The Golden Door: July 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.
Newly Arrived Families Update
In the last two months, Portland has welcomed dozens of families from Central Africa who are fleeing persecution and seeking safety in Maine. Many of the families have been temporarily housed at the Portland Expo. Since ILAP's marathon day at the Portland Expo back in June, ILAP has been at the Expo weekly, giving presentations about individuals' documents, helping individuals with their change of address forms, and assisting families with checking immigration court's 1-800 number to see if they are in the system.
Due to the increased need for defensive asylum assistance, we are pleased to announce that we have hired immigration attorney Felix Hagenimana to provide weekly outreach and assistance to the newly arrived families. Felix is a Maine Law graduate who has his own immigration practice. He has already provided invaluable assistance to families at the Expo. We are lucky to have him on board!
The City of Portland has stated that families must be moved out of the Expo by mid-August. ILAP, as an immigration legal aid organization, is not directly involved in housing efforts. However, we are available to answer any questions about immigration status or the asylum process from officials, service providers, and community members.
Administration's Continued Attacks on Asylum
Attorney General Overturns Well-Established Asylum Law
In yet another attack on the fundamental right to asylum, the Attorney General issued a decision greatly limiting asylum claims of persecution based on threats to a family member. In Matter of L-E-A-, the AG has overturned a precedential decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), in which the BIA upheld the longstanding idea that family membership is a protected characteristic for asylum.
This decision will be devastating for many people seeking asylum. Some of the most vulnerable of asylum seekers are fleeing because of persecution based on threats to family. The administration is using its power in our flawed immigration system to systematically rewrite asylum law. We must advocate for independent immigration courts.
Guatemala as "Safe Third Country"
US law allows any person who reaches the border to apply for the asylum. There are limited exceptions to this, including "Safe Third Country," which means an individual could be removed to another country where their life would not be in danger. Canada was the only country with which the US had a Safe Third Country agreement, which meant that an asylum seeker at a port of entry along the US/Canada border must return to the country they just passed through and apply for asylum there.
The administration has just announced that it has signed a similar agreement with Guatemala. This is unacceptable. Guatemala is one of the countries from which asylum seekers are fleeing violence and persecution, and the US State Department notes that “violent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common.” Moreover, Guatemala lacks the infrastructure necessary to process many asylum claims.
This policy is designed to hurt families fleeing violence and persecution. It is unclear if or when this policy may go into effect. Check our Facebook page for updates on this egregious policy.
Cruel and Illegal Asylum Ban Quickly Stopped By Court
Earlier this month, the Trump administration published its "third country" rule that would bar asylum for any asylum seeker who comes into the US through the southern border and has passed through a third country on their way here. Because the administration published the rule as an "emergency" interim final rule, it went into effect immediately without having undergone any notice and comment period.
This rule is unlawful. Congress has already contemplated that individuals may pass through a third country on their way to the United States or may have been offered permanent residency in another country, and enacted law that applies to both scenarios. Moreover, this new ban only applies to the southern border, while Congress has made explicit that asylum seekers must be treated equally regardless of how they enter the United States.
The ACLU and other civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the cruel and unlawful asylum ban from going into effect. A federal judge has temporarily stopped this rule from taking effect, stating that the injunction was appropriate because it "ensur[ed] that we do not deliver [asylum seekers] into the hands of their persecutor."
Ramped Up Immigration Enforcement
New Expedited Removal Rule Is Overly Broad
The administration announced that it is significantly expanding the amount of people in the United States who can be deported without a hearing. Known as "expedited removal," this fast track process for deportation applies to some undocumented individuals. This procedure previously only applied to individuals who had been here less than two weeks and were in the "100 mile zone" along the border. Now, the government has extended expedited removal to the entire United States for some undocumented immigrants who have been in the country less than two years.
We are concerned that any person who is stopped by immigration enforcement officers, anywhere in the country, now has the burden of proving to the immigration official that they are not subject to expedited removal or that they have been in the United States for two years. Many expedited removal decisions by a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employee are not reviewable by a judge. This means that DHS employees are expected to understand the nuances of immigration law and someone's immigration status, which we fear may lead to erroneous deportations.
There can be no doubt that at least part of the intent of this rule change is to increase fear and anxiety in our immigrant communities. We will soon have an advisory for anyone who may be impacted by this rule change.
Threatened Raids Caused Fear and Anxiety, But Also Knowledge of Rights
We denounce Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) plan to arrest individuals across the United States earlier this month. While the threatened raids failed to net the amount of arrests the administration sought, it sparked fear and anxiety in immigrant communities nationwide.
The positive lesson learned from recent weeks is that more community members know their rights. This includes neighbors and friends of immigrants targeted by ICE officers.
You have the right to remain silent and ask for an attorney
You do not have to allow an officer into your home unless they have a warrant signed by a judge
Never sign any documents unless you have spoken to an attorney
If you would like to request a Know Your Rights outreach, please go here.
Emergency Rule Restores General Assistance For More Immigrants
We are pleased that Governor Mills has restored General Assistance (GA) for more immigrants, including many recently arrived families seeking asylum. GA provides a voucher to assist with basic needs such as rent, food, non-food, medication, fuel, utilities, and other essential services.
This new rule is an important step in the right direction. Maine has historically provided GA for immigrants, including people seeking asylum, and it was only a few years ago that this changed. Individuals cannot legally work until six months after applying for asylum, a complex application and process which can itself take up to a year to complete after arriving in this country. Governor Mills clearly recognizes the importance of all of our neighbors having the supports necessary to establish their roots here in Maine.
The emergency rule does not seem to include all immigrants who had previously qualified for GA several years ago. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will publish a parallel rule, at which time there will be opportunity for public comment.