The Needs of the Saints: In-Depth Guide to Asylum and Navigating the Crisis of Separated Families

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Rom 12:9-14 (NRSV)

The Chief Concerns about the United States Ability to Contribute to Strangers

  • Public alarm about border threats is incongruent with the most current data, which reports a 46 year low in arrests for border crossings.
  • No efficient plan is in place to reunify 2,300 separated children with their families.
  • The “zero tolerance policy” enacted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 7, 2018 may have resulted in unnecessary, unreasonable, and inconsistent detainments.
  • The process for attending to unaccompanied minors lack sufficient oversight and some of those responsible for the welfare of the minors are not properly trained.
  • Funding for Legal Services for unaccompanied minors is insufficient.
  • ICE does not have sufficient resources to adequately deal with detained families.
  • Legitimate Asylum seekers are being turned away.
  • The Administration does not appear to be able to meet the length of stay requirements mandated by the Flores Agreement and other restrictions on prolonged detention.
  • Deceptive and discriminatory Rhetoric around the immigration situation is increasing polarization and making matters worse

KMS Recommendations

  • Fulfill state and national legal obligations for refugees seeking asylum.
  • Re-establish and expand alternative to detention programs such as the Family Case Management Program which have established success rates.
  • Expedite necessary detention of migrant families and unaccompanied minors.
  • Commit sufficient funding to provide oversight over the fate of unaccompanied minors.
  • Reinstitute ORR funds targeted for the legal representation of minors and others seeking asylum.

CONCERNS IN DETAIL

The guiding motto of Kingdom Mission Society is “Seeing Christ at Work in Others.” In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus reminds Christians that whether we welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, and/or minister to their needs, whatever we do “for the least of these who are members of [Christ’s] family, you did to [Christ].” (Mt 25:31-36) It is in this spirit that we seek prudent means to resolve the ongoing struggle to provide appropriate hospitality to children and their family members who have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for suspicion of crossing the U.S. border illegally. A welcome to migrants is inscribed on our Statue of Liberty has always been fundamental to the good nature of this country and facilitating proper channels for entry has long been the responsibility of the U.S. government.

How does the U.S. Extending hospitality to the Stranger?

Before engaging the current crisis of separated families, it is important to distinguish the many different opportunities to extend hospitality that the United States Government is presented with currently. Individuals migrating to the United States can be classified into at least 9 different categories based primarily upon the circumstances prompting migration. These categories, based upon Designation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and can be found in Appendix A. It is important to note that the U.S. government places caps on some populations (indicated in parenthesis) that are eligible for Lawful Permanent Residences (LPR), but not all populations are limited. Family Based Immigrants, Employment Based Immigrants, Diversity VISA Lottery winners, and Worldwide Refugees have yearly caps. Border Refugees Seeking Asylum and other limited Humanitarian populations with other specific designations are not limited. As a guiding generalization, most if not all, Asylum Seekers are not capped and are eligible for a pathway to citizenship. Reports have surfaced of a 9 percent increase in families seeking asylum (2) in FY2017 (Since October 2017) and many asylum-seekers have arrived at ports of entry from the Mexican side of the border only to find backups. (3) Border Asylum seekers are required by US law to be granted asylum when properly applying at a designated U.S. Port of entry.

After June 20, 2018, what will happen to a family who crossed the border illegally?

Based upon the spirit of the law and the most current executive order  (1) issued from the Trump Administration, families are no longer separated but are being detained together indefinitely. When families cross the United States border at a place other than a designated port of entry the entire family is now directed to be detained together as they wait for their cases to be heard in the immigration court system. DHS will maintain custody of children with their families unless the adult poses a risk to the child’s welfare. It is important to note that this policy may result in the separation of parents with prior convictions from their families.

What happens to the families who crossed prior to June 20, 2018?

This is a question many are waiting for the Trump administration to fully answer. The separation policy itself was new and unrefined, and consequently there is currently no clear publicly available plan in place to reunify families who crossed prior to June 20, 2018 and were separated by ICE. More than 2,300 children had been separated from their families prior to June 9, 2018 (5) and all indications suggest the new policy will not be extended to these children who were separated before the executive order. DHS has provided some parents phone numbers to locate their children. Under the old system the separation created a “bureaucratic nightmare.” On Tuesday June 19, 2018, Stephen Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement) indicated that he was unaware of how many separated children have been successfully reunited with parents and guardians.  

What happens to minors who are detained and crossed the border unaccompanied?

Since 2003, children apprehended by DHS officials on suspicion of illegally crossing the U.S. border are initially placed detained in holding centers until being formerly placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and its care provider facilities. This also applies to children that were separated from their legal guardians. According to the ORR, these facilities must meet ORR requirements in order to “provide a continuum of care for children, including foster care, group homes, shelter, staff secure, secure, and residential treatment centers. The care providers operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, and provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.” In order to help unaccompanied alien children access legal representation to the greatest extent possible and practicable, ORR coordinates a legal access project.

What recent reports are a cause for concern?

  • Public alarm about border threats is incongruent with the most current data, which reports a 46 year low in arrests for border crossings.

On occasions to multiple to chronicle, media outlets, and governmental officials have suggested that border crossings are out of control while the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2017 Border security Report suggests that the 310, 531 Illegal Border Crossing Arrests for 2017 marks a 25% decrease from 2016 and 46 year low.

  • No efficient plan is in place to reunify 2,300 separated children with their families.

As of June 21, 2018 a timeline for the reunion of immigrant families remains unclear following the President’s Executive Order. Under previous administrations, when detained children were released within the 20 day maximum allowed by the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, the family members were also released. No reverting to this policy has been indicated.   

  • The “zero tolerance policy” enacted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 7, 2018 may have resulted in unnecessary, unreasonable, and inconsistent detainments.

The zero tolerance policy effectively created a whole new group of unaccompanied minors. Additionally Sessions has stated that Domestic and Gang Violence are not grounds for asylum. Many of these moves have brought legal challenges. DHS figures obtained by the Associated Press suggest that between April 19th and May 31st of 2018 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults  and these figures were not broken down by age, and included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations or possible criminal conduct by the adult.

  • The process for attending to unaccompanied minors lack sufficient oversight and some of those responsible for the welfare of the minors are not properly trained.

According to Steven Wagner’s testimony (6) before the Senate’s Permanent Subcomittee on Investigation, between October and December 2017, the Administration for Children and Families was unable to locate almost 1,500 out of the 7,635 minors that it was charged with monitoring. This comes a year after the 2016 report indicated that due to decreased fingerprinting and other background checks, multiple children had been released into the hands of child traffickers. Some reports indicated children as young as toddlers have been removed from their caregivers and others recount children changing the diapers of younger children after being separated from family members in Texas holding centers. Even though the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about lasting trauma, three centers in Southwest Texas have rapidly been repurposed as “tender age shelters” to care for children that are sometimes under the age of 5. Reports that parents had no idea where their children were after having been separated from their parents.

  • Funding for Legal Services for unaccompanied minors has been restricted

It was reported that sources funded by ORR have told organizations representing unaccompanied minors to discontinue legal services for unaccompanied minors. No word has come as to whether this practice has been reinstituted to deal with the backlog of cases or the new executive order to halt family separations.

  • ICE does not have sufficient resources to adequately deal with detained families

To date only five U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers exist that are properly equipped to handle families. (4) Some families have been known to be housed in hotels and other venues that have not consistently applied Performance-Based National Detention Standards of the ORR.  

  • Legitimate Asylum seekers are being turned away

Guatemalan Asylum Seekers that are approaching U.S. ports of entry in places such as El Paso, TX are being illegally turned away at the border claiming there’s “no room.” Similar reports from Salvadorans approaching the border in Nogales, AZ have been observed. A detailed report of such questionable activities was prepared by Human Rights first. Both Guatamala and El Salvador are countries whose residents may seek Temporary Protected status.

  • The Administration does not appear to be able to meet the length of stay requirements mandated by the Flores Agreement and other restrictions on prolonged detention.

Prolonged periods of indefinite detention are hard on all detainees. It has been reported that migrant adults have committed suicide after lengthy detainment and after separation from family members after being arrested and held in detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for “unlawfully” entering the country seeking asylum from Eritrea and Honduras, respectively. More than 180 detainees since 2003 have died in custody.

  • Deceptive and discriminatory Rhetoric around the immigration situation is increasing polarization and making matters worse

It has been reported that a Family Case Management Program was run by grants from ICE which is under the Department of Homeland Security. This relatively recent program catered to “special populations, such as pregnant women, nursing mothers, [and] families with very young children.” According to GEO group, who runs the shelters, 99 percent of the program’s participants “successfully attended their court appearances and ICE check-ins.” Since January 2016,

Quick Guide to Immigration

Individuals on track to LPRs-

Lawful permanent residents are those who are firmly on a path to permanent U.S. citizenship. Individuals in this category are subject to overall numerical limits and there are also per country limitations on how many can enter from certain countries.

  • Family-Based Immigrants (~480,000)Individuals in this category are either immediate relatives (spouses, children, parents) of U.S. citizens or are those seeking limited availability the family preference system available to other LPRs.
  • Employment-Based Immigrants (~140,000)Foreign nationals with skills beneficial to the U.S. economy who can obtain live and work lawfully in the U.S. and utilize Either temporary VISAs or seek permanent residency.
  • Diversity VISA Lottery (~55,000)Created by Immigration Act of 1990 for immigrants from countries with low immigration rates.
  • Worldwide Refugees (~85,000)These individuals are referred from their home country based upon an inability to return due to a, “well-founded fear of persecution.” They must apply for a green card within a year, but they and their families can become LPRs
  • Border Refugees Seeking Asylum (Unlimited)Those applying at a designated U.S. port of entry upon arrival or within one year of entry who fear or have experienced persecution due to (race, religion, nationality, or political opinion). They may apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum and apply for permanent residence. They are not removable from the U.S., can obtain employment authorization documents (EAD), and require travel authorization.
  • Other Humanitarian Designations (Unlimited)- Battered Spouses/Children, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Enforced Departure, Humanitarian Parole, Victims of Human Trafficking or other crimes, Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting Victims, Forced Marriage Victims,  and Other Special Situations. Some cases are eligible for green cards and/or permanent LPR Designation.

Individuals that ineligible to become Lawful Permanent Residents

  • Foreign Nationals with Temporary Protected Status- Those whose residence in the United States is protected by Department of Homeland Security because their home country is experiencing: ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or an epidemic. (TPS Countries include: El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen) Once granted TPS, an individual also cannot be detained by DHS on the basis of his or her immigration status in the United States. They are not removable from the U.S., can obtain employment authorization documents (EAD), and require travel authorization. Ineligible to become LPRs (Unlimited)
  • Unaccompanied Minors- Individuals under the age of 18 who are not accompanied by a qualified legal guardian and are detained until they can be placed in a stable home. As minors, they are not eligible to be residents/citizens as minors.

Those with criminal behavior and unknown or potentially criminal intent- Migrants accountable to imprisonment or involuntary deportation. Some have been denied previously granted status or appeals for green cards or LPR designation.  

Works Cited

  1. Bolter, Jessica and Meissner, Doris. Crisis at the Border? Not by the Numbers. Migration Policy Institute. [Online] June 2018. [Cited: June 20, 2018.] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/crisis-border-not-numbers.
  2. Schor, Elana. Grim sight’: Migrants await uncertain future at strained Border Patrol facility. Politico. [Online] June 17, 2018. [Cited: June 20, 2018.] https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/17/children-border-separated-family-650867.
  3. Trump, Donald J. Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation. whitehouse.gov. [Online] June 2018, 20. [Cited: June 20, 2018.] https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/affording-congress-opportunity-address-family-separation/.
  4. Lind, Dara. The Trump administration’s separation of families at the border, explained. Vox. [Online] June 15, 2018. [Cited: June 20, 2018.] https://www.vox.com/2018/6/11/17443198/children-immigrant-families-separated-parents.
  5. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Oversight of HHS and DHS Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children from Human Trafficking and Abuse. U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs. [Online] April 26, 2018. https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/oversight-of-hhs-and-dhs-efforts-to-protect-unaccompanied-alien-children-from-human-trafficking-and-abuse.
  6. Cullen, Tara Tidwell. ICE Released Its Most Comprehensive Immigration Detention Data Yet. It’s Alarming. National Immigration Justice Center. [Online] March 13, 2018. [Cited: June 20, 2018.] http://immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/ice-released-its-most-comprehensive-immigration-detention-data-yet.
  7. PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Protecting Unaccompanied Alien Children from Trafficking and Other Abuses: The Role of the Office of Refugee Resettlement . Washington : PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS UNITED STATES SENATE, 2016.

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