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January 2021, Volume 27, Number 1


Cuban immigrant Alejandro Mayorkas was named secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and began to fill some of the 74 leadership positions in the sprawling agency with 240,000 employees. The Trump administration made more than 400 changes to the US immigration system, and migrant advocates want to reverse them as quickly as possible.

CBP. Almost 54,800 foreigners were apprehended just inside the US border with Mexico in September 2020, bringing the total for FY20 to 400,000. Apprehensions began rising in March 2020, after the Border Patrol started returning apprehended migrants immediately, which encouraged some to try to re-enter the US.

The Customs and Border Protection Agency said that over half of those apprehended in fall 2020 were Mexican citizens who had been caught before.

CBP apprehended 2.8 million foreigners just inside US borders between FY15 and FY19, and found an additional 725,000 foreigners at ports of entry who were inadmissible. An enforcement lifecycle analysis that aims to determine what happened to foreigners whose first contact was with CBP found that apprehensions of solo Mexicans who did not apply for asylum were resolved quickly with repatriation, while cases involving Central American families with children who applied for asylum took time to resolve, with most remaining in the US several years

FY19 stands out as the year in which most CBP encounters involved Central American families with children. The number of foreigners who expressed fear or returning to their country of origin rose to a record,115,000 in FY19, which typically results in asylum applications that take time to resolve.

Some Central American parents sent their children to the US, hoping that after applying for asylum their children will be sent to live with relatives in the US. Under Title 42 of US laws governing public health emergencies, CBP in March 2020 began returning solo migrant children to Mexican child welfare agencies or flying them to their countries of origin.

The CBP, which says that all migrants who are apprehended must be returned to avoid Covid in detention facilities, blocked the entry of 200,000 foreigners between March and November 2020, including 14,000 minors. A federal judge in November 2020 ruled that CBP cannot return unaccompanied foreign minors without first allowing them to seek asylum.

In October 2020, CBP apprehended over 70,000 foreigners, including 4,630 unaccompanied children and 4,501 family groups just inside the US border. There were surges of unaccompanied children in 2014 and migrant families in 2018.

The US Supreme Court will consider the lawfulness of the CBP Migrant Protection Protocols or Remain in Mexico program in 2020-21. A federal appeals court blocked the MPP program in February 2020, but the US Supreme Court allowed the MPP to continue in a March 2020 ruling.

The MPP program requires non-Mexicans who apply for asylum at the Mexico-US border to wait in Mexico for their hearing before an immigration judge. Some 25,000 foreigners, mostly Central Americans, were waiting for asylum hearings in Mexico at the end of 2020 in informal settlements near ports of entry. Another 35,000 are believed to have given up and returned to their home countries.

Biden promised to end the MPP program, but may not do so immediately to avoid a surge of migrants. Instead, the Biden administration plans to determine the most vulnerable migrants who are waiting in Mexico and allow them to move to the front of the line for asylum hearings. Biden wants to avoid a ”rush for the border” that could occur if an influx of Central American migrants tried to enter the US.

Before MPP, foreigners applying for asylum at the border were allowed into the US. Many worked, accumulating savings until their asylum applications were rejected, as 85 percent were.

Since President Trump was inaugurated in 2017, almost 450 miles of fencing on the Mexico-US border has been built or upgraded, usually by replacing existing fencing with steel bollards. Most of the new fencing is on government-owned land, largely because private landowners often resist efforts to build or upgrade border fencing on their land. President-elect Biden promised to stop construction of the wall.

ICE. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency deported 185,884 foreigners in FY20, including 62,700 from the interior of the US. Another 200,000 foreigners apprehended just inside the US border were expelled, including some who were apprehended several times. Some 935,000 foreigners were deported under the Trump administration, fewer than the 1.6 million deported during the first term of the Obama administration.

ICE attributed declining deportations to Covid, noting that it detained 16,000 foreigners at the end of 2020, far less than its 50,000-bed detention capacity.

USCIS. A federal judge in November 2020 blocked implementation of the public charge rule that allows USCIS to deny immigrant visas to foreigners who have been or are likely to be dependent on federal means-tested safety net benefits such as Medicaid or SNAP; the judge found that USCIS did not follow proper procedures to implement the public charge regulation. The US Supreme Court allowed the public charge regulation to be implemented in January 2020, but also allowed lower court challenges to continue.

A federal judge in December 2020 ordered USCIS to resume accepting new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program because acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was not properly appointed to his position. Five federal judges have ruled that Wolf was improperly appointed and invalidated some of his actions.

DACA was created by executive order in 2012 and has provided temporary protection to over 800,000 unauthorized foreigners who arrived in the US before the age of 16. USCIS in summer 2020 stopped accepting new DACA applications and limited work permits to one year. The judge’s order will allow up to 300,000 more unauthorized foreigners to apply and extend work permits to the previous two years.

President-elect Biden promised to restore DACA and to seek a permanent solution in Congress, while Texas and eight other states announced plans in December 2020 to have DACA declared an unlawful use of presidential power by the same Texas judge, Andrew Hanen, who declared Obama’s 2014 DAPA executive order for the parents of lawful US residents unlawful. Trump did not pursue appeals or implement DAPA.

Some 843,593 immigrants became naturalized US citizens in FY19, the highest number in a decade; naturalizations rise in years before contested presidential elections. Over 14 percent of those naturalizing in FY 19 were Mexicans; followed by eight percent Indians; five percent Filipinos; and four percent Chinese. The 23 million naturalized US citizens were about 10 percent of those eligible to vote in November 2020.

USCIS implemented a new and harder citizenship test in December 2020, requiring applicants to answer 12 of 20 questions correctly instead of six of 10 questions on the old test. Critics said that the new test would be another barrier to naturalization.

Asylum. Over 70 percent of asylum applications were denied in FY20, meaning that immigration judges did not consider the applicant in need of refuge in the US. Over 30 percent of applicants with attorneys were recognized as needing asylum, compared to less than 20 percent of applicants without attorneys.

Three-fourths of the 2,700 Chinese applicants whose cases were decided in FY20 were granted asylum in the US, followed by 62 percent of the 2,000 Indians whose cases were decided. Only 14 percent of the 11,500 Guatemalans whose cases were decided in FY20 received asylum; 18 percent of 10,600 Salvadorans; 13 percent of 9,700 Hondurans; and 15 percent of 6,100 Mexicans.

There were 1.3 million cases pending before the 520 immigration judges at the end of 2020, including almost half that were asylum cases.

A federal judge in January 2021 blocked implementation of DHS regulations that would have prevented foreigners from applying for asylum in the US if they did not seek asylum in a transit country; had lived in the United States for a year without permission, or based their claim on persecution due to sexual orientation. The judge’s decision was based on a procedural flaw, viz, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf was not confirmed by the Senate.

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