The Golden Door: August 2019
Legal and Policy Issues
We are closely monitoring state and federal immigration law and policy. Please check our social media accounts for more frequent updates.
Public Charge Rule Finalized to Detriment of Immigrant Families
The administration finalized its "public charge" rule this month. “Public charge” is a test to see if someone is likely to become dependent on specific government programs. The government uses this test when someone applies for a family-based green card or certain visas.
Right now, the only programs that are a part of the public charge test are: cash assistance (like TANF, SSI, and GA), and institutionalized long-term care (like living in a nursing home) through Medicaid.
The new rule will add programs like SNAP, Section 8 housing and housing vouchers, and non-emergency Medicaid to the benefits that, if received by the applicant, could make it harder to get a family-based green card. Moreover, the administration has added many "negative factors" to the public charge determination -- including not speaking English, being under 18 or over 61, or having a disability or medical condition.
If this rule is allowed to go into effect on October 15th, it will have a devastating impact on millions. We should be defined by how we contribute to our communities—not by how much money we have.
We will have more information soon. However, things to keep in mind right now:
The rule is NOT in effect until 10/15 and is not retroactive, so no one should stop accessing programs right now!
Refugees, asylees, asylum seekers, and other humanitarian statuses are exempt from the rule.
The rule does NOT impact people with green cards who are applying for citizenship.
Under the final rule, only receipt of benefits by the individual - not their family members - is considered.
There have been six lawsuits already filed against the rule, so there is a good chance the rule could be stopped by a judge.
ILAP is partnering with several other organizations to create handouts and hold outreach sessions about this rule. We are most worried about the chilling effect - that is, people taking themselves off of life-saving programs out of fear of jeopardizing their status. Providing accurate information is the best way to counter the administration's harmful intentions. Go to www.protectingimmigrantfamilies.org for up to date information, and check ILAP's website and Facebook page soon for Maine-specific materials.
Administration Continues To Erode Independence of Immigration Courts
The administration has been purposefully eroding the independence of immigration courts since 2017. Immigration courts are unique because rather than being an independent branch, they are a part of the Department of Justice, and new judges are appointed by the Attorney General. This leaves immigration courts susceptible to political whims of each administration.
This month, the Trump administration moved to decertify the union of immigration judges. This group of immigration judges has been outspoken against the various new policies that have hurt immigration courts, including a policy setting a quota for judges to rush through a certain number of cases per year or face repercussions. The union president has decried what she argues is an attempt to turn immigration judges from neutral jurists to law enforcement agents enacting the administration's policies. This move by the administration is a clear attempt to silence dissent.
The administration has also set its sights on the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA is the appellate body within the immigration court system. It is the final administrative action in an immigration case, and cases are then appealed to the federal circuit court for the region. Attorney General Barr appointed six new judges to the BIA, all of whom were immigration judges who had extraordinarily high denial rates for asylum applicants. We must end an administration's ability to pack an appellate body and influence the future of asylum law.
Advocates across the country are demanding that Congress pass legislation making immigration courts independent.
Asylum Law Updates
Boston Asylum Office Not Interviewing New Applicants
This month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) abruptly ordered the Boston and Newark asylum offices to divert their resources to the southern border. The Boston Asylum Office (which has jurisdiction over asylum cases for Maine residents) has said that they will not conduct new interviews at this time. This will have an enormous impact on affirmative asylum cases, which are applications filed by individuals who are not in immigration court.
Before this policy change, there was already a backlog of 40,000 cases in the two offices. When people are forced to wait 3-5 years (or more!) for an interview, their applications become stale -- evidence become harder to obtain, country conditions change, and events become further removed in time. Moreover, some applicants for asylum have family back home who are in danger, and cannot bring them here to safety until asylum is granted. This will negatively impact many cases in Maine.
Rule Will Decimate Protections For Children In Detention
The Flores Agreement is a judicial settlement dictating standards concerning the treatment of children in immigration custody, and preventing children from being jailed for more than 20 days. In order to get around the Flores Agreement, the Trump administration has announced a regulation that would allow for the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, including asylum seekers.
Research shows that detaining children causes lifelong trauma and harm. Six children have died in federal custody in the past year alone. More detention is certainly not the answer, especially when alternatives to detention work so well.
This rule violates the Flores Agreement, it is arbitrary and capricious and thus violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and it goes against clear precedent stating that detention cannot be used as a deterrent. Twenty states, including Maine, filed a lawsuit against this cruel and illegal rule. Check back for updates.
"Remain in Mexico" Policy A Humanitarian Crisis
More than 30,000 people seeking asylum have been turned back at the US-Mexico border to await their cases as a part of the "Migrant Protection Protocols," or "Remain in Mexico" policy. Thousands have been sent to dangerous cities, and families are being targeted by kidnappers, gang members, and traffickers.
This week, many senators, including Senator King, sent a letter to the Secretary of State and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. The letter reads, "Under the Remain in Mexico policy, the United States has turned its back on its domestic and international legal obligations by forcing men, women, and children to await resolution of their US asylum cases in parts of Mexico plagued by violence." Call Senator Collins and ask her to join Senator King in condemning this policy: (207) 780-3575.
USCIS Cruelly Ends Deferred Action for Humanitarian Cases
Without any warning, USCIS ended a "deferred action" program that had allowed immigrants to avoid deportation while undergoing medical treatment. Terminating this policy could be a death sentence for people who are receiving treatment for medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, and muscular dystrophy. This policy change could impact about 1,000 people each year.
USCIS announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be handling deferred action requests, but an ICE spokesperson said that the agency had no warning about this change and had no protocol to cope with it. This drastic policy change, done without notice or opportunity for public comment, shows both the cruelty and disorganization that are hallmarks of this administration's immigration policy. There has been immediate outcry from legislators, immigration lawyers, and the general public. We will keep you updated with any developments.