Immigration update

Congress delays decision on border wall funding

With a continuing resolution set to expire on December 22, it looks as though Congress will pass another short-term spending bill through February 8 with no additional funding for border walls. President Trump is still calling for $5 billion for additional walls (about 200 miles) but now says he may look to fund it through the Defense Department or other means. Democratic congressional leaders had proposed a “compromise” $1.6 billion for border security (most of which would be for border walls).

Some Democratic members of Congress insist they are funding “fences,” not “walls,” but the difference is semantics as border resident Scott Nicol explains: “Calling a 30-foot-tall concrete and steel monstrosity a fence does not change its nature or impact.” Twenty milesof new walls have already been constructed in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, this year and many more miles are slated to go up in south Texas beginning in February. Calling this construction “pedestrian fences” does not diminish the devastating impacts on landowners, wildlife and tourism. Native lands could also be affected by new funding.

MCC Borderlands Learning Tour participants peer through the border wall from the Mexican desert towards the U.S. (MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas)

BREAKING NEWS: On Dec. 19, a federal judge struck down a Trump administration policy that denied asylum to many victims of domestic and gang violence. The judge ordered those unlawfully deported under the policy be returned to the U.S.

Updates & news

Migrant caravans: More than 5,000 Central American migrants have recently arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. The new arrivals must wait in line behind more than 3,000 asylum seekers already waiting to cross, where migrants run their own queueing system. Chaos erupted in late November when some migrants tried to cross through walls and wire, and U.S. border agents responded with tear gasA federal judge halted a new Trump administration policy denying asylum to those entering between ports of entry. Administration officials are reportedly negotiating with their Mexican counterparts on a plan to have asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed through U.S. courts.

Border walls, waivers: Catholic diocese and butterfly center in south Texas are trying to push back against border wall construction on their properties, but these efforts are likely futile as a 2005 law allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to bypass any law to speed construction. One legal challenge to this waiver of laws was refused by the Supreme Court; another was recently filed. Interior Department analysts were concerned about risks from floods, fires and the severing of wildlife habitat, but these concerns were omitted from a government document about wall construction.

Militarization: Active-duty military troops will remain at the U.S.-Mexico border until at least the end of January 2019. Dozens of miles of barbed wire may remain much longer. President Trump said he will have the military construct border walls if Congress does not provide funding but lawmakers from both parties question the legality of such a plan.

Family separations: A recent 60 Minutes segment gives a good overview of how the chaotic family separation policy played out this past summer. A small number of families are still being separated at the border, though the reasons why are not completely clear.Some parents are separated because they have returned with U.S.-citizen children—the government will not detain citizen children and instead places them in foster care.

Unaccompanied children: A record-high 14,000 immigrant children are in government custody. One reason the number is so high is that immigration officials are arresting adult relatives who come forward to sponsor children if the adults are undocumented. Another is a new strict vetting process. On Dec. 19, officials announced they would suspend this process and allow an estimated 2,000 children to go to sponsors (usually relatives) before Christmas. About 2,800 children are being held at a tent city in Texas where an Inspector General has raised concerns about “significant vulnerabilities.” A New York Times investigation raises questions about profiteering and abuse at 24 youth shelters run by Southwest Key.

Asylum seekers detained, deported: Many asylum seekers who come to the U.S. seeking protection are inhumanely detained for months or years while their cases wind through immigration courts—like this Haitian man who fled violent persecution only to spend two years in a windowless cell. Several migrants who have been denied asylum have been murdered shortly after being deported from the U.S. Santos Chirino was killed months after being returned to Honduras; his children now fear the same fate.

Enforcement: The number of cases pending in immigration courts has reached a record 1.098 million—more than double the number of cases pending just two years ago. The active backlog was already at a record-high level of more than 750,000 cases when recent decisions by the Attorney General put more than 300,000 previously closed cases back on the pending rolls. The Trump administration spent more than twice as much deploying military troops to the border this fall ($72 million) than it has requested from Congress for hiring more judges. More than 60 former judges have called for an end to immigration arrests at courthouses, concerned that victims and witnesses are now scared to come to court.

DACA: In November, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court injunctionpreventing the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on DACA before the lower courts issue decisions. This could happen as early as Spring 2019.

Climate change: A CNN investigative report looks at how droughts in Central America—likely made more frequent by climate change—are a significant driver of migration.

Upcoming events

November 16, 2018 – January 12, 2019Between hope and fear: Photos from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands (Lancaster, Pa.)

April 9-13, 2019: Immigration law training

May 6-11, 2019: Learning Tour: South Texas Borderlands

New resources

World Fellowship Sunday 2019 (January 20)

Border

Asylum

Detention and enforcement

Other

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