WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it harder for longtime immigrants who have been convicted of a crime to avoid deportation.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for a 5-3 conservative majority that ruled against a Mexican citizen who entered the U.S. illegally and has lived in the country for 25 years.
The man, Clemente Avelino Pereida, had been charged in Nebraska with using a fraudulent Social Security card to get a job and convicted under a state law against criminal impersonation.
Not all criminal convictions inevitably lead to deportation, but Gorsuch wrote for the court that Pereida failed to prove he was not convicted of a serious crime.
Under immigration law, “certain nonpermanent aliens seeking to cancel a lawful removal order must prove that they have not been convicted of a disqualifying crime,” Gorsuch wrote.
In a dissent for the three liberal justices, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court instead should have ruled for Pereida because he was convicted under a law that includes serious offenses, falling into the category of crimes of moral turpitude, and less serious ones.
“The relevant documents in this case do not show that the previous conviction at issue necessarily was for a crime involving moral turpitude,” Breyer wrote.
Immigrants with criminal convictions who are facing deportation can ask the attorney general to allow them to remain in the country, if the conviction wasn’t for a serious crime and they have lived here at least 10 years, among other criteria.
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Based on Thursday’s ruling, Pereida can’t seek that relief.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case because she had not yet joined the court when the case was argued in October.
US says it will reduce detention of immigrant families
HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. immigration authorities will no longer use a small Pennsylvania detention center to hold parents and children seeking asylum, part of a broader shift by President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce the use of family detention.
In a court filing Friday, the U.S. government said it had released all families detained at the 96-bed Berks County family detention center in Leesport, Pennsylvania. The detention center will instead be used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold adults, the government said.
Families will still be detained at larger detention centers in Karnes City and Dilley in Texas, but the government intends to hold people at those sites for three days or less, the court filing said.
Lawyers who work with detained immigrant families welcomed the news and credited the Biden administration for announcing the shift. But they noted that even shorter detention stays could be harmful to children.
“Family detention will never truly be over until the facilities are closed and the contracts with ICE end,” said Bridget Cambria, executive director of the legal group Aldea – The People’s Justice Center.
All three family detention centers opened when Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama. While running for president, Biden pledged to release detained families.
The Biden administration has already released several families seeking asylum who had been detained for a year or longer in Texas and in some cases came within hours of deportation. Those families will pursue their cases while remaining subject to ICE monitoring.
In his early days, Biden has confronted increasing numbers of families and unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to shortages of space in Border Patrol holding cells and long-term facilities for children operated by Health and Human Services. In the case of the Border Patrol, hundreds of children in recent weeks have been detained longer than 72 hours, the general limit set by the agency’s standards.
Biden stopped the practice initiated by former President Donald Trump of expelling unaccompanied immigrant children under public health authority. Officials expelled thousands of children to their countries of origin without giving them a chance to seek asylum or other protections under federal law.
The Biden administration continues to expel immigrant families and adults.
The US to open more beds for immigrant children as numbers rise
HOUSTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is instructing long-term facilities that hold immigrant children to lift capacity restrictions enacted during the coronavirus pandemic to open up much-needed beds in a system facing sharply increasing needs.
A memo issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells service providers to “temporarily increase capacity to full licensed capacity … while implementing and adhering to strict COVID-19 mitigation measures.” It’s not immediately clear how many beds will come available beyond the roughly 7,000 that were online last month. HHS’ fully licensed capacity was over 13,000 beds late last year.
Some facilities have reduced their capacity by as much as half during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, hundreds of children waiting to be placed in HHS’ system are being detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in tent facilities or large, cold cells unequipped to hold minors. Images and stories of packed Border Patrol cells in 2018 and 2019 sparked outrage, with accounts of families and young children fending for themselves without adequate food and water.
Lifting pandemic-related caps could increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus within HHS facilities, especially as far more children enter the system. But the organizations that run HHS facilities and some advocates have pushed for more beds to made available if done safely, rather than the alternative of keeping kids in Border Patrol facilities longer or placing them in costly, unlicensed emergency centers.
“Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no 0% risk scenario, particularly in congregate settings,” says the memo, first reported by CNN. “Therefore, ORR facilities should plan for and expect to have COVID-19 cases.”
HHS has previously authorized facility operators to bill the government for travel expenses when a child is released to a parent or other sponsor. Some families cannot easily afford the hundreds of dollars to fly a child and a guardian, and disputes over payment can sometimes delay a child’s release for several days.
Agents are apprehending around 400 children a day unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, a sharp increase since last month. There are concerns that those numbers will continue to rise.
Biden ended a practice under former President Donald Trump of expelling unaccompanied children under a public-health declaration enacted during the pandemic, though his administration continues to expel immigrant families and adults. Some former Trump administration officials have accused Biden of inspiring immigrants to try to enter the U.S. illegally, even though the numbers under Biden have not approached their peak under Trump.
The practice of expelling children was sharply criticized and often returned them to dangerous situations without having given them the chance to seek asylum or speak to a lawyer. The Associated Press has reported that the underlying public-health declaration was issued under pressure from former Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump issued a statement Friday alleging that the “border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden.”
“We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane but ineffective over the last four years,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded Friday. “We’re going to chart our own path forward, and that includes treating children with humanity and respect and ensuring they’re safe when they cross our borders.”
In recent days, Biden has also been criticized by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans for the release of immigrant families in South Texas. Border authorities have stopped expelling families with young children out of some Texas cities due to a policy change in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state. In several cities, local governments and advocacy groups test newly released families for COVID-19 and direct those with the virus to shelters or hotel rooms set aside for them.
Bill to rebuild trust between immigrants and law enforcement
A bill that would prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status and end police cooperation with ICE in Maryland drew emotional testimony from immigrants, advocacy groups and lawmakers on Wednesday.
Referred to as the Trust Act by some, SB0088 and HB0304 would end the federal 287(g) Criminal Alien Program in participating jurisdictions, prevent law enforcement from asking about immigration status and protect immigrants from ICE in sensitive locations, such as schools, courthouses and hospitals.
The 287(g) Criminal Alien Program allows ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement to deputize officers as federal immigration agents.
This bill, which would end those agreements in Maryland, is extremely important to build trust between the police and community. Immigrants shouldn’t be afraid to report a crime, said Del. Wanika Fisher, D-Prince George’s, a sponsor of the bill.
“When one community doesn’t feel safe with law enforcement and participating, it affects everyone,” Fisher said.
Three Maryland jurisdictions participate in the 287(g) program: Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties.
These jurisdictions argue that this bill poses a threat to public safety. Asking for someone’s location of birth is a routine part of processing information, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, R, said.
“Part of public safety is identifying who you’re bringing into custody and whether other jurisdictions want them and what kind of criminal history they have,” Gahler said in an interview with Capital News Service.
There’s no reason law enforcement officers shouldn’t be allowed to notify ICE if someone is here illegally, Gahler said.
People call it the Trust Act for a reason, said Cathryn Paul, research and policy analyst at CASA, the largest immigrant services and advocacy organization in Maryland. Immigrant families do not trust the police or the government, Paul said.
The 287(g) program allows local officers to turn into ICE agents when they have minimal training, almost no oversight or accountability and many aren’t bilingual, Paul said.
“The police should not be playing ICE. The police should not be acting as ICE agents in any way,” Paul said.
Policies like this will lower crime rates because it establishes trust and encourages immigrants to report crimes, Paul said. Immigrants have been keeping the country afloat during the pandemic; lawmakers must take action to support them, Paul said.
However, Richard Jurgena, a retired Navy officer and resident of Darnestown, Maryland, said in his written testimony last year that the Constitution is the law of the land. He pointed to the bill’s fiscal and policy note under “Current Law” that begins with “While immigration is controlled by federal law,” to prove that immigration cannot be separated from the federal government.
The law is the law, those opposed to the bill have said.
Much of the testimony, however, argued that undocumented immigrants are anything but criminals.
Busloads of asylum seekers arriving in Tucson amid pandemic
Busloads of asylum seekers have started to arrive in Tucson, Arizona, for the first time since President Joe Biden began reversing border policies implemented by former President Donald Trump, city officials said.
Less then 200 people arrived this week, most from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, after being released by Border Patrol in Yuma, The Arizona Daily Star reported Friday.
Tucson officials say asylum seekers are staying a couple days in the city before traveling to live with friends and families in other cities while their asylum claims are processed.
Councilman Steve Kozachik, who helped lead efforts to care for asylum seekers in 2019, said the city is “on the cusp” of seeing a large increase in migrants
The Border Patrol released thousands of asylum seekers in 2019 to volunteer-managed shelters in Tucson, many of whom came from countries in Central America. The Daily Star reported then that some migrants spoke about fleeing gangs that were trying to recruit their children, widespread corruption and other issues.
Hundreds of volunteers worked to support those seeking asylum until the Trump administration cut off access to the shelters in 2020, forcing migrants to spend months waiting in border towns like Nogales, Mexico.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the main difference now is the pandemic, which has forced asylum seekers to follow additional requirements such as taking rapid COVID-19 tests and adhering to space restrictions.
Huckelberry said the Casa Alitas shelter, the main housing effort in Tucson that collaborates with the city and Pima County, held 250 people in 2019 and is now restricted to 65.
Diego Piña Lopez, program manager at the shelter, said so far resources are not strained at the shelter, but volunteers are preparing to reach capacity.
Huckelberry said county officials have asked for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency like one that is being used in San Diego to rent hotel rooms for asylum seekers. It has not yet been approved.
Kozachik said housing migrants could provide much-needed business to hotels and restaurants struggling as a result of the pandemic. He also called for a “productive response” from several federal lawmakers, including Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema.