Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Medicare for All Act Is a Roadmap to a Better Future

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2019

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

Medicare for All Act Is a Roadmap to a Better Future

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and more than 100 cosponsors today introduced the Medicare for All Act, a bill to ensure that every person in the country — regardless of where they were born or their immigration status — can have access to quality health care. The bill is the first to detail a plan to create a truly all-inclusive health care system, a proposition that has gained majority public support and has become a key part of the Democratic Party’s electoral platform.

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

“The Medicare for All Act presents a bold vision for our country in which all people are treated with dignity and barriers to healthy, thriving communities are removed. As the most inclusive federal health care expansion proposal to date, the bill provides a roadmap to a better future — one that we at the National Immigration Law Center are proud to support.

“We all get sick — we all should have access to quality, affordable health care. Improving health outcomes for the country as a whole depends on ensuring that we can all get the care we need. At a time when the Trump administration’s cruel and exclusionary policies are inflicting harm on millions of people to the benefit of a privileged few, Rep. Jayapal’s health care proposal aims to lift us all.

“The Medicare for All Act would tear down Trump’s bureaucratic walls. We commend Rep. Jayapal and her colleagues for demonstrating the courage it takes to move our country forward and urge every lawmaker to act quickly to support this inclusive vision.”

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House “Medicare for All” Bill Tears Down Walls (The Torch)

House “Medicare for All” Bill Tears Down Walls

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Sonya Schwartz, NILC Senior Policy Attorney
FEBRUARY 27, 2019

As the Medicare for All proposal is introduced and begins its passage through the U.S. House of Representatives, people outraged by the Trump administration’s obsession with building a wall should pay close attention. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and more than 100 cosponsors want to do more than stop a border wall; they want to build an America where everyone can thrive. Their legislation envisions a country where all would have access to health care — and that includes U.S. citizens and noncitizen immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

 

The introduction of the House Medicare for All bill is a moment in our country’s history worth celebrating for several reasons:

It’s the most inclusive federal health care expansion proposal on the table. The bill is inclusive of all immigrants, documented and undocumented, along with citizens, and unequivocally states that the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) shall “ensure that every person in the United States has access to health care.” Other “health care for all” proposals would limit coverage to certain documented immigrants or delegate the decision about who would be included to the secretary of HHS.

It’s the best way to reject President Trump’s equation of worth with wealth and whiteness. Just as important, the approach taken by Rep. Jayapal is the best way to reject Trump’s equation of worth with wealth and whiteness. She and her colleagues would use the law to ensure that Trump, or some future Trump, will never again abuse the power of the presidency to build a bureaucratic wall — based on immigration status, national origin, language, race, or faith — between a person and the health care they need. “All” would mean all.

Ensuring access to health care for all benefits everyone. Car accidents don’t happen only to U.S. citizens. And childhood asthma doesn’t affect only kids with green cards. We all face these and other health challenges, and improving health outcomes for the nation as a whole depends on ensuring that we all can get the care we need.

There are dramatic health consequences to being uninsured, and access to health care coverage improves health and saves lives. Communities with high rates of uninsurance face health system impacts, residents are more likely to have unmet health care needs, vital services are less likely to be available, and more hospitals are likely to close.

Access to health care coverage also has positive economic benefits, reducing both health and non–health-related debt, enabling people to spend more in local economies, and increasing workplace productivity and economic output.

State efforts to provide health care to everyone regardless of immigration status only go so far. California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia use their own state funds to provide health care coverage to children regardless of immigration status. California and New York have active efforts to cover all adults regardless of immigration status as well. However, at the end of the day, state efforts to fill gaps left by federal policies will go only so far.

This is a vital, basic issue involving all of us that’s crying out for a federal solution.

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Lawsuit Alleges ICE Agents Violated Workers’ Constitutional Rights Against Racial Profiling and Illegal Seizure

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 21, 2019

CONTACT
NILC: Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375
SPLC: Helena Cavendish de Moura, [email protected], 470-747-1688

Lawsuit Alleges ICE Agents Violated Workers’ Constitutional Rights Against Racial Profiling and Illegal Seizure

Seven workers file lawsuit in response to ICE raid at East Tennessee meat processing plant

KNOXVILLE — The National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison filed a lawsuit today on behalf of seven workers detained during an April 2018 immigration raid at an East Tennessee meat processing plant. The raid was the first large workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained approximately 100 Latino workers, violating their rights against illegal seizures and to equal protection under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“I have lived in Tennessee for 12 years. This is my home. My family is here. My friends are here. I have land here. This is where my dreams have taken root,” said Isabel Zelaya, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “On the morning of the raid, I was working at my normal station in the processing area when armed officers entered the plant. As the officers lined us up, I offered to show them my documentation to work in this country, but they handcuffed me anyway, detained me, and took me to the armory. After several hours, I was finally released. I am part of this lawsuit because I want justice for myself and my coworkers who were denied our constitutional rights, as well as our humanity.”

“What happened in East Tennessee was law enforcement overreach, plain and simple,” said Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC.  “We as a nation have a shared set of ideals, rooted in the Bill of Rights: we have a right to be free from racial profiling and unlawful arrests. If we are not willing to uphold those ideals for everyone in this country, then we are all at risk of losing our rights. We look forward to our clients having their day in court.”

ICE agents detained every worker who looked Latino in the plant without regard to citizenship or documentation, a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Many workers weren’t even asked about documentation until hours into the raid. By then, many had already been traumatized, handcuffed, and denied communication with attorneys or family members — or access to sanitary facilities or critical medication — and taken to a holding facility.

“In this country, you’re told that if you work hard, you can achieve your goals. But sometimes they don’t let you,” said Martha Pulido, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “I showed up to work that morning just like I had every day for more than a year, ready to do my job and provide for my family. Instead, I had a gun pointed in my face and saw my coworkers get punched in the face and shoved to the ground by federal agents. I am here today to stand up for my coworkers at the plant and for all workers in this country who are at risk of having their constitutional rights violated.”

Federal agents disregarded workers’ Fourth Amendment rights, used excessive force, and racially profiled Latino individuals when they descended on the Southeastern Provision meat packing plant. The U.S. Constitution protects against government overreach and abusive conduct.

“We are proud to stand with our plaintiffs today to file the first lawsuit challenging a worksite immigration raid since Donald Trump became president. With the support of their community, these brave workers have decided to step forward and pursue justice. Together, their commitment to their work, to their families, and to the community in which they are deeply rooted reflects the best of this country they call home,” said Melissa Keaney, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center.

The East Tennessee ICE raid devastated the local community, but the community is coming together to demand justice. These workers were active participants of vibrant communities around the Southeastern Provision plant, and the impacts of the raid were far-reaching. Nearly 600 kids didn’t show up for school the next day, and workers and their families are continuing to deal with the impacts of psychological trauma, physical ailments, and economic insecurity nearly a year later.

“The complaint filed today addresses the brutality the workers themselves faced at the hands of agents, but the human costs of this unconscionable abuse of power extend much further. When a raid of this scale happens in our communities, it’s like a bomb goes off,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). “It is deeply disruptive to local communities, leaving children stranded without their parents, terrifying entire communities, and devastating local economies. We hope that this complaint will bring some measure of justice for the workers whose rights were violated in a raid that was designed to instill fear in immigrant communities, no matter what the cost would be to the plaintiffs, their coworkers, or this community.”

Today’s filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Zelaya-v-Miles-compaint-2019-02-21.pdf

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Trump Refuses to Listen to Taxpayers, Congress and Declares State of Emergency on Manufactured Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 15, 2019

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

Trump Refuses to Listen to Taxpayers, Congress and Declares State of Emergency on Manufactured Crisis

WASHINGTON — Shortly after signing a federal spending package that includes billions of dollars for additional border militarization and ramped-up immigration enforcement, and following the longest partial government shutdown in history, President Trump today declared a state of emergency in a desperate attempt to subvert Congress and secure funding for his border wall project.

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

“By declaring a national emergency, President Trump is once again taking unilateral action with a complete disregard for the real issues facing this country. Trump’s decision to do an end-around on Congress and steal taxpayer dollars is an egregious abuse of power and yet another display of hostility toward our Constitution and our democracy, further compromising the dignity of his office.

“It’s abundantly clear that for Trump this is all about the politics of fear. He shows contemptuous disregard for the institutional toll his actions take and refuses to listen to taxpayers, elected leaders in Congress, or voters whose land and livelihoods are at stake about the destructive harms of militarization and mass surveillance of our borders.

“Senator McConnell and Republican leaders are complicit. They cannot sit idly by as Trump slams his fists during negotiations and makes gratuitous speeches to amplify his message of hate and fearmongering. We deserve better, and we are counting on Congress to reject Trump’s declaration and demand solutions that work for all of us.”

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The Latest Homeland Security Funding “Deal” Hurts Us All

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2018

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

The Latest Homeland Security Funding “Deal” Hurts Us All

WASHINGTON — With the threat of another partial government shutdown looming, a bicameral congressional conference committee released a proposal late last night to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the remainder of this fiscal year. The proposal includes numerous harmful provisions: $1.375 billion for more border militarization and surveillance, a 12 percent increase in the number of people in immigration jails, and no restrictions to rein in a long track record of abuse and overspending by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Lawmakers are expected to vote before the end of this week in order to avert another shutdown.

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

“President Trump has now repeatedly presented members of Congress and the country with a false choice between paychecks for nearly a million federal workers and the public’s access to basic services or a blank check for his administration to inflict harm on our immigrant and border communities. It’s clear that there are no real winners in this scenario and that Democrats need to stand up to this extortionist style of governing.

“In immigration law, details matter. Unfortunately, negotiators seem to have overlooked the details that would devastate immigrant communities by increasing the number of jail beds for immigrants and essentially handing ICE and CBP — two agencies known for their disregard for compassion or the Constitution — free rein to further terrorize immigrant communities.

“Our nation’s economy and millions of families were devastated when President Trump threw our country into the longest government shutdown in history, and too many families are still suffering the consequences. For immigrant families, this funding proposal will only compound their suffering  by rewarding ICE and CBP with more resources to terrorize, cage, deport, and deny due process to more people who are longstanding members of our communities or have come here seeking safety and a better future. Elected leaders in Congress, especially those who call themselves champions of immigrant communities and good governance, must hold these agencies accountable.

“Voters across the country rejected the politics of hate and fear last November. They sent a clear message demanding accountability, transparency, and good governance. Nowhere is this change more sorely needed  than within the Department of Homeland Security. We will continue working to hold these agencies accountable and toward a more humane and just immigration system.”

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Barr Will Continue Sessions’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda in Justice Department

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 13, 2019

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

Barr Will Continue Sessions’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda in Justice Department

WASHINGTON — Following a series of hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved the nomination of William Barr to be U.S. attorney general. The full Senate vote to confirm him is expected today, despite warnings and outcry from several prominent civil rights and social justice groups.

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

“Jeff Sessions’s tenure as U.S. attorney general is a stain on this country’s moral record. During his time in office, our government callously terminated the path to U.S. citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young people who have lived here for most of their lives, stole children from their parents at the border and detained them indefinitely, made it nearly impossible for people fearing for their lives to exercise their legal right to apply for asylum, and preached hatred and fear over justice and dignity.

“William Barr, his likely successor, has made it clear that he not only condones Sessions’s shameful legacy of demonizing and cruelly targeting low-income immigrants and people of color in this country, but he will work to further it.

“Barr’s testimony offered in plain view what is clear from his prior public statements and his record at the Justice Department: His views of justice are deeply rooted in racism, a reckless disregard for facts and honesty, and a willingness to squander the rights of those not afforded the financial or social privileges to stand up to an unfair justice system. He has expressed support for Trump’s border wall and Muslim ban, for punishing localities and states that reject a mass deportation agenda, and for weaponizing the 2020 census to target immigrants as well as cast doubt on the constitutional right of birthright citizenship.

“We need a sharp course correction, not a promise of more of the same. Those serving in our country’s highest offices — and especially those tasked with overseeing our justice system — must demonstrate a commitment to preserving the civil rights, justice, and dignity of all who call this country home.”

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Don’t Be Fooled: Funding for ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Is Funding for Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda (The Torch)

Don’t Be Fooled: Funding for ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Is Funding for Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Jessie Hahn, NILC Labor & Employment Policy Attorney
FEBRUARY 8, 2019

While the public may think that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) focuses primarily on national security and transnational crime, HSI is also responsible for certain immigration enforcement functions inside the U.S. (known as “interior enforcement”), including enforcement of immigration laws as they apply to worksites (“worksite enforcement“). In October 2017, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Thomas Homan, vowed to increase worksite enforcement activities “4 to 5 times,” and in January 2018, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen doubled down by promising to ramp up worksite raids.

As a result, HSI has resumed engaging in highly militarized and coercive large-scale worksite immigration raids. In fact, over the spring and summer of 2018, it conducted several high-profile operations in Florida, Tennessee, Iowa, two locations in Ohio, Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas, and Arkansas.

Worksite raids are a violent and widely condemned enforcement tactic that tear parents away from unsuspecting children, cause profound psychological harm, destabilize local communities, and generally undermine all workers’ job-related rights. While HSI has attempted to legitimize its use of worksite raids by claiming they are criminal investigations, the vast majority of the workers detained are administratively arrested on civil immigration violations, and in most cases the employers are not criminally charged. By using worksite raids to target large numbers of workers for arrest and deportation while failing to prosecute the employers who hired them and profited from their labor, HSI’s new worksite enforcement practices mirror the larger strategy of the Trump administration — abusing executive powers to demonize and scapegoat immigrants while quietly pursuing policies that line the pockets of business interests.

 

During the spring and summer of 2018, disturbing patterns emerged in HSI’s conduct of its worksite raids. Multiple news reports described that while helicopters circled overhead and local law enforcement blocked nearby roads, HSI agents stormed worksites as heavily armed guards secured all exits. In the utter chaos that ensued, unsuspecting workers were subjected to excessive force, intimidated by police dogs, thrown to the ground, assaulted, had guns pointed at their heads, and were subjected to racist and degrading comments from HSI agents. In Ohio, plainclothes HSI agents initially lured a group of workers into a breakroom using boxes of donuts before surrounding them and arresting them. In multiple raids, HSI agents racially profiled workers, separating workers by skin tone and rounding up brown-skinned workers without asking for identification or immigration status information — which resulted in false arrests of U.S. citizens who were then held unlawfully, in some cases for hours.

Predictably, such enforcement brings deep trauma to those directly impacted by it and also terrifies the larger immigrant community. After a devastating raid in Tennessee, the ripple effects spread across the region, with neighbors scrambling to care for children who had been left stranded without parents for hours and families sleeping in churches for days out of fear of ICE coming to their homes. The day after the raid, 550 children failed to show up to local schools. This kind of immigration enforcement has a profoundly destabilizing effect on the well-being of the children whose parents are unexpectedly torn from them, causing severe anxiety and depression, poor sleeping and eating habits, inability to focus in school, and constant fear of separation from other family members.

While HSI has engaged in criminal investigations of employers since its formation, the use of large-scale worksite raids to target workers for arrest and deportation was discontinued after 2008 due to the widely documented harms and the havoc these operations cause. In public statements, HSI has attempted to justify its latest ramping up of worksite enforcement as necessary to “build another layer of border security” and “reduce the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates.” In reality, HSI is making the decision to engage in the most aggressive, violent form of enforcement it can take at worksites because the real purpose of the raids is to target workers for deportation while creating a media spectacle designed to intimidate immigrant communities into “self-deporting.”

 

If HSI were serious about curbing unlawful hiring and employment, it would meaningfully hold employers accountable instead of focusing its enforcement firepower on workers. Yet in the majority of recent raids, employers have not been charged criminally — in fact, 2018 saw the lowest number of federal indictments and convictions of managers for unlawful hiring offenses in the last ten years. In addition, of the 779 criminal worksite arrests that HSI did make in 2018, 85 percent were workers and 15 percent were employers. As the graph above shows, while there has been an increase in the number of employers charged criminally in the worksite enforcement context, far greater resources have been expended in criminally charging workers — and most of those charges were detected after taking the workers into custody and fingerprinting them (see examples from the raids in TennesseeSandusky, Ohio; and Canton, Ohio).

HSI also alleges that its investigations help combat the exploitation of workers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. HSI’s worksite enforcement activities force immigrant workers into the margins and damage communities, making workers more fearful of deportation and more vulnerable to gross exploitation by employers. When HSI’s own investigation of the Tennessee employer turned up wage and hour and safety violations on the job, it did not refer those violations to the proper authorities (who opened investigations only after the employees filed complaints).

ICE has been sued repeatedly for constitutional violations committed during home raids and by this point should be well aware of the constitutional rights and protections that everyone in the U.S. has. There is no legitimate reason for Congress to increase funding for HSI’s abusive worksite raids. Currently, HSI has approximately 6,000 enforcement officers and 6,000 special agents. But it wants to add an additional 10,000 officers and agents, which would significantly increase its capacity to harm families and communities across the country.

Rather than increasing HSI’s funding, Congress should cut it and also prohibit HSI from arresting workers while conducting worksite enforcement.

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Groups File FOIA Request to Demand Transparency on Implementation of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 8, 2019

CONTACT
NILC: Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375
Asylum Access: Lisa D’Annunzio, [email protected], 909-215-1639
Immigrant Defenders Law Center: Lindsay Toczylowski, [email protected], 213-534-7181

Groups File FOIA Request to Demand Transparency on Implementation of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

WASHINGTON — Advocacy groups are seeking information regarding the Trump administration’s recent changes to the asylum process at the southern border, which have been outlined only in vague terms so far but promise to significantly change the process as we know it. Asylum Access and Immigrant Defenders Law Center, represented by the National Immigration Law Center, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this week to demand transparency from the U.S. and Mexican governments on the “Remain in Mexico” policy and other key changes to the asylum-seeking process recently announced by the Trump administration.

“U.S. government agencies must be held accountable for their actions. To this day, children are still in the process of being reunited with their parents, there have been multiple deaths in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, and there has been a dearth of information about the impact and implementation of the newly introduced ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy,” said Josh Rosenthal, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “The government has a responsibility to be clear and open about how they plan to implement these new changes to the asylum-seeking process, and we will demand that it be held accountable.”

Under this drastic new policy, asylum-seekers allegedly will be forced to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are being considered by the U.S. government. Until this recent change, people seeking asylum would await their court date in the U.S., but the Trump administration has indicated that under the “Remain” policy, it will force such people to wait in Mexico until they are summoned to their court hearing. Neither the U.S. nor Mexican government has been clear about the implementation plan, although it has already gone into effect.

“Both the U.S. and Mexican governments have a responsibility to be clear and straightforward about their involvement in the implementation of new policies and regulations about seeking asylum at the southern border,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “The process of sending asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their applications to be processed requires coordination with the Mexican government, which has acquiesced to unreasonable demands from U.S. agencies and officials. We have a right to understand the details of an agreement that is putting people’s lives at risk.”

“This is part of a broader effort to discourage people from seeking asylum and is undermining their ability to do so. This is immoral and goes against not only international law, but is in stark contrast to who we aspire to be as a nation,” said Diana Essex-Lettieri, deputy director of Asylum Access. “We believe it is critically important that the U.S. provide safe haven to those who need it. Some refugees will not be safe in Mexico, or will not be able to rebuild their lives effectively there. The U.S. must comply fully with its own obligations to provide full and fair asylum proceedings. We will continue to fight for the right to seek asylum for all refugees, including all those who seek refuge in the U.S.”

The FOIA request seeks documents related to the coordination between the U.S. and Mexican governments for the purpose of metering, waitlisting, vetting, impeding, and/or preventing asylum-seekers from accessing ports of entry at the U.S.’s southern border, as well as documents related to the processing and detention of asylum applicants who present themselves at southern border ports of entry.

The FOIA request is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/AA-ImmDef-FOIA-Request-2019-02-05.pdf.

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Marco Villada, Dreamer Once Stranded in Mexico, to Attend State of the Union Address

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 4, 2019

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

Marco Villada, Dreamer Once Stranded in Mexico, to Attend State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON — Marco Villada, a former DACA recipient whose life was turned upside down by an injustice that separated him from his husband and left him stranded in Mexico for half a year, will attend the State of the Union Address on Tuesday as a guest of Rep. Lou Correa (CA-46).

“My husband, Israel, and I are grateful for the opportunity to show decision-makers and the country that, despite attempts by some people in power to dehumanize, vilify and harm our immigrant communities, we are undeniably a part of the fabric of this country,” Villada said.

Villada, who grew up and lives in California, traveled to Mexico for a consular interview as part of the process of applying for lawful permanent residence after marrying Israel Serrato, a U.S. citizen. Once he arrived there, his application was wrongfully denied, and he was barred from reentering the U.S.

Villada and Serrato — represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Mayer Brown LLP, and the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin — sued the Trump administration. After the legal action and broad public support, including from groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, the government reversed its decision. Marco was allowed to return home, but not before he and his husband lost their home and their savings, and missed out on precious time together.

“Marco and Israel are pillars of our community here in Los Angeles, and their struggle demonstrated what we all know to be true: that our current immigration policies hurt all of us,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Thousands were inspired by their fight to be reunited, and thousands more cheered when Marco was allowed to come back home. We were so proud to stand with them in their fight to be reunited as a family, and we know they will carry their message of dignity all the way to Washington.”

Villada will be among more than a dozen guests at the State of the Union impacted by the Trump administration’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant policies. They include Shaima Swileh, a Yemeni mother who nearly missed her sick child’s last days due Trump’s Muslim ban. Swileh was granted an elusive waiver, but only after enormous public pressure. Her husband Ali Hassan, a U.S. citizen, will also attend the State of the Union.

Dreamers, people with TPS, refugees, and mothers impacted by President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy will also be present to give voice to the millions who have been impacted by Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

“We hope our experience offers hope to all those who are feeling the toll of our unjust immigration policies and the current political climate,” Serrato said. “Our communities are strong and resilient. And, as our story shows, even when there’s a lot of hurt, there can be a happy ending.”

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Redacted National Vetting Center Implementation Plan Raises More Concerns Than It Answers (The Torch)

Redacted National Vetting Center Implementation Plan Raises More Concerns Than It Answers

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Joan Friedland
JANUARY 31, 2019

The Trump administration recently released a redacted version of its implementation plan (dated August 2018 but not released until December 2018) for a newly created National Vetting Center (NVC). The NVC project was first announced by presidential proclamation (NSPM-9) in February 2018. While it raised immediate concerns, the implementation plan and a December 11, 2018, privacy impact assessment (PIA) only confirm why this should worry immigrants and citizens.

As we’ve reported previously, the administration has been determined to implement a “continuous vetting strategy, framework and process” as a way to screen non–U.S. citizens at all stages of the immigration process, including after they become U.S. citizens. This extreme vetting strategy is part of a larger Trump agenda to criminalize, surveil, and police immigrants and communities of color. The NVC represents one element of that strategy.

 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) describes the NVC as “designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of U.S. Government vetting programs in order to better identify individuals who may pose a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety, consistent with law and policy.” The PIA calls the NVC a “process and technology” and describes its primary purpose as “[c]reating, maintaining, and facilitating” the vetting process. NVC’s first phase of operations will focus on vetting of individuals applying to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in order to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

According to the implementation plan and the PIA, the NVC won’t store or retain information or make decisions on whether to grant or deny an immigration application, but instead will simply make recommendations to government agencies that make the ultimate decision on whether to grant or deny an immigration benefit or target a person for immigration enforcement. But that description misstates the NVC’s impact, since the recommendation may be relied upon heavily by the agencies.

Here are some reasons we should be concerned about the NVC:

• No transparency about NVC’s plans for the future. DHS is secretive about where this program is going. While the NVC may focus for the moment on ESTA screening, its Phase Two plans are substantially redacted in the implementation plan. And even that redacted plan was released months after it was written. That makes us concerned that Phase Two — whatever it might be — will be revealed only after it is well under way, just as Phase One was. This is yet another glaring example of how DHS lacks transparency about these new programs, as shown by its under-the-radar creation of an enormous database called Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART).

• No redress within the NVC. According to the PIA, the NVC will not have a redress system and doesn’t feel it owes one to the public, even though the information it collects and shares will be relied on by final decisionmakers. That means that affected individuals are left only with whatever redress procedures exist within DHS or other agencies but will not know the source of information relied upon by the NVC in making a recommendation. And since only citizens and lawful permanent residents are, in accordance with Trump administration policy, covered by Privacy Act protections, they will have no way to request that bad information be corrected.

• No standards or limits. According to the PIA, the NVC “will not use commercial sources or publicly available data as part of the vetting process” and will not “conduct electronic searches, queries, or analyses to discover or locate a predictive pattern or an anomaly.” But these self-imposed limits could easily evaporate in the future. The U.S. State Department has made collection and evaluation of information available on social media a critical part of deciding whether or not to issue visas, and DHS has made clear its intent to monitor and use individuals’ social media and Internet activity for enforcement. DHS would like to use algorithms and computational methods in analyzing and using the vast quantities of information it is able to gather, backing off of that only because of limits in software technology.

• No independent monitoring or audits. All monitoring and auditing of the NVC’s activities are internal. As a result, no independent body is authorized to examine how the NVC is really operating.

• No limits on information-sharing. The implementation plan and the PIA are either silent or at best vague about how information will be shared outside of DHS, leaving individuals subject to the wide-open information-sharing processes of the different adjudicating agencies.

Advocates should continue to monitor the NVC and its operations closely. But that will be challenging, given the program’s secrecy and reliance on internal monitoring processes. Without aggressive oversight by Congress and demands for transparency, the NVC risks becoming yet another way for DHS to keep the American public in the dark.


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.

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