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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1


The Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, resigned after six months in October 2019. Under McAleenan, the US signed agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras that require non-citizens passing through these countries to seek asylum there rather than in the US.

For example, Salvadorans and Hondurans who pass through Guatemala and Mexico en route to the US to apply for asylum could be returned to Guatemala to seek asylum there. In January 2020, DHS was reportedly considering sending Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala.

CBP. The Border Patrol apprehended 851,000 unauthorized foreigners just inside the Mexico-US border in FY19, including 473,000 people in family groups and 76,020 children under 18 who traveled alone to the US. Total apprehensions were 1.1 million, including 126,000 foreigners who were found to be inadmissible at ports of entry (POEs) and 162,500 foreigners who were arrested at US airports and seaports.

Monthly apprehensions peaked at 133,000 in May. Apprehensions declined after President Trump threatened Mexico and Central American countries with tariffs and loss of foreign aid if they did not slow the flow of asylum seekers.

The Border Patrol says it has ended catch and release for asylum seekers, asserting "if you come to our borders with a child, it's no longer an immediate passport into the interior of the United States." DHS wants to detain adults with their children until their cases are resolved, and wants to expand family detention capacity from the current 3,500 beds to 15,000. Australia detains families together until their cases are resolved, while most European countries release families with children.

The US limits or meters the number of foreigners who can apply for asylum at ports of entry on the Mexico-US border. The Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP)or Remain in Mexico policy allows non-Mexican foreigners who enter the US legally at POEs to apply for asylum, after which they return to Mexico to wait for a hearing before a US immigration judge. Most migrants waiting in Mexico have a "domicilio conocido," or general delivery address, which means they may not receive court notices.

Almost 55,000 foreigners were waiting in Mexico in December 2019 for US court appearances. On their court dates, some enter tents erected by the CBP just inside the US and speak with judges by videoconference. Most of the 10,000 asylum seekers in the MPP who went before immigration judges in 2019 did not have lawyers, and over 99 percent of the MPP applicants had their applications for refugee status rejected, higher than the 80 percent rejection rate for other asylum applicants..

The CBP is expanding expedited removal, a procedure to deport foreigners who seek asylum in the US but cannot prove that they face persecution at home due to their "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

Mexico detained over 40,000 Central American children headed for the US in 2018 and turned them over to the national child protection agency that has shelters for children.

Since 2010, there have been more unauthorized migrants who arrived legally and overstayed than the number who arrived illegally by eluding the Border Patrol. Overstayers were 46 percent of the 10.7 million unauthorized foreigners in 2017, some 4.9 million, including a million Mexicans and 330,000 Indians.

DHS estimated that 670,000 foreigners who arrived by air or sea in FY18 did not depart by September 30, 2018. However, the number who remained in the US in March 2019 was only 416,000, as some of the overstayers left.

Smuggling. Increased difficulty entering the US has fueled human smuggling. Over 60 percent of those convicted of human smuggling in the US are US citizens, often young men looking to earn quick cash. Some drive migrants into the US at legal ports of entry, while others ferry migrants who have crossed illegally away from the border. Until the mid-1990s, over 80 percent of those convicted of human smuggling were foreigners, usually Mexican citizens.

Using $100 reciprocating saws and special blades, smugglers can cut through the steel-and-concrete bollards on newly built fences on the Mexico-US border and bend the steel bars enough to allow migrants through. The bollards, four inches apart and anchored in concrete bases, have a rebar core filled with concrete for a third of their 30-foot height.

ICE. The Homeland Security Investigations unit of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency opened 6,812 new workplace cases in FY19, up from 1,701 during FY16. HSI made 2,000 administrative arrests, primarily of illegal migrants, up from 500 in FY18; 40 employers were arrested in FY19, down from 72 in FY18.

ICE agents arrested 143,000 unauthorized foreigners inside the US in FY19, two-thirds of whom had been convicted of US crimes. A total of 267,300 foreigners were deported in FY19, but two-thirds of those deported were arrested by Border Patrol agents and removed without reaching the interior of the US. Only 86,000 foreigners were deported from the interior of the US.

ICE inspected the workers employed at seven food processing plants near Canton, Mississippi on August 7, 2019 and arrested 680 unauthorized workers, perhaps presaging a return to workplace raids. After the ICE raid, Blacks replaced whites in area poultry processing plants in the 1960s, and Hispanics began to replace Blacks in the 1980s. After the raids, many of the plants hired Blacks at wages of $11 an hour.

The Social Security Administration in Spring 2019 resumed the practice of sending no-match letters to employers who report worker names and Social Security Numbers that do not match government records. Over 100,000 no-match letters a month were mailed to employers in 2019. These letters request that employers notify workers and ask them to correct their records.

Grand Rapids, Michigan paid $190,000 in November 2019 to a US-born Marine who was held for three days after a police captain asked ICE to check his status; the Marine was arrested during a bout of post-traumatic stress at a local hospital. ICE detained the Marine after he was released despite his US passport.

USCIS. Three federal judges issued injunctions in mid-October 2019 to block the implementation of regulations that would allow USCIS to deny immigrant visas to foreigners who are likely to become public charges. Adjudicators could deny visas to foreigners sponsored by US relatives if the foreigner has used or is likely to use federal-means tested benefits such as Medicaid, housing assistance or food stamps.

Half of the 1.1 million foreigners a year who receive immigrant visas are already in the US and could be affected by the new public charge regulations. USCIS adjudicators are instructed to weigh individual factors to evaluate the probability of becoming a public charge, including the person's education, knowledge of English, credit score, and whether the applicant has a job or job offer.

DHS announced that those seeking immigrant visas must prove they have health insurance or the capacity to pay for health care in the US to receive immigrant visas beginning in November 2019. A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the new health care requirement from going into effect, agreeing with advocates that a third of the 1.1 million legal immigrants a year could be barred from obtaining visas.

USCIS is considering new fees for immigration benefits, including increasing the fee for an immigrant visa from $725 to $1,170 and charging a $50 fee to apply for asylum from inside the US and another fee for asylum applicants to obtain work permits. Currently, Iran, Fiji, and Australia charge foreigners to apply for asylum. USCIS would not charge fees to those who apply for asylum at the border and those who file defensive applications, meaning they are in custody and apply for asylum in order to avoid being sent home.

In November 2019, USCIS proposed that foreigners who enter the US illegally and apply for asylum would no longer get work permits until they are recognized as refugees. Foreigners who enter the US legally and apply for asylum would have to wait 12 months for work permits rather than the current six months.

On November 12, 2019, the US Supreme Court heard arguments on whether President Obama's creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012 was lawful. Some 661,000 unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before 2007 and were under 16 when they arrived, were protected from deportation by DACA status in fall 2019. DACA recipients have two-year work and residence permits that can be renewed. Those observing the arguments suggested that the Supreme Court was likely to support Trump's September 2017 decision to end DACA.

President Trump set the ceiling for refugee admissions at 18,000 in FY20, down from 30,000 in FY19; Canada will surpass the US as the country resettling the most refugees. The refugees to be admitted include Iraqis who aided the US military. Under a new policy, state and local government officials must provide written consent before refugees can be resettled in their communities.

Trump says that US funds will be used to help refugees to return to their countries of origin rather than be resettled in the US. Other funds that would have been used to resettle refugees in the US are being spent on Central American families that have applied for asylum.

USCIS in October 2019 extended temporary protected status for 250,000 Salvadorans through January 2021, and will provide Salvadorans with an additional year of TPS once courts decide whether TPS can be ended. TPS is granted to foreigners who are in the US when events in their home countries make it dangerous to return. TPS allows these foreigners to work, but does not put them on an automatic path to immigrant status, although many find ways to obtain immigrant visas via marriage or employment.