Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument (The Torch)

Stakes Are Huge for Hundreds of Thousands and Their Communities after Today’s Supreme Court Argument

NOVEMBER 12, 2019

Departing the U.S. Supreme Court into a cold fall day, dozens of people whose lives are in the balance — plaintiffs, their mothers, and other Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients — emerged from today’s oral argument with their arms linked and raised. There, at the top of the long bank of marble steps, they paused before a sea of young people below who were waving signs and cheering to welcome them out of the courthouse. Their departure from the courthouse today was a reminder of the organizing, courage, and fight for inclusion that led to the creation of DACA in 2012, as well as of what’s at stake before the nine justices inside the courthouse.

DACA recipients and others who attended oral argument are greeted by friends and supporters on the Supreme Court’s steps.

Formally, today’s argument addressed two legal questions: (1) whether courts can even review the government’s decision to terminate DACA, a policy that had been in place since 2012, and (2) whether the Trump administration engaged in reasoned decision-making when it decided to terminate DACA (in nonlawyer terms, whether the administration properly “showed its work” or, instead, ended DACA arbitrarily).

But in practical terms, the daily lives of close to 700,000 young people — teachers, parents, medical professionals, neighbors — and the health and welfare of the communities they call home are at stake. Individuals like our plaintiffs Eliana Fernández, a community organizer with Make the Road New York who lives on Long Island with her two U.S. citizen children, and Martín Batalla Vidal, who lives in Queens, New York, and is finishing his college degree while working as a certified nursing assistant caring for people with traumatic brain injuries. Eliana and Martín, along with the plaintiffs in the eight other lawsuits currently before the Court, challenged the administration’s termination of DACA in September 2017.

DACA, first announced in 2012, has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people who grew up and went to school in the U.S. — who are integral members of their many communities — to come forward, declare themselves to the government, and in return receive work authorization and a measure of protection from deportation. DACA is consistent with a long history of deferred action programs enacted by administrations of both parties dating back to the Eisenhower era.

The vast majority of Americans support DACA recipients and their place in our national community. A recent poll showed that 83 percent approve of allowing DACA recipients to become U.S. citizens, meaning that Americans agree more about DACA recipients than just about anything else. This was also evident in the huge outpouring of supporting briefs filed with the Court before today’s hearing, including support from national security experts, many large corporations, medical schools, the Catholic Church, law enforcement, and more. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted from the bench today, 66 medical associations, 210 educational institutions, 3 home builders, 109 municipalities and cities,129 religious organizations, 145 businesses — and more — identified countless different reliance interests in DACA.

The lawyers presented detailed legal arguments about reviewability and the Administrative Procedure Act today, but what it comes down to is quite simple: The Court is also being asked to decide what government accountability means in our democracy. Should the government be able to hide behind legal reasons for ending DACA to avoid having to face the political consequences of ending a popular policy — even if the legal reasons it relies on are unexplained and directly conflict with an existing legal opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel? As Justice Sotomayor noted, “[T]his is not about the law; this is about [the] choice to destroy lives.”

Prior to the Trump administration’s termination of DACA, the president assured the public that DACA recipients would be treated with “great heart,” yet after receiving a letter from the attorney general on September 4, 2017, the then–acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abruptly ended the program, writing that she had no choice but to end DACA because it is unlawful.

But through documents obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation that the National Immigration Law Center filed on behalf of Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut, we know that the decision to terminate DACA was actually made at a meeting in the White House on August 24, 2017. There the administration hatched a plan to have the U.S. Department of Justice send DHS a letter “outlining the legal reasons that the DACA program is unlawful,” for DHS to draft a memorandum to terminate DACA, and for the administration to develop a list of legislative items that the president would trade to protect DACA recipients. Even Newt Gingrich warned that such a strategy risked sending a signal that the administration was dehumanizing DACA recipients as a “bargaining chip.” The Trump administration also reportedly considered terminating DACA by having the president issue an executive order, but abandoned that path.

DACA recipients around the country hope that the Supreme Court will see through the administration’s unreasoned decision-making and attempts to shirk responsibility for an unpopular political decision. Their lives and families depend on it. We have strong arguments that court after court have agreed with, U.S. district courts from California to New York to Maryland to DC. But whatever happens when the Court issues its opinion sometime between January and June, we will continue fighting alongside immigrant youth as they courageously lead the immigrant justice movement, fighting for inclusion and recognition and for the future of our country.

Trudy Rebert is a NILC staff attorney.


How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection (The Torch)

How the Trump Deportation Machine Relies on Inaccurate Databases and Unregulated Data Collection

NOVEMBER 1, 2019

In a groundbreaking decision, a U.S. district court in California recently concluded that the immigration databases U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) relies on are too unreliable to form the basis for probable cause to issue “detainers” (administrative arrest warrants) against people whom ICE seeks to detain. The court reviewed multiple immigration and criminal justice databases, finding that “[t]he databases on which ICE relies for information on citizenship and immigration status often contain incomplete data, significant errors, or were not designed to provide information that would be used to determine a person’s removability.”

Operating without accountability, these same databases play a major role not only in ICE enforcement decisions, but also in decisions made by other U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about immigration applications, etc. In addition, to populate its databases DHS increasingly relies on unregulated private companies that sweep up vast quantities of unvetted data. This information is used to surveil immigrants and expand the Trump administration’s deportation machine.

According to a recent New York Times Magazine article, DHS contracted with Thomson Reuters, the Canada-based multinational media company, to use its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) service to target immigrants. The Times says that “CLEAR is powered by personal information: data from credit agencies, cellphone registries, social-media posts, property records, utility accounts, fishing licenses, internet chat rooms and bankruptcy filings, all fused and vetted by algorithm to form an ever-evolving, 360-degree view of U.S. residents’ lives.”

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

License plate–reader data from a company called Vigilant Solutions are also integrated into CLEAR and used for immigration enforcement. License plate readers are cameras that take pictures of passing cars indiscriminately, recording license plates and date and time of capture. Vigilant Solutions also collects data from local law enforcement agencies and private companies. ICE can query the database for current and historical information that documents a license plate’s movements over the past five years.

ICE also has a contract with Thomson Reuters “for subscription data services” that allow “continuous access to commercial database aggregators and real time jail booking databases.” An ICE notice about the contract makes clear that the system must obtain these types of data: “FBI numbers; State Identification Numbers; real time jail booking data; credit history; insurance claims; phone number account information; wireless phone accounts; wire transfer data; driver’s license information; vehicle registration information; property information; pay day loan information; public court records; incarceration data; employment address data; Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data; and employer records.”

ICE also uses information technology systems and law enforcement management tools created by another for-profit company, Palantir, such as the company’s Investigative Case Management (ICM) and FALCON Search & Analysis (FALCON-SA). According to The Intercept, ICM enables ICE to obtain access to a vast “ecosystem” of data to use in deportation cases.

The vast range of unregulated information available to DHS through these private companies is troubling. Access to Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) data is of particular concern, as federal law generally protects tax-filing information from being disclosed. ITINs, which are issued so people can file tax returns and use banking services, are available to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security number. The inclusion of ITIN data in the information harvested by these companies raises questions about how they obtain the data.

Data brokers play a significant role in feeding information into other databases and systems. DHS has access to driver’s license databases through state criminal justice networks, a state-owned nonprofit called Nlets, and specific state networks such as, until recently, Washington State’s Driver and Plate Search (DAPS) database. But it also has access to driver’s license and vehicle information through data brokers, who can buy information from states. As reported by the New York Times Magazine, “[I]n 2017, [Washington’s Department of Licensing] earned $26,371,232 selling driver and vehicle records to 19 principal data brokers, including Experian, LexisNexis and R.L. Polk — a group of companies that had its own relationships with some 34,500 ‘subrecipient’ brokers, including TransUnion, Acxiom and Thomson Reuters” (emphasis added).

So even as states limit access to driver’s license data through their own networks, they must be mindful of the data that brokers are buying from them, which can then be used by DHS for immigration enforcement.

In an early executive order, the Trump administration reversed DHS policy that had applied Privacy Act protections to all persons whose information is in a database or system that includes U.S. citizens and noncitizens with various immigration statuses. Instead, it would protect only citizens and lawful permanent residents. In addition, DHS generally exempts its own records systems from Privacy Act protections, including those systems that rely on information from outside the agency.

The commercial databases that DHS relies on are even more unregulated and shielded from public scrutiny than DHS databases. As private entities, these companies’ practices are not necessarily subject to the Privacy Act, which “governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies,” or by the Freedom of Information Act’s disclosure requirements.

The Trump administration continuously vets and monitors immigrants via these data-gathering and surveillance systems. This practice certainly harms noncitizens and undermines their rights, but it also undermines U.S. citizens’ privacy rights, because the surveillance systems indiscriminately sweep up and store information about all of us. The government and its vendors must be held accountable for this unfettered access to our personal information.

Joan Friedland is a NILC consultant and the primary author of our report “Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web: Basic Information for Advocates about Databases and Information-Sharing Among Federal, State, and Local Agencies.” She formerly was a managing attorney at NILC.


How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers (The Torch)

How the Trump Administration Is Using Ineffective No-Match Letters in a Way That Hurts Seniors, Workers, and Employers

OCTOBER 31, 2019

This past spring, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent over 500,000 SSA “no-match” letters to employers across the country. And this fall, they’re at it again.

An SSA no-match occurs when the names or Social Security numbers (SSNs) listed on an employer’s W-2 form don’t match SSA’s records. Although these letters are often generated for innocuous reasons — an error in the spelling of an employee’s name, an unreported name change following a marriage or divorce, or an incomplete or missing name or SSN on a W-2 — the Trump administration has reinstituted the practice of sending no-match letters as a backdoor form of immigration enforcement. In fact, SSA resources are being diverted from SSA’s core constituency, elderly and disabled people, to target workers for more immigrant enforcement.

The no-match letter’s original, actual purpose was and still could be valuable — to notify workers that they’re not receiving proper credit for their earnings and to reduce the size of the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The ESF holds the uncredited funds from workers whose personal information filed on their W-2’s doesn’t match the information in SSA’s database. And, importantly, the letter about a particular worker makes no legal statement about the worker’s immigration status. But the Trump administration is counting on the probability that employers who receive the letters will assume that the workers named in them are unauthorized to work in U.S. — and fire them.

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

Everyone agrees that SSA should ensure that workers are properly credited for their earnings. This is vital to help workers retire with dignity and get disability assistance when needed. But no-match letters are an ineffective way to meet that goal. No-match letters were last sent on a large scale to employers in 2006. In a review of the practice, the SSA Office of the Inspector General found that the letters “are not effective” at reducing the size of the Earnings Suspense File. In fact, in 2005 SSA sent 127,652 letters to employers nationwide, but these resulted in only 2,915 wage items being reinstated. That’s right. No-match letters met their stated goal about 2 percent of the time.

Even if SSA wants to send no-match letters, there is a far more effective way to do it. During certain years in the past, SSA sent the letters directly to employees to alert them of a no-match. According to the inspector general, these letters were far more effective and helped resolve about 11 times more suspended wage items than letters sent to employers. But no-match letters sent to workers don’t get immigrants fired or reported, so they don’t further the administration’s agenda.

Perhaps more importantly, no-match letters sent to employers divert the resources of an already beleaguered SSA. SSA is experiencing a staff retirement wave at the same time that aging baby boomers are requiring more services from the agency. When this reality is coupled with a hiring freeze that’s been in place since 2010, SSA already has “significant management challenges” in meeting the projected growth in its workload. And SSA is spending resources to send no-match letters despite a nearly decade-long rise in customer wait times in all 10 SSA regions. More no-match letters could make a bad situation worse.

Across the country, employers are speaking out about the headaches caused by no-match letters. For some employers, no-match letters make hiring and staff retention a problem. Other employers report that the letters cause confusion and a “high level of anxiety.”

But employers are not the only ones reeling from these letters. No-match letters are a direct threat to millions of workers. U.S. citizen workers who’ve changed their names and work-authorized immigrants are particularly at risk. Given that 10 percent of the noncitizen records in SSA’s database have errors, work-authorized immigrants could be required to visit an SSA office to correct a mistake.

Worse, in the current immigration enforcement climate, many employers, mistakenly believing that a worker’s name in a no-match letter shows that the worker isn’t authorized to be employed, will fire the worker — even if the person is work-authorized. In the past, a study found that 34 percent of workers who were fired reported that their employer failed to give them an opportunity to correct their information. In Chicago, advocates and workers report that no-match letters are sowing confusion and fear in workplaces.

Ultimately, this makes workers more vulnerable to abuse. In the past, bad employers have used the letters to retaliate against immigrant workers who were organizing to protect their rights. And in 2019, NILC has fielded many requests for assistance related to mistreatment of workers based on employers’ misuse of no-match letters.

The path forward is clear. SSA no-match letters are part of yet another policy designed to target and harass immigrants and their families. The “collateral” damage? Seniors, workers, and employers. It’s time to let SSA focus on its core mission and leave policies driven by an anti-immigrant agenda behind.

Emily Tulli, a former NILC policy attorney, is a consultant working on special projects for NILC.


NILC and NILC Immigrant Justice Fund Welcome New Board Members

October 28, 2019

Alex Gilliland, [email protected], 650-823-4575

NILC and NILC Immigrant Justice Fund Welcome New Board Members

LOS ANGELES — The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund (IJF) each has added a new member to its board of directors: Angela Banks now serves on NILC’s board, and Ginette Magaña serves on IJF’s board.

“The NILC and IJF boards set the strategic direction of our organizations, and the additions of Angela and Ginette will ensure that we continue to lead with a values-based approach that makes a real difference for immigrant communities and our country,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of NILC and IJF. “Now more than ever, NILC and IJF are needed to fight for the rights of immigrants and ensure that our communities can thrive. Ginette and Angela bring crucial skills and talents to our boards from their leadership in the social and immigrant justice movement, and I’m eager to work with them to help propel our organizations forward.”

“As a legal scholar and researcher, I know that NILC’s litigation work and its effort to shift the narrative around immigrants and immigration is extremely important, and I’m honored to join the board,” Banks said. “NILC serves a critical role defending and advancing the rights of immigrants, especially as those rights come under attack, and I look forward to working with this team to drive change in the immigrant rights movement.”

“I’m thrilled to be joining the board for the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund. Since my time in the Obama White House, I’ve admired the litigation, advocacy, and narrative-change work the organization is engaged in,” Magaña said. “Now more than ever, our country needs a bold vision for the future of immigration, and I look forward to working to advance this goal.”

Angela M. Banks is the Charles J. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. She’s an immigration and citizenship expert whose research focuses on membership and belonging in democratic societies.

Prior to joining the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law faculty, Banks was a professor of law at William & Mary School of Law. She has also served as the Reginald F. Lewis Fellow for Law Teaching at Harvard Law School; as legal advisor to Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal; as an associate at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, DC (now WilmerHale); and as a law clerk for Judge Carlos F. Lucero of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

She received a B.A. in sociology from Spelman College and a master of letters in sociology from the University of Oxford, where she was a Marshall Scholar. Banks is a 2000 graduate of Harvard Law School, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard International Law Journal.

Ginette Magaña is president and founder of Talavera Strategies, a strategic communications and public affairs consulting firm. With more than 15 years of multicultural outreach and experience in electoral campaigns, government, private sector, and nonprofits, Magaña provides high-level strategic advice to engage and mobilize the public, manage issues, and help organizations thrive.

Previously, Magaña served as director of corporate affairs at NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, where she oversaw the company’s national award–winning corporate social responsibility initiative program. Prior to that, she led President Obama’s engagement with the nation’s Latino community and worked on immigration-related issues in her role as senior associate director of public engagement at the White House.

From her outreach and communications role in the U.S. House of Representatives to her numerous leadership roles on various campaigns, including President Obama’s successful reelection campaign, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Magaña has worked to engage the Latino community on key policy and advocacy issues.



Home Is Here, and We’re Here to Stay (The Torch)

We are home. Always have been. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

OCTOBER 25, 2019

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three consolidated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. But it will be doing more than that. Its deliberation, on any scale, is a debate over whether I and hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth belong in this country. It is about whether the only country we call home is our home. I’m here to tell you that it is. Home is here.

I’ve been in the United States since I was three. I grew up in Ohio, Georgia, and South Carolina. All these places have been home, yet it wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that I finally felt like this country wanted me — despite the many years I’ve spent loving it. When DACA became available in 2012, it changed my life. DACA was the answered prayer that allowed me to get the college education I so desperately wanted.

Diana Pliego speaks at the Home Is Here campaign launch press conference, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In South Carolina, undocumented students are explicitly barred from attending public colleges and universities. I clearly remember deciding, while sitting in my high school counselor’s office, to tell her the real reason I wasn’t planning to go to college. I broke down in tears because I’d never actually told anyone outside of my family about my immigration status.

My counselor made it her mission to help me get into college. Ultimately, I was accepted into a private school that welcomed me with a full-tuition scholarship. Tuition was just the first hurdle. Room and board were another, but my parents promised to move mountains to clear it. And together they did.

By the end of the summer, we were making just enough money to make my college dreams come true. Then my mom’s company went under. Just three days before move-in day, the rug was pulled out from under me. It felt like my future had collapsed before it even started.

Miraculously, my admissions counselor was able to find just enough additional scholarship money so I could start school. By the end of my first semester, I was finally able to apply for DACA. My parents skipped a car payment to afford the then $465 application fee. With DACA, and my pastor as my cosigner, I was able to get a student loan that came in just in time to make the payment that would allow me to go back to school the following year. With DACA, my brothers and I began working. Thanks to DACA and my family, I graduated from college.

The protection from deportation DACA affords eased some of the constant fear I felt about my safety. It allowed my siblings and me to work and contribute to our household. It allowed us to get jobs and have experiences we otherwise would never have had. It allowed us to give back to the country we call home. It changed our lives and served as the long-awaited recognition that, for us, this is home.

On September 5, 2017, when the Trump administration tried to terminate DACA, another rug was pulled out from under me, and again it felt like my future was being taken from me. I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that knows this is my home and is fighting back on every front to ensure immigrant youth are protected. My NILC family has taken Trump to the courts to challenge his unlawful termination of DACA, because my life and future, and those of so many others, hang in the balance.

We know the importance of fighting back, and we know this is part of a larger fight. Trump’s attack on DACA is a clear part of his administration’s broader plan to target nonwhite immigrants in an attempt to basically redefine who we are as a country. And because the administration hasn’t been successful in getting Congress to approve Stephen Miller’s white-supremacist, anti-immigrant policy wish list, it has tried time and again to leverage our livelihoods — and pain — to force Congress into passing its racist agenda.

Trump’s latest tweets couldn’t spell it out any clearer. His administration wants to take away our protections so it can turn around and use us as bargaining chips — again. There is no “heart” involved in these actions. They are a purely racist and cruel way of getting more cruel and racist policies in place to shape the U.S. into the whiter country Trump and Miller long for.

But we won’t let them. We’ll put up the fight of our lives, and we’ll not allow them to define who we are. To every person who has at some time been told to “go home” because of the color of our skin, know this: You are home. Always have been. Always will be. Home is here. And we’re here to stay.

Diana Pliego is a NILC policy associate and a DACA recipient.


Senate Letter Challenging Trump “Junk” Insurance Mandate Applauded

October 23, 2019

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375

Senate Letter Challenging Trump “Junk” Insurance Mandate Applauded

WASHINGTON — United States Senators Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), ranking Democrats on key Senate committees with jurisdiction over health care, today sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar challenging a proclamation requiring that immigrant visa applicants overseas obtain health insurance, but barring them from purchasing health coverage for which they qualify under U.S. law.

The proclamation, issued by the White House on October 4, “punishes middle- and low-income immigrants by going after health care benefits they are legally entitled to obtain,” the senators wrote. Adding that “the President’s proclamation is a direct attack on those who are most vulnerable, and on the health care system itself.”

As the senators noted, the proclamation is aligned with the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which was blocked by federal courts earlier this month. That regulation would threaten the health of nearly 26 million people nationwide, according to independent estimates.

Responding to the senators’ letters, the National Immigration Law Center released the following statement by its senior policy attorney for advocacy, Sonya Schwartz:

“Senator Murray and Senator Wyden took action today to protect the nation’s health and our health care system. Like the public charge regulation and other bricks in Trump’s ‘invisible wall,’ this proclamation puts people’s health at risk to send a message that if you’re not white or wealthy, you’re not welcome here. This reckless, dangerous, anti-immigrant, anti-health agenda must be stopped.”



Courts Block Trump Public Charge Regulations

October 11, 2019

Hayley Burgess, NILC, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
Barbara Semedo, CLASP, 202-906-8010, [email protected]

Courts Block Trump Public Charge Regulations

WASHINGTON, DC — Federal courts today issued national injunctions blocking any implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulations, which threaten the health, nutrition, and housing of millions of families. The orders, issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, find, in part, that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail at trial. A third court arrived at similar legal findings but limited the scope of its injunction. As a result, the public charge regulations, which were scheduled to be implemented on October 15, are blocked across the country.

“CLASP applauds the work of the committed litigators, brave plaintiffs, and numerous amici who worked together to fight back in the courts,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “The public charge rule is rooted in discrimination and racial animus, targets lawfully present immigrants, and sends the message that only wealthy and white immigrants have a place in the United States. But today, once again, the courts have stepped in to stop this administration in its attempt to implement a policy that divides us as a nation and damages the lives of millions of immigrants, their families, their children and their communities. Today’s ruling means a temporary halt in the implementation of the public charge rule. The rule will not be implemented as scheduled on October 15th. We encourage immigrants to continue to seek the services they need to take care of their families and to ensure their children’s health and economic security.”

The regulations were finalized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in August, despite receiving a record-breaking 266,000 public comments, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the proposed rule. The regulations represent a drastic departure from how the public charge test was previously administered and are opposed by experts who predict large-scale increases in poverty, hunger, and unmet health and housing needs if they take effect. They would have taken effect on October 15. As a result of today’s orders, the regulations will not be implemented, and families can continue to access the services they need.

“Today’s decisions by numerous courts blocking Trump from implementing the public charge rule are a great victory for our courageous plaintiffs and others who joined lawsuits filed across the country, from the San Francisco Bay Area to New York. These orders will preserve dignity for countless families, who will be able to continue making empowered decisions about their well-being without concern,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We have known from day one that this racially-motivated public charge rule is unlawful. The public charge attack is about sending one message: If you’re not white or you’re not wealthy, you’re not welcome. We will continue to fight to defend children and their families until the public charge rule is ultimately struck down, because it has no place in a country that’s supposed to be the land of freedom and justice for all.”



Eleventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Georgia City’s Policies Unlawfully Restricting Access to Basic Utility Services

October 11, 2019

Alexandra Gilliland, [email protected]
Hannah Riley, [email protected]

Eleventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Lawsuit Challenging Georgia City’s Policies Unlawfully Restricting Access to Basic Utility Services

ATLANTA — The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday issued a unanimous opinion and order vacating the 2017 decision of a U.S. district court in Georgia in Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. City of LaGrange, thus allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

In May 2017, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a lawsuit against the city of LaGrange, Georgia, alleging that the city’s discriminatory utility policies violate the Fair Housing Act. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Troup County Chapter of the NAACP, Project South, and seven affected individuals. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit In December 2017.

The city of LaGrange is the sole provider of electricity, gas, and water utility services to residents of the city. Unlike most municipalities in the country, LaGrange does not levy property taxes, a policy decision that the city routinely touts to recruit new employers and residents. Instead, municipal operations are largely funded through the city’s sale of basic utilities to its residents.

The city requires that utility customers comply with two policies in order to initiate and maintain those basic utility services. First, both applicants and current customers must pay any debts they owe to the city, including unrelated municipal court fees and fines, to maintain their utilities. Under a city ordinance, residents with municipal court debt cannot obtain electricity, gas, or water, and current customers who owe court debt to the city may have their utilities turned off, sometimes with little advance notice. Second, the city requires an applicant seeking to open a new utility account to present a valid state- or federally-issued photo ID, which many Latinx residents in LaGrange are categorically ineligible to obtain.

The disproportionate impact of these policies on Black and Latinx communities is clear: 90 percent of the residents subjected to the court debt policy were Black (LaGrange’s population is only 48 percent Black), and Latinx immigrants are overwhelmingly impacted by the city’s policy of requiring photo identification in order to obtain utilities.

“This is a tremendous victory for the Black and Latinx communities in LaGrange who have suffered because of the city’s discriminatory utility policies,” said Mayra Joachin, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “Everyone, regardless of their nationality or socioeconomic status, should be able to access gas, water, and electricity. Policies like these are regressive and often hurt immigrant and low-income communities of color the most. Today, the judges reminded us that policies affecting access to essential utilities are protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, and we’re encouraged to see such a clear decision.”

“The court’s order could not have been more clear — housing discrimination is unlawful regardless of whether it occurs before or after someone moves into their home. This is a win for everyone committed to achieving fair housing practices in Georgia and beyond,” said Atteeyah Hollie, senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights.

“We are truly excited about the decision handed down yesterday,” said Ernest Ward, former president of the Troup County NAACP. “It was huge for our disenfranchised community members, who are continually impacted by the barriers associated with poverty. We have a reason to be excited, but at the same time, we have a reason to be sad. Sad because lawsuits do not change the heart of a person, and we desire a time in our community when one doesn’t have to litigate equality.”

“We are thrilled with this decision from the court,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and policy director of Project South. “Access to water and sanitation services is a human right. No city should deny this essential service to its residents.”

Yesterday’s order is available at



DACA Recipients, Broad Coalition of Immigrants’ Rights Organizations Launch “Home Is Here” Campaign Ahead of Crucial Supreme Court Hearing

October 2, 2019

Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, [email protected]
Yatziri Tovar, Make the Road New York, [email protected]
Josh Dorner, Home Is Here Campaign, [email protected]

DACA Recipients, Broad Coalition of Immigrants’ Rights Organizations Launch “Home Is Here” Campaign Ahead of Crucial Supreme Court Hearing

Campaign to spotlight what’s at stake for 700,000 DACA recipients, their families, our communities, the economy, and our country if the Supreme Court allows unlawful termination of DACA to proceed

WASHINGTON, DC — Ahead of the November 12, 2019, U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in three consolidated cases regarding President Trump’s unlawful termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, DACA recipients and a broad coalition of immigrants’ rights organizations today launched the Home Is Here campaign to highlight what is at stake for 700,000 DACA recipients, their families (including 256,000 U.S. citizen children), our communities, the economy, and our country if the Court overturns the lower court rulings currently allowing DACA renewals to continue.

“For the past seven years, DACA has been an incredibly successful program, providing temporary protection from deportation and peace of mind to nearly 800,000 young people who have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives. These Dreamers are part of the fabric of our country, but their futures are once again hanging by a thread as DACA heads to the Supreme Court,” said Karen Tumlin, founder and director of the Justice Action Center, manager of the Home Is Here Campaign, and part of the counsel team for McAleenan v. Batalla Vidal. “Ending DACA was both immoral and unlawful, as multiple courts across the country have found. We will continue to fight for DACA recipients and their families whose home is here, in the United States.”

Organizations participating in the campaign include CASA, the Center for American Progress, Community Change/FIRM, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA),, Justice Action Center, Make the Road New York, NAKASEC, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and United We Dream (UWD).

The Home Is Here campaign tells the stories of and commits to protect DACA recipients who arrived in the United States as children and their families. Over the past seven years, more than 700,000 immigrant youth have been able to work, attend school, better support their families, and make even greater contributions to our communities and our country because of the temporary protection from deportation granted by the DACA program. If DACA ends, DACA recipients would be added to the list of those targeted in the deportation dragnet and threatened with deportation to a country that they may not remember and where they may not even speak the language, sparking a new wave of family separation crises nationwide. Their homes are here in the United States.

The campaign will underscore why DACA is legal, constitutional, and highly successful through events across the country over the next six weeks, including DACA renewal clinics and other efforts to encourage DACA recipients to renew their protections as soon as possible, digital storytelling, paid advertising, organizing, and rallies at the Supreme Court and in multiple cities across the country on November 12.

On November 12, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in McAleenan v. Batalla Vidal, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, and Trump v. NAACP. The lower courts in each of these cases ruled that the Trump administration’s September 2017 termination of the DACA program is unlawful. Nationwide injunctions and other court orders in place have allowed DACA renewals to continue since early 2018; however, no new first-time applications have been considered or granted since the attempted termination. A decision from the Supreme Court is expected between January and June 2020.

The deputy solicitor general of California, Michael Mongan, and noted Supreme Court advocate Ted Olson, solicitor general of the United States under the George W. Bush Administration, will argue on behalf of a number of individual DACA recipients and the other plaintiffs in these cases, including the regents of the University of California, Microsoft, Princeton University, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Current DACA recipients are encouraged to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to consider their renewal options. More information is available at Americans can also contribute to a DACA recipient in need of the $495 renewal fee by visiting


­– DACA recipients, on average, arrived in the United States at the age of 7 and have lived here for 20 years. More than a third arrived before age 5. They are our classmates, our coworkers, and our friends. Most know no other country as home.

– DACA recipients are parents to nearly 256,000 U.S. citizen children, and nearly every DACA recipient is part of a mixed–immigration status family. Ending DACA would rip apart hundreds of thousands of families.

– DACA recipients contribute significant federal, state, and local tax revenues that help provide important benefits to millions of Americans:


Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center: “For hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth whose home is here, DACA opened the door to opportunities and the stability many of us take for granted. For seven years, DACA has been transformative in the lives of DACA recipients who have grown up here, for our communities, and for our country as a whole. Allowing Trump’s unlawful and cruel attempt to end DACA to move forward would vastly compound the already devastating consequences of Trump’s relentless actions to criminalize, disenfranchise, and shut our doors to immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and other communities of color. In this critical moment, we’re reinvigorated and determined to keep fighting for DACA alongside immigrant youth and our partners across the country. We call on you to join us in this fight.”

Martin Batalla-Vidal, lead plaintiff in the Batalla Vidal v. McAleenan lawsuit to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and member of Make the Road New York: “Because of DACA, for the past seven years I have been able to go to school, work at my dream job, and remain with my family in the United States. The Trump administration’s cruel and unlawful termination of DACA has caused chaos and uncertainty in young immigrants across the country. DACA has been a valuable policy that has allowed hundreds of thousands to work, to go to school, and pursue their dreams. Next month, we hope the court will listen to voices of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants like me, whose lives are at stake. The court should uphold the rule of law by rejecting the Trump administration’s reckless attack on DACA and leave this vital policy in place.”

Gustavo Torres, CASA Executive Director: “CASA is proud to be a part of the #HomeIsHere campaign. We cannot allow the termination of DACA for over 700,000 young people who have been living and working in the United States for decades. Several federal courts have already ruled that Trump’s September 2017 attempt to end the DACA program was completely unlawful. On November 12th, we will go to the Supreme Court and continue to fight against this injustice. Our families are emboldened by knowing they are on the right side of history. We cannot let them down.”

Tom Jawetz, Vice President of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress: “We are united with our partners in the fight to defend DACA, and with it, the future of hundreds of thousands of young people who are woven into the fabric of our communities. Over the past six years, CAP’s research has demonstrated that DACA works, helping to strengthen national, state, and local economies and unlock tremendous human potential. Like every lower court that has ruled on the question so far, the U.S. Supreme Court should halt the Trump administration’s illegal efforts to end DACA so that we can work together to build a fair, humane, and workable immigration system that advances the nation’s interests and values.”

Angelica Salas, Executive Director of CHIRLA: “There have been key moments in our nation’s history when our hearts and minds join as one to form a strong union. One of those moments was the start of DACA, which welcomed so many Americans-in-waiting into this society. But, some key moments can mean danger especially if fear and hatred reign. This is one of those moments and it calls for us to defend the progress we have made. This is why together, as a movement and a society, we are rising up for DACA.”

Lorella Praeli, Vice President of Community Change: “DACA created a way for undocumented youth to fearlessly live their lives. We have to come together to build a country where all of us are free to thrive and where everyone has full citizenship. That’s what Home Is Here is about: fighting together to expand the circle, not close it.”

Maria Praeli, Government Relations Manager at “The Supreme Court’s decision will have life-altering consequences for DACA recipients like me, our families, and our communities. Millions of people across the country will be impacted by the decision. Dreamers have shown immeasurable bravery as we fight for the right to continue contributing to the only country that most of us have ever known. is proud to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dreamers, and the millions of our friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbors across the country who have made their voices heard in support of Dreamers.”

Becky Belcore, Co-Director of NAKASEC: “Many people are unaware that thousands of Asian Americans are DACA recipients and that this is a core issue within our community. We know that the vast majority of Americans support our young people. It is critical in this moment that all Americans show their support for the DACA program and call on the Supreme Court to rule on the right side of history!”

Cristina Jiménez, Executive Director & Co-Founder of United We Dream: “For the over 700,000 DACA recipients and our families: our home is here. We will be loud and unapologetic about our hopes, dreams, and fight for justice, and we won’t be scared by Trump’s personal mission to detain and deport as many people as possible. Immigrant youth are not bargaining chips and the Supreme Court should not be a tool for his mass deportation agenda either. Our communities are organizing nationwide to defend DACA and create a country where everyone has the freedom to thrive. The Supreme Court should uphold the three courts’ rulings that have kept DACA in place and not greenlight putting immigrant youth in the crosshairs for family separation.”


For more information, visit the Home Is Here website,

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New DACA Survey Results Confirm Gains for Recipients, Highlight Risks of Uncertainty as Cases Head to the Supreme Court (The Torch)

New DACA Survey Results Confirm Gains for Recipients, Highlight Risks of Uncertainty as Cases Head to the Supreme Court

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
SEPTEMBER 25, 2019

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has provided approximately 825,000 immigrant youth with work permits and temporary protection from deportation since 2012. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it was rescinding DACA’s availability, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped accepting first-time applications for DACA (i.e., from people who had not previously received it) as well as renewal applications from anyone whose DACA was set to expire after March 5, 2018.

Fortunately, people who’ve already had DACA have been able to apply for DACA renewal as a result of nationwide injunctions issued by federal courts. Now, DACA’s future remains uncertain as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments this fall to determine whether the Trump administration’s termination of DACA is lawful or whether the courts even have legal authority to decide this question.


Over the past five-plus years, Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center, has collaborated with the Center for American Progress, United We Dream, and the National Immigration Law Center to survey DACA recipients across the country. The latest findings from this year’s survey were released last Thursday.

Over the years, this survey has allowed us to learn more about the population of immigrant youth with DACA, including how DACA has impacted recipients’ educational and employment outcomes, their economic contributions, and their sense of belonging. In recent years, the survey has also measured how uncertainty surrounding DACA under the Trump administration is impacting recipients. For the first time this year, we also have data outlining recipients’ fears and concerns about the possibility of deportation if they were to lose the protections DACA affords. Findings from the 2019 survey confirm what we have now known for years: DACA helps recipients to thrive and contribute to their families and communities.

DACA provides recipients with greater mobility pathways through higher education and higher-quality jobs. After their DACA applications were approved, 71 percent of the sample pursued educational opportunities they previously could not pursue, and an additional 24 percent plan to pursue more education in the future. Since receiving DACA, more than half of recipients moved to jobs that better fit their education, training, and long-term career goals. Just under half reported moving to a job with better working conditions.

Moreover, this year’s survey again documented that DACA is associated with higher wages. The survey found that 57 percent reported getting a job with better pay after their DACA application was approved, with an average 86 percent increase in hourly wages. These gains are even stronger among recipients age 25 and older, who reported an average 128 percent gain in wages.

The 2019 survey results also reiterate that DACA recipients are woven into the fabric of their communities here. Our respondents’ average age of migration to the U.S. is 6 years of age, so DACA youth, on average, have lived most of their lives in the U.S. Most respondents (69 percent) do not have any immediate family in the countries where they were born. Yet 70 percent do have an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen. Since being granted DACA, immigrant youth in our study have gotten driver’s licenses (80.2 percent), opened bank accounts (56.5 percent), and bought their first cars (59.5 percent) and even homes (13.6 percent). More than two-thirds of respondents reported feeling more like they belong in the U.S. and no longer afraid because of their immigration status since their DACA applications were approved. This complements other research finding that receiving DACA is strongly associated with gains in psychological wellbeing.

As DACA recipients grow older, they are forming their own families here in the U.S. Among respondents 25 and older, 27 percent have children. We know from other estimates that approximately 256,000 children in the U.S. have a parent with DACA. Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding DACA presents a source of constant worry for these parents. About three-quarters of parents in the study report thinking about being separated from their children about once a day or more, and close to that amount (72 percent) worry about not being able to see their children grow up because the parents may be deported. In fact, fears of enforcement are pervasive among the sample in general. About half of all respondents think about being deported at least once a day, and two-thirds worry about a family member being detained.

New findings also suggest what’s at stake for recipients who face the possibility of losing their DACA status and potentially being deported to the countries where they were born. According to this year’s survey, 93 percent of the sample indicated that if they were deported, they would be concerned, once arriving in their country of birth, about their or their families’ physical safety, access to health care or education, food security, or becoming homeless.

The results are clear. Providing even temporary protections to undocumented youth has resulted in substantial gains, for them and for the U.S. generally. Taking away DACA would mean denying DACA recipients opportunities for higher education, better quality jobs and, potentially, the ability to remain with their families in the country that has been their home for decades. It would also deny recipients a sense of and actual belonging in their communities and, in turn, deny those communities the economic, civic, and professional contributions that DACA recipients make in them every day.

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.