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Immigration

White House Spokesperson Says Trump Administration Won’t Rule Out Withdrawing From 1967 Treaty Governing Treatment Of Refugees

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Raj Shah briefs reporters on May 14, 2018 (BeltwayBreakfast photo)

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2018 — President Donald Trump has not ruled out attempting to withdraw the United States from the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees or asking Congress to amend the 1980 Refugee Act to make it harder for South or Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution to be granted asylum in the United States, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said Monday.

“I’m not ruling that out at some future date,” Shah said when asked if the president’s calls to deny due process to persons entering the country outside of ports of entry meant he was considering withdrawing from the 1967 treaty or amending the Refugee Act, both of which would be necessary for Trump to fulfill his goal of denying due process to persons claiming asylum in the United States outside of ports of entry.

Trump has ratcheted up his anti-immigrant rhetoric over the past week

The president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has grown more strident in recent days as he has sought to save face after signing an executive order to end his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they claim asylum outside a port of entry. He has called American immigration policy “weak” because it entitles persons not present in the country legally to due process.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” Trump wrote in a tweet Sunday, days after pouring cold water on the idea of hiring more immigration judges to deal with a 700,000 case backlog.

Shah denied that President Trump was calling for the denial of due process to those claiming asylum or for any change in United States law or policy that would contravene either the 1967 Protocol, which the Senate ratified 59-0, or the 1980 act signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter.

Because the 1967 treaty was ratified by the Senate, it has the same force of law within the United States as the 1980 law.

Combined, the two require the United States to allow a person to claim asylum and gain legal status if they are “outside his or her country of residence or nationality, or without nationality, and is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

But the president, Shah maintained, was referring only to changing the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the 1997 consent decree in the case of Flores v. Reno, which prevents the United States from holding immigrant children form more than 20 days.

He repeated the administration’s claim that changes to the Flores consent decree and the TVPRA are necessary because the conditions created by both have resulted in “loopholes” which are attracting large number of South and Central American refugees with children to the United States, most of whom are claiming asylum.

“If you seek asylum, if you have a child, you are entitled to certain legal rights. If you do not, or do not have a child, there is legal authority to remove people without seeing a judge,” he said. “Between Flores and the 2008 law, there are series of loopholes that have allowed thousands of people to come here — whether fraudulent here or not — and stay here, and it’s attracted people to the country to exploit those laws.”

When it was pointed out that even persons who are present in the United States illegally are often entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge before being removed, Shah denied they have any such rights.

“I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said.

Experts say Shah is mistaken

But according to the American Immigration Council, a pro-immigration advocacy group, Shah is wrong on both counts.

A fact sheet published on the organization’s website explains that immigration officers already have the authority to order the removal of “nearly any foreign national who arrives at the border without proper documents,” as well as any person who has been in the United States illegally for 14 days or less, so long as they are caught within 100 miles of the border or port of entry.

The AIC fact sheet also explains that even persons within those categories can claim asylum, and are entitled to both a “credible fear” screening interview and a hearing before an immigration judge if they do not pass the screening interview. If an individual passes the screening interview, they are usually detained until their cases are reviewed further by an immigration judge, or in some cases, released into the United States while their case is pending.

Shah said the president is simply calling for changes to be made to make it easier to remove people without valid claims because the system is too overloaded to handle the current number of requests.

“If we accommodate everybody’s request — fraudulent or not — we will be overrun with people coming here illegally,” he said.

But Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks said in an interview with BeltwayBreakfast last week that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policies are putting the cart before the horse because even persons convicted of improper entry are still entitled to have asylum claims heard before they are removed.

Marks, who spoke to BeltwayBreakfast in her capacity as a past president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said the administration is wasting resources by putting people into the criminal justice system before processing asylum claims instead of simply devoting more resources to processing those claims in the first place.

“If it had been done in the reverse way, where the courts had been expanded to hear from the people who’d been apprehended, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” she said, adding that even after a person is convicted of improper entry into the United States, they are still entitled to have their asylum claim heard by an immigration judge.

Marks also pushed back against the administration’s assertions that a large number of asylum claims are fraudulent, noting that there is no evidence to back up such claims.

“It’s very troubling when we hear those accusations because there are no reputable statistics on the amount of fraud that exists in the asylum system. It is all anecdotal, and unfortunately, highly politicized,” she said.

“For as many people who say the system is riddled with fraud, you can find as many knowledgeable people and judges who will tell you that is not true. To say it is rampant is not fair to say unless there’s hard evidence of that, and to my knowledge as an expert in the field for more than 40 years, no such information exists.”

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Andrew Feinberg is the Managing Editor and lead Washington Correspondent for Breakfast Media, and covers the White House, Capitol Hill, courts and regulatory agencies for BeltwayBreakfast and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has written about policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007.

Immigration

As Migrant Caravan Heads North, Trump Blames Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras — And Democrats

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President Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen meet with Border Patrol officials as they visit the Border Wall prototypes near San Diego on February 13, 2018.

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2018 — With the midterm elections two weeks away, President Trump is trying to keep his immigration policy at the front of voters’ minds by blaming Democrats and the nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico for the continuing progress of a large caravan of migrants — which Trump said includes “unknown Middle Easterners” — making its way northward.

Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in,” Trump wrote, calling the caravan of roughly 6,000 people constitutes a national emergency.

He later added: “Every time you see a Caravan, or people illegally coming, or attempting to come, into our Country illegally, think of and blame the Democrats for not giving us the votes to change our pathetic Immigration Laws! Remember the Midterms! So unfair to those who come in legally.”

Trump closed the three-tweet series by vowing to end or reduce foreign aid to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as those countries “were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.”

When BeltwayBreakfast asked one senior White House official how Trump expected those countries to stop people from emigrating — short of emulating the former East German Democratic Republic keeping people in with walls — the official was unsure but said an answer would be forthcoming.

Both the president and members of his team, particularly Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, have said repeatedly that immigration is a winning issue for them despite widespread outrage over the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — which led to several thousand children being separated from their families at border crossings — and widespread support for a pathway to citizenship for so-called “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States illegally as children.

The caravan in question was organized by a group called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders (not connected to the Washington, DC-based nonprofit) and consists of migrants who wish travel in one large group to protect themselves from the gangs and cartels who often target small groups and individuals. Organizers say the goal of most migrants traveling in the large group is to present themselves for asylum, either in Mexico or at a United States port of entry.

While such caravans are organized regularly, the coverage they’ve received in various media outlets has led to an inordinate amount of attention from the avid television watcher currently ensconced in the White House, who appears to have taken their very existence as a personal affront. 

Trump has made immigration policy a centerpiece of his political strategy since the first day of his campaign for the presidency, when he railed against Mexican “rapists,” who he alleged were “bringing crime and drugs.” 

Since becoming president in 2017, he has frequently lashed out at Democrats and blamed them for what his administration calls “loopholes” in immigration law that prevent the Department of Homeland Security from immediately deporting asylum seekers or keeping them incarcerated while their claims are pending.

Although Trump continues to suggest that migrants traveling in the group are looking to enter the U.S. illegally, asylum seekers who present themselves at a port of entry (and to a lesser extent to U.S. Border Patrol agents) actually avail themselves of a legal process that can result in their being given permission to remain in the United States.

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Immigration

Trump Administration Convinced Germany To Take Ex-Nazi Guard ‘On The Moral Ground’

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Jakiw Palij exits a plane in Dusseldorf on Tuesday after being deported from the US. BILD EXCLUSIVE/Sebastian Karadshow/Josef Frank Weiser

WASHINGTON, August 21, 2018 — The United States’ Ambassador to Germany on Tuesday told reporters that the Trump administration was able to deport former Nazi concentration camp guard Jakiw Palij because new German cabinet members were willing to accept him after years of previous refusals by Berlin.

Germany saw it as a moral obligation…because this individual served in the name of the former German government,” said Amb. Richard Grenell during a conference call with reporters. “It was something that the new cabinet members accepted.”

Mona Ragheb, Senior Advisor for the Human Rights Law Section of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which conducted the operation to remove Palij, said the removal operation “ensures the US will not become a safe haven for Nazis.”

She told reporters that the removal operation “was affected without incident” Monday night, and took place by way of “a specially chartered air ambulance which was appropriately staffed to address his medical needs. Palij arrived in Germany on Tuesday at roughly 8:00 a.m. local time.

The 95-year-old, born in what is now Ukraine, had been ordered deported by an immigration judge in 2004, but had remained in the United States because no country would agree to accept him.

But the empanelment of a new German cabinet changed things, Grinell said, combined with a decision by s by the Trump administration to make a moral argument for Germany accepting him rather than a legal one.

“In order to get him out of [the U.S.] it was important to…argue on the moral ground,” he added.

Grenell thanked Germany’s new foreign and interior ministers for their assistance in resolving the Palij case, which he said had been a priority of President Donald Trump.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Grinell said, “brought a new and different energy” to the longstanding negotiations over the former Nazi guard, while Interior Minister Horst Seehofer took “a creative look” at whether to admit Palij, who longtime Justice Department Nazi hunter Eli Rosenbaum said was the last known Nazi war criminal awaiting deportation from the United States.

Previous ex-Nazis who’ve been deported from the U.S. have been prosecuted upon their return to Germany. One notable example was that of John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-born Red Army soldier who participated in atrocities at the Sobibor concentration camp after volunteering to serve in the German army as a way of getting out of a POW camp.

Demjanjuk, an Ohio resident during his time in the United States, was deported to Germany in 2009 after several previous attempts at deportation and trial, including one resulting in a 1988 conviction for crimes against humanity in an Israeli court (which was later overturned). In 2011, a German court convicted him of 27,900 counts of murder, but because Demjanjuk died in 2012 before his appeal was heard, he was legally a free and innocent man at his death.

Whether Palij will be tried for his alleged crimes is up to the German government, though Grinell stressed that the Trump administration did not ask Berlin to commit to any legal process.

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Congress

Flake, Raskin Push Back On Trump’s Attacks Against Immigrants as Un-American

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US. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md (mdfriendofhillary/Flickr) and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2018 — Members of Congress on Sunday hit back at President Trump’s most recent anti-immigrant rhetoric. Trump’s suggestions that immigrants and asylum seekers should not be entitled to due process as inconsistent with American values and a repudiation of the idea of the United States as a nation under the rule of law, said a Republican and a Democratic critic.

Trump’s latest outburst against the idea that immigrants deserve the protections of due process came in a Sunday morning tweet, in which the president declared: “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country.”

“When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came,” Trump continued, adding that the current system is “a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

Trump has railed against the idea that immigrants and asylum seekers should be entitled to have their case heard before an impartial immigration judge on several occasions since a Tuesday speech to members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, during which he said he wanted “border security, not judges.”

Sen. Jeff Flake rebukes Trump; says it’s not ‘reflective of who we are’

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., characterized Trump’s recent talk of an “invasion” and his and his surrogates’ talk of immigrants as an “infestation” as consistent with his rhetoric on immigrants dating back to 2015, when the then-candidate kicked off his campaign for the presidency by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and accusing them of bringing crime and drugs.

“It’s all been rhetoric that’s not welcoming and reflective of who we are as a country,” said Flake, who announced that he’d retire from the Senate after this year.

Flake has become one of only a select few Republicans in Congress to regularly criticize the president and his regular attacks on the press and the ideas of democracy and the rule of law.

Flake, who spoke to BeltwayBreakfast by phone Sunday afternoon, was even more emphatic in his denunciation of Trump’s suggestion that immigrants are not entitled to due process.

“The hallmark of our country is the rule of law, and to say to those asylum seekers — ‘the huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ — that we’re not going to consider an asylum application, that’s not who we are,” Flake said.

Is there a constitutional law professor in the House? Yes, Rep. Jamie Raskin.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a first-term Maryland Democrat who teaches constitutional law at American University, was even more critical of the president’s recent attacks on immigrant communities and the rule of law in a separate phone interview with BeltwayBreakfast, in which he declared that Trump “is trashing the American dream.”

“The president has declared war on due process within the immigration system,” said Raskin, who noted that the United States’ obligations to treat asylum seekers with respect and allow them their day in court come not only from American law, but from the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which the United States is a signatory.

“How are we going to live up to our obligations under international law and the constitution if we don’t have judges to sort it out?” he asked.

“[Trump] just wants to build a wall and a moat and put up barbed wire, and that’s a complete betrayal of what America is as a nation founded as a haven for refuge for people fleeing violence and oppression,” he added, concluding that the president “essentially wants to turn us into a tyrannical state ourselves.”

Raskin noted that immigration judges are not just bureaucratic functionaries or cogs in a deportation machine, but “real judges” who are supposed to follow the law and fairly adjudicate claims of asylum under U.S. immigration and asylum law.

Robbing Central and South American immigrants of their due process rights

He hit back at the Trump’s increasingly vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric and apparent desire to rob Central and South American immigrants of the due process rights guaranteed them under the constitution as hypocritical considering the president’s own family history.

“Despite the fact that the president’s family, like all of our families, came here from somewhere else, and despite the fact that he has married people who are not U.S. citizens, he seems to want to treat all immigrants to this country like criminals.”

As for Trump’s description of immigrants as “invaders,” Raskin said it was more of the same from a president who has consistently refused to repudiate the white nationalists and other racists who’ve openly embraced his presidency as if one of their own had ascended to the White House.

“This administration began with a sinister relationship to the alt-right and racist movements around the world, and the president has never shed these associations,” Raskin said.

“America is not defined today by a principle of race or ethnicity or blood or religion. America is defined by our constitutional values and the dream of a society where everybody can make it who works hard and believes in the country.”

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