Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Information Vacuuming: Massive Collection of Data for Government’s Surveillance and Deportation Machine (The Torch)

The Trump Administration Is Collecting Massive Amounts of Data for Its Immigrant Surveillance and Deportation Machine

AUGUST 22, 2018

The Trump administration is vacuuming up vast amounts of unfiltered information about immigrants and United States citizens in the service of its immigrant surveillance and deportation machine. Here are a few of the ways this information collection occurs.

Visa Lifecycle Vetting

Tracking and monitoring immigrants is official government policy.

In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) met with vendors to plan “a continuous vetting strategy, framework and process.” At first, DHS called this strategy the Extreme Vetting Initiative. Later, DHS changed the name to the more innocuous-sounding Visa Lifecycle Vetting. But its aim is the same: to serve as a “backdoor” barricade to many immigrants, including those targeted in Trump’s Muslim bans, to reduce access to legal pathways to immigration status, and to funnel immigrants into the deportation pipeline.

According to DHS’s Statement of Objectives for the initiative, “The gaps in the current vetting model along with existing limitations in the vetting process create a compelling case for [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to take action to develop and implement a continuous vetting strategy, framework and process” (see “Attachment 1: Extreme Vetting Initiative: Statement of Objectives (SOO),” file name “Attachment_1-_SOO_-_12_June_2017_final”).

The Trump administration is seeking to expand screening and monitoring at all stages — before and after a non–U.S. citizen obtains lawful immigration status and even, according to other DHS DHS notices, after lawful permanent residents become naturalized citizens. This is happening at the same time that DHS has announced it will aggressively target naturalized citizens to strip them of their U.S. citizenship.

This strategy is part of the larger Trump agenda to criminalize, surveil, and police immigrants and communities of color generally.

Tracking Social Media and Internet Use

One important component of the plan is that DHS plans to monitor immigrants’ and naturalized citizens’ social media and other Internet activity. The U.S. State Department also recently proposed requiring applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to disclose their social media handles.

Recently, DHS announced the creation of the External Biometrics Record System of Records (EBR). DHS claims that EBR allows DHS only to “receive, maintain, and disseminate biometric and associated biographic information from non-DHS entities, both foreign and domestic.” But EBR also will include identifiers for derogatory information, miscellaneous officer comment information, and encounter data. And it will include “records related to the analysis of relationship patterns among individuals and organizations.” These items are undefined and unlimited in scope.

Relying on Commercial Database Aggregators

In 2018 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced its intent to award a contract to Thomson Reuters “for subscription data services” that would allow “continuous access to commercial database aggregators and real time jail booking databases.” As the Statement of Work makes clear, the system would have to obtain data from “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.”

The government’s use of systems that sweep up massive quantities of unverified and random information is often done through outside companies, with little public scrutiny or accountability. For example, DHS has also relied on a company called Palantir to develop systems such as Investigative Case Management (ICM) that, according to The Intercept, will enable ICE to obtain access to a vast “ecosystem” of data to use in deportation cases.

Creation of Giant Information Database

Even more ominous, EBR is part of DHS’s under-the-radar creation of a vast database called Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART), which will replace DHS’s current biometrics database IDENT. HART will centralize access to federal and international databases, provide real-time access in the field, and involve the use of “multi-modal biometrics” (e.g., facial and iris recognition, in addition to fingerprints).

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently pointed out, DHS has been “quietly building” Hart, without the benefit of public scrutiny. The EBR notice confirms that the database contains much more than biometric information, including derogatory information, miscellaneous officer comment information, and encounter data, as well as relationship patterns.

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs)

Another component of the continuous monitoring strategy is the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs). These readers are cameras that may be mounted on a fixed object such as a road sign or on police cars. They take pictures of passing cars indiscriminately, recording license plates and date and time of capture. In a December 2017 Privacy Impact Assessment, DHS announced its contract with an unnamed vendor for LPR data service to be used by the ICE Offices of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

A subsequent article in The Verge disclosed that the company is called Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant Solutions’ LPR database will collect data from local law enforcement agencies and private companies such as repossession companies. ICE can query the database for historical information that shows a license plate’s movements over the past five years. ICE can also receive an instantaneous email notice when a license plate that has been uploaded to a “hot list” appears.

DHS has outsourced oversight over the program. Vigilant is a private company, not subject to the federal Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information Act. And Vigilant has refused to provide any details about its contract. As the Privacy Impact Assessment makes clear, it’s up to the commercial vendor to adhere to privacy, disclosure, and other requirements.


The Trump administration is implementing a sweeping system of monitoring and surveillance of immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens. Given the potential consequences for these individuals, and the threats to privacy of all residents, it’s critical that we understand and are able to challenge the deployment and use of these systems.

Joan Friedland is a NILC consultant and the primary author of our report “Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web.” She formerly was a managing attorney at NILC.


Rights Groups Respond to Charges Against Owner of Tennessee Meatpacking Plant Where Massive ICE Raid Took Place

August 17, 2018

Hayley Burgess, National Immigration Law Center, 202-805-0375, [email protected]
Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, 646-584-5281, [email protected]
Jen Fuson, Southern Poverty Law Center, 334-956-8226, [email protected]

National & Local Civil Rights Groups Respond to Federal Charges Against Owner of Tennessee Meatpacking Plant Where Massive ICE Raid Took Place

MORRISTOWN, TN — James Brantley, the owner of Southeastern Provision, a meatpacking plant in Eastern Tennessee, pled guilty yesterday to federal charges of tax evasion and wire fraud. He is charged with evading nearly $1.3 million in federal payroll taxes over the past decade and neglecting to pay state and federal fees such as unemployment and workers’ comp premiums.

For years, Southeastern Provision has flagrantly violated laws that are intended to protect all workers in this country.  In addition to having been charged with tax evasion, the company is being investigated by both the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) and the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) to determine whether its employees’ working conditions were inhumane and unhealthful. These charges came to light after a massive raid of the plant in April, during which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents used aggressive, militaristic force to arrest nearly a hundred workers, including one U.S. citizen and several who have work authorization.

As a country, we must stand up and demand that any company that abuses its workers be held accountable for its actions to the full extent of the law. All too often, workers bear the brunt of this abuse and are used as scapegoats, while companies are able to continue to operate without consequence.

Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):
“We are glad that Mr. Brantley is finally being held accountable for some of his egregious employment practices. But these charges could have been brought by the federal government and a plea deal reached without bringing armed ICE agents into the town and ripping 97 hard-working members of the community from their families. In the four months since the raid, we’ve worked alongside the 97 families who had been the only ones to suffer any consequences from the investigation. The families are still struggling to recover from the devastation of the raid, including many whose loved ones are still being held in detention or who have already been shipped out of the country. By conducting mass worksite raids in Tennessee, Ohio, and Nebraska, the government is instilling fear in workers and making them less likely to report the kind of egregious working conditions that persisted at Southeastern Provision.”

Jessie Hahn, labor and employment policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC):
“These latest charges and the pending investigations against Mr. Brantley shed light on a pervasive problem across the country in which the federal government has allowed low-road employment practices to go unchecked, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The federal government has choices in how it enforces immigration laws, and in this case ICE’s decision to conduct a large, militaristic raid was reflective of a larger pattern of attacking and destabilizing immigrant communities. Contrary to ICE’s representation that this kind of enforcement is designed to combat worker exploitation, ICE’s use of fear and intimidation tactics has the effect of empowering abusive employers and driving immigrant workers further underground.”

Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):
“The federal government responded to this employer’s widespread and pervasive violations of the law by ripping vulnerable and exploited workers from their families, detaining them, and threatening to deport them. This is wrong. When workers live in fear of deportation, they are intimidated from reporting unsafe and unfair working conditions. Southeastern Provision had been circumventing basic employment laws for years, including taking advantage of workers by not paying overtime for working over 60 hours per week, exposing workers to health and safety hazards, and denying basic human dignity at work. We hope this employer’s punishment is a lesson to employers to treat all workers with respect and ensure safe and dignified working conditions. And we hope the federal government sees that terrorizing immigrants into silence creates space for bad actors like this employer to flout the law.”

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP):
“Instead of targeting and arresting the workers, this administration and the state of Tennessee’s counterpart agencies must hold this employer fully accountable for violating not only tax laws, but for the egregious violations of basic worker protections done to simply inflate profits and undercut competitors. Employees at Southeastern Provision have experienced conditions and dangers that no worker anywhere should have to endure.”



Questions Remain Weeks After Trump Administration Fails to Reunite Children and Parents (The Torch)

Questions Remain Weeks After Trump Administration Fails to Reunite Children and Parents


By NILC staff
AUGUST 14, 2018

President Trump’s family separation policy has harmed about 2,500 migrant children over the past several months, and serious questions remain about how the administration is treating immigrant families once they are reunited.

Is the administration respecting immigrant parents and children’s rights in immigration court? What specific conditions have parents and children been forced to endure inside immigrant family jails? How, exactly, are migrant families being treated by our government?

To find out, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last month on behalf of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, an organization that represents several families who have experienced the cruel and inhumane consequences of the Trump administration’s family separation policies.

After the administration’s actions sparked weeks of public outrage nationwide, a U.S. district court judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite families by July 26 and to halt the deportation of reunited families who are entitled to asylum proceedings. These orders were issued in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, Ms. L v. ICE.

Nevertheless, here we are, weeks after the court-ordered July 26 deadline, and hundreds of children are still separated from their parents and locked away in government custody. To make matters worse, stories have emerged of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement coercing parents of children from whom they are separated to sign away their rights. Trump officials have even admitted that the parents of as many as 386 children from whom the parents were separated may have been deported.

To get to the bottom of these abuses, our FOIA request seeks information regarding the following:

  • records related to the policies, forms, and checklists governing background checks and reviews for parentage
  • records related to the policies governing whether parents who have previously been released from detention will be re-detained with their children following reunification
  • what factors are considered in determining whether a family will remain detained together or released upon reunification
  • records related to the policies governing children who remain in the Trump administration’s custody whose parents have been deported

While we wait for the Trump administration to answer our request, here’s what we do know. According to research cited by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Separating children from their parents exposes them to trauma and toxic stress that can have lifelong negative impacts on their mental and physical health.” Each day, each hour these children remain separated from their parents and families has alarming implications for their personal well-being and their families’ health.

We demand that the Trump administration stop dragging its feet. It’s time to reunite all the families it has torn apart and take responsibility for the human rights abuses it has perpetrated. NILC will not stop fighting for accountability and greater transparency. We need answers, and we need them now.

More on how the Trump administration is harming children and families


Trump Regulations Rig Immigration System for the Wealthy, Put Millions of Families at Risk

August 7, 2018

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

Trump Regulations Rig Immigration System for the Wealthy, Put Millions of Families at Risk

Press reports suggest Trump administration may soon propose sweeping change

WASHINGTON — Press reports suggest that the Trump administration may soon act unilaterally to put forward proposals that will restrict access to immigration for applicants with incomes under $60,000. The proposal, reported by NBC News and other outlets, places wealth over family, hard work, and potential as a criterion for who can contribute to the United States. For example, various leaked proposals would put immigrants at risk if they — or potentially their families, including children born in the United States — get health care under Medicaid or Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) or if they get help that is crucial to putting food on the table for millions of working Americans under the Earned Income Tax Credit. Earlier reports estimated that the regulation would impact 20 million people or more.

Advocates decried the leaked proposed regulations during a press call earlier today. Quotes can be found below:

Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center (NILC):

“The Trump administration’s proposed ‘public charge’ regulation is a major component of Trump’s extremist anti-immigrant agenda that seeks to decrease the number of brown families in this country. Whether it’s separating families at the border or separating families who have deep ties to our communities and country, including U.S. citizen children, these are all cruel policies and a cynical effort to use immigration as wedge issue in the midterm elections.

“This proposed regulation is a perversion of our country’s values of family unity and fairness. No parent should ever have to make the impossible choice between feeding their children, giving them healthcare, and having a future in this country.

“We’ve seen abuses like this before in our history — whether it was turning away Jewish families fleeing the Holocaust or discriminating against Irish Catholics. We cannot let history repeat itself. By working hard and building better lives for their families, immigrants have made and continue to make our country stronger every day. We must stand by our neighbors, friends, and communities across the nation to ensure that every family in this country has the basics they need to thrive.”

Olivia Golden, Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP):

“As we’ve seen in the separation of children from their parents on the border, the administration’s policies towards immigrants too often target children for the greatest damage. They are the ones who will bear the brunt of long-term damage as their families’ lives, health, and economic security are upended.

“The common theme across these policies is their cruelty and reckless disregard for long-term consequences. With 1 in 4 American children living with an immigrant parent, the damaging consequences affect not only children themselves but the whole country.

“Compromising a child’s ability to thrive is not only immoral, it’s deeply damaging to the future of our nation.”

Shelby Gonzales, Senior Policy Analyst, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP):

“One of our biggest concerns is that people who are eligible for programs such as health and nutrition will be frightened from participating in those programs that we know have immediate and long-term positive effects. As a result, we will see people who have medical needs forgo services, and families will go hungry.”



Should I renew my DACA now? (The Torch)

UPDATE – AUGUST 31, 2018: In an order filed on Fri., Aug. 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas declined to issue a preliminary injunction that might have affected the ability of people with DACA to apply to renew their DACA. In the coming days, NILC will be updating its DACA-related materials to reflect the effects of the Aug. 31 ruling.

Should I renew my DACA now?


By Ignacia Rodriguez, NILC immigration policy advocate
AUGUST 7, 2018

Lately people have been asking, Why the uptick in chatter about renewing DACA now? Starting this summer, advocates began encouraging people to renew as soon as possible, even though the option to renew has been around since January.

What changed? Remember, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not begin accepting DACA renewal applications voluntarily. USCIS began accepting DACA renewal applications again only because federal judges in California and New York ordered it to. Court orders, as we’ve seen most recently in the Texas case that blocked DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) and expanded DACA and also in the Muslim ban court cases, can change over time. A judge’s order can be appealed by the party that disagrees with it, and at the appellate stage the order can continue in effect, can be paused or reversed, or can be modified.

We knew the decisions issued in these cases would probably be appealed (usually a U.S. district court decision is appealed to the court of appeals for the “circuit” corresponding to the state where that district court is located) and that at least one of these cases could then make its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The probability of an appeal became reality when the federal government appealed the decisions issued by the courts in California and New York.

Litigating a case takes time. Time is allotted for each party to submit briefs that lay out its arguments, and the court schedules hearings as necessary to hear the parties’ arguments. It is very rare for a judge to issue a ruling during or immediately after a hearing, so days, weeks, even months can go by before the judge issues a ruling. This is why, before this summer, some experts expected the DACA renewal process to be available at least through this month (August 2018) and maybe longer. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court won’t be back in session until October, so under usual circumstances it wouldn’t hear an appeal of one of the DACA cases before then.

So what happened this summer? Back on May 1st, Texas and six other states filed a lawsuit arguing that the DACA program is illegal and shouldn’t have been created in the first place. They are asking for a court in Texas to order USCIS to stop accepting DACA applications. On August 8, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen will hold a hearing in their case in Houston, Tex.

Nobody knows for certain what will happen either during this hearing or afterwards, including how a possible negative ruling by a judge in Texas will affect the orders issued by federal courts in California and New York. It is unlikely that Judge Hanen will issue a ruling or order on August 8. But some experts think it’s at least possible that USCIS could stop accepting and processing DACA renewal applications as early as the end of August. Depending on what happens in the courts, the option to renew may remain indefinitely or may be modified or eliminated by decisions in these district courts, circuit courts of appeals, or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Should you renew your DACA now, even if your DACA expires in February 2019? May 2019? December 2019? You will need to decide whether it makes sense for you to apply for DACA renewal now. We highly encourage you to speak with an attorney or a Board of Immigration Appeals–accredited representative before you submit a renewal application, to discuss the possible benefits and risks of applying early. Some attorneys or accredited representatives may advise you against applying now, because USCIS used to not accept renewal applications filed more than 150 days before the applicant’s DACA expiration date. However, since it became possible again, in January, to apply for DACA renewal, USCIS has accepted renewal applications filed more than 150 days before expiration.

Still, you must consider the risks and benefits of applying early. Considerations include but are not limited to:

• If you apply early, USCIS could deprioritize your application and, while you’re waiting for your case to be processed, the option to renew may end. If the option to renew ends, USCIS may “grandfather in” already-accepted applications and continue processing them or USCIS may stop processing already-accepted applications and may return the application fees that were submitted with the unprocessed applications (like what happened when DACA and advance parole for DACA recipients were terminated in September 2017). Can you afford to lose the $495 fee if USCIS decides not to return fees? Can you afford to send your application by certified mail, to have an additional way of tracking it, to prove that it should be “grandfathered in” if the government decides to process already-submitted applications?

• If you apply early and are granted DACA renewal, your “new” DACA and work permit may start being valid before your “old” DACA and work permit expire. Nevertheless, your new work permit will expire two years after its date of approval. Currently, it’s taking USCIS about 3-5 months to adjudicate an application, but some applications have been adjudicated faster.

Example: Your current DACA and work permit expire in December 2019. You submit a renewal application today, and USCIS accepts it. USCIS grants your DACA renewal in October 2018. Therefore, your renewed DACA and work permit will expire in October 2020. In other words, by applying now, you may gain a total of only 10 more months of DACA and work authorization. You must ask yourself: Is having those 10 additional months of DACA worth the effort and expense of applying? Will I feel more at peace knowing I have more time with DACA, even if it’s only 10 months? What will I feel like if the court orders that require USCIS to accept DACA renewals remain in effect for months or even years?

If you decide to go ahead and apply now, we recommend doing so as soon as possible, since the situation with the court cases is so uncertain. We wish we could answer with a simple “yes” or “no” when people ask us whether they should apply now, but, along with everyone else, we simply don’t know now what will happen in the courts in the next weeks and months. But we will continue to provide information and updates to help you plan for your future.


Litigators & Stakeholders in DACA Legal Battles Discuss Strategy and Human Impacts Ahead of Texas Hearing

August 6, 2018

Hayley Burgess, NILC, [email protected], 202-384-1279
Bruna Bouhid, UWD, [email protected], 202-850-0812
Sandra Hernandez, MALDEF, [email protected], 310-386-5768

Litigators & Stakeholders in DACA Legal Battles Discuss Strategy and Human Impacts Ahead of Texas Hearing

WASHINGTON — Legal experts and immigrant youth leaders today discussed what is next in the legal defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and the enormous impact the cases will have on the lives of immigrant youth and their families.

Following a ruling Friday by the D.C. federal district court and ahead of a key federal court hearing in Houston this week, litigators explained the status of several DACA-related cases moving through the courts and the potential for ground-shifting developments on the horizon.

DACA recipients spoke about the importance of partial relief — now under threat — obtained through various legal victories, and the continued urgency for a permanent solution for immigrant youth following President Trump’s efforts to eliminate their DACA protections.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said, “Thanks to the leadership of courageous DACA recipients, lawyers, and organizations who challenged Trump’s cruel and unlawful termination of DACA, more than 100,000 DACA renewals have been approved since January 2018, and tens of thousands more are in the pipeline. The relief provided by the courts so far — although limited and likely temporary — has been crucial, especially in the face of Congress’s failure to enact permanent protections for Dreamers. But now, even that limited relief has come under threat. The next weeks and few months could see developments in the courts that significantly alter the landscape for DACA recipients. It’s a critical time for DACA recipients, our communities, and members of the media to stay informed.”

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “MALDEF is proud to represent the 22 courageous leaders and DACA recipients who have intervened to defend DACA in the Texas case because the federal government cannot be trusted to do so adequately. This is a significantly different case than the challenge to DAPA from two years ago, so we expect the courts to continue to protect DACA until the Congress selects leadership who will actually lead by acting to permanently protect these hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth who contribute so much to our country.”

Donald Verrilli, a partner and founder of the D.C. office of Munger, Tolles & Olson, and the U.S. Solicitor General from 2011 to 2016, said, “The government is hiding behind a weak and insubstantial legal rationale because it is unwilling to embrace the reality that it is abandoning DACA for reasons of policy, not reasons of law. This seems quite consistent with what the government is doing, for example, in the case — also filed by Texas — challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The government is unwilling to own its position that it is trying to use the courts to achieve. It is very hard to see that as anything other than a misuse of the judicial process to try to achieve policy objectives that once again the administration is not willing to affirmatively embrace.”

Greisa Martinez, deputy executive director of United We Dream and a DACA recipient, said, “Last week, D.C. federal district judge John Bates ruled that Trump’s decision to kill the DACA program was wrong — and we agree. When immigrant youth and our allies fought to create DACA to protect us, we knew that it was the right thing to do. From the start, the program and this idea that immigrants should be protected and not deported came under harsh attack from those who want to see mass deportation. In spite of this, the courts and common sense have shown that DACA works. As Trump tries everything he can to kill protections and feed more immigrants to his deportation force, Congress must vote to defund the deportation agencies and pass legislation to protect immigrants in a way that is permanent and clean from enforcement. In the face of uncertainty and danger, immigrant youth and our allies are determined to #LiveUnafraid and continue our fight to defend our communities.”

Eliana Fernandez, a DACA recipient and plaintiff in Batalla Vidal v. Nielsen and an immigration case manager at Make the Road New York, said, “I joined the lawsuit against Trump’s decision to end DACA to fight for my family and community. As a result of the injunctions obtained, more than 100,000 Dreamers like me have been able to continue renewing DACA, which provides us protection from Trump’s deportation force. As a mother, having been able to renew my DACA this past July means — for now — that I can continue to be with my children, have a job, pay for my mortgage, and continue to fight for my community.”

A recording of today’s call is available at



Groups Challenge the Waiver Component of Trump Administration’s Muslim Travel Ban

August 1, 2018

Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, [email protected]

Groups Challenge the Waiver Component of Trump Administration’s Muslim Travel Ban

SEATTLE — In response to the June 26, 2018, U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California, Iranian American Bar Association, Lane Powell PC, National Immigration Law Center, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, in partnership with the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Washington State, have filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Muslim travel ban waiver process on behalf of organizational plaintiffs OneAmerica and PARS Equality Center, as well as individual plaintiffs from all of the Muslim-majority countries subject to the travel ban.

The current waiver process is inconsistent and arbitrary, and so few visa applicants have actually been granted a waiver, that the process by which waivers are supposedly granted has become mere window dressing for the ban itself. This lawsuit seeks to hold the Trump administration accountable for its failure to implement a good-faith, lawful, and constitutional waiver process so that families who qualify for waivers under the terms of the presidential proclamation that established the ban actually receive waivers and are issued visas.

“We will continue our fight against Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban, but, in the meantime, countless families are suffering needlessly due to the administration’s failure to implement a coherent visa waiver policy,” said Esther Sung, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “We’re suing today to hold the Trump administration accountable.”

Since December 2017, countless individuals and families have been denied a visa and a waiver under the Muslim travel ban without notice of the process, an opportunity to submit evidence, or consideration under the waiver scheme. According to the U.S. State Department, only 2 percent of applicants have received waivers, and former U.S. consular officials have called the process “fraudulent.”

“The administration’s sham ‘waiver’ and its haphazard process have failed to provide a fair and meaningful opportunity for relief from the travel ban, which continues to separate families and upend lives,” said organizational plaintiff PARS Equality Center’s managing attorney. “The courts have been an important bulwark to protect the rights of those targeted by this administration’s discriminatory immigration policies, and we hope they continue in this important role today.”

The purpose of this lawsuit is to force the government to clarify and implement a waiver process for those individuals who would otherwise be permanently banned from entering the U.S. The plaintiffs are asking the court to require the government to provide a meaningful opportunity to access what is, for most, the only means to reunite with family under an otherwise permanent ban.

This lawsuit is part of a larger attempt to fight against the Muslim travel ban and represents affected communities for every Muslim-majority country targeted in the ban. Through this lawsuit and additional measures, the co-counsel organizations will continue to push for equity and accountability, and fight the travel ban through every possible avenue — in court, on the streets, and through mobilization and policy/legislative change. Having national travel bans on entire groups of people based on religious belief or countries of origin devalues America’s shared cultural emphases on equality and acceptance.

The complaint filed yesterday in PARS Equality Center, et al. v. Pompeo, et al. is available at

The exhibits attached to the filed complaint are available at

A recording of a telephonic press conference about this filing held earlier today is available at



Groups Respond to Court Ruling Allowing Refugee Ban Lawsuit to Proceed

July 30, 2018

Adela de la Torre, NILC, 202-384-1275, [email protected]
Henrike Dessaules, IRAP, 646-459-3081, [email protected]
Bill Swersey, HIAS, 212-613-1349, [email protected]
Deb Frockt, Jewish Family Service of Seattle, 206-861-3148, [email protected]
Mindy Berkowitz, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, 408-357-7455, [email protected]

Groups Respond to Court Ruling Allowing Refugee Ban Lawsuit to Proceed

SEATTLE — This past Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart issued a decision allowing plaintiffs to seek certain discovery in Jewish Family Service v. Trump, which challenges the Trump administration’s refugee ban issued on October 24, 2017. This decision will allow the plaintiffs to find out whether the suspensions in the refugee resettlement process are continuing in another form.

While Judge Robart had largely blocked the government’s ban on processing refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries back in December 2017, refugee admissions from those countries have ground to a near halt. The individual plaintiffs, including an Iraqi man hiding in Egypt who had worked as a translator for the U.S. military and a Somali refugee trying to be reunited with his wife and young son, have not gotten any closer to finding relief despite years of waiting. Meanwhile, the United States has accepted the lowest number of refugees in any year since the establishment of the Refugee Act in 1980.

Jewish Family Service v. Trump was brought on behalf of Jewish Family Service of Seattle, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, and nine individual plaintiffs by attorneys at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); the National Immigration Law Center (NILC); Perkins Coie LLP; HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees; and individual attorneys Lauren Aguiar, Mollie M. Kornreich, and Abigail Shaheen Davis.

In response to the ruling, the counsel and plaintiffs issued the following statements:

Rabbi Will Berkovitz, Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Family Service of Seattle: “The United States is on track to resettle the smallest number of refugees since Congress unanimously passed the Refugee Act of 1980. We are hopeful that with this ruling, a very lucky few will have the chance to be reunited with their families in the U.S. Jewish tradition says, To save one life is to save the world. This ruling offers a glimmer of possibility that lives will be saved and human beings of all faiths, from any country of origin, will once again be able look to America as a welcoming beacon.”

Mindy Berkowitz, Executive Director, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley: “The refugee families in our care are so desperate to be reunited with their loved ones. They hope beyond hope that by permitting our case to proceed to discovery that their brothers, wives and parents can join them in a life of freedom in the U.S.”

Mark Hetfield, President and CEO, HIAS: “HIAS welcomes the court’s ruling. Family unity is a human right guaranteed by international and U.S. law. Yet whether we are talking about asylum-seekers at the border or refugees resettled to the U.S., the Trump administration has actually dedicated taxpayer resources to tearing or keeping families apart. We at HIAS are grateful that the court has once again stepped in to prevent the administration from getting away with its cruel and lawless anti-family policies.”

Mariko Hirose, Litigation Director, IRAP: “By allowing our case to proceed to discovery, the court recognized the plight of thousands of refugees who have been devastatingly impacted by this refugee ban. This ruling further proves the need for heightened transparency from an administration that has proactively stalled the refugee resettlement program and continues to vilify refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, who are seeking safe haven in the United States.”

Melissa Keaney, Staff Attorney, NILC: “This ruling should serve as a reminder that the fight for fairness and equality for refugees is alive and well. We are committed to getting the transparency and accountability that our clients — and those like them — deserve.”

The order can be viewed here.



Trump Administration Must Reunite Families

July 27, 2018

Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, [email protected]

Trump Administration Must Reunite Families

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has missed a court-ordered deadline to reunite all parents and children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. government earlier failed to meet a July 10 deadline to reunify children under the age of five with their parents. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents who came to this country seeking safety.

Diana Pliego, policy associate at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“The Trump administration again has failed to remedy a crisis it created when it began its ‘zero tolerance’ policy of criminalizing people seeking refuge in our country. After subjecting families to unthinkable pain and trauma, the administration should be doing everything possible to ensure that every child it took is back with their parent. Instead, it has cynically deemed hundreds of parents ‘ineligible’ for reunification, and hundreds were deported back to danger without their kids. Many of these parents have been misled or pressured into signing away their rights.

“The Trump administration has mishandled this crisis at every step. We must demand that it reunite every family it separated. Parents who were deported without their kids must be allowed to return and given a fair opportunity to make their case. The administration has a moral responsibility to right this horrid atrocity it created.”



NILC Demands Information from the Government about Treatment of Jailed Children

July 26, 2018

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], (202) 805-0375
Lindsay Toczylowski, [email protected], (213) 634-7181

National Immigration Law Center Demands Information from the Government about Treatment of Jailed Children

LOS ANGELES — The National Immigration Law Center today filed a Freedom of Immigration Act (FOIA) request on behalf of Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) to demand that the government shed light on whether its treatment of jailed immigrant children and their parents accords with U.S. law. This move comes after ImmDef was repeatedly cut off from its clients, notwithstanding their due process rights. In several cases, Imm Def has learned that its clients were sent to be reunited in family jails, potentially subjecting these children to prolonged and unnecessary incarceration.

The FOIA request seeks information about the government’s policies, practices, and contracts governing “Stage II” of the government’s family reunification efforts. This includes policies governing how reunited families’ immigration cases are treated, and whether and how these families are allowed to pursue alternatives to incarceration.

“The Trump administration has done nothing but obfuscate and mislead the American public throughout this whole manufactured crisis, and we — along with these children — deserve the truth,” said Josh Rosenthal, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “All of us, regardless of where we were born or how old we are, have the right to be treated fairly under the law. ImmDef’s experience with this administration makes it clear that these children’s rights are not being protected — and we need to know why.”

The groups have asked for the government to provide information in an expedited way, citing the growing urgency of the situation these children face.

“We are representing parents and children impacted by these policies, but instead of a government that protects families, our clients have encountered a government that puts its draconian agenda over their well-being,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “The government’s practices of moving our clients without notice and stopping all communication between client and attorney would be an abhorrent miscarriage of justice in any instance. The fact that the government is showing such callous disregard for its own laws and policies regarding the treatment of children and families seeking reunification is even more appalling.”

This FOIA request was filed shortly after the deadline a U.S. district court in San Diego had set for the federal government to reunite families it had forcibly separated. Current estimates indicate that only 34 percent of families have been reunited, and several hundred parents have been deported without their children.