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I am currently writing a 20 week series prepping clients who are studying for the citizenship test.  Each week I will discuss five of the 100 potential test questions with the correct answer and a brief explanation.

We proudly serve immigrant clients from Virginia and North Carolina, including Surry, Stokes, Wilkes, Yadkin, Alleghany, Ashe, Forsyth, Rockingham, Guilford, Carroll, Grayson, Galax, Patrick, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth, and Floyd Counties. We also serve criminal clients from Surry County, North Carolina.

Trump & DACA: What's Happening?!

Holly Wilcox

 

On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama gave a speech in the Rose Garden of the White House.  He announced a new immigration policy: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or "DACA".  This program was created by an Executive Order (meaning the President used his power as the head of the Executive Branch to create the law without the assistance of Congress) that directed immigration officials to use discretion when dealing with individuals who met certain requirements. These individuals could fill out an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and pay an application fee.  

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As a reminder, individuals could apply for DACA if they

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching age 16;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time; 
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of application;
  5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the US military; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.  

Again, this program is discretionary.  This means that even if an individual meets all of the above requirements, he or she may not be granted DACA status, depending on the decision of the immigration officer reviewing his or her application.

So, what does DACA do?  Most importantly, it protects the recipient from being deported.  It allows the recipient to legally work in the United States, by giving him or her a work permit.  It allows the recipient to apply for a Driver's License, and the recipient also receives a Social Security number.  Finally, under very limited circumstances (usually a death or illness in the recipient's family), this program allows the recipient to travel in and out of the United States.  Each time DACA is granted, it is only effective for two years, but each recipient can apply to renew his or her DACA status (any pay the accompanying application fee).  However, DACA does not allow recipients to receive public assistance, such as Medicaid, SSI, or Food Stamps.

Today, September 5, 2017, President Trump decided to terminate the DACA program.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement Tuesday morning, arguing that President Obama's action was an unconstitutional use of executive power, and Congress should pass the law.  President Trump's new policy will allow Congress 6 months (until March of next year) to pass a law protecting those who currently hold DACA status.  Otherwise, the 800,000 individuals who are currently working, driving, and living without the constant fear of deportation from this country will once again be forced into the shadows.  

Why did Trump decide to take action? 

Many Republicans have long felt that any change in immigration policy needed to be implemented through legislative action, rather than unilaterally as an Executive Order.  They believe that Congress should preserve DACA by making writing it into the federal statutes, which would be a more permanent solution and protect DACA recipients in the long term.  

The problem, though, is that Congress may not be able to come to an agreement about DACA in time.  Many Republicans do not believe that DACA recipients should be allowed to remain in the United States, because they are breaking US immigration laws.  Other Republicans argue that DACA recipients are in the United States illegally through no fault of their own, and should have some recourse.  Many Democrats agree with this, but some believe that the DACA program should be expanded further to give a path to citizenship to these young people.  

Consequences of Ending DACA

There are over 800,000 people in the United States who currently have DACA.  According to the Center for American Progress, the United States could lose more than $460 billion in lost revenue over the next decade if President Trump ends the DACA program. 

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I know today is a terrifying day for those of you who have DACA status. Please know that we support you and are here to help in any way we can.  If you would like to stay updated of changes in the law and receive recommendations of what to do next, enter your information below and you will be placed on our email list for DACA recipients and applicants.  We will update this blog as soon as more information is available.

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The Immigration Prison Industrial Complex

Holly Wilcox

Almost exactly two years ago, I spent Spring Break with five other law students and our fearless leader, Professor Heather Scavone, at Karnes County Residential Center about an hour outside of San Antonio, Texas.  Karnes has been referred to as "baby jail".  It is a detention facility for women and children (yes, children) caught crossing the border, most of whom are fleeing unfathomable gang-related and domestic violence in Central America.  

These women and children are treated as inmates.  There are bars on the windows and locks on their cell doors.  The only "crime" they have been charged with is attempting to enter the United States without documentation.  While the children have the opportunity to attend on-site "school", their mothers are not allowed to leave the facility, and face months of boredom with nothing to occupy their thoughts other than the prospect of a better life in the United States or the horror of the life they left behind. 

Working on asylum applications and country conditions reports at Raices after a long day at Karnes

Working on asylum applications and country conditions reports at Raices after a long day at Karnes

We worked at a non-profit organization called Raices, which provides pro bono legal representation in immigration court for immigrants detained when crossing the US/Mexico border.  Our team helped draft bond motions and prepare asylum cases for women who had already spent months in the detention facility with no access to legal representation.  Raices is a fantastic organization that partners with pro bono attorneys from all across the country to try and satisfy the overwhelming need for legal help in South Texas.  

As attorneys, we were subjected to intense security screening before we were allowed to enter the facility.  We arrived on site at promptly 8 a.m. to make the most of our limited time with our clients.  However, upon arrival, we learned that there was a "no re-entry" policy at the center.  If attorneys wanted to leave for lunch, they weren't allowed back in to continue working and interviewing clients in the afternoon.  We had limited time in Texas, and had to sacrifice our own comfort for the good of our clients.  We weren't allowed to bring food in to the facility, so my brave comrades and I endured up to 14 hour days with nothing to eat as we vigorously interviewed clients and drafted supporting documents for their cases.  When we needed to use the restroom, we were forced to use a single stall toilet with no lock on the door -- even attorneys had no privacy.  Additionally, our bags were inspected for anything that may be construed as a gift for the detainees.  We had hoped to take the children toys, crayons, etc, but were prevented from bringing anything other than legal necessities.  The best I could do for the children I interacted with was give them my set of colored pens to draw on legal pads.

Our team finally leaving after a 14 hour day of work at Karnes

Our team finally leaving after a 14 hour day of work at Karnes

While at Karnes, we learned about the horrific "hileras" ("icebox" in Spanish), which are Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) holding cells for immigrants caught crossing the border before they are transferred to an ICE detention center.  Immigrants sometimes spend days in hileras before they are processed out.  The hileras are single room cells where immigrants and their children have no privacy, and are kept so cold (around 50 degrees) that babies and children turn purple.  We heard stories of mothers separated from newborn babies who needed medical care at a hospital in San Antonio; the mothers weren't allowed to accompany their children, and were forced to sit and wait in Karnes, anxiously wondering what was going on.  We heard stories of women who attempted suicide, because the stress of staying in a detention center, combined with the hopelessness they felt, was too much to bear.  With a choice between voluntarily returning to a country where they would almost certainly be killed, or remaining in immigration prison indefinitely, they were in despair.

The women and children we met at Karnes suffered unthinkable harm in their home countries: rape, extreme domestic violence, and gang violence are rampant in Central America.  One of our clients had smuggled out a video of her relative's brutal murder on a SD card, which was taken into evidence and placed in a locker she was unable to access at Karnes.  Many women fled because their children were subjected to forced recruitment into the drug cartels.  If these women and children had suffered this way in any other country in the world, they would be designated as refugees.  Incarcerating them is not only inhumane; it is a national embarrassment.  

"Detention Quotas"

In 2009, Congress appropriated a line into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Budget that has become known as the "detention quota".  This line item mandates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a sub-agency within DHS, fill over 33,000 beds each night in immigration detention facilities nationwide.  That number has since increased to over 34,000.  ICE currently lists 112 detention centers on their website, with plans to construct more nationwide.  Over 60% of these centers are privately managed.  These facilities include places like Karnes, which houses immigrants caught attempting to cross the border, and also places like Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, which houses immigrants awaiting a court hearing or removal from the United States after living here for a while.  

Prisons are funded by taxpayer dollars.  The difference between government run and private prisons, though, is that private prisons make a profit off of the government and those incarcerated.  According to the numbers from 2013 (which are the latest available), the average cost per day of adult immigration detention was $124.  For a family, that number was $343.  So, if there is a mandated quota of 34,000 beds that must be filled, multiplied by even just $100 a day, the United States government is spending over 3.4 million dollars on immigrant detention daily.  

Karnes is owned by GEO Group.  We're only smiling in this photo because we were leaving on our last day.

Karnes is owned by GEO Group.  We're only smiling in this photo because we were leaving on our last day.

There are two private corporations that own the majority of these detention facilities: CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group.  GEO Group is currently involved in a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit in which inmates at the Aurora, Colorado detention center allege that they were forced to work at the facility for no wages in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.  

GEO Group and CoreCivic are raking in the cash.  The US government is paying them millions of dollars a day to house immigrants, and these corporations want to keep it that way.  Both companies spend millions of dollars a year lobbying Congress.  In 2014, CoreCivic alone comprised 61% of the total federal prison lobby, and these resources were directed at DHS for immigration detention.  

Detention in the Trump Era

At the time we worked at Karnes, our team was appalled that the Obama administration was not only allowing such a barbaric practice as family detention to not only exist, but to grow.  Now, though, in a Trump presidency, immigrant detention is likely to expand exponentially.  As I've discussed in previous blog posts, President Trump has done away with the Obama-era "priority" system and now intends to enforce deportation orders against any undocumented person, regardless of his or her criminal record. 

Stocks for the two major private prison companies have surged since November, as investors see the potential for expansion of immigrant detention.  It is expected that men, women, and children who have lived in the United States for significant periods of time will be detained in the coming months due to the change in immigration policy under President Trump.  Additionally, families caught at the border are less likely to be released on their own recognizance to appear in court at a later date, and will be held pending a hearing for months or years.  This just means that more detention facilities will be built, and more federal tax dollars will be spent lining the pockets of GEO Group and CoreCivic executives.

Beyond the economic impact of immigrant detention on the American taxpayer, it should be obvious by the end of this blog post that there is an enormous human cost as well.  It is not only emotionally and psychologically difficult for immigrants and their families to survive in immigration detention, it can also affect the outcome of their cases.  As I learned at Karnes, immigrants in detention have limited and sometimes no access to attorneys, and immigrants without representation are much less likely to succeed in front of an immigration judge. 

Immigration detention is a horrific practice, and private corporations are profiting off of families fleeing extreme violence and poverty, as well as your friends and neighbors who are just trying to make a better life in America.  If you're interested in learning more or getting involved, I've linked some great resources below.  Or, as always, feel free to contact my office.  

  • Grassroots Leadership, a civil and human rights organization based in Austin, Texas dedicated to ending prison profiteering 
  • The ACLU reports on immigration detention and strives to protect the rights of incarcerated immigrants 
  • The American Immigration Council is a non-profit that promotes fair and equal immigration law and policy  
  • The Detention Watch Network is a nationwide organization that advocates for change in immigration detention 

New Deportation Enforcement Policies

Holly Wilcox

President Trump has had his fair share of controversies in his first month in office, but arguably the most talked about issue of his administration so far is immigration.  

This continued on Monday when the Department of Homeland Security issued two policy memos on "Protecting the Homeland."  These memos describe how President Trump's immigration policy will be implemented.  You may remember that President Trump issued three Executive Orders back in January regarding immigration and border security.  One of these orders was the controversial "Muslim Ban", but two of the orders discussed border security at the US/Mexico border and deportation of undocumented immigrants present in the United States.  

The Department of Homeland Security is tasked with carrying out these new immigration policies.  You can read their memos, as well as the underlying executive orders, by clicking here.   

I wanted to write a blog post explaining these memos, but instead decided to post this wonderful podcast dedicated to this issue.  "The Daily" is a New York Times podcast giving a 15-20 minute summary of the news of the day.  Their episode today focuses on the potential for detention and removal of undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of these memos.  The first half of this podcast is particularly useful, and concisely summarizes the key points.  Take a listen below: 

The key takeaway here is that anyone who is undocumented (with the limited exception of those individuals who have DACA status) is now considered an enforcement priority and could be removed from the United States at any time, regardless of whether they have committed a crime.  

This is a scary time for immigrants, as well as United States citizens who know and love their immigrant friends.  If you have questions about any of the recent memos, or would like to discuss how to prepare yourself and your family in case you are subject to removal, feel free to contact my office.  

Also, don't forget to subscribe below for updates about immigration policy changes in the future.