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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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I spent a week at the border with families seeking asylum. Here’s what they’re facing. (The Torch)

I spent a week at the border with families seeking asylum. Here’s what they’re facing.

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Hayley Burgess
SEPTEMBER 13, 2019

Last week I was sitting on the floor of a stiflingly hot building in Tijuana with an 18-month-old girl. We were scribbling in a coloring book. She was sprawled on her stomach with a concentrated look on her tiny face, handing each crayon back to me as she finished using it. I was intent on keeping her busy so her mother, sitting in the chair next to us, could absorb the critical information an advocate was sharing with her and other asylum-seekers.

As the toddler tottered to her feet and reached up to grab her mother’s leg, I heard the advocate get to the family separation part of the presentation. The advocate explained to the parents in the room that it’s very likely that their children will be taken away from them when they cross into the U.S. And that right before it’s their turn to cross, they should write their information in Sharpie on their child’s arm in hopes they will be reunited. The parents were encouraged to dress with their warmest clothing closest to their skin, since they likely would be confined in “hieleras” for several days while they await their next step — in many cases, indefinite detention or being returned to extremely dangerous conditions in Mexico to wait for their court dates. As so many alarming reports are now showing, migrant families stranded in Mexico are facing homelessness, kidnapping attempts, assault, and threats of violence from those they are fleeing.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

If you don’t know about hieleras — the cold, concrete rooms where people apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are held for days with nothing but the layer of clothing closest to their skin — learn the horrifying details here.

The rest of the children, most of them no older than 11, were playing on the other side of the room. My fellow volunteers were keeping them distracted so they could enjoy a few hours of playing freely and to ensure that they weren’t hearing the same scary information their parents were. As most of these children were staying in overcrowded shelters or on the streets of Tijuana, I couldn’t help but think of how rare and important these moments of joy were.

A report released last week on the lasting psychological effect on the children caught in this situation is gut-wrenching. And reading it after spending most of my time last week with families about to navigate through the horrors of our immigration system, connecting these details to the kids I met and spent time with, breaks my heart. “[I] can’t feel my heart,” some children are saying. Or: “I can hear my heart beat.”

There are so many other moments that will stay with me. The time another young mother, also of an infant, asked us if U.S. immigration officials will take good care of her baby when the baby is taken away from her. Or if she’ll ever see her again. And we couldn’t in good conscience give her a comforting answer. The time I was at the nearby port of entry early one morning and watched a young girl hug her dad goodbye before she and her mother crossed without him. Or when I gripped another young mother’s hand and wished her luck before she and her family were hurried toward the vans taking that day’s small allotment of asylum-seekers towards the U.S. side of the border.

The parents I spoke with during my time there are brave, kind, and resilient. Most were fleeing some kind of government persecution, extortion, organized violence from cartels, or other significant threats to their family’s safety and had endured harrowing journeys to get as far as the border. Not only should their courage and sacrifice for their families be honored, but their legal right to seek asylum must be upheld. Instead, our government is tormenting them and their children.

The Trump administration has taken extraordinary steps to dismantle our asylum system. Despite the great work by so many to fight back, the damage has been substantial and will likely only get worse. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the administration to enforce a policy that makes it nearly impossible for these families to exercise their legal right to make their asylum cases while litigation challenging the policy continues. The consequences will be dire.

The right to seek asylum literally means life or death for these families. And yet our government punishes them and makes each step more miserable and dehumanizing than the last. Our system is being intentionally reconfigured to make life as difficult as possible for those seeking safety within our borders. It’s an ugly reality that we all must confront and work tirelessly to dismantle.

Al Otro Lado is one of the many crucial organizations both fighting these cruel policies and working to support asylum-seekers so they know their rights within what has become, under the Trump administration, a more cruel and complicated process. I encourage you all to learn more about what they’re doing and support them in their critical work.


Hayley Burgess is NILC’s media relations associate.

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How ICE Blurs the Line between Enforcement of Civil Immigration Violations and Enforcement of Criminal Laws (The Torch)

How ICE Blurs the Line between Enforcement of Civil Immigration Violations and Enforcement of Criminal Laws

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Joan Friedland
AUGUST 27, 2019

When Congress heads back to Washington, DC, after its long August recess, it will resume the ongoing debate over how many taxpayer dollars the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be allocated to do its work. Much of that debate has focused specifically on how to hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), one of DHS’s major component agencies, accountable for how much it’s spending — and increasingly overspending — to inhumanely target non–U.S. citizens for detention and deportation.

ICE, in performing its various functions, has consistently blurred the line between the resources it allocates for investigating criminal activities and those it allocates to civil immigration enforcement. And ICE’s increasing reliance on databases and systems outsourced to private companies has only increased its ability and tendency to blur this line.

According to ICE, the agency’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) component investigates criminal activity, including cross-border and transnational activity, while its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) unit handles interior enforcement of civil immigration laws. ICE claims that those roles are clearly distinct from one another, but the reality on the ground is different.

As the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, and National Immigration Law Center recently pointed out, “HSI’s mission has increasingly focused on carrying out the Trump administration’s harsh and often unlawful enforcement-only approach to migration.” HSI has been involved in aggressive workplace raids, arrests of people suspected of being affiliated with gangs based on racial profiling, and “sham investigations that purport to involve child welfare but [that actually] are intended to create fear among children’s loved ones and sponsors.” In other words, HSI is engaging in mission-creep that has allowed it to engage in civil immigration enforcement and to carry out sweeping collateral arrests, using its authority to conduct criminal investigations as a pretext for deportations and family separations.

The blurring of lines between HSI’s criminal investigative work and ERO’s civil immigration enforcement is supported by an expanding immigration surveillance machinery designed to gather, manage, and use information to deport people from the U.S. We’ve previously reported on how ICE is vacuuming up vast quantities of data to use in immigration enforcement, relying on commercial aggregators.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Here are examples of how some of those databases and systems and the HSI-ERO connection operate.

Investigative Case Management (ICM)

The private company Palantir plays an outsized role in enabling the blurring of the line between criminal and civil enforcement. Investigative Case Management (ICM), an information technology system and law enforcement management tool developed by Palantir, is used primarily by HSI for criminal and civil prosecutions and investigations. But ERO can and does use ICM to manage and query the system for information related to civil cases.

Recently released documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation show how HSI and ERO carried out joint operations to arrest parents and family members of unaccompanied children. As pointed out by the advocacy group  Mijente, ICM played a critical role in these joint HSI-ERO operations.

An ICE privacy impact assessment describes how ICM allows ICE personnel to “create an electronic case file that organizes and links all records and documents associated with a particular investigation so they are easily accessible from a single location. It also enables personnel to link records to multiple investigations in order to draw connections between cases ….”

FALCON Search & Analysis (FALCON-SA)

ICM system data are housed in the HSI Data Warehouse. It receives a direct feed once every 24 hours that contains a refresh of ICM data, including new records and edits to previously existing records.

The HSI Data Warehouse supports reporting and the export of data once every 24 hours to yet another information technology developed by Palantir: ICE’s FALCON Search & Analysis System (FALCON-SA) is owned by HSI and is one component of a larger FALCON system. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FALCON-SA is a “consolidated information management system that enables ICE law enforcement and homeland security personnel to search, analyze, and visualize volumes of existing information in support of ICE’s mission to enforce and investigate violations of U.S. criminal, civil, and administrative laws.”

FALCON-SA routinely ingests and allows users to query information from all the FALCON components, ICM, the Immigration and Enforcement Operational Records System (ENFORCE) — which includes ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) arrest and investigation records — and other ICE systems. On an ad hoc basis, FALCON-SA includes commercially available or public-source data, criminal history information (including data from the National Crime Information Center as well as state and local law enforcement), information from foreign governments, and more.

Records and information in FALCON-SA may be disclosed outside DHS to law enforcement agencies at all levels of government, including fusion centers, as well as to international agencies.

LeadTrac

An HSI database called LeadTrac also provides investigative information to ERO. According to an ICE privacy impact assessment, it is owned by HSI’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU). A private technology company called T-rex has contracts to manage and modernize LeadTrac.

LeadTrac’s function is “to vet and manage leads pertaining to visitors in the United States who are suspected of overstaying their period of admission or otherwise violating the terms of their admission, as well as organizations suspected of immigration violations …. LeadTrac contains the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of suspected status violators and other individuals who may be material to a lead (e.g., family members and associates of a subject, employers, designated school officials (DSOs)). Some of these individuals may be lawful permanent residents (LPRs) or U.S. citizens.”

Leads are forwarded to ERO for enforcement actions. LeadTrac provides HSI and ERO with information to further investigate and locate suspected status violators.

In announcing plans for aggressive round-ups of immigrant families, the acting director of ICE recently said that “[e]very city and every state in this country is a border city and a border state.” We can expect that the HSI-ERO collaboration will continue its draconian enforcement policies throughout the country and that ICE surveillance and monitoring systems will continue to grow. It remains critically important to understand and challenge how this occurs and to remind members of Congress that we should be cutting funding to both HSI and ERO and holding both subagencies accountable for how they are using their resources.


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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3 Things You Should Know about Trump’s Immigration Wealth Test (The Torch)

PUBLIC CHARGE
Three Things You Should Know about Trump’s Racially-Motivated Immigration Wealth Test

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Jackie Vimo
AUGUST 20, 2019

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently published its final set of regulations on “public charge,” which amount to a racially-motivated wealth test on immigrant families and individuals pursuing a healthy, stable future in the U.S. DHS finalized this rule against widespread public opposition, having received 266,000 public comments on it, the overwhelming majority opposed to its implementation. If the new rule goes into effect, it would devastatingly impact millions and dramatically reshape our immigration system, adding new bricks to the “invisible wall” the Trump administration is building around the U.S. to exclude would-be immigrants who aren’t white or wealthy.

The intention behind the new public charge rule is to spread fear and chaos in immigrant communities — to make people afraid to benefit from programs they are legally entitled to access, programs intended to make them healthier and stronger. Already, rumors and confusion about the new 837-page rule are having a chilling effect on immigrants and their families, causing them to avoid using crucial basic-needs and health care programs.

The new rule, along with the Trump administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census, its Muslim ban, recent worksite raids in Mississippi and elsewhere, and its practice of confining refugee children in cages, is a brick in the administration’s invisible wall and part of the toolkit of fear that the Trump administration is using to send a clear message to immigrants and people of color: “You’re not welcome here.”

But we can fight back against this campaign of fear and attacks on immigrant communities. We need to fight fear with facts.

 

“Public charge” or the “public charge test” is a longstanding policy used by immigration officials to decide whether a person may immigrate to the U.S. or be granted lawful permanent resident status. While policy experts are still analyzing the specifics of the final rule, the American people already recognize its cruel intentions. By altering the standards of the public charge test, the Trump administration is rigging the rules to make it much more difficult for people who aren’t white or wealthy to immigrate. Under the new rule, anyone whose income is less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level could be deemed by immigration officials likely to become a public charge, so families of four whose income is less than $64,000 a year need not apply.

The rule does not go into effect until October 15, 2019, however, and several lawsuits have already been filed seeking to halt its implementation, including one by NILC and partners. We are fighting back in the courts, in Congress, and in our communities to stop the rule, so stay tuned for new developments. In the meantime, here are three things you should know about public charge:

One: Trump’s public charge regulation is a race-based wealth test that creates prejudicial standards for people of color. Who among us has the power to predict someone’s future potential and accomplishments based on a simple snapshot of their life? The public charge test looks at factors such as age, health, income, and family status to gaze into a crystal ball to make a prediction about whether or not a person is likely to become a public charge in the future, but the test reads like the extreme and counterproductive immigration “reform” legislation that President Trump has been unable to get Congress to pass.

Under Trump’s new test, people who are elderly, have disabilities or problems with their health, come from countries where English isn’t spoken, or have relatively low incomes will be the most heavily impacted. The new rule’s “totality of circumstances” test is essentially legalizing a discriminatory narrative of who deserves to be American. If applied to U.S.-born citizens, at least half of today’s citizens would fail the test. And these prejudicial standards aren’t just aimed at immigrants; they’ve long existed in this country for all communities of color. The new rule is a codification of the classic double standard that if you aren’t born white or rich, you’ll always have to work twice as hard to be recognized — no matter where you come from.

Two: We’ve seen abuses like this before — both in our country’s history and from this presidential administration. The first mention of the term “public charge” in the U.S. was in relation to colonial “poor laws.” While these “poor laws” originally applied to everyone living in the colonies, New York and Massachusetts altered these laws in the mid nineteenth century to make it harder for Catholic Irish immigrants — who were fleeing the Great Famine in Ireland — to immigrate to those states. Similarly, a “public charge” rationale was used to prevent European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and the Holocaust from seeking refuge on our shores. And now Trump is using a public charge rationale to rig our immigration system in favor of the white and wealthy.

Three: Confusion and fear are causing people to unnecessarily avoid using crucial programs that could help them. There is widespread confusion about who is directly affected by the new rule, and many people to whom the rule does not apply have already begun to avoid benefiting from crucial programs for which they’re eligible. The rule doesn’t go into effect until October 15, 2019, and any benefits used before that date will not be counted against people who use them. Most immigrants are ineligible for most federal benefit programs, like Medicaid and food stamps, until they’ve had permanent resident status and lived in the U.S. for at least five years — so most applicants for permanent residence haven’t received public benefits, because they’re not eligible to receive them. In addition, the receipt of benefits by an applicant’s children or family members is not counted against the applicant, unless the family members are also applying for permanent residence.

The rule will be applied only to applications submitted after October 15, 2019, so people who currently have permanent residence applications pending are also not subject to it. But, unfortunately, that isn’t the message immigrants are hearing, as millions of immigrants, their U.S. citizen children, and family members have become frightened that their families might be torn apart. So many are avoiding health, housing, and nutrition programs, even though the rule doesn’t apply to them. Community education to dispel false information will be crucial to counter this chilling effect.

MAKE NO MISTAKE, THIS NEW RULE IS AN ATTEMPT to push a divisive narrative that people of color, people with relatively low incomes, people with disabilities, LGBTQ communities, and immigrants are somehow less deserving of American opportunity. But this narrative is wrong. The best way to build a strong country is to ensure that the families who live here have the food, medical care, shelter, and other basics they need to thrive.

And this fight isn’t over. Public servants, advocates, and regular people all over the country will continue to stand up, speak out, and fight back to protect immigrant families and our country’s future. When America is at its best, we are a welcoming country.

To stay updated about the latest developments regarding the public charge rule and to get involved in the fight against the public charge attack on immigrant families, visit www.ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.org.


Jackie Vimo is NILC’s economic justice policy analyst.

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How ICE Uses Driver’s License Photos and DMV Databases (The Torch)

How ICE Uses Driver’s License Photos and DMV Databases

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Joan Friedland
AUGUST 6, 2019

Local, state, and federal law enforcement, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have long relied on driver’s license databases to obtain information (such as addresses) about drivers and car owners. For many years, the FBI and ICE have asked states to use their face-recognition systems to search photos in their department of motor vehicles (DMV) databases.

In NILC’s 2016 report summarizing documents we received as a result of a 2014 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and in our 2017 report Untangling the Immigration Enforcement Web, we describe how ICE asks DMVs to use their face-recognition systems to find people to target for deportation. These reports also describe the different ways ICE obtains DMV information. Last month, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law School released documents confirming that ICE has asked DMVs in Utah, Vermont, and Washington to run face-recognition searches against their driver’s license photo databases.

How does face recognition work?

Face recognition compares one photo against many photos in a database. Searches are run against all the images in the DMV database, not simply against the photos of individuals suspected of wrongdoing or of violating immigration laws. These searches put certain groups at increased risk of being wrongfully identified, as face-recognition technology produces false results more often for images of people of color, particularly women of color. And photos of people who are identified as possible matches then become part of the vast biometric databases operated by the FBI and DHS.

Photo by Andrii Podilnyk on Unsplash

These face-recognition searches are unregulated and affect U.S. citizens as well as immigrants, regardless of their immigration status. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the FBI’s failure to evaluate the accuracy of states’ face-recognition systems — the same unevaluated state systems used by ICE. And ICE has refused to disclose how it uses the searches.

DMVs share driver’s license photos with ICE in other ways too. For example, Nlets, a private, nonprofit information-sharing system, runs a photo-sharing service that many states choose to participate in and to which ICE also has access. When they use Nlets, ICE or other agencies request the photo of an identified individual rather than asking the state to run a photo against all the photos of people in its database. And states may share DMV photos with ICE using their own networks.

The use of face-recognition searches in states that issue driver’s licenses to their residents regardless of their immigration status has received more attention recently, given the Trump administration’s ruthless attempts to deport as many people as possible. But everyone living in this country — including U.S. citizens — whose information is in one or more DMV databases should be deeply concerned about protecting the privacy of the information that the DMVs have gathered about them.

How to limit ICE’s access to DMV information

Currently, fourteen states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted laws making driver’s licenses available to eligible state residents regardless of their immigration status. These states know that public safety improves when all drivers, regardless of their immigration status, are trained, tested, licensed, and insured. They have good reason to ensure that information provided by driver’s license applicants to their DMVs is not made available to ICE for immigration enforcement purposes, because if it is, some drivers will choose not to get a license, which will undermine the states’ efforts to reach their public safety goals.

Many of the state laws authorizing issuance of licenses to residents regardless of their immigration status include provisions limiting affirmative disclosure of DMV information. For example, the recently enacted New York law includes multiple provisions to protect drivers’ information.

States can take these affirmative steps to protect the privacy of DMV information, including photographs:

Be transparent about the mechanisms by which DHS and its component agencies obtain information from the state’s driver’s license databases.

Just say no. States can use administrative measures to limit DHS access to DMV information and can refuse to share driver’s license photos or to use their face-recognition technology at ICE’s request.

Take affirmative steps to ensure that individuals are not identified or isolated because of their immigration status through application procedures or license issuance, by ensuring that standard licenses are available to citizens as well as immigrants regardless of their immigration status and by having application procedures that don’t discriminate between applicants based on the type of license they are seeking and that don’t reveal the license recipient’s particular immigration status.

Enact legislation that prohibits the use of face-recognition technology and protects the confidentiality of documents and information provided in applying for a license.

States that offer access to driver’s licenses for all eligible residents can help ensure the success of these policies by safeguarding the information in their DMV databases to the greatest extent possible. Failing to do so undermines their public safety policies by deterring eligible residents from applying for a license. Unlicensed drivers face serious consequences if they are stopped by police, including, potentially, being arrested or handed over to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the end, drivers will need to weigh the risk that DMV information, including photos, will be shared against the consequences of being stopped for not having a license. States can promote public safety by adopting robust policies that protect all drivers’ privacy.


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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HUD’s “Mixed-Status” Rule Is the Latest Attack on the Immigrant Community (The Torch)

HUD’s “Mixed-Status” Rule Is the Latest Attack on the Immigrant Community

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Milicent Sasu
JULY 8, 2019

From family separations at the border to a proposed “public charge” rule that would punish immigrant families for using health, housing, and nutrition programs, the Trump administration has been issuing policies that strike fear within communities to fulfill its anti-immigrant agenda. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) proposed changes to low-income housing eligibility, which have not yet been implemented, are the most recent in the long string of attacks on the immigrant community.

On May 10, 2019, HUD published a proposed rule that would bar “mixed-status” families from residing in public housing and using Section 8 programs. Mixed-status families are households where member(s) who are eligible for public housing assistance live with member(s) who are ineligible for housing assistance due to their immigration status. If this rule is implemented, HUD will also require all household members under age 62 to have their immigration status screened and would change the citizenship and immigration verification requirements for U.S. citizens and noncitizens over age 62.

Under this proposed rule, mixed-status households would have to make the impossible choice between tearing their families apart or being evicted from their homes within 18 months. HUD falsely claims the proposed rule is necessary to prevent undocumented immigrants from utilizing federal housing assistance. Yet under current rules, ineligible immigrants do not receive subsidies and housing assistance is prorated so that only eligible family members receive benefits.

Ultimately, this is another “family separation policy” and scare tactic from the Trump administration intended to spread fear in communities. This newly-proposed rule is ruthless and fails to take into consideration the detrimental impacts the proposed rule will have on families and communities across the nation.

If HUD’s proposed rule is implemented, nearly 108,000 people will be at risk of being evicted and displaced. Approximately 55,000 are children at risk of being displaced and subject to homelessness, including U.S. citizens and legal residents. In addition, children may face separation from family members who are ineligible for public housing assistance and are evicted. HUD has acknowledged that “fear of the family being separated would lead to a prompt evacuation by most mixed households.” This rule leaves families with the unbearable decision of whether to stay together and face homelessness or be separated from one another.

This proposal and the ongoing attacks against immigrants will only increase the “chilling effect” in immigrant communities, resulting in immigrants avoiding or disenrolling themselves from programs that make their families healthy and strong, even if they are not technically impacted by policy proposals or those proposals have not yet been approved. Further, the proposed rule only worsens the nation’s affordable housing crisis. According to HUD’s own estimates, this proposed rule will reduce the “quantity and quality of assisted housing” in the United States.

HUD is currently accepting public comments on the proposed rule until July 9, 2019. During this public comment period, individuals are encouraged to submit comments that share their unique stories about how the rule could impact them, their loved ones, and their community. No family should be at risk of being displaced from their homes due to their immigration status, nor should members of a household have to decide between keeping their family together or losing their home. As a country, we must combat Trump’s racist agenda, which includes the HUD mixed-status rule, and use our voices during this comment period to stand up for those who are silenced.

For more information regarding the HUD rule or ways on how you can make an impact and submit a comment, go to www.keep-families-together.org.


Millicent Sasu is NILC’s Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign intern.

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Hard Work by Brave People Made House Passage of the Dream and Promise Act Possible, but Much Work Remains (The Torch)

Hard Work by Brave People Made House Passage of the Dream and Promise Act Possible, but Much Work Remains

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Berenice Gonzalez
JUNE 7, 2019

The coming-of-age experience of someone with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), like me, is very different from that of someone who is fully undocumented. Though my family did have to come up with an almost prohibitive sum of money for the application fee, the benefits DACA provided me meant that I was relatively safe and had the autonomy to pursue the endeavors of my choosing. This was all made possible by the fully undocumented freedom fighters who came before me.

I remember the first time I saw groups of undocumented young people rallying in caps and gowns on the steps of state capitols across the country. Video clips of their stoles, posters, and chants for “Education, not deportation!” flashed across my family’s television screen. I was overjoyed to see other students paving a way for me to access my dreams of higher education by speaking their truth to garner support and momentum for our movement across the country.

I also remember my mother saying that we should be thankful that the American government had not deported us, by which she meant undocumented students, and advising that we not call attention to ourselves, for fear that we might be retaliated against. This was around the 2010 incarnation of proposed Dream Act legislation that aimed to provide immigrant youth with a long-term pathway to U.S. citizenship, nearly two years before work authorization and protection from deportation would become available to some of us under DACA, President Obama’s temporary administrative solution for our situation. Her comment made clear to me that these students were making the ultimate sacrifice of opening themselves to attacks, knowing that they could never walk back their coming out as undocumented or any of the consequences that accompanied this brave act.

House of Representatives gallery erupts in applause and cheers as passage of the Dream and Promise Act is assured. (Photo by Rep. Ted Lieu)

This past Tuesday, while waiting in the U.S. House of Representatives gallery for the vote on H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, I was fully aware of the meaning of my presence there at that historic moment. In the teary eyes of my companions, some of whom have DACA, others who’ve received temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred enforced departure (DED), I saw the legacy of what the generations before us had put in motion without any certainty that they would ever see it come to fruition. Our presence in a space that was not created with black and brown immigrants in mind was a testament to the power of our communities.

As the “yea” votes reached the necessary threshold for passage of the bill, a couple hundred representatives on the House floor turned to face the families, organizers, and advocates in the gallery to wave at and congratulate us. Each cheer felt like a recognition of the various plights our communities endured to achieve this victory.

Though I take pride in this moment, the passage of this bill in the House in no way means that we can afford to stop fighting. After all, to take effect the bill still would need to clear the Senate and be signed by the president. And, just like DACA, the Dream and Promise Act imposes arbitrary deadlines and guidelines that unfairly categorize a person’s worth based on their age or history, which inherently leaves some people out.

Our continued fight must call on people to step up how they show up, especially in the jurisdictions where the fight for justice seems the toughest. For far too long, members of our immigrant communities have maintained a lonely struggle in regions like the South, and now is the time for those who claim to support us to truly fight alongside us. It’s no longer enough to identify as an ally, but those with the most privilege must step out of their comfort zones to become coconspirators. If we ever hope to achieve authentic and lasting change, this will necessitate redirecting resources and giving up space so that directly impacted folks can access platforms from which they can speak up for themselves and lead the work.

Whether the Dream and Promise Act can continue down the path toward becoming law depends on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, where I’m currently pursuing my undergraduate degree. We must stop cutting elected officials like McConnell slack by classifying fights in the South as lost causes, because that is the type of thinking and language that allows them to ignore the needs and interests of their constituents. True solidarity means looking to affected communities for leadership on the issues that affect them and using your resources as citizens with voting power, as DACA recipients with access to work authorization and education, and, hopefully, as potential beneficiaries of the Dream and Promise Act to uplift the voices of those who would otherwise be left out.


Berenice Gonzalez is a FirstGEN Fellow at the National Immigration Law Center. FirstGEN Fellows is a 10-week summer program for undergraduate students interested in social justice careers who are the first in their immediate families to attend an institution of higher education.

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Trump Demands Border Wall in the Face of Evidence Documenting Harms to Migrants, Border Communities, and the Environment (The Torch)

Trump Demands Border Wall in the Face of Evidence Documenting Harms to Migrants, Border Communities, and the Environment

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
MAY 7, 2019

In February, President Trump declared a national emergency so that he could allocate $6.7 billion in taxpayer dollars, without congressional appropriation, to construct more wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In February, a 16-state coalition led by California challenged Trump’s emergency declaration by seeking a preliminary injunction against it in a U.S. district court in California. Last week, NILC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, outlining the harms border walls inflict on migrants, border communities, and the environment.

Evidence of these harms is apparent when examining impacts of restrictive border policies implemented during 1990s. So-called “prevention through deterrence” policies of this era led to increased migrant deaths and harms for border communities. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the federal agency that used to perform the functions that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now perform, presumed that blocking access to common entry points along the border would deter potential migrants from embarking on migration journeys. In practice, however, these policies neither prevented nor deterred migration — they only made migration journeys more difficult and dangerous.

Crosses bearing the names of people who’ve died crossing the U.S. border adorn the Mexican side of the wall in Nogales, Mexico. (Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons, license: https://bit.ly/1rMF155)

Research shows that attempts to prevent migrants from crossing in heavily-trafficked urban areas like San Diego, Calif., and El Paso, Tex., only pushed people to cross in more remote, hazardous terrain. When the border was fortified along the California-Mexico border under “Operation Gatekeeper,” for example, crossings in San Diego went down, but crossings at points farther east in Arizona increased tremendously. As migrants undertook journeys in the remote mountains, deserts, and across waterways of the Southwest, deaths increased by 474 percent between 1996 and 2000.

The migrants who died endured terrible suffering. Causes of death included hypothermia, dehydration, sunstroke, and drowning. Between 1995 and 2004, more than 2,600 deaths were recorded along the border, and migrants became more likely to die crossing the border than to be apprehended by Border Patrol. Those who survived reported having endured physical hardships, such as running out of food or water along the way. Because migration journeys became so difficult, migrants came to rely on coyotes, or paid guides, to help them cross. The cost of hiring these guides quadrupled. Despite high payments promised to these coyotes, many migrants were abandoned by their guides while crossing the desert.

Border walls have also been detrimental for border communities — communities such as Ambos Nogales, which includes Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora (in Mexico). A steel fence there and, later, a bollard-style wall divided interconnected communities, economies, and even the cooperation of the towns’ fire departments. In 2008, a border wall blocked an underground storm drain during a flash flood, causing flooding on both sides of the wall. Homes, cars, and businesses were damaged, and two people drowned.

Such barriers also encroach on the sovereignty of indigenous lands. The Tohono O’odham Nation’s sacred lands span both sides of the border. Yet Tohono O’odham people are no longer able to freely cross, and their cultural traditions have been interrupted. Remote parts of their land have seen increased traffic from migrants and, as a result, their land has become a place where migrants die. Vehicle barriers constructed by the Border Patrol to discourage migrant crossings have caused environmental damage.

The environmental harms associated with an expanded border wall are extensive. Wildlife in the border region — whose natural migratory patterns don’t account for human-imposed borders — continues to suffer harm as a result of existing walls, because the walls disrupt the habits animals have evolved in adapting to their unforgiving habitat.

Given these well-documented cases of human suffering, deaths, and disruption to human communities and wildlife, why would the Trump administration pursue a border wall? The answer is rooted in Trump’s resentment of immigrants and people of color. When Trump announced his candidacy for president, he justified building a border wall by claiming that Mexican migrants are “bringing drugs … [and] crime” and that “[t]hey’re rapists.” He has also described migrants at the southern border as “animals” and as “bad” people who “infest” the United States.

Trump’s demands reflect broader, systemic efforts by his administration to exclude immigrant communities of color. He slashed refugee admissions, banned entrance to the U.S. of people from certain Muslim-majority countries, and is trying to implement a rule that punishes low-income immigrants who rely on nutrition, health, and housing programs by preventing them from obtaining lawful permanent residence. He has also attempted to get rid of temporary protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan, by making temporary protected status (TPS) or deferred enforced departure (DED) unavailable to them, and for immigrant youth, by terminating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

By building more wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump is manufacturing another crisis that will cause extensive damage to border communities and the environment and that will lead to greater human suffering — all in the name of perpetuating his racist agenda.


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

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Research Shows a Citizenship Question Would Suppress Participation among Latinxs and Immigrants in the 2020 Census, Undermining Its Reliability (The Torch)

Research Shows a Citizenship Question Would Suppress Participation among Latinxs and Immigrants in the 2020 Census, Undermining Its Reliability

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
APRIL 22, 2019

The U.S. Constitution requires a decennial census of all persons living in the country, and our nation has carried out this duty since 1790. Specifically, the census must count all people living in the U.S. and record where they live. These counts are crucial for determining each state’s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, defining legislative districts, and distributing federal funding for state, local, and tribal governments. The census is also a vital source of population data. Therefore, it is imperative that each decade, the census is methodically planned and carried out.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce has proposed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This sudden change would have alarming implications.

Under the Enumeration Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the census must count everyone living in the country, regardless of their immigration status. Social scientists, policymakers, advocates, and even former directors of the Census Bureau have argued that introducing a citizenship question — which has not been tested — would have a chilling effect on the census response rate. This would undermine the reliability of census data by undercounting particular populations, especially low-income people and people of color who have already been undercounted in past iterations of the census.

Three federal judges have already found the addition of the citizenship question to be unlawful. Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 23, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about the question (Dept. of Commerce v. New York; NILC attorneys drafted and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case).

Fears of the gravity of an undercount stemming from the proposed citizenship question are empirically supported by new research coming out of the San Joaquin Valley in California. Researchers from the San Joaquin Valley Census Research Project (SJVCRP) conducted 414 in-person surveys with Latinx immigrants and the U.S.-born, adult children of immigrants to determine whether they would respond to the 2020 census with or without the proposed citizenship question.

The San Joaquin Valley is a highly-populated area of the country, with 4.2 million residents. It has a higher-than-average concentration of foreign-born residents and is majority Latinx. It is also a growing community: the population is expected to reach 4.6 million people in 2020, the year the census will be conducted. Surveys for the SJVCRP reached people in locales in the San Joaquin valley ranging from small, rural communities to major cities.

Researchers uncovered a significant and troubling finding from this survey research: Fewer Latinx immigrant households will participate in the 2020 census if the question is implemented, which will result in an undercount. Without the citizenship question, 84 percent of respondents were willing to participate in the census; after including the citizenship question, however, willingness to participate dropped by almost half, to 46 percent. Willingness dropped among individuals across legal status: naturalized citizens, legal residents, and undocumented individuals.

In addition, declines in willingness to participate were especially notable among the “second generation,” that is, U.S.-born citizens who are children of immigrants. Fewer than half of those surveyed were willing to respond when the citizenship question was included. In fact, these U.S.-born citizens were much less likely to answer than naturalized citizens or legal residents.

These results indicate that a census that includes a citizenship question would not only fail to accurately measure the population, with an estimated 4.1 percent undercount, but also would misrepresent population demographics by undercounting first- and second-generation Latinx Americans by nearly 12 percent. Such an undercount is considered by some experts to be a failed census.

What’s at stake if such an undercount occurs in the San Joaquin Valley? Equitable political representation in Congress, for one thing, and at least $198 million in annual federal funding for residents of the valley. Researchers estimate that these results extrapolated to the state of California would cause an undercount of as many as 1.3 million people in the state, resulting in reduced congressional representation for Californians and annual funding losses ranging between $970 million and $1.5 billion.

The researchers conclude that “[p]roceeding with a politicized decennial census — widely understood by Latino first- and second-generation immigrants as compromising a potentially attractive collective endeavor, the process of ‘standing up and being counted’ to assure one’s community gets its fair share of federal funding and equitable political representation — will further erode already-wavering trust in government.”

We must protect the integrity of the census to ensure that all Americans are counted in 2020.


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

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Worksite Immigration Raids Terrorize Workers and Communities Now, and Their Devastating Consequences Are Long-Term (The Torch)

Worksite Immigration Raids Terrorize Workers and Communities Now, and Their Devastating Consequences Are Long-Term

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
APRIL 11, 2019

Early in the Trump administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials promised to increase worksite enforcement actions that specifically target immigrant workers. Subsequently, raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) Homeland Security Investigations have terrorized workers and communities across the country.

Since the raid on a meat processing facility in Bean Station, Tenn., resulted in the arrest of nearly 100 workers one year ago, a succession of raids has each been dubbed the “largest in a decade.” Last June, there were 146 arrests at Fresh Mark, a meat processing facility in Salem, Ohio. In August, 160 workers were arrested at Load Trail Trailer in Sumner, Tex. Most recently — last week — a raid on CVE Technology Group in Allen, Tex., resulted in the arrests of 284 workers.

Regardless of whether nearly 300 people are arrested, as happened last week in Allen, or 30 people, as during a February raid in Sanford, N.C., these raids are devastating for individuals, families, and communities. The people represented by these numbers are members of local communities: they are workers, parents, friends, and neighbors. While ICE typically claims that these “administrative arrests” are a secondary consequence of its investigations of employers’ criminal activity, it’s actually workers who end up suffering the most because of these investigations.

Workers who have lived through one of these raids describe how a normal workday suddenly transforms into multiple scenes of chaos infused with fear. In Tennessee, the National Immigration Law Center and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of workers whose constitutional rights were violated during last year’s highly militarized raid. One plaintiff, Martha Pulido, described the terror she experienced: “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.”

In Texas last week, workers described “working like a normal day” before hearing “screaming” and their colleagues crying as workers reacted fearfully to ICE agents’ sudden appearance in their workplace, and as the agents made them separate into color-coded subgroups.

Amid the uncertainty workers and their families face, there is continuity in the sequence and pattern of consequences that flow from raids, large and small. Relatives and friends waiting outside workplaces to learn the fate of their loved ones, as some are taken away on buses to detention facilities. Working families hit with financial strain as they struggle to deal with lost income and the costs of posting bond. Children missing school in the days after raids and, in the longer term, both parents and children suffering the effects of toxic stress, trauma, and associated poor health outcomes. Ripple effects of fear and isolation among immigrant communities. Schools, religious and other community groups, and advocacy organizations rallying to support those impacted in the days and months after raids.

Raids conducted in the first decade of the 2000s, under the George W. Bush administration, are instructive for our longer-term expectations of such impacts. In 2008, a raid on a meat processing facility in Postville, Iowa, resulted in the arrest of 389 workers — nearly 20 percent of the town’s residents. Research shows that Iowa infants born to Latina mothers had significantly higher risk of low birthweight after Postville. Postville, the town, experienced long-term economic distress. Research from other raids during this period documents academic, social, and psychological harms to impacted children, as well as downward economic mobility and higher levels of food and housing insecurity for workers and families.

Whether or not the next worksite raid breaks recent records for the number of workers arrested, we can be sure that not only the workers themselves, but also the broader communities where the raids are staged, will suffer devastating consequences for years to come.


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


For more on these issues, see www.nilc.org/hsi-backgrounder-webpage/.

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