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Archive for February, 2009

By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN – Associated Press

ALAMO, Texas (AP) — The citizenship of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who insist they are Americans is being called into question because they were delivered by midwives near the U.S.-Mexico border. The federal government’s doubts have arisen as many people in the border region try to meet a June 1 deadline to obtain U.S. passports so they can freely cross from one country to the other.

The people delivered by midwives have documents such as birth certificates and medical records. But the agency that grants passports is challenging the credibility of those papers, citing a history of some midwives fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American.

The passport applications being questioned include those of children of Mexican women who crossed the border to give birth in the United States, and even employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency who were born on the border and now work to protect it.

The government has “effectively reduced to second-class citizenship status an entire swath of passport applicants based solely on their being of Mexican or Latino descent and having been delivered by midwives in nonhospital settings in Southwestern border states,” according to a federal lawsuit against the State Department filed last year in the border town of McAllen, about 120 miles south of Corpus Christi.

Immigration attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union hope to have the case certified as a class action because they believe thousands of people could be affected, with most still living near the border.

Since 1960, 75 Texas midwives have been convicted of fraudulently registering Mexican-born babies as American. At one point, the government assembled a list of nearly 250 “suspicious” midwives but never explained what made them suspicious.

State Department spokesman Andy Laine declined to comment because of the litigation. The agency also declined to release statistics on passport application refusals.

After June 1, anyone re-entering the United States from Mexico or Canada will have to show a passport, not just a driver’s license and birth certificate, which are the only current requirements.

For families who have lived in the area for generations, the border is just a river in the middle of one community. Many people live on one side of the border and work on the other.

“Going back and forth is as natural for them … as going across town is for the rest of us,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU in Texas.

If the lawsuit is not resolved before June 1, families “will have to choose if you’re going to live in Mexico or you’re going to live in the U.S. You won’t be able to cross,” said Lisa Brodyaga, the immigration attorney who filed the lawsuit against the State Department.

Anna Karen Ramirez had to sue the State Department to get her passport, even though she had a birth certificate, medical records and receipts from her 1989 birth at a clinic in Hidalgo, just south of McAllen. She also had signatures of two police officers who witnessed the event.

Ramirez’s parents lived in Mexico and raised their daughter there. But they decided to have their child in the United States.

With the deadline looming, and the State Department suspicious of her citizenship, the family met several times with U.S. consular officials to obtain a passport, but their request was refused.

Ramirez’s father, Narciso, drives a taxi back and forth across the border every day. He said he was warned that the family’s dogged pursuit of the matter could threaten the visa that allowed him to operate his cab.

Anna Ramirez sued, and while waiting, voted unchallenged in the U.S. presidential election. A month later, she received her passport but never got a clear statement of citizenship.

“Every 10 years she’s going to have to prove she’s a U.S. citizen” to renew her passport, said her attorney, Naomi Jiyoung Bang.

The State Department practices are “a holdover from an older, less-regulated world,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more restrictive immigration laws. “It’s what happens when modern standards collide with old country practices.”

Krikorian said the government cannot just believe everyone, nor can it turn down everyone delivered by a midwife.

Because Ramirez is young, her parents were able to find documents the government requested. The midwife who delivered her was still alive and able to testify. They could also afford to hire an attorney to help.

David Hernandez had a harder time locating evidence.

He was born in San Benito, Texas, in 1964, to a Mexican mother who was visiting friends when she went into labor. Hernandez was delivered by a midwife who appeared on the suspicious midwife list, though without a conviction. He returned to Mexico with his mother.

The two moved back to the U.S. a few years later. He attended schools in Texas and served in the Army.

In response to government requests, he collected mounds of documentation including papers from his military service, immunization and baptismal records, and witness affidavits. When he requested his school records, he was told that his elementary school papers no longer existed.

In April 2008, the government refused his passport application.

“I was born here,” he said last fall when the ACLU took on the case. “I’ve lived and worked here and served in the Army. I feel betrayed, like my country is stabbing me in the back just because my mother didn’t have the luxury of having me in a hospital.”

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Some states, cities and counties that plunged into the immigration debate are having second thoughts.

In Texas, Alabama and elsewhere, lawmakers have repealed or modified measures that cracked down on illegal immigrants or made English the official language. In Iowa and Utah, legislators are proposing similar reversals.

They cite various reasons, including the time and expense of fighting legal challenges, the cost of implementing the measures while tightening their budgets and the barrage of publicity and accusations of racism that come with such laws.

“For us to spend our time pitting neighbor against neighbor was a sacrilege,” says Judith Camp, a city councilwoman in Oak Point, Texas, about 35 miles north of Dallas, who voted to kill the city’s English-only resolution in December. The measure, adopted in 2007 on a 3-2 vote, was rescinded on a 3-2 vote. “We’re just a tiny little city and we were getting a lot of negative publicity.”

Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, which analyzes immigration trends and policies, says some states and communities are “taking a more skeptical view” of immigration laws because of the legal costs and attention.

Most state and local laws that passed as federal reform failed remain in place, and some communities have mounted expensive campaigns to keep them. Farmers Branch, Texas, has steadfastly defended its ordinances despite legal challenges and public protests.

Chishti nonetheless expects more lawmakers to reconsider.”The cost of enforcing and defending these ordinances is enormous,” he says. “The appetite for these things is going down.”

Rob Toonkel, spokesman for U.S. English, a group that wants to make English the official language of the USA, counters that English-only proposals remain popular. Thirty states have such laws, he says, and there are far more states and communities proposing new laws than attempting to repeal them.

“The momentum is still on the side of assimilation,” he says.

In Iowa, Democratic state Rep. Bruce Hunter wants to repeal a law that makes English the state’s official language and requires most government documents to be in English. “It’s really sent out the wrong message about the state of Iowa,” he says.

The Madison County (Ala.) Commission last August toned down a policy that requires businesses bidding for contracts to sign a pledge saying they don’t knowingly employ illegal immigrants. The change was part of a settlement with a company that was late in submitting the pledge and did not win the contract.

The new pledge no longer says county officials can inspect contractors’ personnel records.

“I would prefer it to be much stronger,” says Commissioner Mo Brooks, author of the original policy. After studying legal opinions and federal law, though, the commission had no other choice, he says.

In Utah, two legislators, one from each party, have proposed delaying implementation of a law set to take effect in July. The bill’s provisions include a requirement that government agencies check the legal status of new hires against a federal database.

Republican state Rep. Stephen Clark, author of one proposal, wants to delay the bill for a year to study the economic impact of illegal immigrants on the state.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, supports a delay, says spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.

“We are in the process of making major cuts all across the board in government, including public education,” says Clark, who puts the cost of implementing the immigration law at $1.7 million. “We believe now is not the time to invest that money into this issue, especially when we don’t know whether illegal immigration is a financial plus or minus to the state.”

In Farmers Branch, legal bills haven’t kept the city from sticking with its immigration law. Farmers Branch has spent $1.6 million so far to fight lawsuits challenging its effort to prevent illegal immigrants from renting apartments and houses, says finance director Charles Cox. In one case, it will have to pay up to $900,000 in plaintiffs’ legal fees.

The $1.6 million represents 1.5% to 2% of the city’s budget, but residents approved one of its ordinances with more than two-thirds of the vote and want lawmakers to fight, Cox says.

“We can certainly find other uses for the money,” he says. “By the same token, the residents have made their voices heard that this is a priority.”

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According to the Immigration Customs Agency, ICE, “A woman from the Bay Area community of Walnut Creek, Calif., faces up to 50 years in prison after being indicted by a grand jury on a variety of charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations she abused a female domestic servant she held against her will in her home, threatening her, failing to pay her wages and rationing her food.

Last week, a federal grand jury returned a five-count superseding indictment charging Mabelle de la Rosa Dann, 45, with criminal violations of forced labor, unlawful conduct regarding documents in furtherance of servitude, visa fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, and harboring an illegal alien for private financial gain. The indictment states the victim worked for Dann from July 2006 through April 2008.

According to court documents, Dann conspired to commit visa fraud to obtain a visa for the victim so she could enter the United States and work as a domestic servant for Dann. The indictment alleges Dann confiscated the victim’s visa, passport and other identification documents so she could maintain control over her. Moreover, the court document claims the defendant allegedly threatened to harm the victim if she failed to continue working for her.” ICE, Feb. 9, 2009.

Bay Area woman suspected of abusing her domestic servant faces forced labor and servitude charges

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In the case of Rodriguez v. Rutter, Rodriguez’s complaint alleged that, by instructing him to remove his “Ciudado” sign and citing him for a misdemeanor offense, the deputies violated his right to freedom of speech and caused him to be maliciously prosecuted for the display of an unauthorized sign.” Rodriguez v. Rutter, Feb. 9, 2009.

The Fifth Circuit ruled, “We conclude that Rodriguez’s complaint, liberally construed and with all reasonable inferences drawn in his favor, states claims upon which relief may be granted.

Fifth Circuit on First Amendment

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“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today clarified that it continues to be unable to approve any Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, filed for a child to be adopted from Cambodia.

Also, the Department of State (DOS) has advised USCIS that DOS has determined that Cambodia is not currently meeting its obligations under The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention).

As a result, DOS consular officers cannot issue the required Hague Adoption Certificate or Hague Custody Declaration. Therefore USCIS is unable to approve any Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, filed for a child to be adopted from Cambodia at this time.” USCIS, Feb. 11, 2009.

STATUS OF CAMBODIAN ADOPTIONS

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“EXPIRATION OF TWO EMPLOYMENT VISA CATEGORIES – Effective March 7, 2009

Employment Fourth Preference Certain Religious Workers: Pursuant to Section 2(a) of the Special Immigrant Nonminister Religious Worker Program Act (Pub. L. No. 110-391), the nonminister special immigrant program expires on March 6, 2009. No SR-1, SR-2, or SR-3 visas may be issued overseas on or after March 6, 2009.

Visas issued prior to this date may only be issued with a validity date of March 5, 2009, and all individuals seeking admission as a nonminister special immigrant must be admitted (repeat, admitted) into the U.S. no later than midnight March 5, 2009. *

Employment Fifth Preference Pilot Categories(I5, R5): Pursuant to Section 144 of the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 (Public Law 110-329), the immigrant investor pilot program will expire on March 6, 2009. No I5-1, I5-2, I5-3, R5-1, R5-2 or R5-3 visas may be issued after March 6, 2009.

The initial cut-off dates for the categories mentioned above have been listed as “current” for March. If these categories have not been extended based on legislative action those cut-off dates will become “unavailable” effective March 7, 2009.”

VISA BULLETIN FOR MARCH 2009

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By Attorney Nikiki Bogle

The entertainment industry inevitably intersects with U.S. immigration law in several instances.  The composition of the entertainment category is extensive and includes but not limited to:  singers, songwriters, performing artists, actors and musicians. 

For artists, entertainers, singers or musicians, the visa options for their profession include the following: O and P Work Visas.  Both visa types are explored in depth as to the immigration requirements and documentation to support the O and P visas.

O WORK VISA: 

Extraordinary Ability in the Field of Arts

 

“EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY IN THE FIELD OF ARTS” is defined
differently for artists than it is for those in the fields of science,
education, business, and athletics.

“Extraordinary ability” for artists is defined as distinction.

Distinction means a “high level of achievement in the field of arts
evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above
the ordinary encountered to the extent that person described as
prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.”
8 C.F.R. section 214.2(0)(3) (ii).O-1 visa artists must be recognized as being prominent in his or
her field demonstrated by:A.  Has been nominated for, or has received significant national
or international awards or prices such as an Academy Award, an
Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award; OR B.  Artist must show at least three of the following forms of
evidence.  You must show that you:

1.     Have or will perform as a lead or starring participant
       in productions or events which have a distinguished
       reputation (as evidenced by critical reviews,
       advertisements, publicity releases, publications
       contracts, or endorsements);
or
       other recognized experts in the field
in which artist
       is engaged (such testimonials must clearly indicate the
       author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the
       alien’s achievements);

 

C.  Consultation Requirement

Consultation with an appropriate peer group, labor and/or
management organization regarding the nature of the
proposed work and the beneficiary’s qualifications is
mandatory before an O petition can be approved. “Peer
group” means a group or organization comprised of
practitioners of the beneficiary’s occupation. This
requirement may be especially important in the arts,
entertainment fields or athletics. Advisory consultations are
labor consultations, unless no appropriate union exists. In
the latter situation, employers may submit an advisory
opinion from an individual expert in the field, a peer group,
or management organization that describes the
beneficiary’s ability and achievements, the nature of the
duties to be performed, and whether the services require
someone of extraordinary ability.

2.     Have achieved national or international recognition
       for achievements (as evidenced by critical reviews
or
       other published materials by or about the individual in
       major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or
       other publications);

3.     Have performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring
       or critical role for organizations and establishments
       that have a distinguished reputation (evidenced by
       articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications or
       testimonials);

4.     Have a record of major commercial or critically
       acclaimed successes (as evidenced by such indicators
       as title, rating, standing in the field, box office
       receipts, motion picture or television ratings, and
       other occupational achievements reported in trade
       journals, major newspapers or other publications);

5.     Have received significant recognition for achievements
       from organizations, critics, government agencies,

6.     Have commanded or now commands a high salary or
       other substantial remuneration for services in relation
       to others in the field (as evidenced by contracts or
       other reliable evidence);

7.     Other comparable evidence of prominence (this would
       be very strong letters from other well-known artists or
       professionals in your field).

 P WORK VISA:  Artists, Musicians, Entertainers

 The P visa category covers athletes and entertainers who do not
qualify under the “extraordinary ability” standards of the O visa.  
The only other category under which athletes or entertainers may
be admitted to the U.S. is the H-2B visa, which requires the more
lengthy process of obtaining a labor certification.

 

P VISA CATEGORY

P-1 visas are available to internationally recognized athletes,
athletic teams, and entertainment groups.  P-2 visas are available
to artists or entertainers, either individually or as a group, who
perform under a reciprocal exchange program between the U.S.
and another country.  P-3 visas are available to artists or
entertainers who come to the U.S. either individually or as a group
to develop, perform, teach or coach in a culturally unique event.  
P-4 visas are available to accompanying relatives of P-1, P-2 and
P-3 visa holders.

P Visa Privileges:
• Visas can be issued quickly.
• You may travel freely in and out of the U.S. for the term of
 the visa.
• Visas are available to essential support personnel of all P
 visa holders.
• Visas may be issued to accompanying relatives, but they
 may not work or study.
• You do not have to prove that you intend to return to your
 home country residence when your business in the U.S. is
 completed.
• You may apply for permanent residence while in P status.

Prerequisites and Restrictions:  P-1, P-2 and P-3 Visa


• You must be coming to the U.S. to participate in a
particular event, tour or season.

• Individual entertainers are not eligible for P-1 visas.

• P-1 visa holders must have international reputations.
(Inapplicable to circus groups; waivers are available for
certain entertainment groups with national reputations.)

• P-1 entertainment groups must be “outstanding” for a
“sustained and substantial period of time”.

• Seventy five percent of P-1 entertainment group members
must be part of the group for at least one year.
(Inapplicable to all P-1 support personnel and circus
performers; waivers available, e.g., in case of illness or
unanticipated circumstances, or a new critical member of
the group.)

• Specific and detailed evidentiary requirements must be
met regarding international or national reputation (P-1);
reciprocal exchange programs (P-2), and culturally unique
groups (P-3).

• Letters of no objection or advisory opinions must normally
be obtained from U.S. peer groups, labor organizations, or
management organizations to obtain principal and support
P visas.

• You are restricted to working for the employer who acted
as your sponsor.

 

P3 WORK VISA: 

Artists, Musicians, Entertainers of “Culturally Unique Groups”

 

The most appropriate visa for a person who performs as an artist
or entertainer, in an individual capacity or as part of a group
where such a person is an integral part of the performance and is
planning to enter the United States temporarily and solely to
perform, teach or coach in a program that is culturally unique
is referred to as the “P-3″ visa.

P-3 Visa

The P-3 visa is filed by a sponsoring organization or U.S.
employer for foreign persons who wish to perform, teach or coach
in a commercial or noncommercial program that is “culturally
unique.” A culturally unique program is one which the:


(1) artist or entertainer has achieved excellence in developing,
interpreting, representing, coaching or teaching a unique or
traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical or artistic
performance; and

(2) the artist or entertainer is coming to the U.S. to promote and
facilitate that art form.

TWO MAJOR REQUIREMENTS:

 

First, it must be demonstrated that the persons have achieved
excellence in their field; AND

Second, the artist’s trip is for the sole purpose of promoting and
facilitating the art form.

 

(1). The person/s have been involved in a culturally unique
program for a substantial period.

(2). The person or group has achieved national or
international recognition or acclaim.

(3). The person/s or group/s skills are authentic and
excellent as attested through letters, expert opinions or
testimonials.

(4). The majority of the performances will be culturally
unique events.

It is also necessary to note that if there exists more than one
geographic area in which the Beneficiary will perform, there must
be a submission of the itinerary. If the agent of the group is the
Petitioner, there must be submission of the itinerary and the
contract.

 

The P-3 visa is not as common in comparison to the many
employment based / nonimmigrant visas in the United States.
There is a burden to prove that the performers are highly
respected and well-known in their field of art. It is also necessary
to prove that the artist or troupe will be working within the context
of a culturally unique program.

These requirements seem fairly straightforward. However, there is
documentation that is required to substantiate the claims that the
person is acting in the context of a culturally unique program. The
necessary documents must establish the following:

 

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According to the Women’s Refugee Commission Report:

First in-depth investigation into conditions of care since transfer of custody to ORR in 2003

February 4, 2009 (Washington, D.C.) — Conditions of care for unaccompanied immigrant children in the custody of the U.S. government have markedly improved over the last six years, but more must be done to protect the safety and basic rights of these vulnerable children, cautions the Women’s Refugee Commission in its new report, Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody.

In 2007, the Women’s Refugee Commission and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP embarked on a landmark study to assess the conditions of care and confinement for children in immigration proceedings without a parent or guardian and to determine the effectiveness of a 2003 transfer of custody from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The resulting report is based on the findings of visits between April 2007 and February 2008 to more than 30 programs operating under ORR’s Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), three facilities where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains children and three Border Patrol stations. The Women’s Refugee Commission and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe interviewed staff, attorneys, advocates, social workers and more than 200 children.

“Unaccompanied children are some of the most invisible and vulnerable migrants,” said Michelle Brané, Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Detention and Asylum Program. “They have little understanding of what is happening to them, and the majority are repatriated to their home country without so much as an evaluation to determine whether they have a fear of return. The U.S. government has a special responsibility to provide for and protect unaccompanied children crossing into our country.”

In 2007, more than 90,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended along the southern border of the United States. Most were returned to Mexico (the country of nationality of the majority of these children), some were reunited with family and approximately 8,000 children were placed in immigration proceedings and in U.S. custody.

Many of the children who are apprehended are fleeing persecution, gang violence, sexual abuse or abandonment. Others come to reunite with family members who are already in the U.S., or to seek a better life for themselves. An increasing number are victims of traffickers and smugglers. All are highly susceptible to rape and assault during their arduous journey to the U.S.

In an effort to separate prosecution from care, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 placed authority for immigration enforcement in the hands of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and responsibility for children’s care and housing decisions with ORR. In March 2003, ORR created DUCS to implement a more child welfare centered model of care.

The Women’s Refugee Commission was pleased to see that improvements have been made in the treatment of vulnerable unaccompanied children in the last six years and commends ORR for their cooperation with our evaluation.

“Some children are now placed into foster care, and most of the children in DUCS custody reside in more child-friendly shelters and group homes,” said Brané. “These children enjoy better medical and mental health care and educational services than before, and many more are reunified with parents or relatives while they await a decision in their immigration case. However, we’ve found that the transfer of custody is not yet complete and challenges remain for ORR.”

“ORR has more than twice as many children in its care than at the time of the transfer,” said
Rene Kathawala, pro bono coordinator of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “As the number of children in the system has increased, some DUCS sites have become more institutional in nature. And while many facilities do provide excellent care to the children, there are also a number of sites where policies and procedures are not being met, where children may be subject to overly harsh disciplinary techniques and where services are lacking.”

A lack of effective oversight contributes to inconsistencies in service delivery and delays in addressing grievances and safety concerns. Furthermore, said Kathawala, “DUCS shares confidential information from children’s case files with DHS in conjunction with court proceedings and when children are released. DHS can then use this information against children in court and to re-detain released children with their parents.”

In addition, although DUCS is the legal custodian for unaccompanied children, the report also found that DHS exercises significant and inappropriate influence over their custody and care, including retaining custody of some children whom the Women’s Refugee Commission considers unaccompanied-and who therefore should be transferred to DUCS within 72 hours of being apprehended.

“Moreover, children in DHS custody for any length of time are housed in inappropriate and unsafe conditions in Border Patrol stations, juvenile detention centers and, at times (as a result of flawed age determination procedures) in adult detention facilities,” said Brané. “DHS serves as gatekeeper in deciding which children will be transferred to DUCS, and when. And because DHS has not adequately responded to our inquiries about children in their custody, we don’t know the total number detained or their whereabouts. This is clearly an area of significant concern.”

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-34/CA) shares these concerns. In a few weeks, she will re-introduce the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act. The legislation will require DHS to provide independent licensed social workers at the majority of Border Patrol stations so that children are informed of their legal rights and provided with emergency medical and mental health care, bedding, blankets, recreation and adequate nutrition. It will also ensure that children are kept safe from abuse during transfer to DUCS or upon repatriation and would prevent DHS from co-mingling unaccompanied children with (non-relative) adults or juvenile offenders.

If passed, the legislation will provide the first codified standards of treatment for children during the critical hours and days after they are apprehended by Border Patrol but before they are transferred to DUCS.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has a record of strong advocacy on these important issues, and it looks forward to working with Congress and the new administration to build upon advances made in the quality of care given to this vulnerable population.

According to Brané, “In order for the United States to uphold its responsibilities to children, DUCS, ICE and Border Patrol must take the final steps to complete the transfer of custody and implement monitoring and oversight to ensure that children in custody are safe. We have an obligation to ensure that all unaccompanied children are placed in safe, appropriate settings, have access to legal counsel, and enjoy protection from harm.”

Halfway Home details a few critical areas that warrant significant improvement. Key recommendations follow:

  • ICE, Border Patrol and ORR must clarify the definition of unaccompanied alien child so that no child remains in ICE or Border Patrol custody for more than 72 hours, regardless of criminal history.
  • DHS and HHS must implement the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA)-a major step forward in protecting unaccompanied children which will resolve some of the deficiencies we observed (see the Women’s Refugee Commission’s December 11th statement on the legislation).*
  • To protect their best interest, children in immigration proceedings must be provided with guardians and attorneys. Most children must now represent themselves in court and navigate the complex immigration system on their own-an exceedingly difficult task for anyone, much less a child.
  • DUCS should take steps to enhance internal monitoring and oversight to ensure that sites are in compliance with DUCS policies and procedures and that complaints and concerns are addressed quickly and effectively.
  • An independent agency or organization with expertise in child welfare service delivery should conduct an analysis of the DUCS program and structure, and issue recommendations for a service delivery model that brings the program fully into line with recognized child welfare practices.

–Author, Women’s Refugee Commission at www.womensrefugeecommission.org

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Sunday, February 08, 2009
ERIN STOCK
News staff writer

According to the Birmingham News, Federal immigration authorities are clamping down on illegal immigrants in Alabama and across the Southeast, increasing the number of people detained or deported and more aggressively pursuing illegal aliens who fail to leave the country.

During the federal government’s 2008 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service deported 14,331 illegal immigrants who were picked up in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee – up sharply from 9,842 deportations in 2007 and 4,496 in 2006.

Also in recent months:

A new team of federal agents was formed in Birmingham to track down and detain people in the area who have ignored orders to leave.

A task force with federal and local officials was organized to collaborate on immigration enforcement.

ICE officials began working to expand the agency’s office in Montgomery, while continuing to operate offices in Birmingham, Gadsden and Mobile.

ICE also has trained 60 Alabama state troopers to enforce immigration laws.

These changes came as the state’s immigrant population has risen. According to recent U.S. Census estimates, Alabama had nearly 131,000 foreign-born residents, up 49 percent since 2000. How many are here illegally is uncertain.

Immigration lawyers in metro Birmingham say they are handling more detention and removal cases. In one recent case, ICE detained a former Spain Park High School track captain and his mother, Palestinians living in the U.S. since 1993, who are now on supervised release and facing deportation.

“There’s definitely a crackdown,” said Philip Barr, an immigration lawyer in Birmingham. ICE agents recently showed up at the Shelby County homes of two of his clients who had been ordered to leave years ago, and they detained both women; one had a baby here about four months ago.

Visa violations under the radar:

Lebanon-born Charbel Nader’s green card expired, and in 2001 an immigration judge ordered him to leave the U.S. But he stayed.

Seven years later, Nader was married to a U.S. citizen and living in Homewood when ICE officials asked him to come to the Gadsden office to discuss his case, his attorney said. Nader had filed a stay of his removal order as well as a family petition.

“We weren’t worried about him being detained because we had had these things pending,” said Douglas Cooner, his attorney.

When Nader arrived Dec. 9, ICE agents arrested him for failing to leave the country as ordered.

Since then, Nader also has filed for a visa available for victims of violent crimes who have cooperated with prosecutions. A man fleeing police in Mountain Brook crashed head-on into Nader’s car in 2005, injuring him severely, medical and district attorney records show.

Cooner said Nader is being held in the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, La., and in need of hernia surgery for injuries relating to the wreck.

“Psychologically, he’s at the point of a breakdown,” Cooner said.

Nader’s story is one of many that local immigration attorneys tell of heightened enforcement and stricter detentions.

Birmingham lawyer Kristin Johnson said that in the past, people who overstayed their visas were seldom rounded up. “The enforcement people really had so much to do to get the murderers and the drug dealers and the child molesters into their deportation proceedings.” But she said ICE has become more efficient at tracking people who violate their visas. 

 

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said the agency has become more efficient working with police, too.

Four years ago, ICE had little impact in the area, he said, but now agents respond more quickly. About a year ago, Hoover police dedicated an officer to work with ICE daily on a task force that includes officers from other area law enforcement agencies.

Swept up in crackdown:

At least 2,104 illegal immigrants removed by ICE in the five Southeastern states last year had criminal histories, including charges of murder, domestic violence, sexual assault and robbery.

There also are people like Victor Sosa, a brick mason who lives in Alabaster.

Sosa went to pick up his paycheck one day last fall, as he has for 11 years. Instead of getting paid, he was arrested. ICE agents were waiting at Rodriguez Construction in Alabaster to detain the 40-year-old Mexican and 30 others suspected of working in the U.S. illegally.

Sosa, who sneaked into the United States in 1996 with about 30 other men, has four children; two were born here and are U.S. citizens. He will appeal to an immigration judge to stay in the country based on several claims, including that he has paid taxes for six or seven years and that two of his children have severe medical problems.

Speaking in his native tongue, Sosa said he came to the U.S. to give his children “opportunities that we didn’t have in Mexico – like to study and have a good life.”

Illegal immigrants in the area who have no other record of illegal activity, like Sosa, increasingly are being swept up in the immigration crackdown. About 85 percent of the immigrants ICE deported from the five Southeastern states in 2008 were classified as non-criminals, compared with about 24 percent in 2001.

The criminal/non-criminal classification can be misleading, said Philip Miller, acting field office director for ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal Operations in New Orleans.

Most people who have been removed are found through an ICE program that targets criminal aliens in federal, state and local custody, he said. They may not be classified as criminals, however, if they were turned over to ICE before being prosecuted.

Enforcement priorities:

Hoover police contact ICE when they come across someone without papers who committed a violent crime, Derzis said, but generally not for crimes such as public intoxication or shoplifting.

ICE “would receive so many calls, not only from our office but from other police departments, that they would never get to all of them,” he said.

Most undocumented workers in Hoover are not criminals but hard workers trying to find jobs, Derzis said. But the chief said Latino gang members in the area are increasing. Those are the kinds of people that some local law enforcement, elected officials and residents say should be ICE’s priority.

Aggie Hodges, 68, of Alabaster wants stronger enforcement. She would like authorities to set up roadblocks to check for valid driver’s licenses. Hodges, who works from home, has reported suspicious activity at a neighbor’s house where she suspects illegal immigrants live.

“It’s not that I have something against Hispanics, per se,” she said. “I have trouble with illegals’ drug trafficking.”

Shay Farley, an advocate for immigrants, said heightened enforcement is costly during a budget crisis. And an enforcement-only focus, rather than a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, will not work, she said.

Others, such as state Sen. Scott Beason, point to the costs of not enforcing immigration laws. Every illegal alien hired in Alabama takes a job that an Alabama resident no longer can take, he said.

“We’re in tough economic times,” said Beason, R-Gardendale. “We have to enforce the law to do what is best for the people of Alabama.”

Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said the focus should be on rounding up criminals. He called the recent detention of a Palestinian mother and son from Hoover “ludicrous.”

“We need to be concentrating on the criminal elements and the people who break the law and who are a threat to the community,” Petelos said.

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“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reminds its customers that authorization for the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program will expire on March 6, 2009.

Individuals applying under the non-minister category of the program, including family members, must either adjust status to permanent resident or be admitted with an immigrant visa before March 6, 2009.” USCIS, Feb. 4, 2009.

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