, rescinded that policy, arguing that it was his job to enforce federal laws.

Immigration lawyers have worried about how the Trump-era drug policy would affect legal residents seeking citizenship. Kathy Brady, a senior staff lawyer with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told the Associated Press that she advises people to avoid work in the marijuana industry until the federal law changes.

“Even if you have had a green card for 20 years, you had better not work in any aspect of this industry and you better not use marijuana,” Brady said.

In California, which starting licensing the sale and production of recreational marijuana last year, the state sent a notice in February warning noncitizens that they “may suffer negative immigration consequences” if they work with marijuana.

The Trump administration has now confirmed that is true.

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

Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint

ALBUQUERQUE — A right-wing militia group operating in southern New Mexico has begun stopping groups of migrant families and detaining them at gunpoint before handing them over to Border Patrol agents, raising tension over the tactics of armed vigilantes along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Members of the group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, filmed several of their actions in recent days, including the detention this week of a group of about 200 migrants who had recently crossed the border near Sunland Park, N.M., with the intention of seeking asylum. They uploaded videos to social media of exhausted looking migrant families, blinking in the darkness in the glare of what appeared to be the militia’s spotlights.

Professed militias have long operated along the border with attempts to curb the flow of undocumented migrants into the United States. But targeting the recent influx of families, who are legally allowed to request asylum and often quickly surrender to Border Patrol agents, is raising tension with human rights activists in this part of the West.

The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the militia’s actions in a letter on Thursday that asked New Mexico’s governor and attorney general to investigate the group. The A.C.L.U. said the militia had no legal authority under New Mexico or federal law to detain or arrest migrants in the United States.

“We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum,” two lawyers for the A.C.L.U., María Martínez Sánchez and Kirsten Greer Love, said in the letter.

In a statement, Hector Balderas, New Mexico’s attorney general, said: “These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”

Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots, said in a telephone interview that his group had been camped near El Paso for the past two months. Mr. Benvie contended that his group’s actions were legal, comparing the detention of the migrants to “a verbal citizen’s arrest.”

“We’re just here to support the Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,” said Mr. Benvie, 43, who recently came to New Mexico from Minnesota. He said the organization plans to remain on the border until the extended wall proposed by President Trump is built or Congress changes immigration laws to make it harder for migrants to request asylum.

Militias have recently stepped up their activities in New Mexico and other states as the authorities scramble to respond to a surge in families from Central America, with total apprehensions on the border reaching more than 92,000 in March. Elsewhere on the border, the mayor of Yuma, Ariz., declared an emergency this week as the city sought federal and state assistance to deal with migrant arrivals.

Mr. Benvie, the spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots, declined to specify how many of its members were in Sunland Park, a city in New Mexico about nine miles west of El Paso. He said the group included people with military or law enforcement experience.

“If these people follow our verbal commands, we hold them until Border Patrol comes,” Mr. Benvie said. “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.”

The governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, said in a statement that it was “completely unacceptable” that migrant families “might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form when they arrive at our border.”

“It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” she added.

The video of this week’s episode in the New Mexico desert shows Border Patrol agents arriving on the scene at some point after members of the militia have already come into contact with the migrants. Before the arrival of the federal agents, a woman narrating the video tells a man who appears to be a militia member “Don’t aim the gun” in the direction of the families. The migrants can be seen kneeling on the ground and embracing one another.

Mr. Benvie said that members of the militia gave a “verbal order of arrest” to the migrants, telling them to wait where they were until Border Patrol agents arrived. Members of his group offered $20 to any of the migrants who could identify the smuggler who helped them cross the border, he said, but none took them up on the offer.

Mr. Benvie said that members of his group were told not to point their weapons at any of the migrants. He added that the group has a new rule in which members are not allowed to go on patrol with military-style rifles, but can still carry handguns. “We can’t make them stay if they don’t want to,” he said.

Carlos A. Diaz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that includes the Border Patrol, declined to discuss the episode or the United Constitutional Patriots, but said the agency “does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.”

The responses to the militia’s videos on Facebook included an array of antagonistic or racist descriptions of the asylum seekers.

“Got to stop being sympathetic because of the kids,” said one commentator, Linda Ellen Sweeney. “Got to consider them as collateral damage now. We are DONE.”

Ursela Ojeda, a policy adviser in Washington for the Women’s Refugee Commission, an organization seeking to protect the rights of women and children displaced by conflict and crisis, called the actions of the militia “highly problematic.”

“These are families, and lots of young children, fleeing dangerous situations,” Ms. Ojeda said. “I have a hard time seeing how someone has a right to point a loaded weapon at these families.”

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