Original Articles

Original Articles

Universal Representation: Systemic Benefits and the Path Ahead

This paper describes the genesis and expansion of the universal representation model for persons facing removal from the United States.  This public defender-like system — which takes different forms in different communities – is based on the idea that indigent individuals should be entitled to counsel regardless of the apparent merits or political palatability of their cases.  The paper describes the benefits of such systems, such as a fairer process for persons facing removal, a more just and efficient immigration adjudication system, and strengthened communities. It also considers challenges regarding the criteria for representation, the need for context-specific models, possible restrictions on representation, and expansion to additional populations, particularly non-detained persons. An overarching challenge in “universal” representation models is to choose the category of persons in removal proceedings who are most in need, most deserving, or who will gain the greatest relative benefit from representation.  The paper concludes that the more than 15 existing or soon-to-launch universal representation programs provide a clear picture of the limitations and eligibility restrictions likely to appear as the movement progresses.

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An Overview and Critique of US Immigration and Asylum Policies in the Trump Era

This paper critiques US immigration and asylum policies from perspective of the author’s 46 years as a public servant. It also offers a taxonomy of the US immigration system by positing different categories of membership: full members of the “club” (US citizens); “associate members” (lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees); “friends” (non-immigrants and holders of temporary status); and, persons outside the club (the undocumented). It describes the legal framework that applies to these distinct populations, as well as recent developments in federal law and policy that relate to them. It also identifies a series of cross-cutting issues that affect these populations, including immigrant detention, immigration court backlogs, state and local immigration policies, and Constitutional rights that extend to non-citizens. It makes the following asylum reform proposals, relying (mostly) on existing laws designed to address situations of larger-scale migration:

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, in particular, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should send far more Asylum Officers to conduct credible fear interviews at the border.
  • Law firms, pro bono attorneys, and charitable legal agencies should attempt to represent all arriving migrants before both the Asylum Office and the Immigration Courts.
  • USCIS Asylum Officers should be permitted to grant temporary withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to applicants likely to face torture if returned to their countries of origin.
  • Immigration Judges should put the asylum claims of those granted CAT withholding on the “back burner” — thus keeping these cases from clogging the Immigration Courts — while working with the UNHCR and other counties in the Hemisphere on more durable solutions for those fleeing the Northern Triangle states of Central America.
  • Individuals found to have a “credible fear” should be released on minimal bonds and be allowed to move to locations where they will be represented by pro bono lawyers.
  • Asylum Officers should be vested with the authority to grant asylum in the first instance, thus keeping more asylum cases out of Immigration Court.
  • If the Administration wants to prioritize the cases of recent arrivals, it should do so without creating more docket reshuffling, inefficiencies, and longer backlogs.

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Venezuelan Migration and the Border Health Crisis in Colombia and Brazil

The Venezuelan economic, political and health crisis has triggered an exodus of Venezuelans to countries throughout the region. As of early 2019, an estimated 3.4 million Venezuelans had fled to other countries in the region and beyond. The paper reports on the findings and recommendations from public health missions undertaken in the summer of 2018 to two communities that have received large numbers of Venezuelans: (1) Cúcuta, in the Colombian border state of North Santander, and; (2) Bôa Vista and Pacaraima, in the state of Roraima, Brazil. These studies included interviews with health providers and organizations engaged in the humanitarian response, secondary analysis of grey literature, and data shared by key informants. Surveillance data demonstrated increases in infectious diseases, as well as adverse maternal and neonatal health outcomes among Venezuelans in both North Santander and Roraima. The paper finds that while the Colombian and Brazilian government responses to the immediate needs of Venezuelans have been admirable, they are not sustainable. In particular, there is an urgent need for an expanded humanitarian response to the Venezuelan migrant crisis in the region, particularly to address health needs where surveillance data shows recent and rapid rises in infectious diseases, acute malnutrition, and poor maternal and neonatal health outcomes. It reports that lack of access to preventative and primary care and inadequate funding of life-saving emergency care could result in a health crisis for Venezuelans in Colombia and could impact public health more broadly if not addressed through a more comprehensive and adequately funded humanitarian response. In Brazil, there is a need to invest in integration programs to improve the health and wellbeing of Venezuelans who have fled their country, with sensitivity to the needs of receiving communities, especially those who are underserved, in order to minimize resentment from the local population. This complex and costly process, the paper concludes, will require political will and financial support from neighboring countries, and the international community at large. In the longer term, however, only a resolution of the complex health and humanitarian crisis within Venezuela itself will address these transnational threats to health in the region.

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Paradoxes of Protection: Compassionate Repression at the Mexico–Guatemala Border

This paper analyzes data from migrant shelters — including 16 qualitative interviews with migrants and shelter staff, and 118 complaints of abuse — in the Mexico-Guatemala border region. It documents and analyzes the nature, location, and perpetrators of these alleged abuses. It uses a framework of “compassionate repression” (Fassin 2012) to examine the obstacles that migrants encounter in denouncing abuses and seeking protection. It argues that while Mexican humanitarian visas can provide protection for abuses committed in Mexico, the visas are limited by their temporary nature, by being nested within a migration system that prioritizes removal, and by recognizing only crimes that occur in Mexico. It finds that the paradox between humanitarian concerns and repressive migration governance in a context of high impunity shapes institutional and practical obstacles to reporting crimes, receiving visas, and accessing justice. The paper recommends that the Mexican government address these problems through: 1) further funding for the special prosecutors’ offices that investigate crimes against migrants; 2) the creation of an independent agency that approves and issues humanitarian visas; 3) work permits for humanitarian visa recipients; and 4) allowing complaints to be filed for crimes committed in countries in transit to Mexico.

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Do Immigrants Threaten US Public Safety?

This paper addresses a prominent issue in the US immigration debate; that is, whether immigrants, particularly those without status, are more likely than US natives to commit crimes and to pose a threat to public safety.  It find that immigrants are less likely than similar US natives to commit violent and property crimes, and that communities with more immigrants have similar or lower rates of violent and property crimes than those with fewer immigrants. The few studies on the criminal behavior of unauthorized immigrants suggest that these immigrants also have a lower propensity to commit crime than their native-born peers, although possibly a higher propensity than legal immigrants. Legalization programs, in turn, have been found to reduce crime rates, while increased border enforcement has mixed effects on crime rates. It concludes that a legalization or similar program have more potential to improve public safety and security than several other policies that have recently been proposed or implemented.

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The Effects of Immigration Enforcement on Faith-Based Organizations: An Analysis of the FEER Survey

This paper analyzes the impact of the Trump administration immigration policies on Catholic organizations, presenting the results of CMS’s Federal Enforcement Effect Research (FEER) Survey. It finds that US policies in the Trump era have significantly increased immigrant demand for the services provided by Catholic institutions and, in general, that these institutions have expanded their services in response. However, 59 percent of respondents – the highest total for this question – identified “fear of apprehension or deportation” as “negatively” impacting immigrants’ access to their services. In addition, 57 percent reported that immigration enforcement has “very negatively” or “somewhat negatively” affected the participation of immigrants in their programs or ministries. The FEER Survey illustrates the need for broad immigration reform. It shows that the status quo prevents immigrants from accessing the services they need and it impedes people of faith from effectively exercising their religious convictions on human dignity, protection, and service to the poor and vulnerable.

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Fixing What’s Most Broken in the US Immigration System: A Profile of the Family Members of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents Mired in Multiyear Backlogs

This paper offers estimates and a profile of the 1.55 million US residents potentially eligible for a family-based immigration visa based on a qualifying relationship to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) living in their household.  It finds that this population – which is strongly correlated to the 3.7 million persons in family-based visa backlogs – has established long and strong roots in the United States, with US-born citizen children, mortgages, health insurance, and median income and labor force participation rates that exceed those of the overall US population. The paper offers several recommendations to reduce family-based backlogs.  First, it calls for Congress to pass and the administration to implement legislation that provides a path to LPR status for persons in long-term backlogs. This legislation should: 1) define the spouses and minor unmarried children of LPRs as “immediate relatives” not subject to numerical limits, 2) not count the derivative family members of principal visa beneficiaries against per country and annual quotas, and 3) raise per country caps. The administration should also re-issue the visas of legal immigrants who emigrate each year, particularly those who formally abandon LPR status. Finally, Congress should also advance the cutoff date for the US registry program.

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Bodily Inertia and the Weaponization of the Sonoran Desert in US Boundary Enforcement: A GIS Modeling of Migration Routes through Arizona’s Altar Valley

This paper explores the impact of the US Border Patrol’s strategy of “Prevention Through Deterrence” along unauthorized migration routes in the Sonoran Desert. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) modeling of the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, and an analysis of comprehensive activity logs of the use of clean drinking water along migration routes between 2012 to 2015, it finds that migration routes shifted to increasingly rugged and more dangerous terrain. Coupled with everyday interference with clean drinking water sites provided by humanitarian organizations, this deterrence policy maximizes the physiological harm experienced by unauthorized migrants. It also explains the persistence of mortality of unauthorized migrants, and the increase in the rate of mortality over time. The paper concludes with several policy recommendations for US Customs and Border Protection, including: 1) making interference by border officials and vandalism of humanitarian aid a fireable offense; 2) the formation of a border-wide agency tasked with search-and-rescue and emergency medical response; and 3) ending Prevention Through Deterrence as a nationwide strategy.

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US Undocumented Population Continued to Fall from 2016 to 2017 and Visa Overstays Significantly Exceeded Illegal Crossings for the Seventh Consecutive Year

This paper finds that the US undocumented population from Mexico declined by 1.3 million people from 2010 to 2017, including a decrease of 400,000 from 2016 to 2017. For the first time ever, Mexican nationals constitute less than half of the total US undocumented population. The paper also finds that visa overstays contributed significantly more to the population of newly undocumented residents than illegal border crossers from 2010 to 2017. It recommends that the administration and Congress work together to: 1) provide more resources to the US Department of State for their visa-issuance work and 2) pass legislation to legalize the DREAM-Act eligible population, long-term Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries, and “intending immigrants” with US citizen or lawful permanent resident family members. These findings reveal a disconnect between public discourse on the border wall and empirical data, and argue for more nuanced and evidence-based responses to undocumented migration.

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Is Regular Migration Safer Migration? Insights from Thailand

This paper challenges the assumption within international development programming that regular and orderly migration is also safer for migrants. Based on data collected from Cambodian, Burmese, Laotian, and Vietnamese labor migrants recently returned from Thailand, this paper illustrates the limits of regular migration to provide meaningfully “safer” experiences. It observes that migrant workers who move through legal channels do not systematically experience better outcomes. While regular migrants report better pay and working conditions than irregular migrants, they also systematically report working conditions that do not meet legal standards, and routinely experience contract substitution. Regular migrants also have a higher likelihood of experiencing exploitation, contract breaches, harassment, abuse, and involuntary return. These findings challenge mainstream development discourses seeking to promote safer migration experiences through expanding migration infrastructure. The paper recommends: 1) re-examining the conflation of “safe” with “regular and orderly” migration and advocating for practices that increase migrant safety, 2) focusing on broadening rights offered to migrant workers, and 3) strengthening and expanding oversight of labor standards and migrant regulations.

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