Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Trump-McConnell Bill Is an Anti-Immigrant Wish List (The Torch)

Trump-McConnell Bill Is an Anti-Immigrant Wish List

It would gut asylum laws and make it harder for people with DACA and TPS to keep protections

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Avideh Moussavian, Patrick O’Shea, and Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
JANUARY 23, 2019

For over a month, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have remained at the helm of what is by far the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Both Trump and McConnell are responsible for holding the paychecks of approximately 800,000 workers hostage to Trump’s demands to build a racist wall, hurting the livelihoods of federal workers and cutting off critical services for families and poorer communities across the country.

Tomorrow, the Senate is set to vote on the “compromise” White House-McConnell bill that is nothing more than a ransom note to American taxpayers and Democrats in Congress. As federal employees face missing their second paycheck, the White House and McConnell have shown once again their callous disregard for American workers and their ruthless desire to radically reshape our immigration system by gutting protections for asylum-seekers, vulnerable immigrant youth, and people with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or TPS (temporary protected status).

Some of the many disturbing poison pills in the bill are that it:

  • Adds $5.7 billion for a border wall and a slush fund
  • Adds 750 Border Patrol and 2,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents to police and jail immigrants
  • Bans asylum for Central American minors who are seeking safety in the U.S., by preventing them from applying for asylum at the border and forcing them to wait for a process that will take nearly a year to get underway and will be restricted so that only 15,000 children per year can be granted asylum — and without the chance to see an immigration judge or have their case reviewed
  • Guts trafficking protections for unaccompanied children
  • Offers no permanent solution for people with DACA or TPS
  • Makes it harder for people with DACA or TPS to maintain protection from deportation
  • Explicitly excludes African, Muslim, and South Asian populations with protections under TPS and DED (deferred enforced departure). The bill extends only a one-time, 3-year protection to TPS-holders from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti — leaving out DED-holders from Liberia and TPS-holders from Guinea, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
  • Imposes harsh penalties on people with DACA by forcing them to pay back tax credits they were permitted by law to receive and excludes DACA recipients who are not wealthy

The DACA provisions in Trump’s proposal reflect his administration’s hostility to the program, which he chose to kill in September 2017. The Trump-McConnell bill’s offer for a one-time, three-year extension of temporary protection from deportation and work authorization is limited only to current DACA-holders — leaving out those who are otherwise eligible or could become eligible. This extension is meaningless: people with DACA are already able to renew their DACA under a nationwide injunction blocking Trump’s attempt to end the program. And, since the Supreme Court has decided not to take up any of the current DACA court cases during this term, people who currently have DACA will continue to be able to renew their two-year protections from deportation at least through the end of this year.

However, the Trump-McConnell bill would more than double the DACA renewal fee, from $500 to $1,000, which would almost certainly reduce renewal retention for a program that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. DACA recipients need permanent solutions to their perpetual state of limbo — but this bill provides none.

Because of Trump administration policies, people with TPS are also in a state of limbo, because the administration has attempted to phase out TPS protections by allowing them to expire. Legal challenges have left the future of TPS up to the courts. Again, here the Trump-McConnell bill makes a weak offer to provide a one-time, three-year renewal only for TPS-holders from four countries (Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti). It completely fails to assist TPS-holders from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. The bill also heads off future opportunities for individuals to receive relief through TPS by requiring that applicants already have legal status in the United States to qualify for protections.

Another insidious aspect of the Trump-McConnell bill’s provisions is that it aims to ensure that the U.S. opens its doors only to the wealthy. The bill would require that individuals with DACA and TPS maintain an income at 125 percent of the federal poverty level or be enrolled in school. For a family of four, that is an income threshold of $32,188. Even with two full-time workers in a household, families earning low wages (the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25) would not qualify. Such requirements reflect the administration’s continued efforts to disenfranchise low-income families.

The Trump-McConnell bill provides no solutions for immigrants and asylum-seekers and, in fact, creates greater risks for these communities. It also fails to provide relief for the suffering of federal workers and families across the country who rely on federal programs. Rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been frozen and low-income renters and seniors across the country may soon face eviction. States will begin exhausting their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funding by the beginning of February. People who rely on SNAP (food stamps) to feed their families could have to wait 45 or 50 days to receive benefits. The shutdown has stretched on so long that even federal courts may start sending home staff as early as January 25 as their funding begins to be affected.

Americans have made it clear that they do not want to build a border wall and do not feel that it should be a priority for Congress. So why are Trump and McConnell intentionally depriving people of their livelihoods and their government? If this bill is any indication, the blatantly disingenuous DACA- and TPS-related overtures (and other similar provisions included to entice Democrats) are simply a Trojan horse meant to give cover to their uncompromising anti-immigrant agenda.

If the president and Senate majority leader were serious about ending this shutdown, they would give up these unreasonable and politicking demands for a cynical and dangerous boondoggle and reopen our government. Full stop.


Avideh Moussavian is NILC’s legislative director for advocacy; Patrick O’Shea is NILC’s research and narrative strategist; and Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.


6:33 PM Pacific time: This article was updated in the following way: The bulleted item that begins “Imposes harsh penalties on people with DACA” was added.

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Supreme Court Declines to Take Up DACA Cases This Term

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2019

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

Supreme Court Declines to Take Up DACA Cases This Term

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the Trump administration’s attempts to rush a review of legal challenges to the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, this spring. The Court will meet again on February 15 to discuss the possibility of hearing the cases later this year.

For now, three federal district courts’ orders allowing DACA recipients to submit renewal applications remain in effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen, the first lawsuit that challenged the termination of DACA, on Friday, Jan. 25.

Batalla Vidal
was brought by six New York DACA recipients and Make the Road New York. They are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Make the Road New York, and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to engage Trump’s attempt to sidestep the judicial process and use the courts to do his dirty work is welcome news for DACA recipients, their families, employers, and the country as a whole. The Court’s rejection of the Trump administration’s political games means that DACA recipients can continue to submit renewal applications as several legal challenges to President Trump’s cruel and reckless termination of DACA move forward.

“By all accounts, DACA has been hugely successful and transformative for immigrant youth who simply aspire to be recognized by the country they have called home since they were children. We at the National Immigration Law Center remain committed to vigorously defend DACA alongside the many courageous young people and organizations — including our plaintiffs Martín Batalla Vidal, Antonio Alarcon, Eliana Fernandez, Carolina Fung Feng, Mariano Mondragon, Carlos Vargas, and Make the Road New York — who are fighting back against Trump’s cruel, reckless, and race-driven attack on immigrants.

“We will continue fighting on all fronts: in the courts, Congress, and at the state and local levels so that DACA recipients can remain with their loved ones, thrive, and contribute to their adopted country.”

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Trump’s So-called “Deal” to End the Shutdown Is a List of Hostage Demands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 19, 2019

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-805-0375

Trump’s So-called “Deal” to End the Shutdown Is a List of Hostage Demands

WASHINGTON — In a televised speech from the White House today — a month into a partial government shutdown — President Trump proposed a one-sided “deal” to reopen the government in exchange for $5.7 billion in taxpayer dollars for a border wall, further border militarization, and decimating protections for asylum-seekers and trafficking survivors. Trump’s proposal attempts to justify these xenophobic, harmful demands by offering grossly inadequate and temporary protections for long-term residents, including DACA youth and those with temporary protected status (TPS), whose protections he took away.

Avideh Moussavian, legislative director at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Trump is the chief architect of what has become the longest shutdown in modern history — which his enablers in Congress have allowed the administration to prolong. He is also similarly responsible for terminating DACA and TPS and for trampling on the rights of people coming to the U.S. in search of safety. Instead of reopening the government, he is rehashing nonstarter proposals to once again torpedo every good-faith effort to fix the very harms he created in service of his racist, xenophobic agenda. To blindly trust that this isn’t just another attempt to hurt our immigrant and border communities would be foolish.

“The Trump administration has taken immigrant youth and other immigrant communities, our government, and the financial well-being of 800,000 federal workers hostage to his demands. We should call this so-called ‘deal’ what it really is: an extortionist wishlist dressed up to look like an offer. It’s past time for Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell to stop playing games with people’s lives and reopen the government now.”

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Trump’s Wall Demands Hurt People Already Hurting the Most (The Torch)

Trump’s Wall Demands Hurt People Already Hurting the Most

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
JANUARY 14, 2019

The Trump shutdown has left more than 800,000 federal workers across the country facing the post-holiday season with no paycheck and a great deal of uncertainty. Members of the federal workforce suddenly find themselves unable to pay for groceries, rent, utilities, and loan payments.

Photo credit: AFGE, www.flickr.com/photos/afge/10195865485/

Essential workers, like Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, are calling in sick because they can’t afford to pay for transportation or childcare to get to a job that provides no paycheck. Federal workers are selling their belongings on Craigslist, launching GoFundMe campaigns, or taking on odd jobs to pay their bills. Lost wages create burdens for nonprofit agencies like food pantries, which are stepping in to meet workers’ needs with limited resources.

While federal workers may eventually receive back pay, contracted workers — including low-wage workers who clean federal buildings, provide security, and work in food service — will not. Many of these workers and their families live paycheck to paycheck. In short, Trump’s impetuous demand for a border wall has become an assault on the dignity of working Americans.

Workers of color are especially impacted by the shutdown. Black Americans, for example, are disproportionately highly concentrated in the federal workforce. Historically, public sector employment has helped African Americans avoid discrimination in the private sector. The legacy of generations of systemic racism also means that Black families have less wealth than white families and they are less likely to have a financial safety-net to weather this crisis. Well over a third of Executive Branch employees (36.7%) are people of color.

Workers of color are highly concentrated in some of the agencies deemed essential during the shutdown — in other words, they are among those required to continue working but without pay. About half of Border Patrol workers, for example, are Latinx. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees, filed suit against the Trump administration because its members are being forced to work without pay.

The shutdown not only impacts federal workers and contractors but promises devastating consequences for the millions of Americans who rely on federal programs to meet their basic needs. With a lapse in federal funding, states have had to pick up the cost of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to ensure low-income families receive cash benefits. Housing assistance is of particular concern. By February, rural Americans will lose U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) rent assistance and by March, millions of individuals could lose access to Section 8 and Housing Choice Vouchers. Residents of 1,000 low-income apartment homes are at risk because their U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contracts have expired and cannot be renewed during the shutdown. Health and safety inspections and homeless services are also a casualty of the furloughed HUD workforce.

The federal government has responded to pressure to fund nutrition programs such as SNAP (“food stamps”), WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and school meals through February. However, if the shutdown continues beyond that point — and Trump has threatened that it could last “months or even years” — millions of low-income families are likely to face benefit cuts. In the meantime, thousands of retailers are unable to accept SNAP benefits because their licenses cannot be renewed during the shutdown.

These federal programs provide critical assistance for millions of Americans, including low-income immigrants who are U.S. citizens. Immigrants have high rates of labor force participation, but they are frequently concentrated in low-wage jobs that can make it difficult to make ends meet. Immigrant households are already less likely than U.S.-born citizens to use federal benefit programs. Recently, immigrant households’ participation in programs such as SNAP have been declining, likely because of Trump’s anti-immigrant positions and policies that have created an environment of fear.

The shutdown is also crippling U.S. immigration courts, holding hundreds of thousands of immigrants’ futures in limbo. Currently, 400 immigration judges, with a backlog of 800,000 cases, are furloughed. Immigrants who must already wait an average of two and as many as four years for their cases to be heard must now wait even longer for a court date.

As the shutdown persists with no end in sight, low-income Americans continue to suffer and will face increasingly dire consequences. Trump’s racist and xenophobic demand for a border wall is not only immoral and wasteful, he is holding hostage Black, brown, immigrant, poor, and working-class Americans who cannot afford to miss the paychecks and benefits on which their families depend for survival.


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

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A Dangerous Trumper Tantrum: NILC Responds to Latest Trump Asylum Changes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2018

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

A Dangerous Trumper Tantrum

NILC responds to latest Trump asylum changes

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today announced a policy change that will force people seeking asylum at the southwest border to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated.

Kamal Essaheb, policy and advocacy director at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“This latest attack in Trump’s war on the asylum process is a shameful abdication of our nation’s moral and legal obligation to provide an orderly process for people to seek safety in the U.S. The announcement this morning — in the midst of budget negotiations in which Trump has tried desperately to coerce money for his unpopular, wasteful wall — makes clear that this is just another Trumper tantrum, with serious long-term consequences.

“The American people want solutions that treat people with dignity and compassion, not dangerous policies that create more barriers for people in vulnerable situations and complicate an already fraught process. We must put an end to the culture of cruelty at the border.”

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Following Death of 7-Year-Old, a Call to End Culture of Cruelty at the Border

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2018

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

Following Death of 7-Year-Old, a Call to End Culture of Cruelty at the Border

LOS ANGELES — Below is a statement by Nora Preciado, senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, following the tragic death of a 7-year-old girl in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. Preciado is co-counsel in Doe v. Nielsen, a class-action lawsuit filed by the National Immigration Law Center, the American Immigration Council, the ACLU of Arizona, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Morrison & Foerster LLP, challenging deplorable conditions in Border Patrol holding facilities in the Tucson Sector.

“The death of 7-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin is a tragic reminder of a longstanding pattern of systemic cruelty and secrecy at CBP and its parent agency, DHS, and underscores the stark need for greater transparency and accountability at these agencies. As we mourn and demand justice for Jakelin and her loved ones, we must also take meaningful steps to prevent anything like this from happening again.

“Direct accounts over years from people in CBP custody and hard evidence obtained through litigation reveal a culture of utter disregard for human life at the agency. This toxic environment has resulted in civil and human rights violations, physical and psychological harm, and numerous preventable deaths.

“In June 2015, we sued CBP to demand humane conditions for those jailed in Border Patrol holding facilities known as hieleras. We demanded medical screenings, adequate food and water, and other basic necessities. The lawsuit continues, but we shouldn’t have to sue our government to force it to abide by our laws and treat people with dignity.

“Sadly, the culture of cruelty at CBP has only worsened under the Trump administration. By DHS’s own account, Jakelin and dozens of people apprehended by CBP at the same time were kept for hours in a ‘covered area’ before being transported to a Border Patrol station and before she received medical care. Overnight temperatures in the region can fall to below freezing this time of year.

“Our tax dollars have paid for this culture of abuse for far too long. We demand that Congress investigate the atrocities being committed under President Trump’s watch.”

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Massive Popular Rejection of Trump Anti-Family Regulation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 11, 2018

CONTACT
National Immigration Law Center: [email protected]; Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149, or Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279
Center for Law and Social Policy: Tom Salyers, 202-607-1074, [email protected]

Massive Popular Rejection of Trump Anti-Family Regulation

Proposal equating worth with wealth draws 210,000+ comments

WASHINGTON — A Trump administration regulatory proposal to effectively restrict immigration access based on income drew more than 210,000 comments during a 60-day public comment period that closed Monday. The comments, which came from people from all sectors of society, criticized this 477-page regulation as an affront to family dignity and ultimately unworkable. The National Immigration Law Center and the Center for Law and Social Policy led a nationwide campaign to educate the public about the threat and encourage people to submit comments.

“Mayors from across the country, members of Congress, faith leaders, advocates for women and communities of color, teachers, pediatricians, small business owners, veteran families, and Americans from all walks of life spoke out during the last 60 days,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “And though there were diverse voices speaking out, the message to the Trump administration was consistent and clear: this is the wrong policy for children, families, communities, and the country as a whole.”

“Last month’s midterms demonstrated a groundswell of support for political candidates who rejected Trump’s hateful attacks on low-income families and immigrant families,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Now those voters have raised their voices again to push back on Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-family agenda and take back their power.”

Widely reported by the press, the proposed “public charge”  regulation, if enacted, would put people at risk of immigration denials if they use Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing, Medicare’s prescription drug assistance program, or other programs. Specifically, the regulation puts applications for admission to the United States and applications for permanent residence (a “green card”) in jeopardy. The proposal would also make it far harder for working immigrants to be approved for residency if they do not have high incomes or wealth, by counting a range of demographic factors against applicants. These include being a child, being older than 61, demonstrating limited English language skills, and having a disability.

The rules governing public charge in the U.S. have not yet changed. But experts warn that the threat of the proposal would worsen hunger, unmet health needs, and other problems by making immigrant families — including families with children — afraid to get the help they need. Comments opposing the regulation validate those concerns.

“I am applying for [a] Green Card. I already dis-enrolled my child from CHIP out of fear since the draft policy floated around early this year. I pray every day nothing bad happens to my child,” wrote one anonymous commenter.

Advocates for economic opportunity and immigrant families charge that the proposal puts wealthy immigrants ahead of families and expands a policy that has historically been used to discriminate against certain racial, ethnic, and social classes. Commenters also underscore those concerns.

“At times throughout my family’s history, we’ve needed help from public programs to get by, just like millions of other families. And with some help from programs like unemployment, food assistance, and tax credits, we kept our jobs, got ahead, and paid that assistance back many times over in taxes and in job creation. I vehemently oppose the White House’s new proposal that would deny this generation of immigrant families the same opportunities that my family benefitted from,” wrote Jeff Sheldon.

“This undeniably xenophobic policy, disguised as an economic decision, closed off one of the few escape routes for European Jews facing deportation to concentration camps, and contributed to the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust,” wrote Samuel Chu, National Organizer for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

While the public comment period is closed, the regulation is not final. In some cases, federal agencies decide not to finalize a rule given widespread opposition. If the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does elect to advance the proposal, it must review comments first and respond to substantive concerns — a process advocates expect to take months or years. Immigration officials will not be allowed to consider an applicant’s use of public programs prior to 60 days after the date that the final regulation is published in the Federal Register. The attorneys general of Massachusetts, California, and other states have already indicated that they are considering litigation if the regulation is finalized.

“This radical proposal goes far beyond the agency’s legal authority, and it may well be struck down. We urge the millions of families affected by this proposal to consult a lawyer to determine the best course of action for you and your family,” said Golden.

“Immigrant families have been the target of relentless, multifaceted attacks by this administration,” added Marielena Hincapié. “What we have shown is that our communities — and our allies — are resilient. We will keep fighting, using every legal and policy tool at our disposal to stop this hateful rule.”

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JOINT STATEMENT: Trump Threatens to Hold Government Hostage to Get His Wall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 11, 2018

CONTACT
– National Immigration Law Center:
[email protected]; Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149; Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279
– Indivisible Project: Emily Phelps, [email protected]
– United We Dream: Bruna Bouhid, [email protected], 202-850-0812
– Southern Border Communities Coalition: Yesenia Padilla, [email protected], 415-269-3178

JOINT STATEMENT
Trump Threatens to Hold Government Hostage to Get His Wall

WASHINGTON — The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Indivisible Project, the Southern Border Communities Coalition, and United We Dream released the following statement:

For two years, President Trump has demanded funding for his deadly, harmful, and wasteful border wall while continuing to attack immigrants, refugees, and communities of color. Today, he proudly declared “I will shut down the government” if he doesn’t get his way. Immigrants’ rights groups and allies have made it clear that we reject this administration’s racist policies and oppose any amount of funding that would build Trump’s vanity wall or increase the number of detention beds and immigration agents.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi should reject any and all funding for Trump’s border wall or for additional immigration enforcement.

This past year, Congress approved $1.3 billion in wall funding that has already devastated border communities. We aim to bring this number down in the next Congress. The current Department of Homeland Security budget already represents reckless overspending on agencies that routinely engage in abusive and corrupt practices that terrorize our communities. Congress must include specific guidelines that require an analysis of the harmful effects of a wall to border communities, the environment, and wildlife prior to authorizing any more construction.

When Trump is separating children from parents and tear-gassing families seeking asylum at the border, Democrats cannot give him another dime to wage his war against immigrant families.

Trump made the 2018 midterm elections into a referendum on his immigration policies, and voters overwhelmingly rejected them. Voters want a different type of government that respects all of us, regardless of where we were born.

Our organizations support a clean, year-long continuing resolution that doesn’t fund Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda which includes his vanity wall, detention beds, or agents. We urge Congress to stand up against this false and ineffective style of leadership and consider funding the greater needs of the nation, such as health care for all, addressing the climate crisis, better K-12 education, and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure.

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Lawsuit Alleges ICE, DHS, and Vermont DMV Targeting Immigrant Leaders in Retaliation for Activism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 14, 2018

CONTACT
Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, (213) 375-3149, [email protected]
Will Lambek, Migrant Justice, (802) 321-8393, [email protected]
Lia Ernst, ACLU of Vermont (802) 223-6304 x112, [email protected]
Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449, [email protected]
Liz Valsamis, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, (213) 229-7115, [email protected]
Leah Lotto, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, (212) 633-6967, [email protected]

Lawsuit Alleges ICE, DHS, and Vermont DMV Targeting Immigrant Leaders in Retaliation for Activism

Migrant Justice leaders at risk of deportation for engaging in protected First Amendment activity

BURLINGTON, VTToday, Vermont-based Migrant Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ― with the assistance of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ― conducted an unlawful, multi-year operation to surveil, harass, arrest, and detain the organization’s members and leaders. Those activities were undertaken in retaliation for plaintiffs’ First Amendment speech and assembly and in order to destabilize Migrant Justice and its successful organizing of Vermont’s immigrant farm workers.

The lawsuit claims federal immigration authorities targeted Migrant Justice leaders and members since at least 2014, as the organization was engaged in high-profile human rights organizing across Vermont and nationally. As part of a larger pattern of suppressing immigrant activism nationwide, federal immigration authorities infiltrated the meetings and private associations of Migrant Justice through the use of a civilian informant, invasively surveilled its members and mined their social media pages for information, and targeted, arrested, and detained no fewer than nine Migrant Justice members in direct retaliation for their activism.

“We come to the U.S. from countries with histories of political repression, and we thought that here our freedom of speech would be protected as we stood up to defend our rights,” said Enrique Balcazar, a Migrant Justice leader and plaintiff in the case. “It is clear that ICE is trying to silence the voices of immigrants in Vermont.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Vermont DMV assisted ICE and DHS in targeting Migrant Justice leaders after the organization worked to pass Vermont’s Driver Privilege Card (DPC) law in 2013, allowing state residents to obtain driving privileges regardless of immigration status. Documents obtained through public record requests show that when the plaintiffs submitted their DPC applications, the DMV sent their personal information directly to ICE, which compiled dossiers on Migrant Justice leaders, including their social media pages and media appearances. The records show DMV workers shared the plaintiffs’ information with ICE for discriminatory purposes, out of racial and anti-immigrant animus.

“Time and again, we’ve seen that when Vermont officials get entangled in federal immigration matters, civil rights violations are the inevitable result,” said ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Lia Ernst. “The fact is, DMV and other local officials have no legal authority to do immigration enforcement or to discriminate against Vermont residents ― but clearly that message still hasn’t gotten through.”

A 2016 investigation by the Vermont Human Rights Commission found that the DMV misused the DPC program to engage in a number of discriminatory practices, including falsifying information on applications. Even after the DMV implemented policy reforms, however, officials continued to share extensive information about DPC applicants of color with ICE. DMV officials repeatedly sent what they referred to as “South of the Border” names to ICE for potential investigation, while referring to immigrants in racist and derogatory terms, and scheduled appointments to facilitate immigration arrests.

“Migrant Justice leaders have worked for years to thwart discriminatory policing by local and federal officials,” said Trudy Rebert, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “ICE and willing enablers with a history of anti-Latinx bias at the local DMV have resorted to weaponizing systems essential to community safety to target and suppress our plaintiffs.”

ICE has detained four prominent Migrant Justice leaders who are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit. During the course of the arrests, ICE agents harassed and intimidated plaintiffs, referring to one as a “famous person” because of his activism, and named an additional member who would be “next.” In detention, plaintiffs were forbidden from contacting a lawyer or anyone associated with Migrant Justice. Two plaintiffs were detained soon after leaving the Migrant Justice office. As part of its campaign to undermine Migrant Justice, ICE spread false information about the organization, including that staff were collaborating with the agency to locate and detain immigrant community members.

The lawsuit alleges that the arrests and detention are part of an alarming national trend of retaliation against immigrants’ rights activists. Since 2016, ICE has arrested no fewer than twenty high-profile leaders around the country.

“The federal government crackdown on political speech in Vermont is part of a national campaign to silence immigrants who criticize government officials and their policies,” said National Center for Law and Economic Justice Senior Attorney Leah Lotto. “Using their power to physically arrest and detain outspoken leaders is a shocking violation of our Constitution.”

Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the defendants from targeting, surveilling, infiltrating, spreading disinformation, arresting, and detaining Migrant Justice members and to prohibit DMV employees from racially motivated sharing of information with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

“The federal government targeted Migrant Justice because of its historic and unrelenting advocacy on behalf of a vulnerable immigrant community,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Angelo Guisado. “In so doing, ICE has weaved its way into the tortured counterpane of U.S. policy used to suffocate grassroots activism and to exert control over communities of color.”

On Wednesday, Migrant Justice members and supporters marched from the organization’s Burlington office to the federal courthouse, hand-delivering the lawsuit while rallying outside. Migrant Justice leaders and attorneys addressed the crowd. In recent years, the federal building has been a frequent site of such rallies; at times, hundreds have filled the streets to denounce immigration arrests and call for the release of detained community members

“The rule of law applies to everyone, regardless of one’s particular political position,” said Joel Cohen, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “An arm of the government should never be used to stifle the rights of speech and assembly or to discriminate against individuals based on their race or perceived immigration status.”

Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Vermont, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Immigration Law Center, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

The complaint filed today is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Migrant-Justice-v-Nielsen-complaint-2018-11-14.pdf.

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Voters Across the Country Choose to Correct Course

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 6, 2018

CONTACT
Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

Voters Across the Country Choose to Correct Course

The National Immigration Law Center responds to the 2018 midterm elections

LOS ANGELES — U.S. news outlets project that Democrats will win the majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, following historic levels of voter participation in the 2018 midterm elections.

Votes were still being counted in some precincts, but turnout shattered previous midterm records from coast to coast, and voters made history by sending diverse leaders to state houses and to Washington.

Republicans, who held majorities in both chambers of the U.S. Congress since 2012, lost control of the House despite a late push by President Trump and some candidates to fearmonger and scapegoat immigrants in an effort to increase voter turnout among Trump supporters.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Tonight’s election results, on the whole, were a rejection of hatred and anti-immigrant extremists. This offers a renewed sense of hope that we can get back on the path to a more just and inclusive vision for our country. Tonight, history was made with the first Native American and Muslim women elected to Congress, the first Latinas in Texas elected to Congress, and the first openly gay male governor elected in our nation’s history. After two very destructive years under President Trump, voters turned out in record numbers to demand serious leadership from Washington and in their communities. We have an opportunity now to start to correct course toward achieving justice.

“The message from voters is loud and clear: We want competent, thoughtful leaders who are committed to our values and to finding solutions to our country’s most pressing needs that respect our democratic principles. We will no longer stand for the chaos and divisiveness that have characterized Trump’s presidency. And we will not tolerate elected leaders who cower in the face of relentless attacks on our democracy and pandering to white supremacists.

“Voters turned out not only to reject President Trump’s dangerous leadership, brash policymaking, and cynical, last-ditch efforts to stoke fear and racism, but also to support leaders who stand for inclusivity and who fight for all of us. In states and cities all across the country, communities voted decisively to protect access to health care and to ensure that the economy works for all us.

“From coast to coast, xenophobic candidates like David Brat in Virginia and Kris Kobach in Kansas saw their hate backfire. In Tennessee, a state official who blocked access to education was removed from office in favor of one who supports access to education for all. In Oregon, voters rejected a hateful attempt to strip the state of its anti–racial-profiling law. And across the country, women, people of color, and LGBTQIA leaders are making the halls of power more representative of the nation and communities they serve.

“Leaders with the privilege of power must now deliver on this more inclusive, more unified vision that works for all of us, regardless of where we were born, what we look like, who we love, or how we pray. They must hold the Trump administration accountable for their cruel and corrupt ways and defend our most cherished principles. They can achieve this by serving in their constitutionally mandated role of serving as a check and balance against an executive branch that has shown little regard for our communities or other branches of government. Tonight wasn’t the end of the fight — it was the beginning of a long, collective struggle toward dignity for all.”

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