Month: May 2017

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Border Officials Accused of Turning Away Asylum-Seekers

Under both domestic and international law, individuals may seek asylum in the United States if they are fleeing persecution based on certain reasons. When an individual at the border expresses a fear of return to their home country, immigration officials are supposed to refer them to an interview with an asylum officer so the individual can present their case.

Asylum-seekers, however, have recently been facing many obstacles to getting their day in court. First, immigration officials have reportedly been turning individuals away at the border despite their requests for asylum and their statements of fear. Second, many of those that are allowed across the border are placed into detention and then receive inadequate screening. Officers do not always ask individuals if they fear return to their home country or they ignore expressions of fear. In those cases, individuals are subject to ‘expedited removal’ – meaning swift deportation without the opportunity to seek review or see a judge.

Human Rights First issued a report based on a survey of 125 cases of individuals and families denied access at the border in Texas, Arizona, and California. Many of those interviewed stated that border officials told them that the U.S. was no longer granting asylum like before because of the new administration. In reality, though, President Trump has not actually issued any new regulations or policies that would change the way border officers should deal with asylum-seekers. Those expressing a fear of return should, therefore, still have the same opportunity to present their asylum case. Asylum is still being granted, despite what border officials have reportedly been telling asylum-seekers at the border.

Many of those not turned away at the border are immediately placed in detention, including women and children fleeing violence in Central America. Trying to present a claim for asylum while in detention is extremely difficult and legally complicated. The American Immigration Council issued a report describing the most egregious challenges these individuals face. Specifically, the ‘expedited removal’ process has led to many women and children being deported despite having legitimate asylum claims.

Customs and Border Patrol, the department charged with securing U.S. borders, responded by stating that its policies have not changed and they are still complying with their international obligations regarding asylum.


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The Debate Over Sanctuary Cities and Where Colorado Stands

In January 2017, President Trump issued an executive order stating the government would withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that “willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield” illegal immigrants from removal. This executive order responded to the growth of the sanctuary cities movement, referring to cities that use formal and informal policies to limit authorities collecting or sharing information about an individual’s immigration status.  Policies may include officers not inquiring about immigration status during encounters or jails refusing to detain illegal immigrants beyond their scheduled release dates when ICE requests. Sanctuary policies have become the subject of controversy throughout the country as people debate whether they actually ensure or threaten public safety.

Advocates argue that sanctuary policies are essential to protect people. If local law enforcement agencies assist with detention and deportation, they could end up alienating immigrant communities and discouraging victims and witnesses from reporting crimes. Many police chiefs are vocal supporters of sanctuary policies, seeing their job as protecting their citizens rather than enforcing federal immigration laws.

Opponents, however, condemn sanctuary policies as obstructing federal efforts to control illegal immigration and permitting dangerous, undocumented criminals to go free. They argue that cooperation between local and federal officials is necessary to crack down on illegal immigration in the US and to ensure the safety of Americans.

This intense debate has been playing out in jurisdictions around the country.

  • The LA Police Department has said that it will continue its policy of not allowing officers to stop people solely on their immigration status.
  • The mayors of Chicago and San Francisco have both reaffirmed that their cities will always be sanctuaries for immigrants.
  • Other jurisdictions, however, are trying to outlaw sanctuary policies. The Governor of Texas signed a bill on May 7, 2017 that banned sanctuary cities, because these policies are basically “harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes.” The bill prohibits cities from enacting laws that prevent officers from inquiring about the immigration status of those they detain and criminalizes failure to comply with federal immigration guidelines.

For the time being, Colorado seems to be falling more on the pro-sanctuary side. None of the county jails honor ICE detainer requests and lawmakers recently vetoed a bill that would have withheld state funds from sanctuary cities. A number of cities have declared themselves sanctuaries or instituted sanctuary policies. With that said, the debate and political turmoil around the country is unlikely to end soon and will continue to impact immigrant communities and the larger American public.