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July 10, 2018
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A new bill introduced Tuesday would make first-time illegal border crossing a felony, the Washington Examiner reports.

The legislation, put forward by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), seeks to "set up a huge disincentive" for crossing the U.S. border outside of an official port of entry. The "Zero Tolerance for Illegal Entry Act" would charge first-time offenders with a felony, punishable by a minimum prison sentence of one year and one day. Currently, the offense is classified as a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum six-month sentence.

"It is utterly ridiculous that a speeding ticket and ILLEGALLY crossing the U.S. border can result in the same consequences — a misdemeanor," Black tweeted. She told the Washington Examiner that her bill would discourage migrants from using smugglers to enter the U.S.

In addition to reclassifying illegal crossing, the bill would cut funding from all 400 sanctuary cities and counties across the country, punishing any municipality that opts not to comply with requests from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The funds cut from sanctuary cities would instead go to ICE, Black said.

The bill doesn't currently have widespread support, but Black said she hopes to drum up some GOP co-sponsors who would help bring the legislation to a vote. Read more at the Washington Examiner. Summer Meza

July 9, 2018
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The Trump administration is not on track to meet the court-mandated deadline to reunite separated immigrant families.

Officials have until Tuesday to return children younger than 5 to their parents, but the American Civil Liberties Union said that it looks like "less than half" of those cases will be successfully completed on time, The Associated Press reports.

The Justice Department requested an extension, citing a need to thoroughly identify and vet each migrant parent, but a California judge declined the request, saying only certain cases might qualify for an exception. The ACLU received a list from the government detailing the 102 children under 5 years old who must be reunited by Tuesday, but said that it "appears likely that less than half will be reunited" on time.

The immigrant children, separated from their parents as a result of the administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, have been in government custody while officials criminally prosecute their parents or proceed with asylum requests. The DOJ was instructed to submit a request for possible deadline exceptions by Monday.

"It's extremely disappointing that the Trump administration looks like it will fail to reunite even half the children under 5 with their parent,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told AP. "These kids have already suffered so much because of this policy, and every extra day apart just adds to that pain." Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

July 3, 2018
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Immigrant parents who have been separated from their children by the Trump administration must make a choice: Accept deportation to be reunited with their child, or leave the country without them.

New documents show that there is no option for families to be reunited while they wait for their asylum request to be processed. On the form, obtained by NBC News, detained migrant parents must request to "reunite with my child(ren) for the purpose of repatriation to my country of citizenship," or "affirmatively, knowingly, and voluntarily" request to return without their children, who "will remain in the United States to pursue available claims of relief."

Advocates say this aspect of the zero-tolerance immigration policy may violate international asylum laws, since both options on the form spell out deportation for the adult migrants, rejecting their asylum requests without due process. Some migrants who have already gone through initial asylum screenings are given the form, NBC News reports, meaning their pending asylum cases will be abandoned. Because President Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of migrant families without providing a clear path forward to reunite thousands of children with their parents, migrant parents are now being forced to decide whether to rescind their child's asylum request, too. Read more at NBC News. Summer Meza

June 18, 2018

The horrors of the Trump administration's decision to separate immigrant families at the border can be hard to fathom, even as images and descriptions of the detention facilities circulate the web. On Monday, ProPublica published alarming audio from a facility where children had just been separated from their parents, illustrating the trauma and desperation inflicted by the practice.

In the excruciating recording, children sob and wail for their parents, begging to contact their family members and desperately trying to figure out what's going to happen to them. ProPublica reports that the children are between 4 and 10 years old, and were only separated from their parents for about 24 hours at the time of the audio, which was recorded last week. As many as 30,000 children could be detained by August if the Trump administration continues to separate families at its current pace, a senior administration official said.

The "zero tolerance" policy announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led to hundreds of children being held in facilities where they spend most of the day in cages awaiting placement with temporary foster families or to be picked up by a family member who is legally authorized to live in the U.S.

It's a difficult listen, but the recording demonstrates just how painful these separations are for children and families fleeing violence and instability in their home countries. Listen to the devastating audio below, via ProPublica. Summer Meza

June 13, 2018
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The Department of Homeland Security has launched a new office dedicated to rooting out applicants who are suspected of lying or cheating to obtain citizenship, and they've already referred 95 cases to the Justice Department.

The DOJ will strip immigrants of citizenship and possibly bring criminal charges after the new office identifies people who created fake identities or lied during the application process, The Associated Press reports. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Michael Bars told the Washington Examiner that dozens of lawyers and immigration officers will be tasked with "the civil denaturalization process" in a more coordinated effort. DHS has stripped immigrants of citizenship before, but on a rare basis and only as a small portion of agency duties.

Bars said that 95 cases have already been sent to the DOJ, where a judge will determine whether to denaturalize each immigrant after an in-person interview with immigration officers. More than 2,500 cases have been identified, reports the Examiner. Another official told AP that "a few thousand cases" would be handled to "start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place."

The office will be paid for by the agency's existing budget, which is funded by immigration application fees, but officials declined to say how much the new effort would cost in total. Only about 300 people have been denaturalized since 1990, said an immigration attorney who worried that immigrants who made innocent mistakes on paperwork could be targeted and wrongfully denaturalized and deported. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

June 11, 2018
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared Monday that only immigrants who are victims of crimes perpetrated by the governments of their home countries will be considered eligible for asylum in the U.S.

The move would disqualify tens of thousands of people, reports the Los Angeles Times, particularly victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. Sessions previewed the order in a speech to immigration judges in Washington, claiming that "the asylum system is being abused" and alleging that the "vast majority" of immigrants who apply for asylum are coming to the U.S. with "illegitimate" claims.

U.S. asylum policies, which are mandated by international law, allow people to request entry based on a "credible fear" of persecution in their home countries, whether it be over their race, religion, or political views. Sessions claimed that only about 20 percent of asylum-seekers are actually facing "dangerous conditions," and pledged to decrease the number of immigrants entering the U.S.

His new mandate will be a binding precedent for immigration judges, the Times reports, as officials determine whether an immigrant is a victim of a "private" crime or a governmental one. "The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim," Sessions wrote in the ruling. Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Summer Meza

June 11, 2018
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Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to make it more difficult for immigrants to apply for asylum at the U.S. border.

Sessions announced Monday that he will reframe the interpretation of asylum so that immigration officials don't need to process as many asylum applications. "The asylum system is being abused," Sessions said while speaking to immigration judges in Washington. "The vast majority of the current asylum claims we're seeing are not valid."

The attorney general argued that immigrants often falsely claim that they have a credible fear of returning to their home countries, forcing U.S. officials to process their request per international asylum laws rather than simply sending them away or arresting immigrants who cross the border illegally. Sessions said that there were 5,000 allegedly credible fear asylum requests in 2009, and 94,000 in 2016.

Sessions said that "illegitimate" claims have "buried" legitimate ones, and condemned the "powerful incentives" that have drawn immigrants to the U.S. to plead asylum, arguing that only a small percentage of applicants are "meritorious."

Even though Sessions briefly expressed sympathy for the "difficult, even dangerous conditions" that immigrants flee, he said the U.S. could not "abandon legal discipline." He didn't offer many details on what the changes would entail, but promised that "the number of illegal aliens and the number of baseless claims will fall."

"Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems," he said. Watch his full comments at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

June 7, 2018
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The Trump administration has instituted a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, pledging to prosecute every single person who is found crossing the border without documentation. In order to do that, officials are separating adults from any children who are traveling with them, sending the kids to government shelters or military bases to stay while authorities give clearance to a long-term sponsor who can assume care.

Until that sponsor is located, children are waiting in shelters or sent to temporary foster parents who volunteer to provide transitional care. The New York Times spoke to several temporary foster families, who described the extreme anxiety and uncertainty that migrant children face after being separated from their parents.

One caregiver described the entire process as "horrendous," telling the Times that a 5-year-old boy she is fostering cried himself to sleep for days, keeping drawings of his Honduran family tucked under his pillow. When she had to tell the boy, José, that it was unclear when he would see his parents again, he erupted into "anguish" and fury.

The director of Bethany Christian Services, an organization that is placing migrant children with foster families in Michigan and Maryland, said José's story is sadly typical. Kids who are separated from their parents often have nightmares, anxiety, and stomachaches, she said.

Other foster parents described an inconsolable 3-year-old who is now terrified of being separated from his foster mother, and an 18-month-old girl who is now upset every time she has to leave her foster home. "It's heart-wrenching," said José's foster parent. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

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