dispiriting developments in immigration enforcement

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You might have read about Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE)'s Gestapo-like tactics in raids at workplaces and homes in New Bedford, Long Island, and elsewhere around the country: sometimes kicking down doors in the middle of the night, other times gaining warrantless entry into homes by misleading the residents inside, using ethnic profiling, trampling constitutional due process rights that apply to both citizens and noncitizens, labeling people with minor convictions from decades ago "criminal aliens" for PR purposes, moving detainees from state to state without notice for the explicit purpose of disrupting legal representation, and using children as bait to catch and lock up entire families.  I guess this is what restrictionists mean when they talk about "rule of law." 

But there's more--I thought I'd share a few recent developments in immigration enforcement in the New York metro area:

  • ICE agents have taken to threatening people already granted asylum with deportation if they do not divulge information about the whereabouts of out-of-status family members, who may be in the process of applying for asylum themselves, presumably so ICE can jail them, ship them off to Pennsylvania or Texas out of reach of local legal assistance, and deport them back to who knows what fate back home.  This is how the government has decided to comply with its obligations under the Refugee Convention in modern America
  • ICE agents are showing up more and more at immigration hearings to detain people who are trying to resolve their immigration status through the immigration courts.  They are also sometimes showing up at adjustment of status interviews to lock up immigrants who are in mid-process of trying to legalize their status.  Usually, but not always, ICE targets people who have outstanding orders of deportation or removal or who have been convicted of certain crimes.  Regardless, this is a terrifying turn of events for immigrants who thought they were doing the right thing and can only have a chilling effect on efforts to utilize established methods for returning to lawful status.  These tactics show that the Bush administration is not that interested in having immigrants "do things legally," but is instead driven right now primarily by the restrictionist political agenda: Deport, deport, deport!
  • ICE is often going to homes and workplaces of individual immigrants who've fallen out of status in the five boroughs of New York City (again, mostly targeting those with outstanding removal orders or past convictions), causing a rising sense of panic in the undocumented community.  Out of desperation, immigrants then turn to notarios and shady attorneys who may charge many thousands of dollars for bogus applications that often prejudice legitimate remedies that would otherwise be available.  Local, state, and federal government have thus far not been particularly interested in preventing or prosecuting fraud of this type, permitting these scam artists to operate below the radar.  Some employers and landlords use immigration status to exploit tenants and employees, knowing that ICE is ever-more eager to intervene in disputes over money or work.  Crime against out-of-status immigrants is widespread and often goes unreported.  There is a blanket of fear over the entire immigrant community. 
  • This point is nothing new, but the arbitrariness and discretion invested in USCIS immigration officers and immigration judges by the administrative immigration procedures (as opposed to criminal proceedings, which require certain constitutional protections that are largely absent in the immigration context) leave much room for racism to creep into official decisionmaking processes.  I have many Caribbean and African-American clients, and in the short time I've practiced immigration law, I have developed a personal rule of thumb for marriage-based green card interviews at the USCIS office in Garden City, Long Island: if both husband and wife are black and have no children together, chances for a denial are relatively high.  In my experience, applicants of other races face less scrutiny and bear lighter evidentiary burdens.  I've never seen institutional racism on this scale before (excepting the criminal justice system, with which I am not that well acquainted), but the lack of procedural legal guarantees in the foreign national context allows it to proceed virtually uncontested.  I've listened to first a District Adjudications Officer and then her supervisor tell me that they don't have to provide any reason for arbitrarily denying a case--they can have any reason or no reason at all, and have absolutely no obligation to justify a decision to the foreign national or his/her U.S. citizen petitioning spouse. 
  • The government has steadfastly refused to change its interpretation of immigration law to rescind the "widow penalty" in the face of a mounting number of federal court decisions which say the government's interpretation is wrong as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense.  Instead, for some reason, USCIS is fighting tooth and nail to maintain the right to deport widows and widowers of citizens who died before a green card application was adjudicated, even when the delay in adjudication was entirely the fault of the government
  • There are dozens of separate categories under which an immigrant can apply for work authorization, and USCIS takes a hard line approach if an applicant selects the wrong category on the application form.  Immigrants, especially those in proceedings, may undergo small changes in their status that will lead to denial of a pending work permit application.  For some applicants, this can happen more than once and quickly leads to great frustration.  The application fee is now $340 and there is no right to appeal the decision.  You may file a motion to reopen, but that will cost you $585!  This way lies madness. If immigrants can't work, they can't support themselves, much less pay legal fees or sky-high immigration application fees.  Especially multiple $340 work permit fees for applications which the government seems intent on denying.  It's a Catch-22 for immigrants, who are prohibited by law from accessing most government benefits (and if they do, risk denial of future immigration applications), but are also often prevented by the federal government from working. 
Most citizens aren't aware of the full ramifications of the stark line between citizen and noncitizen carefully constructed under federal law, a dividing line that allows the government to routinely treat foreign nationals as less than fully human, all in the name of security and national unity.  I hope that our next president will take a less vindictive approach towards this voiceless group that has been so badly used of late.

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The restrictionist strategy of enforcement through attrition claimed another hardworking taxpayer last week.  A Brooklyn woman finally gave up her fight to stay in this country.  Already past retirement age, she works long nighttime shifts ca... Read More

3 Comments

Randy said:

I am glad I.C.E. is doing what my tax dollars pay them for. We need more Enforcment at State and Local levels. Illegals are breaking our Laws and need to be treated as Criminals. We need to know who is here. Keep up the good work I.C.E. I am tired of Law breakers of any kind.

I've read that the best thing to do is not to open the door. One family did that, and avoided the authorities to come in.

Also, they should know their rights if they fear the ICE and can challenge them in certain cases. I don't remember what the conditions are but can post it later, if you'd like.

Bill said:

The best thing to do, as judge Payne said in Oklahoma, is to obey the law. The only lawful recourse for illegal aliens to repatriate themselves.

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This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on January 4, 2008 2:35 AM.

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