Sending Children to the Most Dangerous City in the World … As Quickly As Possible

Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, by a significant margin. According to 2012 statistics, El Salvador and Guatemala both rank in the top five most dangerous countries. It is no wonder that children, youth, and young families from these three countries are fleeing to the United States in droves, asking for protection from the strong and stable U.S. government. Despite the grave dangers facing any of these individuals upon return, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to expedite deportations of this vulnerable group, often deporting them directly to the most dangerous city in the world: San Pedro Sula.

Children and families who have recently arrived from Central American have been placed on priority dockets in Colorado and elsewhere, with some respondents only seeing an immigration judge by teleconference. Whereas juveniles were previously scheduled during a special docket on one afternoon a month in Colorado, five full days have been set aside for the juvenile and family docket in the Month of August, and two more have already been scheduled before September 12th.

According a morgue director in San Pedro Sula, he accepted the bodies of 42 dead children since February of this year. As many as 25% of those children had been recently deported from the U.S. The violence has continued unabated; that same morgue director reported that another five recently deported youth have died of gunshot wounds in the last week. The U.S. government is literally sending these youth and children to their deaths, and it is expediting the process.


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Less Than Two Days for Congress to Act

Many news outlets have reported that the White House plans to take executive action that will have a significant impact on undocumented immigrants in the United States once Congress leaves for recess in August – a move that some conservative members of Congress feel would be grounds for impeachment.  Before recess begins, Congress will be voting on the President’s $3.7 billion request for funding to help address the current immigration crisis at the country’s southwestern border involving tens of thousands of unaccompanied refugee children. In an effort to appeal to conservatives, House Republicans have amended the bill to create a temporary solution, providing funding through September 30, rather than the remainder of the year.  Their bill, however, incorporates significant changes to a 2008 law that has provided important protections to the children at the border.  The Democrats, on the other hand, are advocating for a smaller amount – closer to 2.5 billion – with no changes to any law.

Success on any bill seems doubtful, however, especially with less than 2 days left for a Congressional compromise.  A recent Politico article, “House GOP faces big week on border crisis,” points out that passage of a bill is crucial for House Republicans’ ability to define themselves before the five week break: it will either define them as ineffective in times of crisis, or it will put the onus on House Democrats to compromise.  There is no doubt that both parties will jump on any opportunity to praise its own actions or vilify those of its opponent, especially now that many Americans are beginning to rank immigration as a higher priority issue than the economy and jobs.

For more, see Polititco’s “GOP cuts cost – and timeline – on border bill”; The Washington Post’s blog, “With four days to go until recess, can Congress get it all done?”; and “Obama Mulls Large-Scale Move on Immigration,” by Erica Werner of the Associated Press.

Green Cards for U.S. Military Families

On November 15, 2013, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) released a Policy Memorandum which amended several provisions of the Adjudicator’s Field Manual such that the spouses, children and parents of Armed Forces personnel are now able to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent resident under certain circumstances.  The change affects the family members of those who are serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve.

The policy change is the result of an acknowledgement by both USCIS and the Department of Justice that U.S. Armed Forces personal were experiencing additional stress and anxiety as a result of the immigration status of their family members who were living in the United States without status.  The Memorandum points out that, “We as a nation have made a commitment to our veterans, to support and care for them.  It is a commitment that begins at enlistment, and continues as they become veterans.”

This process, now available to family members of armed servicemen and servicewomen, is known as “parole in place,” as it permits an alien to be paroled into the U.S. even if the alien is already present, but without an admission at a border or point of entry.  Thus, if the lack of a lawful admission is the only barrier to an alien’s adjustment of status, and that alien is the immediate relative of a member of present or former member of the Armed Forces, they will now be eligible to apply for a green card.

A recent article on (“Immigration change gives legal status to undocumented relatives of US military”) points out that this change has been controversial because some believe the regulation should have been approved by Congress.  However, this Memorandum is well within the powers of the executive branch because it applies to the implementation of existing statutes.  Indeed, parole and advanced parole have been available for decades at the discretion of the government agencies responsible for carrying out the nation’s immigration laws. Though parole in place has historically been used only vary sparingly, it is not a new law or concept.

Parole is authorized in one-year increments. No filing fee is required for an application for parole in place for family members of U.S. Armed Forces personnel.

Immigration Stalemate

Though immigrant communities wait with bated breath and grow faint, Congress and the Obama administration have found themselves in a stalemate.  In the face of mid-term elections, Congressional Republicans are unable to determine if immigration reform suits their individual or collective needs. Speaker John Boehner has been clear that Republicans will not consider the issue this year.

Meanwhile the President faces greater pressure to act administratively in order to slow down the tide of individuals facing deportation.  More than 520,000 young people, for example, have received deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and they are putting pressure on the president to expand the protections afforded under that program.  Unfortunately, executive action is just as likely to work against the Democratic Party and immigration advocates as it is to benefit them.  As one national expert, Marshall Fitz, has explained: “The more [Obama] does, the less likely we are to get legislation, which is the goal of both the White House and those on the outside pushing for an end to deportations.”

Many agree that legislative action is the only real solution, but talk of legislation is at most hypothetical. While both the Senate and the House of Representatives have spent countless hours considering potential legislation, there is no meaningful reform in sight. On the contrary, a hearing has been scheduled by Republican members of the House Judicial Committee that has been titled, “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” Rather than adjust our ailing immigration laws, the House Republicans are more concerned than ever that it be enforced.

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The “Detention-Bed Mandate”

On Tuesday, November 19, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story from the Department of Homeland Security’s detention center in Florence, Arizona, highlighting the large number of people currently held in immigration detention centers nationwide. All 34,000 beds in 250 detention facilities are full, thanks to Congress’s 2009 “detention-bed mandate,” in which Congress instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate detention facilities at maximum capacity. To meet this high quota, police and immigration officials have ramped up arrests of undocumented aliens. Anyone who lacks the proper residency documents can be detained in ICE facilities, even those with no criminal record. Francisco Rincon, a Mexican national with no prior trouble with the law, told NPR that he was arrested when he took a wrong turn in Tuscon, Arizona, and was subsequently detained for three weeks. Like Rincon, many of the 34,000 currently detained aliens found themselves in detention when they were arrested for minor traffic or criminal violations.

Each detained alien costs taxpayers $120 per day, and the “detention-bed mandate” is estimated to run a total of $2 billion a year. Supporters, like Rep. Hal Rogers (R- KY), believe that the bed mandate is necessary to compel the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Opponents believe that less expensive alternatives, like GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and routine check-ins with ICE, which cost a fraction of the price of detention, are sufficient to ensure the achievement of USCIS and ICE objectives. Those in favor of tougher enforcement vehemently disagree with this contention, citing the roughly 870,000 immigrants who have remained in the United States in hiding after receiving deportation orders. The debate continues in Congress, where the Senate passed a bill earlier this year calling for increased use of alternatives to detention, but the House has yet to pass any similar provisions.