Ninth Circuit blocks and then reinstates inhumane Migrant Protection Protocol program but unrepresented asylum seekers are still without help

On Friday February 28th the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling blocking the Trump administration’s Migrant Protections Protocols, more accurately named Migrant Punishment Protocols. While this rule has been in effect, more than 60,000 people seeking asylum have been forced to wait in dangerous conditions along the border in Mexico. Since the program started only 263 people have been granted asylum while at the same time at least 816 cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping and other violent crimes have been reported against people placed in the program. Unfortunately later the same day a three judge panel stayed the block, allowing the government to appeal.

Of those waiting for an asylum hearing only 5% have found legal representation according to Beth Werlin, executive director of the American immigration Council.

How will this affect KIAC and its clients?

Although we are not clear about how this ruling will be implemented, we expect that some of the people who have been inhumanely blocked from pursuing their asylum cases in the US will come to our communities. We need to find a way to aid them in their pursuit of justice.

Even if this ruling is unsuccessful there are still thousands of asylum applicants who don’t have representation. The following information from the TRAC Immigration Project at Syracuse University demonstrates the difficulty migrants seeking asylum or other relief face if they don’t have legal representation.

Overall, federal immigration judges decided 67,406 asylum cases between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019, TRAC reported. Of those, 19,831 won their cases and 46,735 lost them. Migrants with lawyers won their cases or got other forms of relief at a rate of 33%, compared to only 16% who self-represented. The overall national denial rate for asylum seekers was 69% in FY 2019. Not surprisingly, applicants who were not represented by an attorney (or accredited representative) and thus less able to present an effective case received a faster decision than those applicants who did have an attorney. Figure 2 compares represented and non-represented asylum cases.

Figure 2

Although all of the cases included in the graph were concluded in FY 2019, the graph shows the year each case began, which provides insight into the impact attorney representation plays on the speed of asylum cases. For instance, nearly half (45.3%) of the unrepresented asylum cases that began in 2019 have already been decided. In contrast, less than one in ten (9.7%) of the represented asylum cases that began in 2019 have been decided.

KIAC’s experience with people who are unrepresented agrees with these data. Without representation people go to court and don’t understand what the judge is telling them, they don’t get enough time to prepare their cases, they don’t or can’t read the forms that are given to them because they are in English, they don’t fill the forms out or fill them out incompletely and so don’t put forward facts that would benefit them, they miss court dates because they didn’t understand when they were or don’t have a way to get to them, they try to represent themselves in hearings that are complicated and confusing and where an experienced government attorney is opposing them. If you read the transcripts of one of these hearings you would be appalled that we call this justice. That is why the red line in the figure above is going vertical. People seeking asylum need representation. Help us to help them.

US CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES FEE INCREASES TARGET LOW INCOME IMMIGRANTS

COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED

Fee changes proposed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, will significantly increase filing fees for various immigration benefits, including Naturalization, Lawful Permanent Residency, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and Employment Authorization. The agency has proposed, for the first time, to charge a fee to apply for asylum.

It also plans to transfer $207.6 million in applications fees from USCIS to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) The proposed changes were published Nov. 14, 2019, with a public comment period through Feb. 10, 2020.

Click here to submit a comment.

Key parts of the proposed rule that would affect low-income and minority communities include:

Immigration Benefit Current Fee Proposed Fee Percent Increase
Adjustment of Status (Green Card) One- Step Filing (Forms I-485, I-765, I-131) (new rule un-bundles forms) $1,225 $2,195 79%
Affirmative Asylum (Form I-589) $0 $50 N/A
DACA Renewal (Form I-821D) $0 $275 N/A
Employment Authorization (work permit) (Form I-765) $410 $490 20%
Naturalization (Form N-400) $640 $1,170 83%
Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) $535 $555 4%
Petition for Family Member of U Nonimmigrant (I-929) $230 $1515 559%
Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card (Form I-90) (Form also used to renew green card) $455 $415 -9%

IMPACT OF PROPOSED CHANGES ON OUR COMMUNITY

  • The fee changes would harm state and local economies and workforces. The large increase in fees could limit immigrants’ access to documentation they need to work, drive, and to prove lawful presence in the United States. This could lead to loss of employment and a significant decrease in state revenue from income and consumer taxes, as well as fees for state-provided services such as driver’s licenses.
  • Low-income residents would be disproportionately harmed by USCIS fee changes. The proposals would assess a fee for the life-saving protection of asylum, and significantly increase fees for DACA renewals, a green card and naturalization. Workers earning minimum wage, for example, will be less able to renew status or advance in the immigration process. This will hinder immigrants’ ability to fully integrate, even as state and local governments promote integration.
  • The excessive increase of naturalization fees will deny long-time residents, who are deeply rooted in communities across the country, the chance to become citizens, limiting their participation in civic and democratic processes including voting and jury service.
  • The new fee policy punishes immigrants for USCIS mismanagement of its resources. It would take funds from immigrants’ pockets and give them to ICE, which unfairly targets members of their community at courthouses and workplaces for deportation.
  • These changes will require additional local resources to combat notario fraud and other types of consumer fraud against immigrants. Low-income and newly arrived immigrants will be more likely to turn to dishonest providers who charge fees for incompetent advice in immigration cases. Residents of underserved, rural communities are especially susceptible to such harmful practices.
  • The proposed fee changes are yet another attack on minority communities by the administration. Higher fees, the elimination of many opportunities for fee waivers and fee exemptions, as well as the new public charge rule, exclude minorities from the immigration process. Many of the most-affected people come from African, Caribbean, Central American and Muslim-majority countries. Many arrive with limited resources and in search of asylum and other protections, as well as employment and educational opportunities.

Asylum in Guatemala? Really?

The United States and Guatemala have entered into an agreement, the US-Guatemala Asylum Cooperation Agreement (ACA), that denies people from El Salvador and Honduras the right to apply for asylum in the US. Instead these asylum seekers are being sent to Guatemala to apply for asylum. I can’t believe I’m writing this but it’s true. Asylum in Guatemala? Really? There are thousands of people fleeing Guatemala and seeking asylum in the US now and as of November 2019 there were 230,306 pending Guatemalan cases in US immigration courts, most of them seeking asylum.[1] KIAC alone has 55 open asylum cases from Guatemala.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) in Guatemala the Guatemalan asylum office has only four officers and as of late 2019 it had not resolved a single case that year. “While Guatemala is signatory of international refugee conventions and created its own asylum system in 2001, it receives so few applications that the commission that adjudicates cases rarely meets, according to international experts who note the pressing nature of other national priorities such as combating poverty, unemployment, insecurity, organized crime, gang violence, and corruption.”[2]

Salvadorians and Hondurans seeking asylum, who present themselves or are caught at the US border will be screened to see if they have a credible fear of being sent to Guatemala. They are not entitled to representation in this interview. If they can establish that they are more likely than not to be persecuted or tortured in Guatemala they will not be sent to Guatemala. Most of the people this applies to traveled quickly through Guatemala because their goal was to reach safety in the US. It is improbable that they will be able to establish that they are more likely than not to be persecuted or tortured in Guatemala. So off they will go to a country that is not equipped to evaluate or adjudicate their asylum claim and that is itself one of the most dangerous countries in Central America. We need to speak out against this inhumane practice. Please contact your Congressperson and Senator and ask them to work to end the agreement.


[1] Immigration Court Backlog Tool – Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University https://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/ last visited 01/12/2020

[2] Guatemala’s “embryonic” asylum system lacks capacity to serve as safe U.S. partner, experts say – https://www.univision.com/univision-news/immigration/guatemalas-embryonic-asylum-system-lacks-capacity-to-serve-as-safe-u-s-partner-experts-say

Serving our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community

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