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July 1998, Volume 5, Number 7

INS: Enforcement, Asylum

Most of the 23 Chinese men apprehended when their boat ran ashore on the New Jersey beach in May 1998 have requested political asylum. The men, from Fujian Province in southeastern China, reportedly paid $30,000 to $40,000 each to be smuggled into the US. One of them had been on the Golden Venture, the ship that dumped 286 Chinese in the water off of Queens, New York in 1993; the INS will attempt to deport him immediately for illegal re-entry. A Venezuelan-registered fishing trawler suspected of aiding in the smuggling of the Chinese was detained by the US in mid-June.

The remaining men are requesting asylum, claiming persecution under China's law limiting couples to one child. In 1996, Congress created 1,000 refugee/asylum slots a year for foreigners who felt persecuted by their government's coercive family planning laws. According to some experts, this provision of US law has helped smugglers, since they can advise clients that, if caught in the US, the foreigner can apply for asylum.

At the conclusion of the trial of the alien smugglers, the INS announced that the 49 deaf Mexican men and women who were forced to sell trinkets on New York subways will be allowed to stay in the United States. The city of New York will permit them to live in city-owned housing in Brooklyn and has allocated $1 million for their care.

The deaf Mexicans have been offered S-visas, available to cooperating witnesses who can provide information for the prosecution of cases in the United States, or those who, having provided the information, fear for their lives once they return home. Once they have the S-visas, the deaf Mexicans can apply for legal residency in three years and for citizenship in five more years.

Border. U.S. attorney Alan Bersin, appointed the Border Czar in 1995, resigned June 15, 1998 to run the San Diego public schools. Bersin is credited for enthusiastically supporting Operation Gatekeeper, and improving cooperation in regional law enforcement with Mexico. Apprehensions in the San Diego sector have fallen to an 18-year low of 200,000.

Operation Rio Grande, which began in August 1997 and brought 260 additional Border Patrol agents to Brownsville, Texas reduced apprehensions by 40 percent in the patrolled stretch of border. But apprehensions to the west of this sector have been rising, as occurred along other sectors of the US-Mexican border that had intensive border control operations--apprehensions fall in the patrolled area, and rise elsewhere.

The story is similar in other sectors. In 1994, some 400 Border Patrol agents apprehended about 65,000 foreigners in the Tucson sector; in 1998, 800 agents are expected to apprehend 262,000 as foreigners shift from attempting entry near San Diego to the desert areas. In the San Diego sector, apprehensions dropped from 531,000 in FY93 to 284,000 in FY97; in El Centro, apprehensions rose from 30,000 to 146,000.

In mid-June, the US and Mexico announced a joint program, Operation Lifesaver, that includes offering rewards of $2,500 to $5,000 to those who turn in smugglers who attempt to smuggle migrants into the US via four dangerous desert areas, and open toll-free lines for relatives in Mexico to report missing persons attempting to illegally enter the US. The INS will pay the U.S. Civil Air Patrol to fly daily missions over desert areas in the southwestern US, and notify the Border Patrol if they spot persons in distress. The Civil Air Patrol will not report illegal immigrants if they are not in danger.

The INS apprehended 166 immigrants near the Chocolate Mountains Gunnery Range in the Southern California desert, close to the Arizona line. The US military uses the area for bombing practice, so it is not patrolled by the INS. The INS said: "They run the risk of being bombed, but they've got a pretty clear shot if they don't."

The INS has begun showing a videotape to apprehended aliens that shows the hazards of illegal entry, including rattlesnakes, dead bodies and broiling summer temperatures. According to the INS, the message is that they should remain home, "It's better to live poor than to die trying to be rich."

Both the US and Mexico roundly condemn the smugglers who attempt to sneak migrants into the US while withholding criticism of the migrants who hire them. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner says that "It is not our border strategy that creates danger at the border" but instead it is smuggling that creates danger. Mexico's ambassador, Jesus Reyes-Heroles, says that smugglers are "an evil for all" and a "big danger to the physical safety of our nationals."

On June 27, 1998, a march was held to protest the June-July 1997 Operation Restoration conducted by police and INS agents in Chandler, Arizona. In an attempt to clean up the downtown area, individuals were checked for proof of the right to be in the US. Some 432 illegal immigrants were apprehended, but the sweep also resulted in the detention of many legal immigrants and US citizens. In August, 1997, a $35 million federal lawsuit was filed, alleging that Chandler police violated the civil rights of legal residents during the sweep.

The House in June approved a FY99 defense bill that permits the INS to request troops to help patrol the border. Most border area politicians and the INS protested the plan, emphasizing that the US military is not trained for border control activities. In 1997, Marines supporting the INS in Texas killed an 18-year old US citizen who was tending goats near the border.

In Los Angeles, the INS charged three men with smuggling after 36 illegal immigrants were found at a Watts home where police say they were being held as prisoners. Those inside the house had paid $1,200 each to be smuggled from the Mexican interior to Los Angeles, up sharply from $500 in the early 1990s.

Also in Los Angeles, officials charged seven immigration consultants failure to post their required $25,000 bonds with the Secretary of State as required under California law. A list of immigration lawyers on the web is at: />
Asylum. In May 1998, the INS agreed not to return a Nigerian to her homeland because she might face torture there. The Nigerian woman has been illegally in the US for over ten years and at first tried to obtain asylum on the grounds that her three-year old U.S. citizen daughter would be subject to female genital mutilation. Under the UN Torture Convention, ratified by the US in 1994, no one is to be returned to a country where he is likely to be tortured.

Some immigration lawyers believe that the Torture Convention can prevent the removal of large numbers of foreigners, since there is no requirement that race or religion be the reason for the torture. In addition, convicted felons can apply for relief from removal under the Torture Convention, while their convictions generally prevent them from applying for asylum. One of those convicted of the World Trade Center bombing has asked to remain in the US on the grounds that removal would open him to torture.

The 33 INS District Directors have considerable discretion in deciding which asylum applicants to detain and which to release pending a decision on their application. In order to remain in the US while their asylum applications are considered, since April 1, 1997, foreigners arriving with no or false documents must make a credible claim that they face persecution and most of those who successfully make such claims are detained while the application is considered--1,066 of 1,300 who expressed credible fear between August 1997 and January 1998 were detained.

The INS has 15,000 beds in nine detention centers and rents beds in state prisons and local jails around the country.

Ken Ellingwood, "Border Czar Ends a Highly Visible Reign," Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1998. Mirta Ojito, "49 Abused Deaf Mexicans to Be Allowed to Stay in U.S.," New York Times, June 20, 1998. William Branigin, "U.S., Mexico Target Border Deaths," Washington Post, June 17, 1998. Janie Magruder, "Activists plan march on anniversary of Chandler," Arizona Republic, June 13, 1998.