July 2021, Volume 27, Number 3
DHS: Apprehensions Up
The Department of Homeland Security in April 2021 announced that it would change terms: “alien” would become “noncitizen or migrant,” “illegal” is now “undocumented,” and “assimilation” is “integration.”
Tucson, Arizona police chief Chris Magnus was nominated in April 2021 to head the Customs and Border Protection agency, Harris County (TX) sheriff Ed Gonzalez was nominated to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and Californian Ur Jaddou, who was head of DHS Watch (America’s Voice), was nominated to head the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.
Restrictionist groups opposed Magnus and Gonzalez because they oppose state and local police cooperating with federal immigration enforcement authorities, while admissionist groups worried that they were not sympathetic enough to unauthorized foreigners. Some call for the new leaders of CBP and ICE to embrace immigration as a human right.
CBP. During the first half of FY21, CBP encountered 570,000 foreigners just inside the Mexico-US border, more than the 458,000 encountered in all of FY20 and on track to surpass the 978,000 in FY19. Mexicans were almost half of those encountered in the first half of FY21, down from 65 percent in FY20 and 25 percent in FY19.
The US since March 2020 has been returning to Mexico foreigners encountered just inside the Mexico-US border under Title 42 of the Public Health Act to prevent the introduction of Covid. Mexico enacted a law in 2020 that prohibits children from being detained with adults in its detention facilities, prompting President Biden to end returns to Mexico of unaccompanied youth and families with children under six.
The Biden administration announced plans to end Title 42 “turnarounds” for migrant families by September 2021 and later for solo migrants; those arriving from Mexico are returned to Mexico. Migrants who are not turned around may be released with ankle monitors rather than detained. The US turned around 867,000 migrants between March 2020 and July 2021, some several times as those who were apprehended tried again.
Some analysts expect the number of Central Americans entering the US will jump after Title 42 turnarounds are halted. One option would be to have the asylum officers who now conduct credible fear interviews to make decisions on asylum applications so that those who are rejected could be removed from the US quickly.
Border Patrol agents encountered 172,331 foreigners in March 2021, including a record 19,000 foreigners under 18, straining the capacity of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to care for them until they are sent to US relatives as they await hearings on their asylum applications. CBP is supposed to turn minors over to HHS within 72 hours of encountering them, but the lack of space in HHS’s 150 facilities for children mean that some children stay in CBP facilities longer. HHS opened emergency shelters in convention centers and reduced the time required to verify the credentials of US residents to whom children are released.
Some 178,622 foreigners were encountered just inside the US border with Mexico in April 2021, and another 180,034 in May 2021. Two-thirds of these foreigners were solo adults, and almost 40 percent were apprehended at least once previously in the past 12 months.
Over 65,000 unaccompanied minors were encountered in the first five months of 2021, and 16,000 were being cared for by HHS in June 2021. There were 53,000 people encountered in family units in March 2021, and many were released into the US. Such releases encourage more Central Americans to make the trip north.
A rising number of migrants from Ecuador, Brazil and other South American countries are seeking asylum by entering the US illegally near Yuma. Mexico refuses to accept the return of most South Americans, so they are released into the US to await court dates, a procedure President Trump derided as catch and release.
Most of the 111,000 solo adult migrants encountered were returned to Mexico under Title 42, and some tried to re-enter the US immediately. Smugglers often offer several chances to be smuggled into the US for a fixed price.
President Biden canceled the Trump administration’s transfer of $10 billion from the Defense Department to DHS to build the wall on the Mexico-US border. Some 450 miles of border wall were constructed under Trump, mostly in Arizona, before Biden halted construction on January 20, 2021. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced in June 2021 that the state would use state funds to build a fence on the Texas-Mexico border.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited El Paso in June 2021 and said that the Biden administration aims for a “fair, orderly and human immigration system.” Republicans have called the upsurge in border apprehensions “Biden’s border crisis,” while Democrats are pressing Biden to reverse more Trump administration policies that allow unauthorized foreigners to be returned to Mexico. Ex-President Trump visited the Rio Grande Valley in July 2021 and condemned the Biden administration’s failure to prevent unauthorized migration.
Many non-Mexican foreigners are waiting in Mexico to enter the US and apply for asylum. DHS in summer 2021 allowed NGOs to recommend particularly vulnerable migrants who are in Mexican border camps to enter the US and apply for asylum. Some 3,900 people in family units were allowed to enter the US and apply for asylum in May 2021, up from 1,800 in April 2021.
In May-June 2018, some parents were separated from their children and deported without them. In May-June 2021, some of the parents who were deported were admitted to the US to join children who have been living with relatives. Advocates want the US government to give parents and children who were separated immigrant visas and to provide them with supportive services.
ICE. President Biden changed ICE enforcement priorities to focus on terrorists and other national-security risks; aliens apprehended entering illegally after October 31, 2020; and criminal aliens incarcerated for aggravated felonies committed in the US. ICE seeks such foreigners inside the US, often as they exit state prisons, and detains them until they are ordered deported by an immigration judge.
ICE arrests inside the US are falling. There were 13,000 arrests from February through June 2021, compared with nearly 40,000 over the same period in 2020. The number of foreigners in ICE detention fell from a peak 56,000 in 2019 to 14,000 in March 2021 before rebounding to 26,000 in July 2021 as more non-Mexicans were apprehended. Most of the foreigners who are apprehended are not vaccinated, which allows Covid to spread through detention facilities.
USCIS. Up to 150,000 Haitians in the US before May 21, 2021 are eligible for temporary protected status (TPS) for the next 18 months, which includes work and residence permits and can be renewed. In March 2021, USCIS granted up to 320,000 Venezuelans who were in the US TPS. When President Biden took office, 400,000 citizens of 11 countries had TPS.
The US Supreme Court in June 2021 ruled that foreigners who enter the US illegally and are later granted TPS cannot apply for immigrant visas inside the US because they were not admitted legally. A Salvadoran who entered the US illegally was granted TPS in 2001, but he was denied an immigrant visa in 2014 because of his previous illegal entry. A lower federal court overturned USCIS and ordered that the man receive an immigrant visa, an appeals court disagreed, and the USSC confirmed the appeals court decision that only lawful entrants are entitled to apply for immigrant visas inside the US.
In another case, the US Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in June 2021, which had held that the claims of asylum seekers are credible unless an immigration judge specifically finds otherwise. The USSC said that appeals courts do not have to treat asylee statements as true.
The US Attorney General in June 2021 reversed Trump-era decisions that foreigners could not obtain US asylum due to domestic or gang violence in their home countries. Many Central Americans cite domestic or gang violence as their reasons for seeking asylum in the US. Victims of domestic or gang violence can be deemed members of in a “particular social group” and thus eligible for asylum, as with a Salvadoran woman in 2016 whose asylum was withdrawn by the Attorney General in 2018.
Asylum is available to foreigners who have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.