Tag Archives: obama

Nine Ways Obama Could Make Immigration Law Better Without Bothering to Wake Congress

13 Mar

dwi-obama-copy

The House of Representatives passed the Enforce Act yesterday.  This piece of legislation, which is never going to become law, provides a cause of action to Members of Congress to sue the President for failure to enforce the laws as they see fit.  The Enforce Act is aimed squarely at the President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has given hope to so many young undocumented immigrants.  How this vote fits with the immigration statement of principles that the House GOP released in January is beyond us.  When in doubt, votes, much more than “statements of principles,” reflect where Congress truly is.  And the House actually managed to get worse on immigration.  So, in case, it is not perfectly clear- THE HOUSE HAS NO INTENTION OF PASSING ANY MEANINGFUL IMMIGRATION REFORM.  IF THE PRESIDENT WANTS TO BE A CHAMPION OF IMMIGRANTS, HE NEEDS TO DO SO ON HIS OWN.  Got it??Grumpy-Cat

My internet marketing professionals tell me that lists are very effective ways to get readers to a blog.  And cats in a foul mood.

So, here are nine things that the President could do administratively to grant some relief from the deportation machine.  That is, nine things that the President could do without Congress acting.  Any of these steps would ease the deportation crisis and provide relief and assistance to hundreds of thousands of people left hopeless by Congressional inaction.

Now, we have heard a lot from this President that he does not have the authority to simply ignore the law.  That simple statement is true enough.  However, the President does have broad authority to determine how to interpret ambiguous statutory language.  And the Immigration and Nationality Act is pretty darn ambiguous.  For example, Congress has stated that cancellation of removal for people who are not permanent residents is limited to those who have U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members who would suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if the applicant were deported.  It is the role of the immigration agencies to define what is “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.”  Whereas the Board of Immigration Appeals has been pretty stingy with that standard, the agency could depart from such a parsimonious interpretation and create a more generous standard.  The President’s power to fill-in the details and context of statutes was discussed by the Supreme Court in Chevron v. National Resources Defense Council.  In that case, the Supreme Court stated that it will defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of ambiguous statutory language.  As a practical matter, where a court finds a statutory command to be ambiguous, it will almost always defer to the agency’s interpretation of the statute.  Most statutory language is ambiguous.  Recently, for example, courts of appeals have found the term “when the alien is released” to be ambiguous as to time.  If an agency’s interpretation conflicts with an ill-expressed Congressional mandate, the Court reasoned, Congress could legislate more specifically.  It is here that the President can use Congressional inaction in his favor.  Since Congress seems incapable of passing any legislation, it is unlikely that the President’s liberalized policies will be overturned by a vengeful Congress.

Another Supreme Court case sheds some light on the powers of Congress vis-a-vis the President.  In INS. v. Chadha, the Supreme Court invalidated a statutory scheme in which the House of Representatives could veto a INS decision to grant relief from removal known as suspension of deportation to a particular individual.  The Court reasoned that the power to decide particular immigration cases has been delegated by statute to the executive and that it violated the Separation of Powers for the Congress to be able to veto a decision regarding a particular individual.  This case shows that Congress may disapprove of decisions that the agency makes, but absent legislation, can not do anything about them.  Again, the difficulty of getting legislation through Congress gives the President a lot of leeway.

Presumably, the President, a constitutional law professor, knows all that, so he is ready to take actions that would dramatically improve the lives of immigrants in America, re-capture his status as “immigration reform champion in chief,” and get himself measured for a monument on the Mall.

  • Parole in place.  This is the big kahuna of administrative reform.  Parole in place is a mechanism that would allow the agency to “parole” individuals who entered without inspection into the U.S.  While parole is normally thought of as something done to allow people to enter the U.S., parole in place allows the government to parole them from within the U.S.  The administration recently did this for the undocumented spouses of members of the U.S. military, but there is no reason why the concept can not be applied to tens of thousands of others.  Through parole in place, people who have U.S. citizen family members or job offers may be able to adjust their status.  Friends of Benach Ragland (FOBRs) Cyrus Mehta and Gary Endelman wrote the definitive piece on parole in place, so we will not go into excessive detail here.
  • Reconsider Matter of Rojas.  In Matter of Rojas, the BIA held that ICE may hold someone as a mandatory detainee regardless of how long it has been since the individual was released from criminal custody when ICE encounters the immigrant.  Many district courts have held that a person is only subject to mandatory detention if ICE apprehends them “when released” from criminal custody.  By reconsidering Rojas, ICE would allow immigration judges to determine whether particular individuals are dangerous or likely to flee before a removal hearing.  This would have the effect of drastically reducing the detained population.
  • Redefine custody.  Alternatively, ICE could interpret “custody” to include alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets and home monitoring, as many criminal agencies do.
  • Issue a regulation stating that the separation of a parent from U.S. citizen child is, per se, presumptively “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.”  This would allow parents of U.S. citizens to have more solid claims to cancellation of removal, removing the biggest obstacle to grants of cancellation of removal.  The INS created a presumption of hardship before when it issued regulations underillegal-immigrants-children-deport-parents NACARA allowing certain Central American and Eastern European immigrants to seek suspension of deportation.  The INS issued a regulation stating that NACARA applicants were entitled to a presumption of extreme hardship.  The immigration agency would be free to limit the presumption of exceptional and extremely unusual hardship, but should begin with the recognition that deporting the parent of a U.S. citizen child is an inherently traumatic act with horrific long term consequences.
  • Issue a directive to ICE and CBP stating that, unless significant criminal issues are present, the agencies should decline to enter administrative removal orders and instead seek removal through removal proceedings in immigration court.  DHS issues a wide variety of administrative removals.  Only about one-third of removal orders are entered by an immigration judge.  The rest are issued by ICE either due to reinstatement of a prior removal order, visa waiver overstays, expedited removal of arrivals and of non-resident criminals and voluntary returns.  DHS could issue a directive (not guidance or suggestions but orders) requiring ICE to bring these cases before an immigration judge, where the individual could apply for relief.
  • Issue a directive to ICE attorneys in immigration court to seek two year continuances in all cases in immigration court where there is no criminal ground of removability and no relief.  This would force ICE to work on the hardest cases and clear the backlog of cases where a person has done nothing more than entered illegally or overstayed a visa.
  • Issue a directive that detainers should only be lodged where a person has been convicted of a deportable offense.  Detainers are issued to people who have been arrested regardless of whether there is a conviction.  Removal proceedings are often started due to an arrest that does not lead to any criminal charge because a detainer has been issued.  Limit detainers only to those who have been convicted of a deportable offense.
  • Issue a precedent decision affirming the low standard for the exceptions to the one year rule for asylum.  The law requires an asylum applicant to seek asylum within one year of entry to the U.S.  There are exceptions to this rule and the statute requires that an applicant must prove the applicability of the exception “to the satisfaction of the attorney general.”  This is the lowest legal standard.  Yet, courts routinely hold applicants to a much higher standard.  The Attorney General can issue a decision making it clear to the courts that the exception to the one year rule should be liberally applied.I-821-TPS-Facts
  • Grant Temporary Protected Status to Mexicans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Venezuelans, and Ukrainians.  Temporary Protected Status is granted to nationals of countries where there is disaster or upheaval.  It provides individuals already in the U.S. with temporary status, protection against removal, and work authorization.  It is possible to make a cogent claim to TPS for each of those countries.  Mexico and the Central American countries have been beset by drug and gang violence creating a humanitarian disaster on the ground and Ukraine is the flashpoint of a major crisis in Europe.  These are all legitimate uses of Temporary Protected Status.

The House’s action yesterday makes it clear that the House has no intention of moving on immigration reform.  The only thing that the President has to lose is his dwindling support in the immigrant community.  And he loses that by not acting, rather than acting.

Strong Presidents are Great Presidents

17 Feb

Stop deports

On this President’s Day, we wish to add a historical perspective to the robust exercise of executive authority.  The President routinely tells audiences that he does not have the power to act unilaterally on immigration reform.  Frustration and anger have mounted as the toll from deportations rises, and the lost opportunities due to the lack of immigration reform are compiled.  The President’s claim of impotency is in direct conflict with how the right wing of the GOP (is there another wing?) sees the President.  Recently, the House Judiciary Committee held a charade of  hearing on the President’s duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed.  The theory: the President has abdicated his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law by granting deferred action to childhood arrivals.  Apparently, the theory goes that the President has a duty to remove all deportable individuals and by granting deferred action to a sub-group of the deportable individuals, the President has failed to do his duty.  So, who is right?  Is the President a dictator who ignores the laws?  Or is he an executive with a limited vision of his authority, doomed to mediocrity?  That answer remains to be seen, in our opinion.  It will depend on whether the President follows the example of those presidents who have monuments on the National Mall and across the capital or those who are reviled, ignored and forgotten.  For a president as historic as Obama, we hope that he embraces a more robust view of Presidential power.

The earliest President who truly revolutionized the role of the Chief Executive was Andrew Jackson.  When Jackson took office, he viewed himself as the only national andrew jackson kingembodiment of the people’s will.  He scandalized the country by making arguments to the people in support of his policy decisions.  In addition, he broke tradition by vetoing pieces of legislation that he disagreed with.  Previously, Presidents would only veto legislation that they thought unconstitutional.  Jackson was the first President to veto legislation for the plain reason that he was opposed to it.  In addition, when South Carolina asserted that it could nullify a federal law that it did not like, Jackson stood for the not-yet-clear proposition that federal law was supreme and a state could not pick and choose which federal laws it wished to follow.  Jackson’s position on nullification provided historical precedent when another President was faced with rebellious southerners.

Before taking office, Abraham Lincoln was confronted with the “secession” of South Carolina and several other states.  Lincoln refused to accept that a state could secede and decided that his principal obligation was to preserve the Union.  Abraham_Lincoln_head_on_shoulders_needlepointWhen Lincoln called up 75,000 troops in the wake of the Southern attack on Fort Sumter, several other states, including Virginia, seceded. Lincoln arrested secessionist deputies in Maryland and advocated for a strenuous war against the rebellious states.  Lincoln exerted his powers as Commander-in-Chief to free the slaves in “territories in rebellion against U.S. authority” in the Emancipation Proclamation.  Just to be clear: Lincoln dissolved certain “property” rights in nearly half the country.

Franklin Roosevelt determined that the circumstances of the Great Depression required an energetic response by the federal government.  However, he found that the Supreme Court proved to be a formidable obstacle.  After the Supreme Court issued a series of opinions striking down New Deal federal legislation on matters previously considered solely the domain of the state as well as progressive state legislation, such as maximum hours and minimum wage laws, Roosevelt came up with the preposterous idea of adding additional justices to the Supreme Court.  After all, where is it written in the Constitution that there need to be 9 justices?  Roosevelt threatened to add additional justices– to pack the court— to get his agenda past the Court.  The crisis was averted when Justice Owen Roberts, a reliable Supreme Court vote against the New Deal agenda, changed his opinion and joined a group of justices supportive fdr2of the President giving Roosevelt a 5-4 win which upheld a Washington state minimum wage law.  Roberts’ switch and the retirement of Justice Willis Van Devanter provided Roosevelt with a solid majority to uphold the New Deal legislation.  The New Deal legislation significantly expanded federal authority over tremendous swaths of economic and commercial activity.

Each of these Presidents was derided during their terms as being despots, dictators, and wannabe kings.  A faction of the country called them tyrants bent on reshaping the country in some perverse way.  Yet today, each is honored with a place on our National Mall (True, Jackson is not on the mall- but his equestrian statute is right in front of the White House for the President to see every day.)  Each of these Presidents is understood as being an essential part of this country’s progress and their allegedly improper power grabs have been revalidated generation after generation.  This is not to say that they receive universal acclaim; there are plenty of holdouts who are anti-Lincoln for the Civil War and the modern day GOP and its court appointees are determined to undo the legacy of the New Deal.  Yet, when historians rank the best Presidents, all three will make that list.  They are on the list because they responded with energy to the crises facing the country.  In doing so, they expanded the power of the Presidency (without creating tyranny!) and pushed the country forward.

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Contrast Lincoln with his predecessor James Buchanan.  Believing he could do nothing about secession or slavery, Buchanan allowed guerrilla warfare to rage in Kansas and Missouri through much of his term.  Buchanan felt he had no power to stop secession.  In other words, that the President of the United States was powerless to stop the dissolution of the union.  Little wonder that there is no monument to Buchanan and he routinely fills out the bottom slot when historians rank the Presidents.

All this is to say that history reveres Presidents who have a dynamic view of their power.  It has now become clear that Congress has no intention of taking up any meaningful immigration reform. This is despite an acknowledged crisis.  Lincoln-Memorial-4Families are being torn apart, the administration is closing in on 2 million deportations, businesses can not get the workers they need, and national security and public safety are compromised due to the failure of Congress to act on immigration reform.  It is time for the President to be worthy of the slurs hurled at him by the know-nothings in Congress.  It is time for the President to make a bold claim of Presidential authority and place a hold on all bust the most serious removals.  History will reward him if he does.  Lincoln or Buchanan?  The choice is the President’s.Andrew_Jackson_(2873018869)

An Open Letter to Rep. Spencer Bachus

21 Mar

Dear Congressman Bachus,

Thank you very much for speaking out about the overuse of detention by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in civil proceedings to determine the removability of individuals in the U.S.  By stating and asking “it looks to me like there is an overuse of detention by this administration.  If these people are not safety risks . . . why are we detaining them?,” you have joined the growing chorus of Americans who wonder why the government, during a time of fiscal crisis, spends so much money locking people up during immigration proceedings when they present no danger to society.  You are welcome in our club and we are glad to have you.

However, we do think it is important that you understand the role you played in building the gulag archipelago of immigration detention.  The explosion of immigration detention is a direct result of legislation you voted for, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.  This law, more than any decision by the Obama administration, has resulted in the overuse of detention for individuals in removal proceedings.  While you are right to question the overuse of detention by the administration, please do not overlook Congress’, and your, responsibility in forcing the detention of tens of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are not safety risks.  IIRIRA fueled the explosion of detention in several ways.  First, it expanded mandatory detention to cover lots of people convicted of minor offenses.   Mandatory detention has forced ICE (and INS before ICE) to detain people during the course of their removal proceedings.  These individuals had no right to individualized determinations of their risk to society or likelihood to appear for hearings.  By expanding the classes of people subject to mandatory detention, Congress created a base layer of detainees.  It is true that interpretations by this and previous administrations have increased the potential pool of mandatory detainees, but mandatory detention and its wide reach is a creation of Congress.  Second, IIRIRA labelled many minor offenses as “aggravated felonies,” requiring detention during removal proceedings.  For example, an individual convicted of shoplifting a pair of $100 sunglasses might be sentenced to one year imprisonment, with service of the sentence suspended.  In other words, the criminal court would determine that that individual should not serve jail time unless they do something bad during the year of the suspended sentence.  Under IIRIRA’s overinclusive language, such an offense would be an aggravated felony and subject that individual to mandatory detention.  And IIRIRA made it clear that it did not matter when the offense occurred.  It is hard to imagine that this hypothetical defendant is a safety risk, but the law gives ICE and the immigration courts no authority to release that individual.  Third, IIRIRA created 287(g) partnerships with state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.  The explosion of detention is also directly related to the numbers of people coming to ICE’s attention because a local police officer pulls an immigrant over for failing to use a turn signal.  IIRIRA is the impetus to Arizona-style laws, one of the worst of which was passed in your own Alabama, Congressman.  Fourth, by creating the ten year bar to return to the U.S., IIRIRA made it close to impossible for many immigrants to regularize their status.  Thus, individuals who would have been able to obtain residence under previous laws, remained in the U.S. in unlawful status.  When encountered by ICE, they have often been detained in the discretionary determinations of ICE.  It is true that here is an area where the administration’s overuse of detention is due to the refusal to exercise favorable discretion, but please note that many of these people would be legal residents if not for the 1996 Act.  In addition, please recognize the role that the fear of Congressional rebuke plays in ICE’s decisions.  Take a look at the outcry from your colleagues when ICE released 2200 detainees last month in anticipation of the sequester.  Moreover, Congressional intent has been a key building block of the judicial decisions that have legalized the massive detention edifice.  Decisions such as the Supreme Court’s Demore v. Kim, which upheld mandatory detention, and Matter of Rojas, where the Board of Immigration Appeals decided that mandatory detention applies to people released from custody years or decades ago, are underpinned by statements that Congress intended to impose an unyielding policy of detention in IIRIRA.

Finally, Congress has provided ICE with enormous sums of money to spend on detention.  As you know, nature abhors a vacuum.  As Congress states that it intends to tighten spending, the unnecessary detention of the thousands of people who present no real danger to society should be looked at skeptically.  ICE will spend the money Congress gives it on detention.  It is up to Congress to say “no.”

Congressman, thank you for taking a stand against the overuse of detention.  We are glad to have you as an ally and hope that you use your position in Congress to advocate for more sensible immigration policies.  Thanks again for speaking out and we hope that the words are matched with action.

Sincerely,

Benach Ragland LLP

 

The Leaked White House Immigration Bill: the Legalization Component

20 Feb

Drip

It took only three years longer than promised—and a leak that may or may not have been intentional—but the White House has finally produced a legislative proposal to fix the immigration system. Dubbed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2013, the bill would create a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11 million removable noncitizens in the country, mandate the eventual use of E-Verify for most employers, and dull many of the draconian provisions enacted in the 1996 immigration bill. With the leaked portions of the bill totaling more than 200 pages, there’s a lot to chew on. Today, we’ll look at the part of the White House bill relating to legalizing the undocumented, and tomorrow we’ll review the enforcement-related sections.

Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status

As has by now been widely reported, the bill would allow qualified applicants to first obtain “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” status and later adjust to lawful permanent resident (a “green card” or LPR) status, a prerequisite for foreign nationals wanting to become U.S. citizens. To qualify for LPI status, noncitizens would have to be physically present in the United States on the day the bill was introduced and not have been convicted of a number of specified criminal offenses. Noncitizens could apply for LPI status if they were in removal proceedings, were under an outstanding order of removal, or had illegally re-entered the country after a prior removal. Applicants for LPI status could generally not be detained or removed, and would not be considered “unlawfully present,” while their applications were pending.

Qualified immigrants would initially be granted LPI status for a period of four years, during which time they would be authorized to work and travel abroad for up to six months, subject to renewal. Noncitizens with LPI status could also petition for their spouses and children to receive the same status, even if they are living overseas. Interestingly, the White House bill does not specifically state that LPI status could be accorded based on same-sex marriages. However, it incorporates the standing definition of “spouse” in Section 101(a)(35) of the INA, which is written in gender-neutral terms. As the bill is written, it is thus unclear (perhaps intentionally so) what, if any, protection same-sex couples would receive.

Adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status

To qualify for adjustment, LPIs would have to satisfy any outstanding federal tax liability, be actively studying English and U.S. history, and not have left the country for more than six months while in LPI status. Applicants aged 21 or older when the bill was introduced would have to pay a $500 penalty to adjust status in addition to any processing fees. The government could not grant any adjustment applications until either eight years after the date of the law’s enactment, or 30 days after all immigrant visas became available for family- and employment-based petitions filed before the date of enactment, whichever came first (but no sooner than six years after LPI status was first granted). The only exception would be for noncitizens who were under 16 when they initially entered the country, were enrolled or had obtained a high school or college degree when they applied for LPI status, and had completed two years of college or the military when they applied for LPR status. (Or in other words, those who would qualify under the DREAM Act.)

Administrative and judicial review of denied applications

For noncitizens whose applications for LPI or LPR status were denied, the bill would require the creation of an administrative body housed within the Department of Homeland Security to hear appeals. Notices of appeal would have to be filed within 60 days of the denial, and stays of removal would generally be granted while appeals are pending. If their administrative appeals were denied, prospective LPIs and LPRs could file a challenge with a federal district court, which, in turn, could uphold or reverse DHS’ decision or remand the case back to executive officials for consideration of additional evidence. Importantly, federal judges would also have authority to issue stays of removal, and immigrants would not be considered “unlawfully present” while their appeals—administrative or judicial—were pending.

Protections for Employers of Prospective LPIs

Finally, the White House bill contains a number of protections for employers of workers seeking to legalize their status. For example, employers who learn of employees with pending LPI applications would not violate the law by continuing to employ them while their applications are pending. The bill would also prevent genuine employment records submitted in support of an application for LPI or LPR status from being used against the employer in a civil investigation or criminal prosecution. These provisions may well have been added due to the DACA program, which lead to concerns among some employers of liability or retaliation if their workers used employment records to demonstrate the extent of their presence in the country.

Comparison to “Gang of Eight” Framework

While the bipartisan group of Senators known as the “Gang of Eight” has yet to propose actual legislation, it’s almost certain that the path to citizenship in the White House bill is more realistic and immigrant-friendly. Unlike the Senate framework, for instance, the White House would not make the issuance of green cards contingent on satisfying an unknown set of security “triggers.” Based on statements from Marco Rubio, the Senate plan might also require the undocumented to rely on a third party (such as a qualified employer or family member) to sponsor them for a green card, which could potentially leave millions without a true path to citizenship. While we will wait to see an actual bill before expressing final judgment on the Senate plan, the White House has set a high bar.

The Whine of the ICE Bureaucrats

3 Feb

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It has been a tough week for the ICE bureaucrats who have sought to undermine the political leadership of this country to pursue their own restrictivist and nativist agenda.  Regular readers of this blog (my wife and my mother), will know that we have sought to document the efforts of bureaucrats within ICE to stymie intelligent immigration enforcement through insubordination, lawsuits, leaks, and more generic tactics like refusal to complete trainings and sick-outs.  But, like their pals Kris Kobach, Steve King, Jeff Sessions, and Joe Arpaio, time has passed them by and they continue their ignominious descent into laughable irrelevance.

Last week, we saw politicians competing to put forward the most comprehensive immigration reform.  The President outlined a plan.  We saw Republicans and Democrats, who could not agree on anything for close to four years, all agree that immigration reform is needed and that a path to citizenship is an essential to that effort.  We learned that the even the House has a bipartisan working group planning to develop its own immigration legislation.  Simultaneously, a federal judge in Dallas, Texas dealt a near fatal blow to the ICE agents lawsuit, where they alleged potential injury if they refused to follow the DHS secretary’s directives regarding DACA.  While the Judge did not entirely dismiss the lawsuit, FOBR Ben Winograd at the Immigration Policy Center described the lawsuit as” hanging by a thread.”  Bad week to be on the losing side of history.

Increasing the hope that immigration reform will finally happen in 2013 is the largely unanimous support of reform by the country’s major labor organizations.  The AFL-CIO and the SEIU, the country’s two largest union organizations, are major supporters of immigration reform.  But just when you thought that the unions had finally come together with the business community, there is one union that wants you to know that they are not on board.  Guess who?  The American Federation of Government Employees National ICE Council issued a press release to declare that the AFL-CIO does not speak for the ICE union.  The union wrote: “Respectfully, we see a lot of problems with the recently proposed reforms and we plan to exercise our rights as American’s to participate in the democratic process and voice those concerns publicly in the upcoming months; we hope to do so without groups like the AFL-CIO demonizing us for expressing a different opinion.”

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With all due respect, the position of the ICE agents union is crystal clear.  They so believe in an anti-immigrant policy where their actions are not subjected to meaningful review that their views are meaningless in an effort to reform the immigration law in a way to break their power.  The ICE bureaucrats are afraid of being demonized for participating in the democratic process.  Well, welcome to the arena, folks.  You can’t continue to say outlandish and self-interested garbage and not be called out on it.  The bureaucrats have always had a weak grip on the basics of democracy.  While begging to be treated with kid gloves, the ICE bureaucrats union has staged a vote of no confidence in ICE’s political leadership, sued the Department to stop DACA, and has encouraged its members not to follow the direction of their management.  In the military and any other law enforcement agency, that is known as insubordination and can result in dismissal or, in the case of the military, the brig.  But ICE bureaucrats ask not to “be demonized.”

If the ICE bureaucrats do not want to be demonized, they should stop resisting efforts to create intelligent immigration policy and participate in implementing immigration law, both today’s and tomorrow’s in a more humane and useful way.

Does President Obama want to drop the one year asylum rule?

1 Feb

 

There is a single line in the President’s immigration proposal that has escaped a lot of attention.  As the idiotic “back of the line” concept and the path to citizenship dominate the headlines, the language of the proposal indicates that the administration would like to eliminate one of the most onerous obstacles to asylum for thousands of applicants- the notorious one year rule.  If this became law, the President will preside over a vast improvement in U.S. refugee and asylum law through a procedural change that will make thousands of people eligible for asylum.

At the very end of the President’s proposal, the administration writes that the proposal “better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.”  To us, this can only be referring to the one-year rule for applying for asylum.  The one year rule requires an individual to apply for asylum within one year of the date of admission in order to qualify for asylum.  While there are regulatory exceptions to the one year rule, these are stringently applied and many people who have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group have been unable to receive the protection of asylum.

The one year rule has been disastrous for many people who have fled harm.  It is applied regardless as to whether the applicant knew of the rule and generally fails to take account of all but the most serious forms of post traumatic stress disorder.  In addition, it discourages many people from seeking asylum when they do not believe that they can meet one of the exceptions to the one year rule.  It has also made a mess of the immigration courts.  Here is how it works in practice.  An individual in the U.S. for over a year applies for asylum with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service.  The asylum office can not grant the application unless the applicant can establish that he qualifies for one of the exceptions.  If the asylum office denies the application for asylum, they place the applicant into removal proceedings.  (Of course, the asylum office calls this the much nicer, yet misleading “being referred to the immigration judge”)  An immigration judge then may review the application for asylum.  If the judge decides that a person is ineligible due to the one year rule, the judge must consider whether it is more likely than not that the applicant will be persecuted or tortured.  Under such circumstances, a judge can enter an order of removal but withhold removal to the country of persecution or torture.  So, the government is allowed to deport such an individual, just not to that individual’s home country.  Realistically, there is no other country where the individual may be deported to, so the individual is allowed to remain in the U.S. with work authorization, often being required to report to ICE, but never being able to travel or get a green card.  So, individuals who fail to apply for asylum within one year of the date of entry are provided with the same form of humanitarian protection as people convicted of “particularly serious crimes” or who have participated in the persecution of others.  Clearly, these are not equivalent infractions, yet the result in the same.

The profusion of asylum cases that can only become withholding or torture cases due to the rigid interpretation of the one year rule has contributed to the immense backlogs in immigration courts.  Since the asylum office must refer every single one year rule case to the court, many cases that should be resolved at the asylum office now wind up in court.  And why?  Because they did not apply at the first instance possible?  The one year rule reflects an erroneous belief that a person who truly fears persecution will apply immediately upon arrival and that failure to do so is an indicator of fraud.  The one year rule reflects Congress’ lack of faith in the asylum officer and immigration judges who try thousands of cases every year.  An asylum officer or immigration judge is almost always able to tell between someone opportunistically and cynically seeking asylum improperly as opposed to a legitimate asylum seeker, regardless of when they filed.

Immigration reform that gets rid of the one year rule and lets the asylum officer and immigration judges do their job would be a tremendous improvement in asylum law and we hope that this little-noticed provision makes it into any final bill.

Immigration Reform 2013: The President’s Plan

1 Feb

What a week it has been.  There has been more positive discussion of immigration reform in the last week than in the past decade and while none of it is perfect, it is a huge improvement over Mitt Romney endorsing self-deportation and SB 1070.  Hard to believe that that was just six months ago.  In the past week, there has been two major comprehensive overhaul plans, word of a third, and the introduction of independent bills that would make discrete but needed improvements to the system.  We will lay out the basics on all these developments in the next few posts.  And we’ll start with the President, not just because he is President, but because it is the better plan.

The President’s Plan focuses on four major areas of reform: (1) continuing to strengthen border security; (2) cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers; (3) earned citizenship; and (4) streamlining legal immigration.

Border Security

The President’s plan will continue the militarization of the border.  The President’s plan talks a lot about working with local communities and foregoing governments to combat transnational crime.  It goes without saying that by creating a legal and efficient immigration system, immigration reform will allow the Border Patrol to focus on the criminal gangs operating in the border region.  We have said it before and will say it again: the lack of a reasonable immigration policy is the biggest reason for illegal immigration.

Adam Serwer reports on immigration and he wrote: “[T]he fact is that enforcement can only do so much to deter illegal immigration, because those seeking a better life will brave ever more dangerous obstacles to get here. What’s needed is an immigration system that allows enough people in to work so that people think they have a decent enough chance to get here that risking their life to do so isn’t worth it.” The President’s plan seems to get this even as it talks about more Border Patrol resources.  We will not spend a lot of time discussing the technology and resources being thrown at the border.  The border is more secure than ever and the immigration enforcement agencies have a budget in excess of $18 billion, yet everyone wants to throw more money at it.  As immigration and immigrant rights and not the budget are our focus, we will leave these matters to the budget hawks.

Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers

The President came into office promising to end the Postville-style raids that rounded up hundreds of immigrants who were doing nothing more than working.  He has largely stuck to that promise and has devoted his employer verification efforts to identifying employers who are violating documentation requirements.  For example, a couple of years ago, there was a lot of news about ICE actions against Chipotle for hiring undocumented workers.  While the ICE action resulted in many immigrants losing their jobs, they were not put through an expedited criminal-deportation program as occurred in Postville.  We have heard of very few cases of individuals placed into removal proceedings for being on Chipotle’s payroll.

The President’s plan will include phased-in nationwide use of E-Verify.  E-Verify is the online verification system to let employers know if documents presented for employment authorization are bona fide.  It is already required by several states and required of employers with federal contracts.  E-Verify is coming nationwide and seems to be one of the prices paid for immigration reform.

Earned citizenship

It is the earned citizenship portion that we are most interested.  The President’s program will require undocumented individuals to come forward and register.  Applicants would have to undergo biometrics and a background check and “pay fees and fines” to receive temporary status.  This temporary status seems little more than a work permit and the security of knowing that you will not be removed.  DACA is a good indicator of what this might look like.  Then, once the line has been cleared, individuals would be able to seek residence.  It is unclear whether they will have a new means of seeking residence or whether they must use the extent process.  We have written before of the fallacy of the line and how tying meaningful change to “clearing” the line makes no sense.  “Going back to the end of the line” has become a political phrase, divorced from any meaning or reality and no one really believes that people will have to wait 25 years for the Filipino fourth preference to clear before people starting seeking residence.  Applicants for residence will be required to “pay their taxes, pass additional criminal background and national security check, register for Selective Service (for men between 18-26), pay additional fees and penalties and learn English and U.S. civics.”  It appears that the President’s program would create a new means to apply for residence rather than requiring immigrants to go through the current broken system.

The bill does exempt DREAMers and certain agricultural workers from the back of the line requirement.  The President’s plan seems to indicate that DREAMers would, well, get the DREAM Act, which would allow them to obtain residency through a new system. The President’s plan calls for strong administrative and judicial review procedures of legalization decisions.

Streamlining Legal Immigration

The President also addresses future flows.  The plan states that it will increase the numbers of family based visas and allow the State Department to “recapture” unused visas.  In addition, employment-based visas would be more plentiful in an effort to alleviate the backlog in the employment based categories.   This has the potential to be a tremendous improvement as the backlogs are caused by the simple economic principle that demand exceeds supply for immigrant visas.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that unused visas are “lost” at the end of the year.  So, there are currently too few visas and the government is failing to distribute all of them.  The question is whether the President’s program would create sufficient visas and efficiencies to meaningfully address the backlog.

The President’s plan promises “to staple green cards to the advanced degree diplomas of STEM graduates” who are going to work in their field in the U.S.  STEM refers to graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  This is a terrific idea that has very widespread support.  It is widely acknowledged that the U.S. needs to do a better job of providing a fast track to residence for STEM graduates.  As conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in today’s New York Times: “Because immigration is so attractive, most nations are competing to win the global talent race. Over the past 10 years, 60 percent of nations have moved to increase or maintain their immigrant intakes, especially for high-skilled immigrants.  The United States is losing this competition. We think of ourselves as an immigrant nation, but the share of our population that is foreign-born is now roughly on par with Germany and France and far below the successful immigrant nations Canada and Australia. Furthermore, our immigrants are much less skilled than the ones Canada and Australia let in. As a result, the number of high-tech immigrant start-ups has stagnated, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship.”

The President also proposes a vibrant “start-up visa” to provide residence to foreign nationals who start businesses and create jobs in the U.S. and would expand the immigrant investor visa classification.  It would also create a new visa for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories.

Other important parts

  • The President’s program recognizes that the immigration court system is underfunded and hopelessly backlogged.  The plan discusses additional funding for the immigration court system.  Additional funding for additional judges and support personnel could go a long way to easing procedural hurdles and pressures that often result in quick orders of removal.
  • The President’s program states “The proposal streamlines immigration law to better protect vulnerable immigrants, including those who are victims of crime and domestic violence.  It also better protects those fleeing persecution by eliminating the existing limitations that prevent qualified individuals from applying for asylum.”
  • Finally, the President’s plan also makes clear that the same-sex partners and spouses of American citizens and permanent residents will be treated equally under immigration law.

Comments

We think, overall, that the President’s program is very good.  There are reasons that we are reluctant to pronounce it as “excellent.”  We would like to see a greater commitment to restoring due process to the immigration courts, restoring discretion to immigration judges, and an effort to re-balance the grotesque overreaction that has allowed so many permanent residents with minor and ancient crimes to be locked up and deported without any chance to explain to a judge that they should be allowed to remain.  We would like the plan to abandon the meaningless “back of the line” language.  We would prefer more full-throated defense of asylum and the need to keep families together.

However, there is much to like in the President’s program.  The inclusion of GLBT families into immigration reform is a big deal and we applaud it.  In addition, we like the increase in visa numbers, which might render the “back of the line” garbage moot.  And we like that the President has made a path to earned citizenship an essential part of his plan.  Too many of us have been afraid that we would get an enforcement heavy bill that does little to benefit immigrants.  We do not see a lot of new enforcement here and we see several benefits.

Next post, we will address the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” plan and the reasons we feel that the President’s program is better.