The Multi-Front War on Immigration

The Multi-Front War on Immigration

Last month, after I posted about the Attorney General (AG)’s decision in Matter of A-B-, I went home, stood on the roof of my building, and just yelled for a while. It felt good to vocalize some of the horror that this administration makes me feel. Of course, yelling isn’t a solution. If it was, we’d long since be out of this mess. Instead, we have seen the administration make even bolder attempts to limit legal immigration over the last month (leading to, you guessed it, more yelling).

(Not actually an image of me yelling.)

Throughout the last few weeks, the president, the AG, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and all their cronies have come up with several new and creative ways to kick immigrants out (or keep them from ever entering in the first place). It’s become a multi-front war between those of us who know that America is a country of immigrants and those who are committed to keeping America white. Some of the immigration defense community’s recent battles show what this administration’s true agenda is: no immigrants AT ALL.

To start with, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy memorandum regarding the issuance of Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs). USCIS is the organization that processes benefits applications such as those for DACA, green cards, and citizenship. Prior to this memo, USCIS officers were instructed to only deny an application outright if there was “no possibility” of it being approved. Otherwise, they were required to send an RFE or a NOID and allow the applicant a chance to provide more evidence or explain why they should receive the benefit. Now, under the new memo, USCIS officers have been given “full discretion to deny applications, petitions, and requests without first issuing an RFE or a NOID.” Simply put, if a person makes even a simple error, or provides some evidence but not “enough,” a USCIS officer can now deny their application without ever giving the person a chance to fix it.

To go hand in hand with the new policy of immediate denials, USCIS issued another new memo that instructs its officers on how and when to issue Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Immigration Court for deportation proceedings. Before this new memo, USCIS would only issue NTAs when certain types of benefits were denied or if certain factors (such as a serious criminal conviction) were present. Now, USCIS officers have been instructed to issue NTAs almost universally whenever any benefit is denied.

So if USCIS can deny a person’s application without giving them a chance to fix it, and all denials are issued an NTA and referred to the Immigration Court, where does that leave things? It means that we’re facing tens of thousands of additional cases being added to the Immigration Court backlog every year. For reference, as of May of this year, there were 714,067 cases already waiting to be heard by an Immigration Judge. At present, many people in Immigration Court will have to wait four to five years just to be able to testify, let alone receive a decision.

Graph showing how the Immigration Court backlog has increased since 1998.

And of course, the fight is ongoing in the courts, as well. Last month, Vox obtained a leaked copy of new regulations proposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ controls the Executive Office for Immigration Review (AKA the Immigration Courts), so these regulations would affect the way the Courts handle cases. In short, these proposed new regulations would make it even more difficult to get asylum than it is now. They take the AG’s decision in Matter of A-B- and run with it. Vox’s source called the proposed regulations “’the most severe restrictions on asylum since at least 1965’ — when the law that created the current legal immigration system was passed — and ‘possibly even further back.’”

The new regulations would make it so that people who crossed the border illegally would be barred from asylum. This is specifically meant to target asylum seekers from Latin America, as most other asylum seekers arrive on flights and request asylum at the airport. It is also against the law. Yes, criminals can be barred from asylum, but only if they have committed “particularly serious crimes.” That generally refers to things like murder and rape, not crossing an imaginary line in the desert.

Map of the most common migration routes through Central America and Mexico

Moreover, even if that particular provision is overturned, the new regulations create all sorts of additional new ways to deny asylum cases. They would allow Immigration Judges to insert their own facts and information into the record in a court case (even if it wasn’t offered by either the immigrant or DHS counsel), ostensibly as a way for the Judge to find that an immigrant’s country isn’t as dangerous as she says it is. It would also allow asylum officers and Judges to deny asylum for anyone who spent more than two weeks in another country while traveling or who crossed through more than one country to get here. That provision, too, is directed specifically at people from Latin America, who frequently make the treacherous journey to the United States by traveling through Mexico and who often end up waiting there for several days up to several weeks to be able to cross the border.

The long and the short of it is that we aren’t just up against ICE agents tearing children from their parents. This crisis is much bigger than that. We are fighting this war on all fronts. And we will keep fighting for as long as we need to, but sometimes, we’ve all got to yell a little.

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