Originally published by The Washington Post

The number of migrants detained along the Mexico border jumped 40 percent in June, defying a Trump administration emergency crackdown that has cited the coronavirus pandemic to swiftly expel those who cross illegally, according to enforcement statistics released Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. authorities made 32,512 arrests and detentions along the Mexico border in June, up from 23,142 in May. The June total was nearly double the number of detentions recorded in April, after the Trump administration suspended normal immigration proceedings to quickly process most migrants and return them to Mexico in a matter of hours.

CBP figures show the vast majority of those detained in June – 89 percent – were promptly turned back to Mexico using the rapid-expulsion system that is facing a legal challenge from rights groups and immigrant advocates. The administration has defended the expulsions as a necessary measure to keep detention cells along the border empty and avoid the risk of spreading infection.

Although the June enforcement numbers remain far below the levels tallied during last year’s migration crisis, the sharp month-over-month increase appears to be a sign that the deterrent effects of Trump’s crackdown are wearing off.

The president has been campaigning for reelection on his immigration record and the steep decline in irregular migration since last year, when border authorities made nearly 1 million arrests.

CBP released its June enforcement statistics just one day after the president stood in the Rose Garden with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lpez Obrador and praised his cooperation on immigration enforcement.

We’ve been helped greatly by Mexico on creating record numbers in a positive sense on our southern border, Trump said, without specifying what records he was referring to. It’s been really very, very tight.

Because the CBP figures are a tally of monthly enforcement actions by U.S. agents, not the arrests of distinct individuals, it is unclear to what extent the June increase could be driven by border crossers making repeat attempts to enter the United States.

The emergency enforcement measures CBP rolled out in late March allow U.S. agents to process unlawful border crossers in outdoor areas and quickly send them back into Mexico, rather than holding them in custody to initiate formal deportations or charge them with a crime.

Mexico has cooperated with Trump by agreeing to accept Central American returnees in addition to its own citizens. The measures are controversial because they have essentially shut the door on the ability of asylum seekers to seek safe refuge in the United States, while also waving off anti-trafficking laws preventing the rapid deportation of underage migrants who arrive without a parent.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant advocacy groups filed a legal challenge last month to the expulsion system, which the Trump administration has put in place indefinitely.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have been anxious about the possibility of a new migration surge as a result of deteriorating economic conditions in Mexico and Central America. Mexico is facing its worse economic crisis in a century as a result of the pandemic, and the country has reported coronavirus positivity rates of nearly 50 percent in recent weeks, an indication of widespread community transmission.

The U.S.-Mexico border region is a major hot spot for the virus. Three of the U.S. states with the worst outbreaks – Texas, Arizona and California – are border states.

Last month’s arrest totals, while higher than May’s, were about one-third of the 104,311 detentions CBP tallied during the same period a year ago, near the peak of the Central American migration crisis.

The numbers are still quite low when put in recent historical perspective, but they have clearly gone up from the very low numbers early in the pandemic, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. It probably suggests that there are many more people faced with difficult economic circumstances in Mexico during the global recession who are willing to try and see if they can get into the United States, but Central Americans are still not crossing in large numbers, probably because of Mexican enforcement measures.

In a statement, CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan said the higher arrest numbers in June were a justification for continued construction of Trump’s $15 billion border wall project.

While the number of encounters last month are not a surprise, this increase is still extremely concerning as we continue to battle the invisible enemy: COVID-19, Morgan said. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to build the border wall system and enforce CDC policies aimed at protecting the health of Americans.

Catch and release is the term Trump administration officials have used to describe the practice of apprehending migrants and releasing them into the interior of the United States while immigration courts process their cases.

The border barrier’s impact on reducing illegal crossings is not always clear. In CBP San Diego’s sector, for instance, where progress on new border barrier construction is the most advanced, arrest totals through June were nearly the same as last year’s, the latest CBP figures show, despite the overall border-wide decline.

Most of those taken into custody last month were single adults from Mexico, Morgan noted in his statement, in contrast to last year’s influx, when record numbers of families and children from Central America streamed across the border to surrender to U.S. agents and request humanitarian protection.

The Trump administration has ordered a sweeping overhaul of U.S. asylum rules since then, and this week it announced new measures that would deny entry to anyone from a country with an outbreak of a communicable disease.

With more than 3 million confirmed infections and at least 130,000 deaths, the United States has the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, and hundreds of deportees sent to Central America and elsewhere have tested positive for the virus.

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Originally published by The Washington Post

The Trump administration is turning legal immigrants into undocumented ones.

That is, the show me your papers administration has literally switched off printers needed to generate those papers.

Without telling Congress, the administration has scaled back the printing of documents it has already promised to immigrants – including green cards, the wallet-size I.D.’s legal permanent residents must carry everywhere to prove they are in the United States lawfully.

In mid-June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ contract ended with the company that had been printing these documents. Production was slated to be insourced, but the agency’s financial situation, USCIS said Thursday, prompted a hiring freeze that required it to ratchet down printing.

Of the two facilities where these credentials were printed, one, in Corbin, Ky., shut down production three weeks ago. The other facility, in Lee’s Summit, Mo., appears to be operating at reduced capacity.

Some 50,000 green cards and 75,000 other employment authorization documents promised to immigrants haven’t been printed, USCIS said in a statement. The agency said it had planned to escalate printing but that it cannot speculate on future projections of processing times. In the event of furloughs – which the agency has threatened if it does not get a $1.2 billion loan from Congress – all agency operations will be affected.

Some of the missing green cards are for immigrants newly approved for legal permanent residency. Others are for existing permanent residents who periodically must renew their identity cards, which expire every 10 years but sometimes must be replaced sooner (for example, if lost). These immigrants have completed every interview, required biometric assessment, cleared other hurdles – and often waited years for these critical credentials.


The Immigration and Nationality Act requires every adult legal permanent resident to carry their green card at all times. Failing to carry it is a misdemeanor, subject to jail time or fines. Immigrants must also show their green card to apply for jobs, travel or reenter the United States.


Understandably, panicked immigrants have been inundating USCIS with calls seeking to locate their documents.

Our volume of inquiries [has] spiked concerning cases being approved, but the cards [are] not being produced, said one agency employee. A lot are expedite requests, and we can’t do anything about it; it’s costing people jobs and undue stress.

This employee added: It really does frustrate a lot of us to not let applicants know what’s really going on.

Normally, within 48 hours of an applicant’s approval, USCIS’s online system indicates that a card has been printed. Immigration attorneys across the country have been puzzled recently because these status updates never appeared. Many thought the delays were tied to covid-19, which has caused other service disruptions.

One Philadelphia attorney, Anu Nair, said a USCIS officer let slip in early June that all contractors were about to be laid off and to expect long delays with paperwork.


Memphis-based attorney Elissa Taub inquired about her client’s missing green card and got a cryptic email: The system has to be updated so that a card can be produced. You will receive the [card] in the mail once the system in updated [sic].

USCIS, which is funded almost entirely by fees, is undergoing a budget crisis, largely caused by financial mismanagement by political leadership. The printing disruptions are no doubt a preview of chaos to come if the agency furloughs about 70 percent of its workforce, as it has said it will do in a few weeks absent a congressional bailout.

In recent conversations with congressional staffers about cutting contracts to save money, USCIS mentioned only one contract, for a different division, that was being reduced – and made no reference to this printing contract, according to a person who took part in those discussions. The company that had this contract, Logistics Systems Inc., did not respond to emails and calls this week requesting comment.

The administration has taken other steps in recent months that curb immigration. Presidential executive orders have almost entirely ended issuance of green cards and work-based visas for people applying from outside the country; red tape and bureaucracy have slowed the process for those applying from within U.S. borders. For a while, the agency refused to forward files from one office to another. The centers that collect necessary biometric data remain shuttered.

These pipeline delays are likely to dramatically reduce the number of green cards ultimately approved and issued this year.

Under normal circumstances, immigrants who need proof of legal residency but haven’t yet received their green card would have an alternative: get a special passport stamp from USCIS. But amid covid-related changes, applicants must provide evidence of a critical need, with little guidance about what that means.

The bottom line is that applicants pay huge filing fees, and it appears that these fees have apparently been either squandered through mismanagement or diverted to enforcement-focused initiatives, to the great detriment of applicants as well as the overall efficiency of the immigration process, says Anis Saleh, an immigration attorney in Coral Gables, Fla. The administration has accomplished its goal of shutting down legal immigration without actually changing the law.

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Originally published by CNN

The Trump administration unveiled a new regulation Wednesday that would bar asylum seekers coming from countries with disease outbreaks, marking the latest push that would make it more difficult for migrants to seek refuge in the United States.

The proposed regulation from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice provides the administration with greater discretion in determining who can claim asylum in the US based on health risk. It also applies to migrants who fall under “withholding of removal,” a lesser form of protection that’s harder to win.
“The Departments seek to mitigate the risk of a deadly communicable disease being brought to the United States, or being further spread within the country,” the text of the rule reads.
Over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, the administration has closed off or added obstacles to the ways in which people can claim asylum in the US. The latest proposed rule, which still needs to undergo a public comment period and will not take effect immediately, is likely to cause a similar strain.
“This would represent a complete end to the asylum in the United States for new asylum seekers,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, a non-profit group that advocates for the rights of immigrants.
The proposed rule doesn’t clarify whether its application is specific to a worldwide pandemic, saying it’s dependent on determinations made by the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general, in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services.
US asylum laws allow the federal government to disqualify asylum seekers on certain grounds. The proposed rule unveiled Wednesday would amend that to also include public health grounds.
In explaining the reason for the proposed change, the rule explains the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and singles out upticks in cases in neighboring countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the text, determined “that the entry of aliens crossing the northern and southern borders into the United States (regardless of their country of origin) would continue to present a serious danger of introducing COVID-19 into [points of entry] and Border Patrol Stations at or near the Mexico and Canada land borders.”
The United States exceeds Canada and Mexico in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.
The administration has already largely barred migrants, including those seeking asylum, from entering the US through a public health order implemented in late March. Since then, the overwhelming majority of migrants arrested at the US-Mexico border, including families and children, have been turned away and returned to their home countries.
“This is in many ways a backstop to the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] order. If that order gets struck down in court, then this allows them to turn people away who continue to seek asylum during the pandemic,” Reichlin-Melnick said.
A series of asylum regulations have been proposed to further curb who’s eligible to seek refuge in the US.
Just last month, the Trump administration proposed a 161-page rule listing changes that would pose even greater challenges to people seeking to be granted asylum in the US.
That proposed regulation, for example, said that living unlawfully in the US for more than a year prior to filing for asylum would be considered a “significant adverse factor,” despite exceptions that currently exist. Similarly, failure to file taxes or having a criminal conviction — even if it was reversed, vacated or expunged — could count against an individual’s asylum claim.
The draft rule released Wednesday is set to be published in the Federal Register Thursday.
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Originally published by CNN

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, the Trump administration has steadily choked off most avenues for legal immigration to the United States — effectively shutting down the system that brings in hundreds of thousands of immigrants annually.

In a span of four months, people who legally migrated to the United States — or are trying to — have had their lives uprooted amid a litany of changes attributed to the pandemic. The abrupt changes have left immigrants and their families in limbo — confused, frustrated and scrambling to sort out their next steps.
The reasons provided by the Trump administration vary, from protecting American workers at a time when the unemployment rate is high to putting public health first
This week, the futures of more than 1 million international students attending universities in the US became uncertain. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Monday that foreign students taking online-only courses — which are becoming more common as universities move away from in-person classes amid the pandemic — may need to transfer schools or leave the US.
Among them was Shreeya Thussu.
For three years, the 21-year-old senior at the University of California at Berkeley lived and studied in the United States. Now the place she calls home could deport her, depending on her university course load.
“We don’t really know what’s happening. Everyone’s trying to find ways that we can schedule an in-person class, but there’s not many options,” Thussu, who serves as the president of the International Students Association at Berkeley, told CNN.
Just a few days ago, companies and foreign workers went through a similar state of worry, while many of the people trying to come to the US on green cards learned that won’t be a possibility for the rest of the year. And before that, the Trump administration largely barred migrants, including children and asylum seekers, from entering the US.
Immigration advocates, lawyers and experts say there’s no doubt the administration is seizing on the pandemic to overhaul the immigration system, pointing in part to a series of recent changes that block the high-skilled immigrants the administration has repeatedly claimed it wants to come to the United States.
“You would expect that during this massive public health and economic crisis that the administration’s agenda would be sidelined, but instead it’s been as aggressive if not more aggressive than it’s ever been,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington.
Those caught in the crosshairs are suffering the consequences.

‘I was in shock’

ICE’s announcement this week barring foreign students from taking online-only courses in the US caught many by surprise, after the agency had provided more flexibility in the spring.
“I was in shock,” Valeria Mendiola, a student at Harvard University, told CNN. “We plan our lives accordingly. We work super hard to get here and then this happens in the middle of our whole experience.”
Visa requirements for students have always been strict, and coming to the US to take online-only courses has been prohibited. Under the rules, which officials argue were designed to maximize flexibility, students can stay enrolled in universities offering classes online, but won’t be allowed to do so and remain in the US.
“If a school isn’t going to open or if they’re going to be 100% online, then we wouldn’t expect people to be here for that,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
Before ICE’s announcement, Harvard had announced that all course instruction would be delivered online during the fall semester.
Mendiola says she and other classmates are now pushing the university to reconsider and offer more in-person instruction. If that doesn’t happen, she fears she may have no choice but to return to Mexico. That’s left her with a list of worries that grows by the hour: What will happen to her apartment and the lease she’s already signed? Her furniture? Her student loans?
“If I take a leave of absence, I might lose all of my loans and all of my scholarships,” Mendiola said. “It’s very hard to get enough money to even be here in the first place.”
Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration over its guidance Wednesday.

Legal immigration comes to a near-halt

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, the administration has overhauled the US immigration system, gutting asylumreducing the number of refugee admissions to historic lows and severely curtailing legal immigration, among other changes.
The coronavirus pandemic sped up even more tweaks to the system that had previously struggled to gain momentum, such as largely barring entry of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border and proposing to block asylum seekers on public health grounds.
“During the pandemic, so far, this administration has effectively ended asylum at the southern border,” Pierce said. “They’ve drastically decreased legal immigration, especially family-based immigration, into the country. They have effectively ended the diversity visa lottery and they’ve significantly decreased the number of temporary foreign workers coming into the country.”
In a pair of White House immigration proclamations issued in April and June, the administration suspended much of family-based immigration and a number of guest worker visas through the end of the year, with some exceptions. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that some 167,000 temporary workers will be kept out of the United States and 26,000 green cards will be blocked monthly.
As a result of the outbreak, consulates overseas had to close, making it nearly impossible for people overseas to obtain visas. Since January, the number of non-immigrant visas issued has plummeted 94%.
The ripple effects are wide-ranging.
Nandini Nair, an immigration partner at the law firm Greenspoon Marder based in New Jersey, represents a range of companies, including tech, marketing and accounting firms, as well as physician and dental offices.
“I have companies who are thinking that’s it; we’re not going to move anyone over anymore,” Nair said.
Sandra Feist, an immigration attorney based in Minnesota, similarly had human resource professionals reaching out on behalf of their companies worried about the employees they planned to onboard. Feist recalled a conversation where she was told that if the company can’t get its chief operating officer to the US, “that’ll be doom for them.”
Like the changes that preceded Monday’s announcement, some worry the administration is setting the wrong tone and might encourage foreign students to start to look elsewhere. That may be the case for Vitor Possebom, a Brazilian who’s getting his Ph.D. in economics at Yale.
“Beforehand I would say that staying in the US was my first option for my career,” he said. “Now, being honest, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand and Australia seem like a much better choice.”
Thussu, who’d planned to apply to medical schools in the United States, said she’s increasingly feeling like the country where she wanted to build a future sees her as “disposable.”
“You hear stuff like this. It’s been happening for a while, like the H-1B suspensions for the rest of this year that were announced recently. It’s just adding on,” Thussu said. “It’s been increasingly really scary. … It’s increasingly
not feeling like home.”\
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Originally published by The NY Times

(Reuters) – When the phone rang Tuesday morning, Raul Romero had barely slept.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan, on a scholarship at Ohio’s Kenyon College, had spent hours pondering his options after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students taking classes fully online for the fall semester would have to transfer to a school with in-person classes or leave the country.

A college employee called Romero to say he would not be immediately affected, but warned that a local outbreak of COVID-19 could force the school to suspend in-person classes during the year. If that happened, he may need to go home.

Romero is one of hundreds of thousands of international students in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas faced with the prospect of having to leave the country mid-pandemic if their schools go fully online.

For some students, remote learning could mean attending classes in the middle of the night, dealing with spotty or no internet access, losing funding contingent on teaching, or having to stop participating in research. Some are considering taking time off or leaving their programs entirely.

Reuters spoke with a dozen students who described feeling devastated and confused by the Trump administration’s announcement.

In a Venezuela beset by a deep economic crisis amid political strife, Romero said his mother and brother are living off their savings, sometimes struggle to find food and don’t have reliable internet at home.

To think about myself going back to that conflict, while continuing my classes in a completely unequal playing field with my classmates, he said. I don’t think it’s possible.

And that’s if he could even get there. There are currently no flights between the United States and Venezuela.


At schools that have already announced the decision to conduct classes fully online, students were grappling with the announcement’s implications for their personal and professional lives. Blindsided universities scrambled to help them navigate the upheaval.

Lewis Picard, 24, an Australian second-year doctoral student in experimental physics at Harvard University, has been talking nonstop with his partner about the decision. They are on F-1 visas at different schools.

Harvard said Monday it plans to conduct courses online next year. After the ICE announcement, the university’s president, Larry Bacow, said Harvard was deeply concerned that it left international students few options.

Having to leave would completely put a roadblock in my research, Picard said. There’s essentially no way that the work I am doing can be done remotely. We’ve already had this big pause on it with the pandemic, and we’ve just been able to start going back to lab.

It could also mean he and his partner would be separated. The worst-case scenario plan is we’d both have to go to our home countries, he said.


Aparna Gopalan, 25, a fourth-year anthropology PhD student at Harvard originally from India, said ICE’s suggestion that students transfer to in-person universities is not realistic just weeks before classes begin.

That betrays a complete lack of understanding of how academia works, she said. You can’t transfer in July. That’s not what happens.”

Others were considering leaving their programs entirely if they cannot study in the United States, and taking their tuition dollars with them. International students often pay full freight, helping universities to fund scholarships, and injected nearly $45 billion into the U.S. economy in 2018.

It doesn’t make much sense to me to pay for an American education, if you’re not really receiving an American education, said Olufemi Olurin, 25, of the Bahamas, who is earning an MBA at Eastern Kentucky University and wants to pursue a career in healthcare management.

It’s kind of heartbreaking, she said. I’ve been building my life here. As an immigrant, even if you are as law-abiding as it gets, you still are always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you.”

Benjamin Bing, 22, from China, who was planning to study computer science at Carnegie Mellon in the fall, said he no longer feels welcome in the United States. He and his friends are exploring the possibility of finishing their studies in Europe.

I feel like it’s kicking out everyone, he said, of the United States. We actually paid tuition to study here and we did not do anything wrong.

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Originally published by LA Times

A federal judge has knocked down a cornerstone border policy of the Trump administration that denies asylum to people who travel through other countries to reach the U.S.-Mexico border without first seeking protection in those countries.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled that authorities violated federal rule-making procedures by not seeking public feedback before putting the policy into effect in July 2019.

The impact of Kelly’s ruling is diminished by a coronavirus-related measure imposed in March to quickly expel people who cross the border illegally and block asylum seekers at official crossings into the U.S. In May, the Trump administration extended the measure indefinitely, relying on a little-known public health law to prevent the spread of the disease.

The administration could appeal. Asked to comment Wednesday, the Justice Department said in a statement that the court’s ruling was based on procedural claims and not about the policy’s substance. The Homeland Security Department said it strongly disagreed with the decision and was considering options.

Kelly, who was appointed by Trump, ruled Tuesday in Washington that Homeland Security officials failed to justify why they avoided seeking and responding to public comments as required under rule-making.

In a similar vein last month, the Supreme Court refused to let the administration end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to shield 650,000 young people from deportation, deciding the case on procedural steps.

In his 52-page ruling, Kelly dismissed arguments that quick action was needed to avoid a dramatic surge of asylum seekers at the border, saying evidence was lacking. He also disagreed that the administration was justified under its authority to set foreign policy.

In September, the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide halt to the policy that was imposed by a federal judge in another case that is currently before a panel in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly said he was unmoved by the high court’s action, which didn’t provide an explanation.

At bottom, the Court can glean little from the Supreme Court’s one-paragraph order other than that a majority of Justices believed the factors meriting a stay were satisfied, Kelly wrote.

The administration has been relentless in rewriting rules of asylum, saying the system is rife with abuse. The rule at issue denies asylum to people who pass through another country on the way to the U.S.-Mexico border without having first sought, and been denied, protection in that country.

Critics of the administration’s policy hailed the ruling, with Mitchell Reich, an attorney at Hogan Lovells who argued the case, calling it a massive victory for asylum seekers and the rule of law.

Judge Kelly rightly concluded that the administration failed to do its homework in issuing this rule, Reich said. It didn’t hear from interested parties, and it didn’t give any remotely satisfactory explanation for ignoring normal administrative procedures.

The lawsuit was brought by Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Human Rights First, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and nine asylum-seekers. It was consolidated with a case brought by the Tahirih Justice Center.

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Originally published by CNN

The Trump administration’s executive order this week dramatically curtailing legal immigration to the US sent hundreds of people and businesses into a scramble to understand whether their future plans are now derailed.

The employment-based visas targeted by the administration are tailored for a range of jobs in the US, including in health care, education and tech industries. There are some exceptions, like people treating Covid-19 patients or conducting research to help the US combat the pandemic. Still, thousands stand to be affected.
The Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, DC, estimates some 167,000 temporary workers will be kept out of the United States as a result of the new restrictions, which took effect on Wednesday.
The administration argued, in the proclamation, that the “extraordinary circumstances” posed by coronavirus called for the suspension of employment-based visas. But immigrant advocates, industries, and experts say the administration is taking advantage of the pandemic to make sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system and advance its agenda to slash legal immigration.

‘I was devastated’

Only 24 hours after the White House issued its order, Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney based in Tennessee, had already heard from more than 200 people who are afraid, worried and uncertain about their future through a form he posted on Twitter.
Since then, Siskind has been fielding hundreds of questions from people who immigrated to the US, or planned to, on employment-based visas.
“The whole ban is about trying to help US workers to get US jobs. It seems to be counter-productive,” Siskind, whose clients are impacted by the new restrictions, told CNN. “You can go basically to every visa on the list and figure out some kind of disastrous economic consequences that particular industry is going to face.”
The entries Siskind received detail the varying circumstances many are finding themselves in, including physicians worried that future medical residents from overseas may not be able to come, foreign employees unsure whether they’ll be able to return to work at US companies, individuals working on research at universities, and families who may remain separated.
Among them was Sunil Venugopal, who’s on an H-1B visa and working in Austin, Texas, as an engineer. While Venugopal won’t be impacted since he’s already in the US, the visa category that applies to his wife is included in the restrictions. His wife, Snehal, traveled to India with their infant daughter in January to introduce the baby to their family. Then the pandemic struck, shutting down travel and consulates.
Over the last few months, the visa for Venugopal’s wife has lapsed, and she’s now considered to be among those barred from entering the US. “I was devastated,” Venugopal said about the news about the proclamation.
“I have to work in the location I’m supposed to work, so I’m stuck in Austin,” he told CNN. “I have no choice, but I have to stay here all alone.”
Venugopal expects to be separated from his wife and 11-month-old daughter through the rest of the year.
Businesses who employ foreign workers under these visas are also taking a unique hit.
Nandini Nair, an immigration partner at Greenspoon Marder based in New Jersey, represents a range of companies, including tech, marketing and accounting firms, as well as physician and dental offices. Nair heard from companies almost immediately after the proclamation.
“I have companies who are thinking that’s it; we’re not going to move anyone over anymore,” Nair said.
Some companies had already spent thousands of dollars on visa processing. Nair said she’s engaged in conversations with businesses who are wondering whether they should expand their operations overseas, instead of in the US.
Sandra Feist, an immigration attorney based in Minnesota, has similarly had human resource professionals reaching out on behalf of their companies worried about the employees they planned to onboard. Feist recalled a conversation where she was told that if the company can’t get their chief operating officer to the US, “that’ll be doom for them.”

Advantaging American workers?

The Trump administration and immigration restrictionists say the idea is to ban foreign workers and instead give American workers the advantage while there’s a high unemployment rate.
The White House laid out its reasoning in the proclamation: “American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work.”
The proclamation continues: ‘Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy. But under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
The proclamation is in effect until the end of the year. It applies to people outside the US and doesn’t apply to lawful permanent residents, spouses or children of a US citizen, or those already in the US.
NumbersUSA, which supports reduced immigration, said in a statement: “For the more than 45 million Americans who have lost their jobs during this pandemic, this EO represents real opportunity to regain employment at a livable wage.”
In a call with reporters on Monday, a senior administration official estimated that the restrictions block foreign workers from taking about 525,000 jobs.
But critics argue that misses the point.
“I think this is easily the most severe action the administration has taken so far against legal immigrants,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
“The April proclamation on banning immigration, those numbers will be redistributed to different categories. But banning these non-immigrant categories, you’re actually damaging a future immigration stream to the US,” she added, referring to an earlier executive order that barred people migrating from overseas.
This week’s proclamation is part of a series of immigration policy changes made by the administration, citing the coronavirus pandemic. In April, the White House also issued an order largely barring the issuance of green cards. That order has also been extended to the end of the year.
But even absent those changes, obtaining visas has been nearly impossible for people overseas because consulates have been closed. For many of those abroad, that’s meant waiting for a consulate to open for visa processing only to find out now that they may not be able to come at all.
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Originally published by The LA Times

As leader of one of the most confused, inconsistent and impulsive administrations in American history, President Trump has at least managed to be consistent in one area: his drive to reduce immigration to as thin a trickle as he can. Last week, he took yet more steps to limit access to the U.S. by people fearing for their safety in their own countries – and once again moved against our history as a nation of refuge, while also seeming to defy U.S. and international laws protecting the rights of the desperate to seek asylum from persecution in their home countries.

The most recent steps come in 161 pages of proposed changes in rules covering a wide swath of asylum law, including potentially barring relief to anyone who has passed through two countries before reaching the U.S. or who spent 14 days or more in one other country prior to arriving here. The administration also wants to bar asylum to anyone who has failed to timely pay taxes due the U.S. government or who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for a year or more.

It wants immigration judges to weigh someone’s illegal presence in the U.S. against them even though federal law specifically says people can seek asylum by crossing any part of the border and asking for it. And in addition to making fewer people eligible for asylum, it would give officers more power to deny initial asylum claims preemptively, with no need of a court hearing. That would shift an important determination about asylum eligibility from immigration courts to the front-line screeners and is likely a violation of the due-process guarantees that protect everyone in this country, citizen or not.

And on the changes go. The unifying theme here is that Trump, who effectively closed off cross-border access to the U.S. in March as a defense against the spreading coronavirus (too little, too late), wants to permanently limit asylum. Beyond the inherent inhumanity of closing our ears to people asking for protection, the administration is unilaterally undoing decades of U.S. asylum law. Whether Trump has that authority is a matter for the courts, where his lawyers have been spending an awful lot of time defending cockamamie and outrageous moves by the would-be emperor.

The immigration system in this country has been problematic for decades, marred by outdated laws that do not properly address the changing demands of immigration and inconsistent enforcement that, under Trump, has often been inhumane. There are sincere policy discussions to be had over whether we should rebalance the entry criteria to allow more employment-based admissions and reduce the focus on family reunification. Another thorny issue is what to do with people who have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade in most cases while playing a vital role in the economy, forging community bonds and often raising, with partners who are U.S. citizens, American-born children.

Then there are the Dreamers – people who have lived in the U.S. since arriving as children, who were educated and raised as Americans, and who face deportation often to countries where they don’t speak the language. Congress has failed for years to address that problem – the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship – and President Obama sought to give them temporary protection through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has ordered ended despite pledges to do something for the Dreamers. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few weeks on whether DACA will survive.

The proper fix here is comprehensive immigration reform. That Congress – well before Trump – has failed to enact such reform is a testament to its general dysfunction. Trump has, incongruously enough, displayed how badly the system needs reforming, but he’s also shown no interest in teaming with Congress to do it. As we have made clear, this president needs to be ousted. We can only hope that the next administration not only undoes these horrific policies and regulations, but also works with Congress to get the progress on immigration reform the nation has been clamoring for for decades.

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Originally published by The Hill

After three and a half years of methodically chipping away at the rights and dignity of asylum seekers, the Trump Administration has achieved its coup de grâce. Last week, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security issued draft regulations that could effectively eradicate asylum law as we know it.

The 161-paged document impacts nearly 900,000 individuals with pending asylum applications and countless others who may seek protection in the United States from persecution or torture they face in their home countries. The regulations systematically dismantle nearly every aspect of our nation’s asylum laws, including:

  • limiting who may enter the United States in order to apply for protection and the ability of applicants to make their case before an immigration judge.
  • narrowly redefining the contours of a viable political opinion.
  • declaring de facto ineligible a broad category of claims, including those based on gender and so-called private criminal acts such as domestic and gang violence.
  • requiring applicants to suffer extreme and severe levels of persecution.
  • making the path to asylum significantly more difficult for those who do not have the resources to secure a visa and book a direct flight to the United States.

As a law professor, part of my job is to construct hypothetical scenarios that help students analyze the law. These regulations have me stumped. I am hard-pressed to devise a realistic fact pattern describing an individual who would qualify for asylum if these regulations were to come into force. And this exercise is far from academic; I cannot think of a single client I have represented in nearly 15 years as an immigration attorney who would meet these stringent new requirements.

But more broadly, these regulations strike at the heart of the American Ideal. When Congress enacted the Refugee Act in 1980, it highlighted the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands. The Board of Immigration Appeals has also noted that our asylum laws reflect our national commitment to human rights and humanitarian concerns.

From the outset, U.S. asylum law was intended to be an expansive and rights-protective doctrine. But the Trump Administration has used every tool at its disposal (including some that have proven to be beyond its lawful reach) to curtail access and restrict those rights: family separation, the metering necessitated by its Remain in Mexico policy, Attorney Generals’ overruling of firmly-established legal precedents, and the deplorable treatment faced by asylum seekers in overcrowded, unhygienic, and COVID-19 infested detention centers.

Last week’s sweeping restrictions are both the summation and the culmination of those relentless efforts. The Trump Administration has now fully abrogated both its legal and moral responsibilities to those seeking refuge in the United States.

It is incumbent upon all Americans to speak out against these cruel, inhumane, and unlawful policy changes. The proposed regulations were published in the Federal Register yesterday. Legal challenges will undoubtedly follow, but a public comment period will also be in place for 30 days – until July 15, 2020 – before the regulations go into effect. The administration must consider all comments received before issuing a final regulation.

Anyone who believes that the United States should still be a beacon for those who are fleeing persecution and torture must speak out against them.

Natalie Nanasi is a professor at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas where she is the Director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women. She supervises students in their representation of immigrant survivors of gender-based and teaches a course through which students provide legal assistance to migrants at the Karnes Family Immigration Detention Center. She currently serves on the board of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas. 

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Originally published by The New York Times

The People

FEAR OF CARE: Many immigrants are avoiding testing and coronavirus treatment amid worries about being deported or hurting their chances of becoming legal permanent residents. 

State and national policymakers say they’re increasingly concerned about the public health implications of this  especially as the case data starts to show the disproportionate toll that the novel coronavirus is taking on Latinos across the United States. 

  • We are seeing a reduction in services used by the Latino population, Milwaukee’s Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told Power Up in an interview, adding that Hispanics make up about 30 percent of the Wisconsin city’s coronavirus cases – even though they only comprise 19 percent of its population.
  • The Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies are a big reason, she said: Fears of being detained and questioned are one of the reasons why they are not wanting to deal with any government entities â€¦ People are fearful of being engaged with the government. There’s a lack of trust.
  • It’s on Capitol Hill’s radar, too: Part of the fear of coming forward for testing or treatment has to do with the Trump administration’s virulent hostility toward immigrants over the years and the fear that even getting tested for the coronavirus could get them deported and separated from their familiesRep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, tells Power Up. 

The Trump administration’s recent update to the public charge rule has made immigrant communities more concerned about public services. The new rules make it harder for immigrants to enter or stay in the United States if they’re considered likely to use taxpayer-funded benefits like Medicaid, our colleague Paige Winfield Cunningham reported. 

  • The changes went into effect in late February, just as the virus was beginning to sweep through communities [in Los Angeles], where one-third of county residents are foreign-born and one-fifth are either undocumented or living with someone who is undocumented, per Stat News’s Usha Lee McFarling.
  • The edict, which tightly limits noncitizens’ use of government programs, has left many immigrants increasingly afraid to seek any public services, including medical care, because they fear doing so could lead to deportation or prevent them from receiving permanent residency in the future.

Immigration authorities announced an exception for coronavirus care: On March 16, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials announced that the public charge rule would not apply to those who seek testing or treatment for the novel coronavirus. But many physicians fear news of the decision is not getting out. 

  • Edgar Chavez, a family practitioner, founded and runs Universal Community Health Center, which operates three clinics in some of LA’s poorest neighborhoods. He says many of his patients are afraid.
  • I have one family where one person is very sick with pneumonia and the whole family has probably been exposed [to the coronavirus], but they say, ‘We’re afraid to get the test. We’ll be deported,” Chavez told Stat.
  • These concerns are also present in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region – where our colleagues report Latinos make up about a third of coronavirus cases despite only comprising about 10 percent of the population.
  • Jair Carrasco, an organizer with D.C. street-vendor advocacy group Vendadores Unidos, has heard from immigrant families afraid to take sick relatives to a hospital that they are concerned immigration agents could be lurking there, our colleagues Antonio Olivo, Marissa Lang, and John Harden report. 

Immigration authorities said in a March statement that enforcement actions more broadly would be reduced in light of the pandemic. Agents would focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds and wouldn’t carry out operations at health care facilities, per the statement: During the covid-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.

  • From our perspective, people should have no fear of receiving any kind of medical treatment or testing related to coronavirus that it would lead to any kind of enforcement action in 99.9% of circumstances, an ICE spokesperson told Power Up.
  • On the public charge rule specifically, USCIS released a statement encouraging all immigrants to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services during the pandemic: Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis.
  • Deportations appear to be down, too: In April, ICE completed 9,417 overall deportations, according to an agency spokesperson. Between January and March, ICE deported an average of 20,881 people per month, our colleagues Kevin Sieff and Nick Miroff reported in late April.
  • But the administration is sending some infected migrants to their home countries, they note: Since coronavirus struck the United States, immigration authorities have deported dozens of infected migrants, leaving governments and nonprofits across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean struggling to respond.

Jane Delgado, the president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, told Power Up that immigrants’ long-running distrust of the Trump administration lingers despite the guidance  and are concerned it might reverse course on enforcement: The government has shown itself not to be reliable partner that we want but it’s the partner we have, Delgado told us.

  • She urged people to go get tested at trusted service providers in their communities that they know will protect them as best they can, but noted: All of us are in a situation where we don’t know what the government will do.

Castro says the Trump administration can do more on this front: What the administration needs to do is invest in community-based workers that these communities trust to go in there and get the word out that it’s okay to get tested and treated – because otherwise you still have this lingering fear and suspicion.

  • He argues that the Heroes Act, the $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that House Democrats passed earlier in May, would help, too. The bill would include another round of direct payments to individuals, up to $6,000 per family, including to unauthorized immigrants; $200 billion for hazard pay for essential workers, according to our colleague Erica Werner.
  • The bill also requires that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue temporary standards to protect vulnerable populations, such as undocumented immigrants, who are in jobs with an occupational risk.

Coronavirus has exacerbated long-running social and health disparities among communities of color. The higher rates of infections among Latino populations are also in part tied to the virus spreading in places of essential employment where physical distancing is not an option. People of color are more likely to be considered essential workers during the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans; one study from a liberal research group found that black and Hispanic workers are far less likely to be able to telework than white and Asian workers.

Our colleagues Reis Thebault and Abigail Hauslohner report that in rural America, infection has raced through immigrant worker communities, where poverty or immigration status prevent some of the sick from seeking care and language barriers hinder access to information. Immigrants and the undocumented are some of the ‘essential’ workers who have kept the country’s sprawling food industry running, but who rarely have the luxury of taking time off for illness.

  • In Texas County, Okla., patients pouring into the hospital with covid-19 symptoms are predominantly Hispanic and work in the local Seaboard Foods pork processing plant, which like many others has stayed open even after becoming the locus of an outbreak, they write.

Our colleagues Aaron Williams and Adrian Blanco have an excellent graphic story about the disproportionate toll the virus is taking on communities of color. In cities like New York, Chicago and the District, coronavirus deaths were disproportionately affecting black and brown communities. Additional data suggested that certain chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and others, were associated with complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. What once was perceived as a disease that affected only the elderly in a few areas was now wreaking havoc in the bodies of 20- and 30-year-old people of color across the nation. 

But health conditions are only part of the story: Risk is increased when factoring in living conditions and access to health care. Communities of color may be more likely to live in densely populated areas in cities because of the history of racial segregation in the United States. And black and Latinx Americans are also two to three times more likely than white Americans to be uninsured, according to a report on covid-19 and race from the CDC.

  • Take the Bronx in New York: According to Census Bureau, the Bronx is over 56 percent Hispanic or Latino. In April, the New York Times described the Bronx as the city’s coronavirus capital. A month later, the borough, the poorest in the city, has the highest rates of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the city, while the most well-off borough, Manhattan, has the lowest rates, the Times’s Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Winnie Hu and Lindsey Rogers Cook report.
  • From The Post: