The Man Behind Trump’s ‘Invisible Wall’

This summer, as anger over the separation of migrant families at the border boiled over, and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) became a rallying cry for left-leaning Democrats, a number of less scrutinized, more arcane reforms were quietly working their way into the most foundational laws governing U.S. immigration.

One was the establishment of a “denaturalization task force” that pledges to investigate immigration fraud and strip away citizenship in such cases—something that’s historically been reserved for serious criminals or terrorists. Another was a new memo that allows visa officers to deny applications without first requesting more evidence or notifying an applicant.

Then there’s the refugee program, which has been decimated as the administration slashes the level of admissions and redirects its resources to domestic asylum cases—people who have already arrived safely in the United States. And coming soon: a controversial proposed regulation that could prevent immigrants Continue reading “The Man Behind Trump’s ‘Invisible Wall’”

Trump shifts refugee focus away from Middle East and Africa

President Donald Trump’s refugee plan for the coming fiscal year would nearly halve the number of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, according to a report to Congress obtained by POLITICO.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the administration intends to set the refugee ceiling at 30,000 in fiscal year 2019, down from an already-historic low of 45,000 this year. When Trump entered office the ceiling exceeded 100,000.

A related report to Congress proposes regional caps. The administration intends to drop the number of refugees from the Middle East and South Asia — regions that include countries such as Iraq, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan — to 9,000 in fiscal year 2019, down from 17,500 in the current year.

In addition, the maximum number of refugees from Africa would fall to 11,000 in the coming year, down from 19,000.

By contrast, some regions would see increased caps. The Continue reading “Trump shifts refugee focus away from Middle East and Africa”

Trump administration intends to slash refugee cap

The Trump administration will admit no more than 30,000 refugees to the U.S. in the coming year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, down from the current cap of 45,000.

Pompeo announced the lowered ceiling during a press conference Monday at the Department of State headquarters in Foggy Bottom.

Pompeo said the 30,000 cap "must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States" and should not be "sole barometer” to measure the country’s humanitarian efforts.

The hawkish turn demonstrates President Donald Trump’s willingness to push hard-line immigration policies in the run-up to the November midterm elections — even after his controversial “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy led to thousands of family separations and a court order to reunify parents and children.

When Trump took office, the refugee cap stood at 110,000. He lowered that to 50,000, and subsequently to 45,000.

Separated parents would get another chance at asylum under settlement proposal

Migrant parents who failed an asylum screening after being separated from their children at the border would get another chance to seek refuge under a proposed settlement agreement filed Wednesday evening.

The proposed agreement — issued jointly by plaintiffs in three related lawsuits and the Trump administration — outlines a plan to address the asylum claims of parents and children who were split at the border.

Parents who failed an initial interview to determine whether they had “credible fear” to return to their home country, but who remain in the United States, would be granted a new interview under the agreement.

“The reason this is so significant is because when you present yourself at the U.S. border, you get one shot to show you qualify for asylum,” said Sirine Shebaya, senior staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, which represented parents in one of the cases. “And that shot was essentially Continue reading “Separated parents would get another chance at asylum under settlement proposal”

Trump family detention plan challenges court settlement

The Trump administration will forge ahead with a plan to keep migrant families detained together through the course of immigration proceedings, according to a Federal Register announcement Thursday.

The administration will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking that sets standards for the care of families, a step that may terminate the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which governs the treatment of unaccompanied minors in federal custody.

"Legal loopholes significantly hinder the Department’s ability to appropriately detain and promptly remove family units that have no legal basis to remain in the country," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a written statement. "This rule addresses one of the primary pull factors for illegal immigration and allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws as passed by Congress."

The proposed regulation would tackle a key sticking point for detaining families together: a requirement that facilities holding migrant children maintain a state license Continue reading “Trump family detention plan challenges court settlement”

White House to honor ICE ‘heroes’ after family separation fiasco

The Trump White House is planning an event next week to honor federal immigration agents — even as more than 500 migrant children remain separated from their parents after being split apart at the border.

The East Room “Salute to the Heroes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs [and] Border Protection" is scheduled for Aug. 20, an administration official confirmed, in the latest signal that the Trump administration anticipates the midterm fallout from its zero-tolerance border policy very differently than its critics.

The ceremony is ready-made to provoke ire from zero tolerance opponents, some of whom have called for ICE’s abolition.

“Only this White House would give medals for taking thousands of immigrant children from their parents," said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, "and continuing to detain hundreds of orphaned kids in defiance of court order.”

But many Continue reading “White House to honor ICE ‘heroes’ after family separation fiasco”

Judge blocks deportation of eight asylum seekers claiming to flee violence

A federal judge on Thursday blocked the deportation of eight asylum seekers who claimed to have experienced domestic violence or gang threats in their home countries.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in court Thursday that it was unacceptable that the Trump administration had placed plaintiffs in the case — a mother and daughter — on a flight to Central America, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the asylum seekers.

Sullivan, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, ordered the plane apparently carrying the family be re-routed back to the United States, the ACLU said in a related statement.

The D.C.-based judge also suggested Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be held in contempt over the deportation, according to the ACLU.

The case centers on a June decision by Sessions to deny asylum claims from alleged victims of domestic violence and gangs.

The ACLU argued in Continue reading “Judge blocks deportation of eight asylum seekers claiming to flee violence”

Melania Trump’s parents take citizenship oath in New York City

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become citizens, an attorney representing the family confirmed to POLITICO today.

Viktor and Amalija Knavs took the oath of citizenship today in New York City, the attorney said.

The route the couple took to citizenship remains unclear. Michael Wildes, the family’s attorney, has declined to comment on the process, but said in February that they had become permanent residents and were on track to naturalize.

The Knavs’ immigration status has drawn scrutiny amid President Donald Trump’s sustained attack on legal and illegal immigration.

The president in particular has vented about the family-based immigration system, which the administration dubs “chain migration.”

“CHAIN MIGRATION must end now!” Trump tweeted in November after a fatal attack in Manhattan allegedly perpetrated by an Uzbek immigrant. “Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE! Continue reading “Melania Trump’s parents take citizenship oath in New York City”

Sessions rips judge’s decision to restore DACA program

Attorney General Jeff Sessions today blasted a federal judge’s decision to fully restart the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by Aug. 23.

Sessions said the Justice Department will “take every lawful measure” to defend the decision to terminate the Obama-era program, which offers deportation relief to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

"The last administration violated its duty to enforce our immigration laws by directing and implementing a categorical, multipronged non-enforcement immigration policy for a massive group of illegal aliens,” Sessions said.

The Trump administration “simply reestablished the legal policies consistent with the law,” the attorney general added.

D.C.-based U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled Friday that the Trump administration must accept new DACA applications, but delayed the effective date of the ruling to allow time for a possible appeal.

Judge: Trump administration has ‘sole burden’ to locate migrant parents separated from children

A federal judge on Friday made clear that the Trump administration must locate hundreds of deported and released migrant parents who have been separated from their children at the border.

“The reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said during a court conference by telephone. “And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

The Justice Department argued in a court filing Thursday that the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in the case, should use its “considerable resources” to locate the parents.

Sabraw rejected that contention during the conference Friday. “The government has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make this happen,” he said.

The reunification process is an ongoing effort set in motion by a June 25 order by Sabraw that required the administration to join families Continue reading “Judge: Trump administration has ‘sole burden’ to locate migrant parents separated from children”

Judge orders full restart of DACA program

A D.C.-based federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to restart in full the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The decision is the latest legal blow against President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the Obama-era program, which offers deportation relief to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The restart won’t be immediate. U.S. District Judge John Bates said Friday that the order would be delayed until Aug. 23 to allow the government to appeal, but he denied a Justice Department motion to reconsider his earlier decision, saying there were still deficiencies in the administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA.

“The court has already once given DHS the opportunity to remedy these deficiencies — either by providing a coherent explanation of its legal opinion or by reissuing its decision for bona fide policy reasons that would preclude judicial review,” said Bates, “So it Continue reading “Judge orders full restart of DACA program”

Family border arrest levels remain unchanged despite ‘zero tolerance’

The number of families arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border remained steady in July, even after the Trump administration spent months separating parents and children under its controversial “zero tolerance” enforcement strategy.

Roughly 9,300 family members were arrested at the southwest border in July, according to preliminary figures obtained by POLITICO. The level of family arrests remained virtually unchanged in recent months. Border Patrol arrested 9,449 families in June; 9,485 in May; and 9,652 in April.

The figures offer no clear indication that the Trump administration’s decision to prosecute migrant parents acted as a deterrent to illegal immigration, although experts caution against drawing broad conclusions from monthly border arrest data.

“It takes a while for us to really know the impact of changes and policies at the border,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Families fleeing violence or poverty in Continue reading “Family border arrest levels remain unchanged despite ‘zero tolerance’”

Trump administration tells ACLU to find deported parents

The Trump administration on Thursday informed a federal judge that it isn’t responsible for locating deported parents separated forcibly from their children at the southern border.

DOJ said in a court filing that the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit over family separations, should instead take the lead in reunifying deported parents with their children.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others, together with the information that defendants have provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries,” DOJ said.

The administration suggested that the ACLU find out whether the deported parents wish to be reconnected with their children, or whether they waive that option.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has stated repeatedly that no parents were deported without first being given the option to take their children with them. Continue reading “Trump administration tells ACLU to find deported parents”

Trump pushed last year for drastic refugee cuts

President Donald Trump advocated last year for dropping the refugee cap to as low as 5,000 people from 50,000, according to a former administration official – a cut far more drastic than even his most hawkish adviser, Stephen Miller, was pushing for at the time.

Ultimately, the administration settled on restricting the flow of refugees into the U.S. to 45,000 this fiscal year – the lowest since the program officially began in 1980, and less than half the target of 110,000 President Barack Obama set in his last planning cycle.

But the discussion set the terms of the administration’s stance toward refugees. Now the White House’s resident immigrant hawk, Stephen Miller, and a group of like-minded aides are pressing ahead with policies designed to drastically reduce the number of people entering the U.S. both legally and illegally.

They are moving forward despite the blowback they got over their Continue reading “Trump pushed last year for drastic refugee cuts”

Senators grill Trump official on whether deported parents agreed to leave children behind

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official declined repeatedly at a congressional hearing Tuesday to say whether the agency can document that migrant parents captured at the border and deported under the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy were given the opportunity to take their children.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) quizzed Matthew Albence, executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations arm, about a July 25 POLITICO article that reported up to 75 percent of deported migrant parents may never have granted consent for their children to stay behind in the U.S.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly insisted that all migrant parents who are deported are given the opportunity to leave with their children. "The parents always have the choice to take the children with them," Nielsen told Fox News last week. Continue reading “Senators grill Trump official on whether deported parents agreed to leave children behind”

Senators grill Trump official on whether deported parents agreed to leave children behind

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official declined repeatedly at a congressional hearing Tuesday to say whether the agency can document that migrant parents captured at the border and deported under the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" policy were given the opportunity to take their children.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) quizzed Matthew Albence, executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations arm, about a July 25 POLITICO article that reported up to 75 percent of deported migrant parents may never have granted consent for their children to stay behind in the U.S.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly insisted that all migrant parents who are deported are given the opportunity to leave with their children. "The parents always have the choice to take the children with them," Nielsen told Fox News last week. Continue reading “Senators grill Trump official on whether deported parents agreed to leave children behind”

Durbin calls on Nielsen to resign

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) demanded on Tuesday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resign in the aftermath of thousands of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Someone in this administration has to accept responsibility,” Durbin said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue.

Durbin quoted U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who in June ordered the Trump administration to reunite families split apart at the border. Sabraw called the separations “a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making.”

Several Democratic lawmakers have urged Nielsen to resign over the crisis, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who tweeted about it in June.

Nielsen has dodged questions about her role in the “zero-tolerance” border enforcement policy. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she tweeted on July 17. “Period.”

Durbin had the tweet printed on poster board and displayed it during his remarks.

Illegal immigration is a ‘crisis,’ says Trump’s border security boss

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan on Tuesday called illegal border crossings into the U.S. a "crisis" — even as border arrests remain lower than levels in past decades.

Speaking at the 2018 POLITICO Pro Summit, McAleenan cited the shift of the migrant population to children and families in recent years.

He argued that the U.S. immigration system attracts that vulnerable population to trek to the border.

"I would say that’s a crisis," he told moderator Luiza Ch. Savage, POLITICO’s editorial director for cross platform content and executive director of POLITICO Pro Canada.

According to government statistics, arrests along the southern border rose from about 25,000 in October to about 40,000 in May (before falling in June to about 34,000). But that’s well below the rate of monthly arrests in the early 2000s, which averaged above 100,000.

McAleenan also mentioned profits that smugglers in Mexico Continue reading “Illegal immigration is a ‘crisis,’ says Trump’s border security boss”

Regional solution needed for illegal immigration, CBP chief says

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan stressed Tuesday that the U.S. must engage with Mexico and Central America to prevent illegal immigration.

In particular, McAleenan highlighted the value of a "safe third country" agreement with Mexico.

Under such a pact, migrants who pass through Mexico en route to the U.S. first would be required to seek asylum in that country.

"You have to have fundamentally sound legal approaches and good policy [to deal with illegal immigration]," McAleenan said during the 2018 POLITICO Pro Summit. "A safe third country agreement is one way to do it."

POLITICO reported in May that U.S. and Mexican officials had begun talks over such a pact, but it’s unclear how talks will proceed in coming months.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist and vocal Trump opponent, recently won Mexico’s presidential election and will take office Dec. 1.

"I think we Continue reading “Regional solution needed for illegal immigration, CBP chief says”

Child detention process needs to be ‘fair and expeditious,’ says Customs chief

The Trump administration isn’t seeking to detain children indefinitely, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday.

McAleenan was asked at the 2018 POLITICO Pro Summit whether he would put a time limit on detention of children with their parents.

"The process has to be fair and expeditious," he told Luiza Ch. Savage, POLITICO’s editorial director for cross platform content. "I wouldn’t legislate a limit here in sitting with you." But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, he said, aren’t asking for "indefinite detention."

The 1997 Flores settlement agreement limits immigration detention for children to 20 days.

In July, a federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s request to lift that limit, but said some families could be detained together with the parent’s consent.

McAleenan today also urged Congress to rework asylum and human trafficking laws — what the administration calls "loopholes" — to discourage illegal immigration.