Immigration Advocacy Newsletter August- September 2014
Congress is back (briefly), the Obama Administration delays executive action but increases family detention, refugee resettlement funding needs, and updates from the border, all in this month’s newsletter.
- Advocacy Calendar
- Administrative Update
- Legislative Update
- It is an election year- Whether your members of Congress are running for reelection or not, they will be in the district for most of October. Plan an in-district visit and let them know that The Episcopal Church and your community remains committed to humane immigration reform, a humanitarian response to the Central American children and families fleeing violence, a robustly funded refugee resettlement program for those fleeing persecution and seeking peace, and that you oppose the expansion of family detention.
- Want to take action in support of refugees, immigrants, and vulnerable children right now? Visit our action center.
- Children and families arriving from Central America and the communities serving them still need our prayers and support- Learn about and join The Episcopal Church's response to Central Americans fleeing violence.
- Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Office of Government Relations hosted a webinar in August, Central American Migrants: An Episcopal Response. Missed it? Find the recording and resources here.
Obama delays administrative action; accelerates deportations for unaccompanied children and families
On June 30th President Obama announced that he would act within his legal authorities to make needed changes to our immigration system by the end of the summer. On September 6, however, the White House announced that President Obama will take any administrative prior to the November elections. This delay, in attempts to help vulnerable Senate Democrats maintain their seats and in response to the political controversy over the treatment of unaccompanied children this summer, was met with disappointment and anger from communities across the country. The delay holds serious consequences for families of mixed immigration status living in fear of separation by deportation, and the children and families seeking relief from relentless violence in Central America.
While President Obama has not acted administratively to make the immigration system more humane, over the summer his administration accelerated the deportation process for hundreds of unaccompanied children, often at the expense of their access to the attorneys assisting them with their case, and opened the new family detention centers across the Southwest. So called “rocket dockets” have been created in localities across the country with high numbers of unaccompanied children, following a directive from the Obama Administration that requires courts to schedule an initial hearing for the children within three weeks of when a case is filed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even though months and sometimes years of backlogged immigration cases precede them. This has accelerated the deportation process for many children, and shortened the time available to children and attorneys to prepare their case and tell their story.
- What administrative action could President Obama take to help families? Read our recommendations to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
- The Truth About the “Border Crisis”: How Partisan Politics Hurt Children by Liza Lieberman, Director of Advocacy & Outreach at HIAS
Obama Administration continues to expand family detention; alarming reports from detention centers detail substandard conditions
Before July of 2014, the United States seemed all but ready to abandon family detention because the practice of detaining families with children in jails or jail-like settings was recognized as inhumane and fiscally irresponsible when alternative to detention programs have proven to be both successful and less expensive. In the wake of hundreds of Central American families arriving this summer, however, the Obama Administration has reversed its own policy and hastily opened two more family detention centers in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas.
What is even more alarming is that this rapid escalation in the detention of families with children shows no sign of slowing, even as arrivals decrease. On Friday, September 5, DHS announced plans to build a 2,400-bed for-profit family detention center on a 50-acre site outside the town of Dilley, Texas. While the final contracts have not yet been signed, it is expected that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-private prison company in the world, will manage the center. CCA is the same for- profit company that managed the infamous T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, a family detention facility that the Obama Administration closed in 2009 after a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic documented numerous reports of abuse, human rights violations, and the psychological trauma suffered by the children and families residing in the center.
According to Barbara Hines, who served as co-counsel in the Hutto Detention Center litigation and has had access to the newest detention centers, the conditions inside Artesia and Karnes show the same missteps and inhumane conditions that led to the closure of the Hutto Center. Children are losing weight due to stress and substandard food, access to medical care is insufficient, few toys or education materials are available, and lawyers have difficulty accessing clients, many of whom have bona fide asylum claims. Located in isolated areas and intentionally opaque to the local communities and pro-bono attorneys attempting to access detainees, these centers are intended to rush women and children through the asylum process, prioritizing swift deportations over bonafide asylum claims and due process. When mothers have the chance to tell their story, which often involves stories of physical and sexual violence, they must do so in front of their children and children are not screened separately for their own asylum claims.
In June of this year, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church strengthened its commitment to humane immigration enforcement, rejecting “one size fits all” detention and deportation policies in favor of humane alternatives to detention and reforms that prioritize family unity in immigration enforcement proceedings. The Obama Administration’s return to family detention, however, marks a dangerous and troubling shift in the opposite direction. The goal of immigration detention is, at its heart, not punitive but compliance based, making our nation’s over reliance on jail-like detention facilities fiscally and morally irresponsible. While there are dangerous individuals who commit serious crimes and need to be held in secure facilities without release to the public, many individuals in immigration detention pose no such threat, such as the women and children fleeing Central America and seeking asylum in the United States.
- Call your members of congress and tell them that you oppose the expansion of family detention-(202) 224-3121
- Read the excellent report from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and the Women’s Refugee Commission about the failure of family detention, published in 2007, Locking up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families
- The Expensive Business of Immigration Detentions in the U.S. by Brianna Lee, International Business Times
- Feds Planning Massive Family Detention Center in South Texas, by Forrest Wilder, The Texas Observer
- Immigrant detention centers decried by critics as 'deportation factories' by Susan Carol, The Houston Chronicle
- History Repeats Itself at Family Detention Center on Border, by Nora Skelly, Assistant Director for Advocacy, LIRS
How you can help detained families: While gaining access to these detention centers remains difficult, CLINIC is working inside these centers to provide legal orientation to families. They are reporting that the families, the mothers, and the children, are feeling the effects of their detention—many are depressed, losing hope, and feeling very isolated.
If you would like to write a note or send a card with encouragement, the attorneys will bring them in to the facilities when they visit and share them with the women and children. Please send you cards or letters to CLINIC; you can simply address them to “Families.” Please do not include anything in the card or letter (no small gifts), because they will not be allowed to be brought in to the facility.
- Families c/o Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) 8757 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Update on the arrivals of unaccompanied children and families at the border
In May and June 2014 more than 10,000 unaccompanied children crossed the southwestern border each month, stretching Customs and Border Patrol and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) resources to their capacity. In August, however, the arrival rate was much lower, with a total of 3,141 children arriving. The numbers of families arriving also fell dramatically, from the high of 16,330 in June to 7,410 in July, according to Customs and Border Patrol data. This drop can, in part, be attributed to the Administration’s information campaigns in sending countries, which warn migrants not to journey to the U.S. It can also be attributed, in part, to troubling partnerships between the U.S. government and Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan law enforcement, with the aim of decreasing arrivals of women and children in the U.S. by increasing border security along the journey. Advocates, social service providers, and experts remain wary of the decrease in arrivals, however, as the violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras pushing people to flee has not declined and migrant crossings through the desserts of the southwestern border typically fall during the hottest months of the year.
Whether arrivals rise, as expected, when the weather turns cool or not, there remain great material, legal, psychological, and spiritual needs for these children and families in the United States.
Congress returned to Washington on September 8 for a ten-day work session. With midterm elections looming large, Congress is expected to pass a noncontroversial and short-term budget, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to keep the government running through the end of fiscal year 2014 and into December 2014. Despite the Administration’s request for $1.83 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the children and families arriving at the southern border this summer, there is no additional funding provided to Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Justice, or the Office of Refugee Resettlement to address the arrivals of unaccompanied children and Central American families, or to replenish the funds reprogrammed in June from refugee services to reception and care for unaccompanied children.
The CR introduced in the House this week remained free of controversial policy riders and a vote has been pushed to next week to allow for the consideration of President Obama’s request for additional funding to combat ISIS.
Increased funding needed for refugee resettlement services
There are more than 50 million displaced people worldwide, marking the highest level since World War II. Escalating conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine, as well as ongoing conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic, continue to displace millions of people. These crises, and the large numbers of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, have strained the resources of the United States refugee resettlement program, leading to cuts in vital services that help refugees become self-sufficient and cuts to funding that supports refugee resettlement communities.
Chronically underfunded, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) serves an ever more diverse set of refugees, asylum seekers, Cuban Haitian entrants, Afghan and Iraqi special immigrant visas holders who supported U.S. troop efforts in those countries, victims of human trafficking, and survivors of torture. This summer, the unanticipated arrivals of unaccompanied children forced ORR to reprogram funding from services for refugees to cover the costs of services for these vulnerable children. This loss of funding unjustly pits the needs of two vulnerable populations against one another: children arriving alone at the border and recently resettled refugees trying to start their lives anew in safety and peace in our communities. Programs that serve refugee children in schools, that help refugees secure employment, and services for elderly refugees will all see cuts this year without additional funding for the care of the children arriving from Central America. ORR must be given the funding it needs in fiscal year 2015 to serve all of the populations within its mandate.
- Send a letter to Congress in support of increased funding for refugees and unaccompanied children
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is Sharing the Journey of refugee resettlement with the Church all year long. Join the Share the Journey campaign, and learn more about the life-changing ministry of refugee resettlement
- Testimony on Behalf of The Episcopal Church on Unaccompanied Alien Children and Refugee Populations
- Interfaith letter in response to families and children fleeing Central America
- Mary Small of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and Shaina Aber of the United States Jesuit Conference explain what is driving people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to flee for their lives
- Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection, UNHCR