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.
White House ‘Compromise’ Bill Contains Previously-Rejected Immigration Reforms, Makes Asylum Claims More Difficult
WASHINGTON, January 23, 2019 — Despite promises to the contrary, legislation Republicans are promoting as a “compromise” to reopen the government is actually a vehicle for sweeping changes to the American asylum system.
Administration officials have spent the days since President Trump announced the proposal promoting it as a bipartisan compromise, packed with incentives meant to lure Democratic support. The Senate is expected to take up the measure sometime on Thursday, which will be the 33rd day of the longest partial government shutdown in American history.
One provision that White House officials have touted as a concession to Democrats would provide for a temporary extension to the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which allows certain people whose parents brought them to the US illegally as children to obtain temporary work and residence permits. Also included is language to extend Temporary Protected Status to a small number of foreign nationals from disaster-stricken countries.
Democrats have universally panned both the DACA and TPS provisions as fixes to the president’s own messes, created when he and his administration unilaterally ended both programs during his first year in office.
The DACA extension, however, became a moot point this week after the Supreme Court declined to hear the Justice Department’s appeal of a lower court decision which allows existing DACA recipients to renew their permits.
Although the DACA and TPS provisions give the appearance that Republicans are giving away something in a form of legislative horse-trading, buried towards the end of the bill is language that would take away processes and programs supported by Democrats and immigration advocates.
The asylum provisions contained in the Central American Minors Protection Act would render unaccompanied minors from South and Central America ineligible for asylum unless they apply at processing centers in their home countries or at to-be-determined locations. Arriving in the United States without a parent or guardian would also render one ineligible for asylum.
The bill would also strip courts and immigration judges of any jurisdiction to review most asylum denials, while handing that duty over to Department of Homeland Security officials answerable only to the executive branch. It would also expand the circumstances under which an asylum seeker’s claim could be deemed frivolous, a determination which can carry severe sanctions.
One Justice Department official close to the process said the attempt to deny asylum seekers due process is more of the same for the Trump administration.
“They believe that these people are not Americans and are not entitled to the same rights that Americans have. They would like to write asylum out of the law because they do not believe America will survive if we give away too much of our pie,” said the official.
The official suggested the current “border crisis” is a direct result of the administration’s deliberate overloading of the immigration court system in hopes that the public will accept the whole system being thrown out and replaced by one in which almost no one can find refuge in the United States.
“They do things to make it almost impossible for someone to win their case, because they don’t believe these people should be allowed to remain in the United States,” the official said. “They don’t have the votes to change it so they’re delegitimizing it and making it dysfunctional.”
The official was particularly concerned about the possibility of the law being changed to put asylum determinations under the purview DHS officials, and noted that when DHS officials make removal decisions, their rejection rate is “very high” compared with the immigration courts.
“The law…does not lend itself to rushing through these situations,” said the official, who pointed to the president’s recent televised speech in which he once again ridiculed the idea of giving asylum seekers access to immigration courts.
“This administration is completely at odds with the existing legal structure. They do understand the law, but they don’t believe the fundamental basis of it is correct.”
Corroborating the Justice Department official’s clams, one former Immigration and Customs Enforcement official who spoke with BeltwayBreakfast also suggested that the end goal is actually to overwhelm the system. At that point. there will no longer be enough resources to provide asylum-seekers and other immigrants with the due process rights they are owed under current law.
But a senior DHS official whom the administration made available to reporters late Tuesday said the purpose of the legislation is not to limit anyone with “legitimate” claims of asylum.
“We believe that the provisions will actually encourage more people with legitimate claims to asylum” by making it easier for them to apply, he said, adding that it is “apparent to everyone” that there are “widespread” frivolous claims.
American Immigration Council Policy Analyst Aaron Reichlin-Melnick disputed the administration’s claim that many asylum claims are fraudulent.
“Just because somebody loses their asylum case, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a fear of persecution in their home country. It’s just that their fear may have fallen within grounds that didn’t qualify for asylum under the law,” he said, noting that the attorney general already has great discretion to interpret the statutory ground on which asylum is granted.
Reichlin-Melnick said the proposed changes reflect a disdain for the idea that asylum seekers are entitled to due process.
“The administration has characterized the basic fundamental principle that America will act as a refuge for those fleeing persecution as a loophole,” he said. “Everyone has the right at least to go through the asylum process and the administration would prefer to cut off access to the asylum process rather than deal with all asylum seekers in general.”
Tennessee-based immigration lawyer Greg Siskind suggested that the asylum provisions in the White House bill show that the Trump administration isn’t serious about actually reforming the immigration system or reopening the government, particularly since they’ve appeared in several previous immigration bills.
“They’re poison pills,” Siskind said. “For Democrats, it would be politically disastrous to vote for them to sign off on that stuff, so it makes one wonder what their purpose is other than to antagonize.”
Siskind echoed the sentiments of the Justice Department and ICE officials by suggesting that the Trump administration don’t want anyone to be able to apply.
“They don’t want people applying for asylum — that’s the bottom line,” Siskind said. “There’s just one thing after another that’s designed to make the U.S. asylum system as unattractive and unavailable as possible.”
Despite the administration’s hopes that sufficient Democratic votes could be found to end debate on the measure, the bill has encountered a reception as chilly as the subfreezing temperatures that have gripped Washington in recent days. Without Democratic support, the Republican proposal is not expected to garner the 60 votes Senate rules require to end debate on Thursday.
Asked about her expectations for Thursday’s vote, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was far from confident, telling reporters that she hopes the bill would be successful.
Sanders appeared to preview the administration’s strategy for confronting the bill’s eventual failure by suggesting the sole responsibility for a lack of a deal would fall on Senate Democrats.
Trump Administration Convinced Germany To Take Ex-Nazi Guard ‘On The Moral Ground’
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.
White House Spokesperson Says Trump Administration Won’t Rule Out Withdrawing From 1967 Treaty Governing Treatment Of Refugees
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.”