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Immigration Blog

U.S. Will Reunite Only Half of Young Migrant Children by a Tuesday Deadline

More than 50 immigrant children under age 5 will be reunited with their parents by Tuesday’s court-ordered deadline for action by Trump administration, and the families will then be released into the U.S., a government attorney said Monday.

That’s only about half of the 100 or so toddlers covered by the order.

At a court hearing, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian acknowledged the government wouldn’t meet the deadline for all the children, citing a variety of reasons, including that the parents of some of the youngsters have already been deported.

Fabian said that 54 children will be joined with their parents by the end of Tuesday at locations across the country and that an additional five were undergoing final background checks.

It was the first time the government indicated whether the parents and children would be released or detained together. They will be set free in the U.S. pending the outcome of their immigration cases, which can take several years.

Fabian didn’t say why they were being released, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has little space to hold families.

ICE has three family detention centers with room for about 3,000 people in all, and the places are already at or near capacity. The Trump administration is trying to line up thousands more beds at military bases.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt told reporters he was “both pleased and disappointed” with the government’s progress toward meeting the deadline.

“Tomorrow there will hopefully be more than 50 babies and toddlers reunited with their parents, and that is obviously an enormous victory,” he said. But he said those who remain split from their parents are “in for a long process.”

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered both sides back in court on Tuesday to give another update.

The ACLU was drawing up a proposal to shorten the wait for the remaining children. Gelernt said some procedures — such as DNA testing, fingerprinting and requests for other information — were designed for releasing children to distant relatives, not to parents.

More than 2,000 children in all were separated from their parents by U.S. immigration authorities at the border this spring before President Donald Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an international outcry and said families should remain together.

Late last month, Sabraw, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, set a 14-day deadline to reunite children under 5 with their parents and a 30-day deadline for older children. The 30-day deadline is up July 26.

Monday’s hearing set the stage for a dramatic day of reunifications on Tuesday across the country, though they are likely to occur largely outside public view. Fabian did not disclose where the reunions would take place.

As for most of the rest of the under-5 children who have yet to reunited with their families, Fabian said that their parents have already been released into the U.S., have been deported, or are behind bars on criminal charges.

One child has not been matched with a parent, Fabian said. The ACLU identified him as a 3-year-old boy.

The hearing followed a feverish weekend of talks between the administration and the ACLU after the judge refused on Friday to grant a blanket extension to the deadline, saying instead that he would only consider certain exceptions.

New U.S. Policy Raises Risk of Deportation for Immigrant Victims of Trafficking

US immigration authorities issued new guidelines last month that could make immigrant victims of human trafficking more vulnerable to deportation, according to immigration lawyers and activists.

The guidelines, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), affect immigrants forced into labor or sex work in the United States by criminals preying on their vulnerability.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 8,524 cases of human trafficking were reported in the United States in 2017.

Under the old policy, the victims could apply for special permits, known as T visas, that allow them to remain in the United States, work, and access benefits, often while cooperating with police investigations against their traffickers.

Even if the visa request was denied, immigration authorities usually refrained from taking action to deport the immigrants, according to anti-human trafficking activists.

But under the new guidelines, denial of a T visa will trigger an automatic summons for a hearing before an immigration judge — known as a “notice to appear.” Legal experts say such a notice effectively marks the start of the deportation process.

The change marks one more way the Trump administration is making it harder for immigrants and asylum-seekers to remain in the United StatesThe change marks one more way the Trump administration is making it harder for immigrants and asylum-seekers to remain in the United States, even when their immigration is motivated by or bound up with traumatic ordeals.

The policy is spelled out in a USCIS memo dated June 28. It states that “USCIS will issue [a notice to appear] where, upon issuance of an unfavorable decision on an application, petition, or benefit request, the alien is not lawfully present in the United States.”

Jean Bruggeman, who runs a national alliance of advocates for human trafficking victims known as Freedom Network USA, said immigrants already face stiff requirements for proving they were victims of trafficking. As a result, genuine victims of trafficking are sometimes denied the visa. Now, those victims will face deportation.

“Under previous policy, as a routine matter, T visa applicants were not referred [to immigration authorities],” Bruggeman said.

“What we tell applicants now: If your story is not presented perfectly, if you can’t convince someone immediately that you are a trafficking victim through your application, you have this one opportunity and then if you are not able to do it you will be deported.”

Other legal experts said USCIS was simultaneously making it harder to receive a T visa. According to the State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report, the United States granted T visas to “672 victims and 690 eligible family members of victims in FY 2017, a decrease from 750 and 986 in FY 2016.”

“The office that processes these cases has been denying [more petitions] and requesting more evidence, specifically [for] T visas, requiring more and more documentation that often doesn’t exist,” said Alicia Kinsman, a Connecticut immigration lawyer who works with victims of human trafficking.

She said this was happening with most of her serious cases, particularly ones in which the trafficking happened long ago or intersected with another crime. In one case, she said, her client paid smugglers to enter the United States but was then trafficked.

“Because she had paid smugglers to come in and they trafficked her, what happened to her was a long and arduous situation and an abusive situation. … They are conflating the two issues and saying, ‘You were smuggled’.”

Bruggeman said the new policy was making victims more reluctant to come forward with evidence against their traffickers — which in turn was making it harder for police to investigate the crimes.

Some law enforcement officials are worried as well.

“We’ve spent many, many years building trust with our immigrant communities, working with agencies and nonprofits to put together very clear messaging that when we are dealing with victims of crime, we don’t differentiate or ask questions about citizenship,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.

“We’re hearing now there is reluctance to come forward and there is fear that their immigration status could result in unintended consequences,” she said.

A municipal police officer in a California sanctuary city who works closely with his department’s Special Victims Unit — and spoke on condition of anonymity — also noted that cooperation with immigrant communities regarding human trafficking is down.

“It’s gotten to the point where we’re putting out PR campaigns to fix that,” he said.

Asked to comment, a USCIS spokesperson pointed to a press statement by the agency’s director, L. Francis Cissna.

“This updated policy equips USCIS officers with clear guidance they need and deserve to support the enforcement priorities established by the president, keep our communities safe, and protect the integrity of our immigration system from those seeking to exploit it,” Cissna said in the statement.

Judge rejects US government request for long-term detention of immigrant children

A US federal judge on Monday rejected the Trump administration’s request to allow long-term detention of illegal immigrant children, a key part of President Donald Trump’s executive order to end the separation of immigrant families.

In a ruling in federal court in California, Judge Dolly Gee turned down a US Justice Department motion to modify a 1997 settlement to allow the government to keep underage migrants in detention alongside their parents.

The government asked Gee to suspend the Flores settlement’s requirement that immigrant children be held only in facilities that meet state child welfare licensing regulations, so as to allow whole families to be detained together.

Gee said there was “no state licensing readily available for facilities that house both adults and children”.

US says it can release half the immigrant kids under 5

At least 50 immigrant children under age 5 will be released with their parents by Tuesday’s court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to reunify families forcibly separated at the border, a government attorney said Monday.

That’s only about half of the 100 or so children covered by the court order.

At a court hearing, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian acknowledged the Trump administration won’t meet the deadline for all the youngsters.

She said the government was still working to do background checks and confirm the relationships between the adults and children in its custody.

More than 2,000 children in all were separated from their parents by U.S. immigration authorities at the border this spring before President Donald Trump reversed course on June 20 amid an international outcry and said families should remain together.

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set deadlines of Tuesday to reunite children under 5 with their parents and July 26 for older children. On Monday, the Justice Department updated the judge on its progress.

Before the court hearing, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said that a judge can impose sanctions, usually fines, for failure to meet a deadline but that the organization is not pressing for that at this time.

He said the ACLU instead wanted a detailed explanation of when all families will be reunited.

“At this point what we need is very specific, concrete steps,” he said.

Gelernt said the youngsters “have already suffered so much because of this policy, and every extra day apart just adds to that pain.”

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