This article uses a multidisciplinary approach — analyzing historical sources, refugee and asylum admissions data, legislative provisions, and public opinion data — to track the rise and fall of the US asylum and refugee policy. It shows that there has always been a political struggle between people who advocate for a generous refugee and asylum system and those who oppose it. Today, the flexible system of protecting refugees and asylees, established in 1980, is giving way to policies that weaponize them.
This paper highlights the importance of legal orientation, screening, and representation to the US immigration system. It proposes that a new administration facilitate legal representation in order to establish a fairer and more efficient removal adjudication system and to place more immigrants on a path to permanent residence and citizenship. As is well-documented, legal assistance can:
- Improve the ability of immigrants to identify and articulate their claims in removal proceedings and produce better-informed case outcomes.
- Increase the efficiency and contribute to the integrity of the removal adjudication system.
- Lead to better-prepared applications for immigration benefits, and thus a more just and efficient legal immigration system.
- Place more non-citizens on a path to permanent residence and naturalization by identifying their potential eligibility for immigration benefits or relief, and, in some cases, their existing US citizenship.
Legal representation and expertise can also contribute to resolving some of the substantial problems that afflict the US immigration system, such as lengthy court and asylum backlogs. In addition, it can identify and help to correct legal and factual errors by immigration adjudicators, and abuses by enforcement officers and private contractors.
The paper’s first section describes federal legal orientation and assistance programs for non-citizens in removal proceedings. The second section discusses the need for large-scale legal screening and representation of US undocumented residents, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries. Its third section examines the proliferation of universal representation programs—supported by states, localities, and private funders—for non-citizens in removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and in summary removal processes administered by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The paper concludes with a series of administrative measures that a new administration could take in its first year to strengthen and expand legal representation. It also outlines longer-term policy recommendations that would require legislation.
This paper offers an historic review of the US refugee resettlement program. It spans the colonial era, to the establishment of the first distinct US admissions policies for persons fleeing persecution in 1917, to the creation of the formal US Refugee Admissions Program in 1980, and to the Trump administrations’ denigration of and attempts to eviscerate the program. It proposes ways that a new administration can rebuild this crucially important program and put it on more secure footing. In particular, it recommends that a new administration:
- Reframe the discourse on refugee resettlement to emphasize its central importance to the nation’s identity and the way it serves the national interest.
- Rebuild the capacity of the federal government to administer the program and the badly depleted community-based resettlement infrastructure that is central to the program’s success.
- Hold emergency consultations with Congress to increase refugee admissions in Fiscal Year 2021, and consult soon after the inauguration with international, state and local, and non-governmental partners to plan FY 2022 resettlement goals, including a robust admissions ceiling and budget.
- Reform and reinvigorate federal consultations with states and localities to ensure their receptivity, capacity and support for refugees, and eliminate the current veto power of states and municipalities over resettlement in their jurisdictions.
- Explore legislative fixes to the refugee admissions process and attempt to depoliticize the process by setting a “normal flow level” that does not require an annual Presidential determination.
- Join the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks to expand the availability of durable solutions for refugees, and encourage other nations to follow the U.S. example of resettling larger numbers of refugees.
Enforcement along the US-Mexico border has intensified significantly since the early 1990s. Social scientists have documented several consequences of border militarization, including increased border-crosser deaths, the killing of more than 110 people by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents over the past decade, and expanded ethno-racial profiling in southwestern communities by immigration authorities. Less attention has been paid to the pervasive and routine mistreatment migrants experience on a daily basis in CBP custody.
This paper traces major developments in border enforcement to three notable initiatives: the “prevention-through-deterrence” strategy, the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Consequence Delivery System, initiated in 2011. Despite the massive buildup in enforcement, CBP has operated with little transparency and accountability to the detriment of migrants. The paper provides an overview of the findings of nongovernmental organizations and social scientists regarding migrant mistreatment while in CBP custody. It then highlights important shifts in migration patterns over the past decade, as well as changes in border enforcement efforts during the Trump administration. It discusses how these transformations affect migrants’ everyday encounters with CBP officials.
The paper concludes by providing specific recommendations for improving CBP conduct. Its core theme is the need to emphasize and inculcate lessons of appropriate police behavior, civil rights, and civil liberties in training and recruiting agents and in setting responsibilities of supervisors and administrators. It offers recommendations regarding important but underrecognized issues, including ending the use of CBP agents/officers as Asylum Officers, as well as better-known issues such as militarization and the border wall.
State and local governments have exercised unusual powers since the early days of the Coronavirus lockdowns, ordering businesses to open and close, the wearing of masks and much else. Amidst it all, renewed activism on immigration issues in some parts of the country has produced measures that offer emergency economic relief and access to health care for immigrants left out of federal programs, especially the undocumented. In other cases, governments have facilitated employment by immigrants considered “essential” from surgeons to farmworkers.
A new featured story from The Marshall Project profiles three families in northeast Ohio who have faced “financial ruin, mental health crises—and even death” after one member of each family was deported. Using extensive analysis of census data from the Center for Migration of New York (CMS), the feature concludes that about 909,000 mixed-status families, those with undocumented and US citizen members, would face financial hardship and risk falling into poverty if their undocumented breadwinners were deported.
We are pleased that the Supreme Court reversed the termination of DACA and found that the way it was done was “arbitrary and capricious.”
This episode of CMSOnAir features an interview with Anna Gallagher, the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC). She explains how CLINIC supports lawyers across the country as they adapt to the fast-paced policy changes of the current administration. She also discusses her concerns about access to asylum on the US-Mexico border and CLINIC’s Estamos Unidos Asylum Project in Ciudad Juarez — a response to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” program.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged many commonly-held perceptions about the United States. We have learned we are not invincible, for one, and are not always the best prepared in responding to crises. We also have an inequitable health-care system, as we lack the medical resources to care for everyone and too many in our country remain without health-care coverage. The other inconvenient truth that the pandemic has revealed is the injustice of our immigration system; we depend upon the labor of immigrants but scapegoat them as the cause of our problems.