This Week In Immigration – Week of June 14, 2021

This Week In Immigration

Wednesday June 16, 2021 – US ends Trump-era asylum rules for immigrants fleeing violence- The US government on Wednesday ended two Trump administration policies that made it harder for immigrants fleeing violence to qualify for asylum, especially Central Americans. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, issued a new policy saying immigration judges should cease following the Trump-era rules that made it tough for immigrants who faced domestic or gang violence to win asylum in the United States. The move could make it easier for them to win their cases for humanitarian protection and was widely celebrated by immigrant advocates. “The significance of this cannot be overstated,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council. “This was one of the worst anti-asylum decisions under the Trump era, and this is a really important first step in undoing that. Garland said he was making the changes after Joe Biden ordered his office and the Department of Homeland Security to draft rules addressing complex issues in immigration law about groups of people who should qualify for asylum. The changes come as US immigration authorities have reported unusually high numbers of encounters with migrants at the southern border. In April, border officials reported the highest number of encounters in more than 20 years, though many migrants were repeat crossers who previously had been expelled from the country under pandemic-related powers. The number of children crossing the border alone also has been hovering at all-time highs. Many Central Americans arrive on the border fleeing gang violence in their countries. But it isn’t easy to qualify for asylum under US immigration laws, and the Trump-era policies made it that much harder. More than half of asylum cases decided by the immigration courts in the 2020 fiscal year were denials, according to data from the department of justice’s executive office for immigration review. Four years earlier, it was about one in five cases. In the current fiscal year, people from countries such as Russia and Cameroon have seen higher asylum grant rates in the immigration courts than people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the data shows. 

Wednesday June 16, 2021 – The Biden administration on Tuesday made tens of thousands of Central American immigrants in the U.S. eligible to petition for their children to come to the country legally as part of an effort to discourage youths from journeying to the southern border. Shortly after taking office, President Biden ordered officials to revive the Obama-era Central American Minors program, which originally allowed certain at-risk children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to come to the U.S. as long as their parents had secured legal status in the country. The Obama administration portrayed the program as an alternative to the often perilous trek Central American children embark on to reach the U.S. southern border. The Trump administration, however, dismantled the initiative as part of broader efforts to curtail humanitarian immigration programs. In March, the Departments of State and Homeland Security began re-processing the cases of families whose applications had been closed. On Tuesday, the administration said it would allow new applications and significantly expand the pool of prospective applicants. Under Obama-era rules, immigrants in the U.S. who had obtained green cards, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and other forms of legal status were eligible to file applications for the program on behalf of their children.  In its announcement Tuesday, the Biden administration said it would expand eligibility to immigrant parents living in the U.S. with pending applications for asylum or U visas, which are available to victims of serious crimes who assist law enforcement. Legal guardians of children in Central America will also be allowed to file petitions.

Wednesday June 16, 2021 – The State Department said Tuesday’s expansion would benefit tens of thousands of parents and legal guardians living in the U.S. “We are delivering on our promise to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration from Central America through this expansion of legal pathways to seek humanitarian protection in the United States,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.  The number of unaccompanied migrant children taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border has set monthly records during Mr. Biden’s first months in office. Last month, 14,000 migrant minors entered U.S. border custody without their parents. According to government officials, about 80% of the unaccompanied children who cross the southern border have family members residing in the U.S. Created in the wake of a surge in border crossings of migrant children in 2014, the Central American Minors program was designed for people 21 and under who were fleeing violence. After their U.S.-based parents submit applications, the children are interviewed to determine whether they qualify for refugee resettlement based on persecution they may have suffered. If they are denied refugee status, the children may still be granted humanitarian parole, which allows them to stay in the U.S. on a temporary basis. Unlike refugee status, parole does not place immigrants on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.  

Thursday June 17, 2021: – According to a new report released today by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), the Biden administration’s approach to people seeking safety not only falls short of expectations but is in urgent need of course correction.  The report, “Needs Improvement: A Progress Report on the Biden Administration’s Record on Making the United States a Safe Refuge,” analyzes the Biden administration’s approach to immigration detention, access to asylum at the border, unaccompanied children, climate displacement, refugee protection, and temporary protected status, and makes specific policy recommendations for each.  In most areas, AIUSA has found the administration is making progress, slow as it might be in some cases. However, AIUSA has determined that a course correction is urgently needed in the administration’s approach to both immigration detention and access to asylum at the border, from continuing the prior administrations’ arbitrary, mass detention of people arriving at the border to continuing the reckless misuse of a public health quarantine for border control purposes.  Shortly after President Biden took office, ICE reported detaining 13,860 people on February 5. As of June 11, the number of people ICE reported detaining has skyrocketed 82 percent to 25,238 — an indictment of how it is falling back on prior administrations’ playbooks of the blanket use of detention for people arriving at the border. The Biden administration has also continued the Trump administration’s policy of using the Title 42 public health authority to block and expel people at the border. Between March 2020 and May 2021, the government summarily expelled nearly 875,000 people — the Biden administration expelled over 400,000 of those people. AIUSA’s recommendations include: 

  • Rescind the CDC order and accompanying Health and Human Services final rule.
  • End the use of arbitrary, mass detention and incorporate a presumption of liberty in custody determinations, with asylum-seekers and immigrants allowed to live in the community, supported by sponsors and community-based programs operated by non-profits to assist individuals in navigating the immigration process.
  • Release people held in immigration detention through an affirmative file review process
  •  with a presumption of liberty, prioritizing people who are most at risk of harm in custody including families and children, transgender individuals, HIV+ individuals, pregnant people, and those at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Phase out ICE contracts with private prison companies and county jails.
  • End family detention and close all three family detention centers. 
  • Continue to urgently address conditions at emergency intake sites and raise the standard of care to meet children’s best interests, while implementing changes to safely release them faster from such sites and communicating a transparent plan to stop their use altogether. 
  • Ensure that unaccompanied Mexican children are given fair and meaningful access to asylum, as all unaccompanied children and people seeking safety should be, and not turned back with summary and inadequate considerations of their protection needs.
  • Develop a strategy to address climate displacement based on human rights and humanitarian protection.
  • Act expeditiously and with full government resources to admit 62,500 refugees by October 2021, consistent with the presidential determination for fiscal year 2021, and issue a presidential determination of 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.
  • Designate TPS for countries in urgent need of humanitarian protection from forced return.
  • Establish a White House Task Force on Black Immigrants to address the anti-Black racism embedded in the immigration system, as a step toward fulfilling the President’s promise of change for immigrant and Black communities and commitment to racial justice. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021 – Flexibility to Verify Forms I-9 Is Extended to August 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has announced another extension of its policy allowing special flexibility in completing Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verifications. The Form I-9 special flexibility policy has now been extended to August 31, 2021—but only for employers and workplaces operating entirely remotely. If there are any employees physically present at a workplace, employers must revert to in-person verification of original identity and employment eligibility documents for Form I-9. For employers covered by the August 31 extension, unless the special flexibility policy is extended again, or if their employees return to the workplace before the policy expires, they will need to revert to the pre-COVID-19 requirements to complete I-9 verification of new hires. 

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