The Golden Door: January 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.

Government Shutdown Causes Cancellation of Over 90,000 Immigration Court Hearings

The longest shutdown in our history hurt many members of the immigrant community in the United States. Immigration courts were essentially closed all over the country. For example, Boston Immigration Court, which has jurisdiction over Maine cases, did not hear any non-detained cases.  As of November last year, over 800,000 cases were stuck in an enormous immigration court backlog. Some individuals who have already been waiting years to have their cases heard may now have to wait years longer due to the shutdown. While the government was shut down, nearly 90,000 hearings were cancelled, adding to the backlog.

Imagine fleeing horrific violence in El Salvador and coming to the United States to seek asylum. First, you wait years for your interview. Finally, you get your interview, but the officer does not grant you asylum, but instead refers you to court. You then wait two years for your master calendar hearing, which is the proceeding in which the court sets your individual hearing. That individual hearing where you will present evidence and testify about your asylum claim was set for two years later. At this point, you have been waiting many years to make your case and finally get legal status in this country. Witnesses have taken off of work and bought plane tickets to testify on your behalf. Just when you are ready for your individual hearing, the shutdown happens, and you have to reschedule for 2021.

This is the situation many individuals were stuck in during the shutdown. They had their individual hearings cancelled, to be rescheduled years from now. All that preparation, stress, and waiting was put on hold yet again. Meanwhile, for some individuals, all that was standing between them and reuniting with an immediate family member was their court hearing. This huge backlog is yet another part of the immigration court system that impacts due process and separates families.

Shutdown Ends Without Wall Funding

After the longest shutdown in history, Congress passed a bill to reopen the government for three weeks, without including any funding for the wasteful, xenophobic border wall. Thank you to everyone who called Maine's congressional delegation to voice your opposition to funding the wall!

We still have to fight to ensure that the border wall, and/or increased funding for detention, does not make it into the budget. Call Maine's congressional delegation and tell them that you do not want your taxpayer money to fund the border wall or the Department of Homeland Security's detention of families fleeing persecution.

Representative Jared Golden: 202-225-6306
Representative Chellie Pingree: 202-225-6116
Senator Susan Collins: 202-224-2523
Senator Angus King: 202-224-5344

Federal Judge Orders Administration To Remove Citizenship Question From 2020 Census

A federal judge has ordered the administration to remove its anti-immigrant citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The addition of the citizenship question discriminates against immigrant communities of color.

From the order: “the evidence is clear that Secretary Ross’s rationale was pretextual.... A court cannot sustain agency action founded on a pretextual or sham justification that conceals the true “basis” for the decision.” Read the full order here.

Adding a citizenship question to the census would be harmful for Maine. Getting an accurate count in the 2020 census is critical to Maine communities, and many people will be too scared to answer, regardless of status. In 2010, we saw that refugees and green card holders, and undocumented immigrants, were scared to answer the census and it required a lot of outreach, even without a citizenship question.

A citizenship question, and low turnout, will not only be harmful to immigrants. This will hurt all low income Mainers because census data is used to distribute SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, and other programs. Further, communities use census data to distribute resources like disaster response, education, and hospitals.

The government is appealing the ruling, but this order is a big win!

Cruel "Remain In Mexico" Policy Has Begun

The Trump administration announced last week that it would begin its "Remain in Mexico" plan. This plan orders immigration officers at the southern border to conduct an "assessment" to determine if an asylum seeker from Central America must wait out their claim in Mexico. Frighteningly, access to an attorney during this "assessment" is prohibited. 

If forced to live in temporary housing in the border cities of Mexico, asylum seekers will be susceptible to further violence and victimization, because they are targeted by kidnappers and human traffickers.  Moreover, asylum seekers will have no meaningful access to counsel if they are forced to stay in Mexico, and gathering the evidence needed for their asylum claims will be exponentially harder. 

The "Remain in Mexico" plan is yet another attack on families fleeing violence and persecution. We are particularly concerned about the lack of a right to counsel in the "assessment" as well as the harm that will come to vulnerable families and individuals forced to stay in Mexico. We will keep you updated on this issue.