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immigration crackdown
June 14, 2018

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops started their biannual meeting Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, and the dominant topic was immigration policy. The current USCCB president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, began by condemning "two very troubling recent developments": Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to severely restrict asylum claims for victims of domestic and gang violence, and splitting apart families. "At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life," DiNardo said. Pulling young children from their parents can cause "irreparable harm and trauma," he added, and "separating babies from their mothers ... is immoral."

The bishops discussed several ways to address President Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, including sending a delegate of bishops to inspect detention facilities "as a sign of our pastoral concern and protest against this hardening of the American heart," as Newark's Cardinal Joseph Tobin said, or directly lobbying conservative lawmakers.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, a canon lawyer, suggested "canonical penalties" for Catholics "who are involved" in the separation of families. Canonical penalties, which can range from denying sacraments to excommunication, "are there in place to heal," Weisenburger said. "And therefore, for the salvation of these people's souls, maybe it's time for us to look at canonical penalties." Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, suggested pastoral outreach for border agents struggling with their consciences.

As they were meeting, CNN reported that immigration agents had pulled away a baby who was breastfeeding and handcuffed the Honduran mother when she protested, but the bishops had their own stories, too. Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington, told about an undocumented immigrant in his diocese who faces deportation after being pulled over for speeding while driving his wife to the hospital when she was in labor with their premature child. "If you want to save the unborn, you have to walk through the doors of the undocumented," he said. Peter Weber

June 13, 2018

The Department of Health and Human Services, faced with an influx of unaccompanied migrant children being detained by the Trump administration, is considering erecting "tent cities" on military bases to house 1,000 to 5,000 children, McClatchy reports. HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement is in charge of unaccompanied minors — there are now more than 11,200 migrant children being held without parent or guardian — and the ORR's roughly 100 shelters are 95 percent full. The number of children in ORR custody has risen more than 20 percent since Attorney General Jeff Sessions started a "zero tolerance" immigration policy along the U.S.-Mexico border.

There has been a rise in unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, but the "zero tolerance" immigration policy also separates children from their parents while the parents are prosecuted, filling up the shelters. HHS officials will visit Fort Bliss, an Army base near El Paso, to look at a parcel of land to create a temporary detention site for migrant children, McClatchy said, and HHS said it will also visit Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo to scope out sites for temporary shelters. "HHS will make the determination if any of the three sites assessed are suitable," an HHS official told McClatchy.

Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general under former President Barack Obama, predicted that the Trump administration will need to ask Congress for more money soon if it wants to maintain its aggressive policy. "Separating families is not only controversial, it's also inordinately more expensive," he said. Clara Long at Human Rights Watch also suggested keeping families together during immigration hearings. "Detaining children for immigration purposes is never in their best interest and the prospect of detaining kids in tent cities is horrifying," she added. Peter Weber

May 7, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday the Trump administration is splitting up all undocumented parents and children who cross the border together, with the parents immediately sent to detention centers and federal court.

"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said during a law enforcement conference in Arizona. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border." He also said there's a "massive influx" of people crossing the southwest border, "but we're not going to stand for this."

The children will go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and then either placed with relatives in the United States or private shelters. The Department of Homeland Security reports that since October, 700 kids have been split up from their parents. The children of parents who seek asylum at the border will not be separated, administration officials told NBC News. Catherine Garcia

April 2, 2018

The Department of Justice has told federal immigration judges that in order to receive a "satisfactory" job performance evaluation, they must clear 700 cases a year, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The new quotas were announced in a memo sent out on Friday, and will go into effect when the next fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. There are more than 600,000 cases pending before the Executive Office of Immigration Review, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to clear the backlog in order to speed up deportations. A Justice Department spokesman said that over the past five years, the average judge completed 678 cases, although some judges were able to clear as many as 1,500 cases annually.

A. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told the Journal that speeding through cases is "a recipe for disaster. You are going to, at minimum, impact the perception of the integrity of the court." U.S. immigration courts are part of the executive branch, not the judicial branch, as John Oliver explained on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. Catherine Garcia

March 13, 2018

James Schwab has stepped down as spokesman for the San Francisco division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), saying Monday he could no longer defend or "deflect" from "false" and "misleading" statements by top U.S. officials, notably Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting Director Thomas Homan. "I quit because I didn't want to perpetuate misleading facts," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn't agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit."

Specifically, Schwab was talking about Homan's assertion, repeated by Sessions and President Trump, that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's (D) warning about an ICE raid had left "864 criminal aliens and public safety threats" at large. ICE launched an immigration sweep on Feb. 25, and Schaaf had announced the raid the night before, infuriating the Trump administration. ICE picked up 232 suspected undocumented immigrants, but said it had targeted 1,000, blaming Schaaf for the difference.

"Personally I think her actions were misguided and not responsible," Schwab told CNN. "But to blame her for 800 dangerous people out there is just false." ICE was "never going to pick up that many people," he told the Chronicle, and "to say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren't picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong." Schwab said he had "never been in this situation in 16 almost 17 years in government," and "I just couldn't bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false."

An ICE spokesman in Washington, Jennifer Elzea, referred the Chronicle to Homan's statement blaming Schaaf for the "864 criminal aliens and public safety threats" not picked up in the dragnet. Peter Weber

February 12, 2018

You may have read about some of the recent arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): the Polish-born doctor in Kalamazoo, a legal resident who has lived in the U.S. since he was 5; the Arizona father first brought to the U.S. at age 1, to be deported despite a 5-year-old son with cancer; the college chemistry instructor in Kansas who arrived from Bangladesh 30 years go and was arrested last month while taking his daughter to school; the Virginia mother deported to El Salvador after 11 years because of a traffic stop; the New York immigration activist, Ravi Ragbir, detained in January, earning ICE a rebuke from a federal judge.

President Trump promised to unshackle ICE, and while ICE arrested slightly more immigrants with any sort of criminal conviction (including driving without a license) in fiscal 2017 — 105,736 — immigration agents arrested more than twice as many immigrants with no criminal history, 37,734, The Washington Post reports. The ACLU says ICE appears to be "increasingly targeting activists who publicly oppose or resist the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda," stretching the First Amendment.

ICE officials say every arrest or detainment is a legitimate use of law enforcement discretion, and immigration judges make the final decision on deportation, and the Post notes that last year's ICE arrests are actually lower than in the first years of the Obama administration. But critics say ICE agents, given more discretion on who to detain, are picking off low-hanging fruit to meet Trump's quotas, deporting people whose only infraction is being in the U.S. illegally — generally a civil, not criminal, violation.

Former acting ICE director John Swanweg tells the Post there's a question of public safety. ICE has the resources to deport about 200,000 immigrants a year, he says, and "when you remove all priorities, it's like a fisherman who could just get his quota anywhere," and instead of ICE agents going after "the bad criminals, now their job is to fill the beds." Peter Weber

December 22, 2017

In March, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, then secretary of homeland security, publicly floated separating parents seeking asylum at the U.S. border from their children and detaining them in separate facilities, as a punitive way to deter illegal immigration from violence-torn Central America. The plan was shelved after a public backlash and amid low immigration numbers, which the White House credited to the "Trump effect," or deterrence through aggressive arrests and tough talk.

Now, the number of immigrants arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is rising — to 29,086 in November, including 7,018 families, from 11,677 apprehensions in April — and the policy of splitting up families is back, approved by the White House and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and awaiting approval by Kelly's successor, new DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, The Washington Post and The New York Times report. It is still controversial, even among some immigration hardliners at DHS, but the idea has support in the Trump administration. "People aren't going to stop coming unless there are consequences to illegal entry," a DHS official tells the Post.

Even without a formal policy, at least 150 familes have been split up this year, the Times reports, citing the case of José Fuentes, a Salvadoran who presented himself to immigration officials at the border with his 1-year-old son, Mateo, saying they feared death from rampant gang violence. Fuentes was sent to California and his son housed in Texas. For six days, Fuentes and his wife, Olivia Acevedo, who is in Mexico with their other son, didn't know where Mateo was.

ICE spokeswoman Liz Johnson told the Times that Mateo was separated from his dad "out of concern for the child's safety and security" because Fuentes did not have sufficient proof he was Mateo's father. Acevado said she was finally able to see Mateo last week in a five-minute video call, and he cried the entire call. "It's a form of torture," she said. Peter Weber

November 21, 2017

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be sending agents to a national food chain in the near future as part of a series of nationwide workplace raids, The Daily Beast reported Tuesday. The stated goal of the raids, according to ICE documents viewed by The Daily Beast, is to target employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and pay them below minimum wage.

The impending investigations against the unnamed food chain are part of ICE's recently announced plan to quadruple its workplace raids. Franchise owners targeted in these efforts will likely be charged with "harboring illegal aliens." ICE has additionally apparently been making plans to go after specific targets. An ICE official who spoke to The Daily Beast said, "These [workers] are basically being used as slave labor."

That same official also claimed that undocumented workers picked up in the raids who agree to testify against their employers could be allowed to temporarily stay in the the country, contradicting statements by ICE's acting chief, Tom Homan, who has previously said that undocumented workers detained in workplace raids would be deported.

Under the Trump administration, arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants have doubled, and immigration arrests as a whole have increased by 43 percent in 2017. The number of deportations, however, has dropped this year, though there is a backlog of more than 600,000 pending immigration cases in the U.S. court system. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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