Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 20, 2020
Despite public attention on conventions, politics, bad weather, the U.S. war on immigrants and for isolation grinds on, with new developments and disclosures this week.
What they say together is that Donald Trump and team have made immigrants, legal, illegal and even temporary visitors into a continuing target. And, we see both Democrats and Republicans turning these attitudes into contested campaign fodder that will serve in part as a national plebiscite on immigration policies.
That enmity surfaced, for example, with Trump baselessly and wrongly floating questions about Kamala Harris’ eligibility for office as the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica — a birthright of citizenship enshrined in the Constitution. Eventually, Trump’s team had to acknowledge that Harris is a citizen.
We have seen it in the Democratic convention emphasis on a different America than the one that Trump describes. We have seen it in rising conspiracy theories and protectiveness in the words coming from the White House.
The sheer volume of reports and their different emphases illustrate just how dug-in the anti-immigrant campaign has become. Indeed, if there is a change voted in November, the incoming administration faces a daunting task just to determine the intricacies of what this government has put into place.
— The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service is about to furlough two-thirds of its 20,000 employees from Aug. 30, increasing the waiting time for people with pending immigration and green card petitions — and result in delays of more than a year of work visas for visitors, many of whom have already lined up jobs. In June, Trump already had suspended handling applications of those seeking to work in this country. It seems an odd thing to do as the American economy scrambles for recovery.
— An internal State Department memo obtained by the ProPublica news outlet reflects that the Trump administration is predicting years of dramatically reduced international demand for U.S. visas, and planning for drastic budget cuts to visa services worldwide as a result. The memo signed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the government is planning for pandemic concerns to depress international travel to the United States through at least 2020.
— ICE guards in an immigrant detention center in El Paso sexually assaulted and harassed inmates in a “pattern and practice” of abuse, according to a complaint filed by a Texas advocacy group urging the local district attorney and federal prosecutors to conduct a criminal investigation. The allegations, detailed in a filing first obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, maintain that guards assaulted at least three people in areas of the detention center not visible to security cameras.
— The administration has been using hotel chains to detain children and families taken into custody at the border, creating a largely unregulated shadow system of detention and swift expulsions without the safeguards that are intended to protect the most vulnerable migrants, The New York Times disclosed based on data and court documents. Under limits increased for pandemic, hotel detentions overseen by private companies have increased as temporary holding facilities before deporting children or parents, often separately, even if they test negative for disease. More than 100,000 migrants, including children and families, have been summarily expelled from the country under the measure.
Shutting down entries
The Homeland Security furloughs, already delayed from earlier announcements, are the result of financial shortfalls. To some degree, the furloughs of 13,000 federal employees are a threat to gain more Congressional financial support. But Congress, or the Democratic majority House at least, is upset because Team Trump has made a habit of switching Homeland funds to support its Wall construction on the border, for example, or to fund the deployment of federal agents to Portland and other cities against government protesters.
According to the Migration Policy Institute said, “For each month the USCIS furlough lasts, 75,000 applications for various immigration benefits will not be processed.” These include temporary workers for agriculture and hotels, as well as engineers for technology companies.
Wrapped into a number of these actions has been the pandemic, which has provided cover to extend anti-immigration efforts.
The State Department memo projects steep reductions, in particular, to non-immigrant visas as the result of pandemic. Clearly, these moves affect business travel and tourism, and sitting on visas will reduced fees paid to process visa applications. That loss of revenue, in turn, will reduce employees to process visas. In any event, the pandemic has forced a collapse of international travel.
Still, the treatment of migrants across the southern border remains the sharpest point of contention. The rise of private contractors to house underage migrants under the name of coronavirus shows that the government has little idea about the conditions in which thousands of underage migrants are being held without access to lawyers or families, immigration advocates say. The weirdness is that those who test positive for virus are not admitted, and those who test negative are deported as soon as possible. Advocates say many are now “virtually impossible” to find.
The El Paso allegations are the latest instance of sexual abuse complaints related to ICE detention centers, which hold about 50,000 immigrants across the country each year — mostly through contractors. Some 14,700 complaints alleging sexual and physical abuse were lodged against ICE between 2010 and 2016, according to federal data obtained by the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants. The group found that only a small fraction were investigated by the Office of Inspector General.
We need an overall look at immigration with appropriate oversight.