Hola and welcome to IRTF’s March 2022 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border!
Every day there are thousands of people apprehended at the US southern border. Most of them are caught by either Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and sent back or put in detention. It is hard to say which of these options is more dehumanizing: staying in an overcrowded, badly maintained detention center in the midst of a global health crisis for an infinite period of time, or being sent to Mexico–a country you may never have stepped foot in before–to await your immigration court proceedings for an unspecified period of time.
And while ICE reports show a significant drop in deportations and immigration arrest since Biden’s inauguration, this decrease in deportations is immediately offset by the over 1.7 million people who have been pushed back at the border and expelled under a racist public health regulation known as Title 42, that favors migrants from some countries and leaves behind those from others.
In this newsletter, please read about
- Immigration court in Cleveland, OH: deportation proceedings doubled, as case backlog grows further
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): The for-profit industry of private prison companies
- Expelling migrants in the name of health measures: The two-year anniversary of Title 42
- Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP): The consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision on the “Remain in Mexico” Program this summer
- Take Action: Tell Biden to close the #FirstTen detention centers and to restore asylum!
CLEVELAND IMMIGRATION COURT:
AN UPDATE ON THE NUMBER OF IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS FILED AND THE IMMENSE BACKLOG OF CASES
The immigration court in Cleveland (actually called the Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR) is the only immigration court in the whole state of Ohio. In Fiscal Year 2021 (July 2020 through June 2021), the US government filed 2,923 deportation cases in Cleveland.
Deportation Filings Are Doubling
As recent TRAC* data shows, since October 1, 2021, the government has filed 310,000 new deportation proceedings in just the first five months of Fiscal Year 2022. During the previous 12-month period (FY 2021), there were 312,174 filed. That means that the government is nearly doubling its rate of filing deporations.
Cleveland EOIR - Deportations Filed
In Cleveland, 5,172 of these 310,000 deportation proceedings have been filed at the EOIR (immigration court) in the past five months. During the previous 12-month period (FY 2021), just short of 3,000 cases were filed. If current trends continue, we’re on track to see the number of deportation proceedings filed in Cleveland EOIR double this year. Almost 20% of these cases have been migrants from Venezuela, followed closely by Honduras and Guatemala.
Adding to that, there have been 862 ordered deportations in Cleveland in FY 2022; 55 of these are children aged 17 and under. Out of the 862, over 300 are from Guatemala and about 170 from Honduras. Surprisingly, that number also includes 3 people listed as stateless and “unable to name a country,” which poses the question of why and where they would be deported to.
New deportation proceedings filed (Oct 2021 - Feb 2022)
This isn’t about the court. It’s about enforcement. The number of deportation proceedings filed can be used to reflect the activity of federal immigration law enforcement. In other words, an increase in the number of deportation proceedings filed by ICE suggests that the government is increasing enforcement measures against undocumented residents.
While those 5,000+ new deportation proceedings filed over the past five months are already a high number, they only add to the about 17,200 pending immigration cases in Cleveland as of February this year. And that backlog is growing: the number of cases is increasing while immigration judges are completing fewer cases compared to previous years. Currently, in the whole country, there are over 1,500,000 pending cases with a current wait time of 1,621 days. This backlog of cases has grown considerably since the Biden inauguration. As the backlog increases, so does the level of uncertainty and anxiety for migrants now waiting for more than four years to receive a judge’s ruling on their case. One and a half million people (multiplied many times by the number of spouses and dependent children) now have to endure nearly four and a half years in a state of distress and semi-illegality, not knowing whether they will be able to stay in the US or be sent back to a country they fled for serious safety reasons.
*Source: TRAC at Syracuse University (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse)
ICE DETENTION: PRIVATE PRISON COMPANIES AND PROFIT AS THE INTENTION FOR PROMOTING ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION
Currently, there are around 200 detention facilities that ICE uses to hold the tens of thousands of people with expired visas or those who have been apprehended at the border and not immediately pushed back under the expulsion (Title 42) procedures. In many of those facilities, detained migrants and their advocates have repeatedly raised concerns about the catastrophic, in many ways dehumanizing, conditions they have to endure. The cells and rooms are overcrowded. There is little medical support and no way to practice social distancing, which has caused serious Covid-19 outbreaks in a number of detention prisons. Despite increased budgets for ICE, little to nothing has been done to improve conditions for detained migrants.
Adding to that is the surprisingly high number of private prison companies such as GEO Group and CoreCivic, which run detention centers that hold around 80% of all detained migrants as of September 2021. As reforms in the regular criminal justice system have led to decreases in prison populations, private prison companies have found a new way to fill their empty beds: ICE contracts. Starting under the Trump Administration, for-profit prisons were able to make up a tremendous amount of their revenue by converting wings of their prisons into ICE detention. Contracts can last for years. Private companies are making money off of detaining migrants, while ICE has found new ways to expand the amount of asylum seekers they can put in detention centers for unknown amounts of time.
Some suggest that so-called “alternatives to detention” are more humane. But who is really benefiting?
ATDs: Alternatives to Detention
Ostensibly to reduce the number of people in detention centers, the Biden Administration and ICE are pushing to expand Alternatives for Detention (ATDs). Both the government and private companies are finding ways to save money and generate profit by shifting migrants from being forced to stay in badly maintained detention centers to being detained in their own homes, forced to stay at home while their movement is closely monitored through electronic ankle bracelets or check-in phone calls. While the government cost for a bed in a detention facility is about $140 per day, it pays as little as $3 per day when using ATD services. That may sound like a little amount, but ICE is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars in ATD contracts with B.I. Incorporated, a subsidiary of the previously mentioned GEO Group and currently the sole provider of ATD, including services such as tracking software and wearables and cellphone apps.
So while the expansion of ATD may seem like a positive response to the conditions in detention centers and a way to decrease the number of migrants detained by ICE, it is hard to ignore the profit motive for this alternative carceral system. Is the government’s motivation for decreasing detention numbers really to make life a little more bearable for asylum seekers and other migrants, or is profit for private companies the bigger factor in this messy system of detention and immigration surveillance?
Sources: American Civil Liberties Union, Axios
EXPELLING MIGRANTS IN THE NAME OF HEALTH MEASURES: THE TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF TITLE 42
On March 20, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an emergency regulation, called Title 42, which permits the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prohibit individuals entry into the United States when there is “serious danger” of the introduction of a disease into the United States. The rule allows any CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) agents to implement any such order issued by the CDC. In late March 2020, the Border Patrol began sending most Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran families and single adults back into Mexico under Title 42.
The official terminology is “expulsion,” not deportation.
The expulsion of migrants under Title 42 can be tracked by interpreting the number of expulsion air flights. According to statistics gathered and analyzed by the nonprofit Witness at the Border, there have been 6,993 total ICE air flights since Biden’s inauguration over a year ago, of which 1,215 were removal flights to countries accepting Title 42 flights (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia). In February 2022, there were a total of 519 ICE air flights, showing a 15% decrease from the previous month of January, but at the same time a 69% increase (up 211 flights) from the number of flights in February of last year. As more countries are now accepting Title 42 expulsion flights, the Biden administration is able to expel more and more migrants from the border.
Removal Flights: Expulsion Flights, Deportation Flights
Hundreds of people are “removed” from the US each month either by expulsion (under Title 42) or deportation. Some are lauding the decrease in deportations over the past year. But too often overlooked is the significant increase in the number of Title 42 expulsions.
In February, flights to those countries accepting Title 42 flights made up 95% of all removal flights. Even though the number of flights to Haiti went down from 36 in January to 16 in February, that decrease was offset by a significant increase in removal flights to Honduras (34), Guatemala (34), and El Salvador (15). Additionally, the government of Mexico also increased its deportation flights from Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras.
Just to demonstrate the effects of these Title 42 expulsions: since September 20210–in the last 5 months–about 3,500 children have been removed to Haiti, the same country that the US State Department itself issued a travel warning for, stating that kidnapping, crime, civil unrest and Covid-19 are constant threats throughout the country.
But there is hope that this will change. Just last week, the CDC announced that unaccompanied minors are no longer subject to Title 42, ending a policy that allowed ICE and CBP officers to expel children at the border; the CDC says that the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic is no longer a sufficient reason to do so. However, even though this is a positive step towards ending the use of Title 42 altogether, families with minor children and single adults can and will still be apprehended at the border and sent back on some public health clause without being able to exercise their right to seek protection in the United States. Meanwhile, people at other ports of entry continue to enter the country, often even without a Covid test.
Today, March 21, 2022, marks the two-year anniversary of the implementation of Title 42. In those two years, the regulation was used 1.7 million times to push back and expel migrants at the southern border. And in those two years, the Biden administration has shown little intent to end the use of Title 42, ignoring the outcries of many human rights organizations and health experts who have stated over and over again that there is no reason to keep it in place. Under Title 42, The Biden administration has sent back more than 20,000 migrants to Haiti (which is more than under the last three presidents combined), a country that is in the midst of several political and humanitarian crises. The racism in Title 42 enforcement is apparent. Last week the president announced that Ukrainians arriving at the US-Mexico border would largely be exempt from Title 42, while Russian and Central American migrants are told to wait at the border before ultimately being pushed back. It is becoming clearer that the reasons for the administration holding on to this policy are not primarily to protect U.S public health but are instead based on racist and discriminatory principles.
Sources: Witness at the Border, American Immigration Council, CNN, The Hill
MPP: THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION ON THE ‘REMAIN IN MEXICO’ PROGRAM THIS SUMMER
The “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), now referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” program, went into effect in January 2019 and were used to send nearly 70,000 migrants back to Mexico before the program was suspended, and then terminated, after President Biden took office. Under MPP, individuals who arrive at ports of entry at the US southern border and seek asylum have to pass a “credible fear” interview at the border. They are then given notices to appear in immigration court and sent back to Mexico to await their hearing.
In our last newsletter, we reported that the US Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments (scheduled for April 2022) in the case that the Biden administration filed against a decision by the Northern District Federal Court in Texas (August 2021) which ordered the administration to continue the Remain in Mexico program. The Court’s ruling on whether to shut down the program or to standardize such proceedings and even expand MPP is expected in June. Meanwhile, migrants crossing the border who are not immediately expelled under Title 42 are sent back over the border and instructed to await their immigration court dates. Staying mostly in dangerous sections of border towns in Mexico, the asylum seekers are exposed to inhumane living and hygiene conditions and are prey to police and criminal gangs that find vulnerable and displaced migrants and their families an easy target for violence, kidnappings, and extortion.
Denying the right to seek asylum and increasing detention
For one, this policy makes it practically impossible for asylum seekers to undergo a timely immigration process. They are sent outside the country and often can’t make it back in time for their initial hearing because of several impediments—lack of transportation, displacement to areas they often don’t know, corruption and violence by police officers, kidnapping or even death. Some decide to abandon their court dates after being told to wait in Mexico and “go back home” – meaning take on an excruciating journey of thousands of miles on foot to return to their home countries – because the chances of being granted asylum are so slim to begin with.
Secondly, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Biden administration and would call an end to the program, immigration detention in the US could increase significantly. All the people who have been subject to the Remain in Mexico policy would now be admitted into the US to await their asylum hearing. With its longstanding practice of detaining asylum seekers, will the government risk the bad publicity of ramping up ICE detention beds to imprison all the Remain in Mexico migrants? (Note the 4½ year wait time for a court hearing). If Remain in Mexico is ended, will the administration find more reasons to expel migrants before they ask for asylum, before they are given a credible fear interview?
But this potential detention crisis should not be a reason to keep the Migrant Protection Protocols in place. With 100,000 people crossing the border without permission every month, the majority of asylum seekers will continue to be pushed back and exposed to the dangerous environments of migrant shelters in Mexico. Additionally, overcrowded detention centers don’t have to be a consequence of shutting down MPP, if the administration would make an effort to place migrants who are waiting for their hearing in temporary housing, instead of treating them like criminals and detaining them. What seems like a matter of logistics and an easy way out of asylum proceedings for the immigration courts is a matter of life or death for the people trying to cross the border and simply seek protection.
Sources: American Immigration Council, the Intercept
Want to find out more about the conditions at the southern US border?
Now that you are up to date on the issues at and around the southern border of the U.S., here is what you can do to TAKE ACTION this week and stand up in solidarity with migrants and their families:
Many migrants expelled under Title 42 have been sent back to their countries of origin, putting them at risk of persecution, torture and other serious danger in violation of U.S. refugee and anti-trafficking laws and treaty obligations. With this letter, tell President Biden to end Title 42 expulsions and to follow through on his promise to restore the asylum system!
The Biden Administration must prioritize dismantling the curel immigration detention system that deprives the liberty of thousands of immigrants and people seeking asylum each year. Send a letter to President Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and demand that they close the #FirstTen immigrant detention centers as a first step to end immigrant detention!
Members of Congress avoid accountability for the way their funding decisions impact communities. Sign this petition and participate in demanding that Congress cut funding for ICE and CBP and to defund hate!
During the pandemic, new reports emerged of increased uses of force, solitary confinement, patterns of sexual abuse, unprecedented fatality rates, and an utter failure to protect people from COVID-19. Tell the DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directly to end its misguided pursuit of new detention contracts and recommit to ending ICE’s system of mass detention with this pre-written letter!
Thank you for reading IRTF’s Migrant Justice Newsletter!