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Legal Victories in Immigration Reform

A federal judge recently blocked the Administration from extending the authority of immigration officers to deport people without first allowing them to appear before judges. The decision came before the policy was enforced. The move would have applied to anyone in the country for less than two years.

Immigrants facing deportation typically have a short initial hearing before a judge and a government attorney to learn about their rights and how their case will proceed. They are usually given time to retain a lawyer and prepare their case, which includes gathering documents attesting to experiences that might make them eligible for relief from deportation or protections. This whole process is typically lengthy, and with good reason: Immigrants have a right to seek protection in the US and should be afforded an adequate opportunity to do so. The Administration rules, however, would have condensed that process for many immigrants to a matter of weeks, which most immigration attorneys say is not conducive to building a legal case in their favor.

“The court rejected the… [the] administration’s illegal attempt to remove hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S. without any legal recourse,” said ACLU attorney Anand Balakrishnan, who argued the case. “This ruling recognizes the irreparable harm of this policy.”

The decision came just after a federal judge barred Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from relying solely on flawed and inaccurate databases to target people for being in the country illegally. ICE is also blocked from issuing detainers to state and local law enforcement in areas where there is not an explicit statute authorizing civil immigration arrests on detainers.

These errors in databases, according to the decision, have led to arrests of U.S. citizens and lawfully present noncitizens. From May 2015 to February 2016, of the 12,797 detainers issued in that time frame, 771 were lifted. Within those 771 cases, 42 were lifted because the person was a U.S. citizen.

In addition, a federal judge recently blocked the Administration’s decision to dismantle protections for immigrant youths and indefinitely hold families with children in detention, attempting to remove the 20-day limit. Those protections are granted under the “Flores” agreement, the result of a class-action court settlement in 1997 that ruled the government must generally release children as quickly as possible and cannot detain them longer than 20 days.

The Administration has repeatedly cited this agreement as an obstacle to keeping families together. Once the 20 days are up, they say they have “no choice” but to keep parents in detention while they face immigration court proceedings, which could last months or even years, and to transfer the children to Department of Health and Human Services custody.

A California court ordered the administration to stop separating families in long-term detention, and the Administration moved to end the practice in a June 2018 executive order. There were, however, still instances of family separation reported thereafter. The proposed solution provided to prevent these separations would begin sending most immigrant families arrested along the southern border back to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings, rather than keeping them in detention. However, the administration does have another option: releasing families into the interior of the US while they wait for their hearings, as prior administrations have done.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) along with Administration are still considering legal options and appeals to these decisions. While these victories provide great hope for immigrants, their families, and overall immigration law and reform, it is still important to know your rights and to seek adequate representation.

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Photo courtesy of Unsplash

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