Immigration Update (May 16)
Frontera Facts: Immigration Update
Stonegarden Grant Continues in Doña Ana County and Las Cruces, NM Despite Welcoming Policies and Community Opposition
The Doña Ana County Commission voted 4 to 1 on May 8 against terminating a federal grant known as Operation Stonegarden; the Las Cruces City Council made an equivalent decision by a 4 to 3 vote in late March. Stonegarden provides funding to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance their capabilities “to jointly secure U.S. borders and territories.” Funds are used for the acquisition of additional All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and high tech surveillance measures (such as infrared detection cameras) employed in joint operations with the Border Patrol as well as the hiring of personnel, overtime pay, and travel and lodging for the deployment of law enforcement personnel along the border.
In testimony before the County Commission, Camilo Perez-Bustillo, HOPE director of research and advocacy, said that the county had two choices: Be "complicit with immigration law enforcement or uphold its own policies. You cannot have it both ways."
With the vote, sheriff's deputies will continue to work with Border Patrol while off duty and obtain overtime money. Law enforcement in Doña Ana County will also participate in the apprehension and targeting of suspected border crossers in the desert. All of this undermines the recent commitments of Doña Ana County and the City of Las Cruces to promote a welcoming environment for migrants and to limit cooperation between local authorities and federal immigration enforcement.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” approach to immigration enforcement has been matched by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcement that “DHS has zero tolerance for those who break the law and will no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals from prosecution.” This decision directly impacts the already problematic practice of family separation along the border. Families are routinely torn apart when children are separated from their parents when they are prosecuted for entry-related offenses. The Department of Justice has announced that thirty-five new Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) positions have been allocated to U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest border. The administration also announced the possible use of military bases, including El Paso’s Fort Bliss, to house immigrant children. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be visiting the sites throughout the month.
Separating families is cruel, immoral and counter-productive. This policy shift legitimizes a punitive deterrence policy illegal under international law, and reinforces the overall trend towards the criminalization of asylum seekers, migrants and their families.
The Hope Border Institute documented the Trump administration’s testing of family separation as a deterrence mechanism in the El Paso sector between July and November 2017 in our Sealing the Border report.
Additional Vetting for Sponsor Families of Unaccompanied Minors (UAC)
When an accompanied minor (UAC) arrives in the country and comes into contact with immigration agents, he or she is placed in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while the agency identifies parents of family members who can care for the child while their immigration claims are adjudicated in the courts.
Changes in policy would expand the already extensive vetting procedure for sponsor families of unaccompanied children to inquire into the immigration status of the family, actively discouraging parents from coming forward to be reunited with their child. DHS Secretary Nielsen recently claimed in congressional testimony that approximately 40 percent of border crossers detained by border agents are family units and unaccompanied minors, up from 10 percent five years ago.
DACA Court Battles Signal Need for Legislative Protection for Dreamers
On April 24, U.S. District Judge John Bates became the third federal judge to challenge President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), calling it “unlawful.” Judge Bates’s decision allows for new DACA applications, not just renewals. The decision gave the government 90 days to come up with more solid reasons to end the program.
Dreamers need legislative protection. On May 1, a Texas-led coalition of seven states filed a lawsuit asking a district court in south Texas to block the federal government from issuing or renewing DACA work permits. These lawsuits highlight the urgency for Congress to pass a permanent solution for Dreamers.
If the so-called “Queen of the Hill” initiative filed by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) garners the 218 signatures required, the House would be forced to vote on the DREAM Act, the USA Act, and the Securing America’s Future Act, in addition to a bill of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s choice. However, there is little realistic possibility of a vote by the end of this month.
Temporary Protected Status
The Trump administration continues to cancel the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of thousands of men, women and children who have been a longstanding part of our communities, in some cases for decades. DHS Secretary Nielsen recently ended TPS for Honduras, Nepal, El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua, but extended TPS for eligible immigrants from South Sudan through May 2019. She also extended but did not re-designate TPS status for Syrians.
TPS cancellations for these countries have severe moral and economic consequences both in the United States and in home countries. There are an estimated 437,000 individuals currently living in the U.S. with TPS. Many TPS holders have lived in the United States for years, have U.S. citizen children, have mortgages, pay taxes and contribute to the economy.