ICE’s decision last year to stop allowing most detained immigrants with pending cases before the immigration court on Varick Street in Manhattan to appear at their hearings in person has led to hundreds of cases being postponed as a result of technical issues with the jail’s videoconferencing system.
Data obtained by WNYC shows that, in fiscal year 2018, a total of 316 hearings held before immigration judges in the Varick facility had to be rescheduled as a result of malfunctions with the video calls. They are used to allow immigrants to appear remotely from the jails where they’re held in New Jersey and upstate New York. In the two previous fiscal years, during which detainees were bused in for their hearings, there were only 12 such postponements.
Immigration authorities’ initial rationale for the change was that protests outside of the facility made it unsafe to bring immigrants in. Once the protests dissipated, they claimed that it was more efficient and cost-effective. The practice is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by public defender organizations representing immigrants in removal proceedings, who argue that the videoconferencing violates their clients’ due process rights.
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ICE Agents Fail to Perform Arrest After Attempting to Involve Hudson Police
Bryan MacCormack, the executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, was giving two undocumented immigrants a ride after traffic offense-related hearings at the Hudson City Court last week when three ICE agents surrounded his car and attempted to arrest his passengers. The immigration officers had an administrative warrant but lacked a warrant signed by a judge, so MacCormack refused to allow them access to his vehicle and called his lawyer. That’s when ICE agents contacted the Hudson Police. Two police cars were dispatched to the scene, and officers watched from a distance as the standoff continued and MacCormack’s attorney arrived. Eventually, the ICE agents gave up and left. MacCormack has accused the Hudson Police of improperly responding to an ICE enforcement request, but the police chief argues the officers were dispatched only to ensure public order. The Times Union
Burst of Lobbying Driver’s Licenses Ahead of Budget Deadline
As the March 31 deadline to finalize a state budget approaches, immigration activists are concentrating on legalizing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he would sign such a bill, though recent reports suggested he privately urged some lawmakers to vote against it. Adopting the measure into the larger state budget would avoid a more bruising debate it would endure as a standalone bill. Supporters of the bill say allowing undocumented immigrants to receive licenses will lead to safer driving, let them receive car insurance, and ensure they no longer have to worry about the immigration consequences of encountering law enforcement. The Democrat & Chronicle
Essex County Official Paid $46K to Manage Deficient Local ICE Program
Public records obtained by NJ.com show that Philip Alagia, the chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, is being paid $45,900 a year on top of his base six-figure salary to manage the county’s lucrative contract with ICE to house detainees in its local jail. Alagia has been the County Director of ICE Programs since the post’s creation in 2011, and his compensation has increased every year since. A recent report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found conditions at the Essex County Correctional Facility presented significant health and safety risks, including from unsanitary food handling and severe security lapses. NJ.com
Detention Trouble Outside San Antonio
Three of the nation’s largest federal immigration detention facilities, all privately-run, are located just miles from San Antonio and collectively have a litany of troubling records when it comes to detainee rights. The detention center in Dilley, run by CoreCivic, and the facilities at Karnes City and Pearsall, run by Geo Group, can house over 5,400 detainees at once — well over 10 percent of ICE’s national daily detention numbers. Recently, Dilley drew attention for holding 16 infants simultaneously and for having subpar medical care. Karnes City has faced allegations of sexual abuse of women in custody, and Pearsall’s detainee workforce is paid as little as $1 a day. San Antonio Current
‘Remain in Mexico’ Program Expands to Calexico
The controversial policy of forcing non-Mexican migrants arriving at the U.S. border to claim asylum to return to Mexico as their cases wind through the U.S. immigration courts is spreading to the Calexico port of entry. Since the practice started in late January, it had been active only at San Ysidro. U.S. officials say 240 people have so far been returned to Mexico, where they must wait near the border for months or years, and are occasionally allowed to temporarily enter the country to attend hearings. Mexico issued a statement saying it disagreed with what it called a unilateral U.S. decision, but has not moved to prevent the returns. Associated Press
Some Cancelled Immigration Court Hearings Still Not Rescheduled after Shutdown
During the weeks-long government shutdown over funding for President Trump’s border wall, as many as over 90,000 immigration court hearings may have been cancelled. More appear to have been cancelled in the week after the government reopened, as court clerks found themselves inundated with paperwork. Several attorneys said that now, weeks after the the nation’s immigration courts resumed operations, some clients have not received new court dates, making it difficult to plan for hearings that can determine whether they are granted relief or asylum, or deported. CBS News
States Seek to Expand Tuition-Free Programs for Undocumented Students
Several states have moved in recent years to offer a tuition-free community college education to in-state students, but most haven’t let those without legal documentation access the same benefits. That may be changing as Maryland gets ready to launch a public scholarship program that is open to undocumented students, and New York has passed the state-level DREAM Act. California reaching out to colleges and potential students to emphasize that it’s safe to apply for tuition assistance. It saw a noticeable drop in the number of state financial aid applications following the Trump administration’s announcement of an intent to end the DACA program. Inside Higher Ed
Exiled ’DREAMERs’ Try to Help Counterparts in Mexico
People of Mexican origin who have voluntarily left or been deported from the United States are setting down roots in Mexico with a mission to help fellow exiles. One woman, who grew up in Texas and Georgia after being brought to the U.S. as a child and decided to voluntarily move back to Mexico, found it difficult to obtain a Mexican ID and have her high school diploma validated upon her return. She ended up working low-paying jobs and was exploited by employers. Now, she is the co-director of a Mexico City nonprofit dedicated to helping others in similar situations acclimate to their new setting. Courthouse News Service
Washington — Trump’s Budget, USCIS Abroad, DREAM Act, TPS Plans
The Trump Administration has unveiled its federal budget proposal. It is very unlikely to be passed as-is, but it highlights the administration’s priorities. Here are a few highlights:
- Hiking up application fees for immigration processes conducted by USCIS. Vox
- Expanding the workforce at the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, by 600 people, including 100 new immigration judges. The Wall Street Journal
- Deep cuts in international humanitarian aid, health and refugee programs, including slashing the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration budget by 90 percent. The Washington Post
- $8.6 billion for a border wall, and hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents and 10,000 new ICE officers and investigators. ABC News
- ICE could maintain 54,000 detention beds for immigrants, and create a new fund to allow an increase to 60,000 if they were deemed necessary. Voice of America
Congressional Democrats have introduced the latest version of the DREAM Act, titled the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would extend protections to a pool of DREAMers that would include current DACA status holders as well as others brought to the United States as children. The legislation would also grant protections to current holders of the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure programs, which the federal government has tried to end. There would be an eventual path to citizenship for all of these protected classes. The measure facing an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. Vox
The Trump administration agreed to stop its plans to end TPS protections for nationals of Honduras and Nepal as part of a legal battle with the ACLU, which sued the administration after it announced plans to discontinue the protections for nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. A federal judge had stopped the government from ending protections for these countries, but because the cancellation of Nepal’s and Honduras’ TPS designation was announced after the suit was filed, they had not been previously been included in the stay. The Los Angeles Times
According to sources within the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Director L. Francis Cissna has announced the agency would be closing all of its overseas offices. Employees would be reassigned to clear up the USCIS “backlog,” an email from Cissna to staffers said. Currently, operations in over 20 countries support the processing of visa applicants abroad, among other tasks. USCIS characterized it as a preliminary decision — a characterization that was disputed by some of the agency’s employees. Such a move would likely slow USCIS’ ability to expeditiously process potential new immigrants. The New York Times
Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show that the intent of certain border and immigration authorities’ controversial policies, including last year’s family separation policy, was ultimately “deterrence” and not public safety. BuzzFeed News
A Senate Panel has approved the nomination of Acting ICE Director Ron Vitiello, a former Customs and Border Protection official who took over the role after the retirement of former Director Thomas Homan. The vote advances his nomination and makes him likely to be confirmed by the full Senate. CNN
GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) have asked CBP for more information and documentation on their recently revealed program of monitoring American journalists who had reported on migrants at the U.S. border. Reuters
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