Catholic Charities stands with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling on Congress to push forward the “discharge petition” which would bring the DREAM Act to the House floor. As reported in this article, the effort was originally spearheaded by three moderate Republicans who have long been vocal about trying to save DACA, a program that protected young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children — Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Jeff Denham of California, and Carlos Curbelo of Florida. Curbelo.
A discharge petition allows a simple majority of the House – 218 members – to go around leadership and bring a bill to the floor for a vote. So far, 196 members of the House have signed the DREAM Act discharge petition. That’s just 22 short of the signatures needed to force a vote on the bill, which is why we must keep pushing.
As of today, Rep. Tom Reed, Rep. John Katko and Rep. Chris Collins from upstate New York have all signed onto this petition to move the DREAM act to the floor. If you know anyone on Long Island in Rep. Pete King’s district, please ask them to nudge him too. We might finally get something down for the DREAMers!
Marriage to a U.S. citizen is often said to be the fastest way for a foreign national to get a green card, especially if the couple reside together in the United States. But taking the steps to get a foreign national spouse legalized exposes him/her to significant risks (e.g., deportation) so many couples often postpone filing a spousal application for years even though there is a path to legalization. One such couple, Silvia and Carlos (not their real names), met with me in 2014 for a legal consultation so Carlos could finally get a green card. Despite the couple being married for many years, Silvia struggled to overcome the fear that was stoked anytime they sought legal advice.
We saw an immigration attorney a few times but I was always left with the feeling that the odds were 30/70 against us. When I heard about the risks that Carlos could face, I would picture immigration officers arresting him and would cry the whole way home.
The couple had originally met 2002, began dating, and were married a few years later in front of a judge. They eventually had two children. As the years passed, Silvia, who not only worried about Carlos’ immigration status, also carried enormous guilt about having never been married in the church. Being raised Catholic, Silvia felt embarrassed whenever attending church because she felt that in God’s eyes, she and Carlos were living in sin. One night, Silvia prayed for guidance and the next morning she awoke certain that it was time to plan a church wedding.
I prayed and the next day, woke up and told my husband that I wanted to get married by the church and we would do that in August. He said okay. In my head I would always apologize to God and hoped he understood our situation because we were committed to each other and didn’t have an easy life. Within 3 days, I also said to my husband that we needed to get his documents. That’s when we decided to come to Catholic Charities.
I met with Silvia and Carlos several times to prepare their case and then a few times while the case processed. Since Carlos had entered the U.S. without inspection and had accrued unlawful presence, we not only had to file the spousal petition and green card application, but also had to file a provisional waiver that showed Silvia would experience hardship if Carlos wasn’t allowed to remain in the U.S. During that time, Silvia often expressed how nervous she felt but still felt strong because of her faith.
I come from a very religious Catholic background. My sisters have always said I have a lot of strength and can endure a lot. The reality is I was very afraid but luckily some light came in and gave me the strength to keep having faith in the process. Once we did the paperwork, the waiting was intense but at the same time it was easier because every time we got a letter from immigration, we were one step closer.
After the waiver was approved and the National Visa Center had received the required documents for a visa interview to be scheduled, the couple traveled to Mexico. Once there, Silvia would meet her in-laws for the first time and Carlos would be reunited with his family after an 18-year separation. When they arrived at the visa interview, Silvia waited outside since she wasn’t allowed to accompany her husband inside the U.S. Consulate’s office. She described the crowds of people surrounding her and how her nerves almost got the better of her.
There were so many people down there trying to get their green cards. I was so nervous while I waited outside that I had a panic attack. I kept wondering what would I do if he didn’t get the green card. I called my Mom and she said she would pray, and I sat down and said a prayer and a sense of calm came over me. Then this one guy came out and he was crying because his application just got denied. His family was waiting and he was trying to hold it in. He went and hugged his wife and told her what happened. It was heartbreaking and a little terrifying because what if they did the same to my husband? But Carlos walked out and was smiling; he hugged me and told me ‘we did it’.
Carlos’ green card was produced in 2016 and Silvia describes the last two years as complete bliss.
When I look back I realize getting married in the church lifted a weight in my soul and relieved so much guilt. Then getting the green card was like a bonus I couldn’t imagine. I never realized how much I took on because I was afraid everyday my husband could be deported. But once we got back home and he had his green card, I immediately could sense how I now had a full partner. With him having these documents we can split more of the work. Now he works as a baker, he has benefits and is about to get a paid vacation for the first time. He drives, and I don’t have to worry about him being out and about. He can pick up groceries, he has a credit card, he even has a credit score. I guess if I had a dream, this would be it. I had dreamt it for so long that I didn’t think it would happen. Luckily, I was able to get some courage and I’m so thankful I had my faith.
Public Benefits: Whenever new clients come to Catholic Charities seeking legal immigration services we pre-screen them for other services and programs (often public benefits) they might qualify for if they are living in low-income households. We then follow-up with a referral to programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), especially for those who have U.S. citizen children. So last February when I saw Reuter’s reporter Yeganeh Torbati was sending out the following tweets, I became concerned:
SCOOP: The Trump administration is considering targeting foreigners in the U.S. who have used food aid and other public benefits, by making it harder for them to get green cards. More updates to this story coming
Story just updated w more details. DHS is considering effectively penalizing applicants for permanent residence who use or are likely to use a variety of welfare programs including CHIP, SNAP, Head Start, ACA subsidies, WIC, LIHEAP, and section 8 housing
Those tweets then linked to Torbati’s article where she writes, “The Trump administration is considering making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to get permanent residency if they or their American-born children use public benefits such as food assistance, in a move that could sharply restrict legal immigration.” The leaked memo raised concerns with legal practitioners leaving them to wonder what was coming down the pike for those clients they might potentially represent with permanent residency applications or with petitioning for close family members to come to the U.S. as legal permanent residents if they had accessed public benefits.
Public Charge: Currently, federal law allows immigration and consular authorities to deny admissions to the U.S. or adjustment to Lawful Permanent Resident status to a person they deem likely to become a public charge. Under the current definition, a “public charge” is a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. It’s important to note that while the public charge ground of inadmissibility doesn’t affect all non-citizens (e.g., refugees and asylees), it does affect non-citizens who are applying for Lawful Permanent Resident status through family-based visa petitions.
Public Charge and Public Benefits: The draft rule would dramatically change the benefit-related criteria used to make a public charge determination. The draft proposal would put someone at risk of being deemed a “public charge” if that person — or anyone in the person’s immediate family, including citizen children — receive any of a far broader set of benefits. The benefits and tax credits that would be considered include CHIP, WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as subsidies to help people afford health insurance in the ACA’s marketplaces, and others. This attempt for the Trump Administration to stop low-income immigrants from accessing healthcare, nutrition, and other critical program is a new low.
The proposal would have two main effects: 1) immigration authorities could use it to prevent some immigrants here lawfully who receive — or whose close family members receive — any of these benefits or tax credits from becoming permanent residents; and 2) prospective immigrants who want to reunite with their families could be denied from entering the United States, if the authorities rule that they or any member of their families have received or would likely receive any of these benefits in the future. Many see this as just another way for the administration to target immigrants coming to the U.S. through what Trumps has called “horrible chain migration.”
Yet again the Trump Administration is attempting to stoke fear in the immigrant community through its anti-immigration policies. And it’s working. Since the memo leaked, I have received several inquiries from clients worried if accessing government programs might affect their pending immigration cases. Clients ranging from someone who is a lawful permanent resident applicant and worries about receiving subsidies that help pay his ACA insurance premiums to a pregnant woman who is looking to adjust her status from fiancée to lawful permanent resident and needs emergency Medicaid for prenatal care are worried their applications may be denied because of accessing public benefits. For cases such as these, it is important to note that at this time the rules governing public charge determinations in the U.S. have not yet changed. But change might be on the horizon.
Public Comment: What started out as a memo, might soon be put into law as DHS has already sent it to the Office of Management and Budget for clearance. Any day now, the changes to how the government defines public charge might be published in the Federal Register where it will allow for 60 days of public comments. This document from the National Immigration Law Center gives more background into “public charge,” as well as advises immigration advocates to do the following:
Fight back! If a proposed rule is published, individuals and organizations can submit public comments and share stories about how the proposed rules would affect them and the communities or consumers that they serve.
For those who have never posted a public comment on the Federal Register, these tips might be useful.
Last week we made arrangements to interview Alex, a Nigerian national, for one of our Ithacan Immigrant blog posts. When we met, we also decided to discuss Alex’s reactions to President Trump’s recent disparaging comments about Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria and other African countries. While we weren’t asking Alex to speak on behalf of the Nigerian diaspora, we were interested in getting his opinion since he was relatively new to the U.S. We thought it would be interesting to hear how he was reacting to what was being so heatedly discussed in the news. Our conversation quickly revealed how determined Alex is to stay focused on doing the best with his life and not dwell on the negativity coming out of the White House.
ISP: As someone who recently emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, what were your initial thoughts when you heard President Trump had referred to your country as a sh**hole?
I thought it was wrong to stereotype them but I also thought how Trump needs to be educated. He needs to be prepped to present matters to wide audiences and told how to choose his words. He was in a formal event – he wasn’t sitting at home in front of his wife and kids. But he’s strong and pompous. And that’s what he does so it wasn’t a surprise what he said. We should try to shape him up because he’s not going to change. We have to put some tools in place to stop the embarrassing things from happening. I think it’s going to be a long time before the world will get over what he said.
As far as Nigeria, Haiti, and other countries he was talking about, they are all going through different stages of development. There are stages of growth that economies must go through to finally become self-sustaining. With all countries, there are bad times and there are good times. Growth is about experience and improvement. We should remember that, America was not different 300 or so years ago, it had to go through the same process.
ISP: Did you have a personal reaction to what was said?
I was embarrassed and offended. It saddens me that the #1 person doesn’t know how to communicate with the outside world. Being politically correct should be a priority. But I’m not letting what was said deter my focus. I was raised that when you are part of a community, and I am part of this community now, part of this country – you feel proud because this is home. When the #1 person is saying that about me and others from my country, then I have to wonder how that makes others feel when they are looking at us.
When people try to talk about this with me, I don’t want to be in that conversation because there is nothing I can do about it. I do what I have to do and stay focused. I try to pay attention to my job and do the best I can. Love conquers all, that might sound silly, but Trump needs help on how to speak. If we hate him, nothing good is going to come out of it. The best thing we can do is support him. You should support someone through the good times and the bad times.
ISP: Do you know any Nigerians who came through the Diversity Visa Lottery program?
I don’t know too many but I can think of two examples. One is a pediatrician who practices in Michigan. Besides being a doctor, he does a lot of work that helps children. He makes all kinds of donations so they have things like toys and free daycare. I have another friend who works in manufacturing. He has a Master’s degree in management. One thing about Nigeria is parents make sure their kids get educated. School isn’t free like it is here although some of the states might give a stipend but our parents pay for school from beginning to the end.
ISP: Is there anything else you want to add?
I’m not someone who dwells in problems. I personally, move on and look for a solution. The solution would be to prove everyone wrong. Every country has its own issues; America has its own issues. I don’t think any president can say what he said. He’s so pompous and proud that he can say what he wants but he needs to do better. Soon he will get pushed to the curb because the world is moving on. But I’m not really qualified to comment on it. I’m a resident here but I haven’t been here a long time. The people who have been here longer are the ones whose opinions matter. They have seen many presidents elected and they know when times were different. They know what it feels to be home and how to preserve and respect that. I would rather listen to what they say then to come up with my own opinion. Trump didn’t say the right thing, he shouldn’t have used those words.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration began hinting at doing away with Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for immigrants from several countries around the world. Foreign nationals from countries that are pretty much inhabitable or unsafe due to natural disasters (such as Haiti) or civil strife (such as Sudan) have been told they should no longer consider the US a safe haven and that it is time to make plans to go back home. According to the USCIS website,
The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be up for debate what “returning safely” means. The current administration’s hardline approach to ending programs such as DACA and the Central American Minor’s (CAM) Program where a compassionate, humanitarian mindset is necessary, makes it come to no surprise that TPS is next in line. The 13 countries listed here currently have TPS destination. Two of them have been on the list for over a decade. El Salvador (16 years) and Honduras (17 years) have been deemed unsafe by previous administrations resulting in foreign nationals from both countries becoming long-time residents of the US.
Because of TPS, approximately 325,000 foreign nationals are able to reside in the US and are afforded limited but valuable perks such as work authorization and freedom from deportation. But this past summer Homeland Security began signaling it was going to focus its efforts on prompting TPS beneficiaries to begin to self-deport when over 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients were only given the opportunity to extend their status for an additional 6 months, instead of the 18 months they had hoped for. This created a wave of concern about the overall fate of TPS and whether it was going to follow a path similar to the CAM and DACA programs.
The overwhelming majority of TPS recipients are nationals of El Salvador (204,000) and Honduras (61,000). From my experience, the majority of local TPS recipients are from those two countries, as well. Foreign nationals from both countries have had to prove they have resided continuously in the US for over 15 years to renew their status and therefore often have deep roots in the communities they have resettled in.
For example, the other day I met with a Salvadoran woman who has had TPS since 2001. For almost two decades she has worked and lived in Ithaca and she is determined to stay. She has close ties within our community which include her place of employment, her children’s school, her church, and neighborhood. She, like many other TPS recipients, came seeking legal counsel because she keeps hearing on Spanish-language radio stations the program is doomed.
I also have Honduran clients who have been TPS recipients since the late 1990’s. In the past, they have been hopeful to one day get a green card but now they are are living in fear of not knowing what’s next. For over a decade, TPS has allowed them to get work permits and find jobs where they have benefits such as health insurance and sick pay. They are nervous and feel desperate about what the future holds for them. They fear they might lose their jobs and eventually have two choices: repatriate or risk remaining as undocumented immigrants where they are vulnerable to deportation and will have to work without authorization.
It’s time to transition some of the long-term TPS beneficiaries and provide them with a legal immigration status. Ideally, it’s time to pass a bill like the DREAM Act of 2017 which advocates for a legislative solution for both DACA and all TPS recipients. Immigrants and immigration advocates need to be vocal about including TPS in their advocacy. Add your voice by contacting Congress today; Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) has already prepared this script that you can follow on their website. While I fully support Congress finding a solution for the Dreamers, we shouldn’t forget about the immigrants in our community with TPS.
There has been a lot of response to the Trump administration ending DACA this past Tuesday including a lawsuit I saw on my Twitter feed last night from the National Immigration Law Center. What caught my eye was what NILC wrote to introduce the lawsuit:
They’re ending #DACA? Then we’re suing.
While legal advocates, the faith community, immigration advocates, and the Dreamers themselves look for ways to challenge the ending of DACA, it’s more important than ever to pressure Congress to pass a bill before approximately 785,000 Dreamers lose their benefits. According to this NPR article, Congress already has several bills pending – the DREAM Act, Recognizing America’s Children (ACT), the American Hope Act, and the Bridge Act. However, it would almost take a legislative fantasy for one of them to get enacted before the 6 month deadline President Trump has imposed.
In order to make this legislative fantasy become a legislative solution, I would encourage people to carefully read NPR’s rundown on the 4 bills and then throw their support behind one or all of them. Each bill has its pluses and minuses but I have been seeing mounting support from advocacy groups, such as the NYIC, who are backing the Bridge Act, and am also seeing growing bipartisan support for the DREAM Act 2017. I would also encourage advocates to become better versed on what yesterday’s announcement on the rescinding of DACA means. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has put out this Community Advisory and the immigration practice group at Ithaca’s local law firm, Miller Mayer, put together this article.
It’s time for action. If you are in Tompkins County or the surrounding area, make a call to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (202) 224-4451, Senator Charles Schumer, (202) 224-6542, and Representative Tom Reed, (202) 225-3161 and throw your support behind one of the bills going through Congress. Implore them to work across the aisle. Also, inform them if you are a registered voter and live in their district. If you live in a different district, you can reach your Congressional Representatives and Senators by calling the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Six months isn’t a long time so pressure needs to come quickly if we want Congress to act in a non-partisan way and come up with a legislative solution together.
Last month, Nga was referred to ISP for services since she had recently emigrated from Vietnam to the US and needed assistance in getting enrolled in ESL classes, applying for health insurance and obtaining a social security number. Nga’s husband, a former Vietnamese refugee who resettled in the US in the mid 1980’s, accompanied her to the appointment.
During our first meeting, the couple asked if we could help them get bicycles; the day was hot and after walking across town, they felt wiped out. Nga’s husband explained how “it’s hard for us to get around Ithaca so we want to ride bikes.” He continued, “everyone in Vietnam rides bikes – that’s what we’re used to. No one can afford to buy a car, we all ride bikes.” It’s true, motorbikes are so popular in Vietnam, that the city of Hanoi actually hopes to ban them by 2030. The couple didn’t want motorbikes though, they were looking to pedal.
In order to see if we could find them some bikes, we reached out to Emily, a volunteer with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees who is great at helping us out with our random requests. Emily then reached out to the folks at RIBs – Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles – a program run by Southside Community Center that refurbishes and redistributes bikes in Ithaca. As a result, Nga and her husband received the bikes and helmets pictured above, free of charge. Now the couple can be seen biking on one of Ithaca’s designated bicycle boulevards as they run errands around town. On behalf of Nga and her husband, we wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks to both Emily from IWR and the folks at RIBs.
The Trump administration has found yet another way to torment immigrant families who are undocumented. A new surge initiative is being carried out by ICE and is supposed to result in “disrupting and dismantling” smuggling and human trafficking rings. On the surface this sounds like something immigration advocates would welcome and embrace. But with closer scrutiny, it becomes clear this new initiative is also geared to disrupt and dismantle immigrant families as ICE agents have been given a new priority – to arrest and detain immigrant parents who pay for their children to be brought across the US border. Instead of only targeting the profiteers – the smuggling operations, coyotes, and human trafficking rings – ICE has orders to also go after the parents.
The young children and adolescents crossing the border are considered to be unaccompanied minors once they are detained by Customs & Border Patrol. Most of them are fleeing Central America; they are leaving countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they are vulnerable to gang violence and high rates of homicide. Admittedly, most often they are likely brought into the US by someone paid off by their parents – after all, it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options. Despite this, the Obama administration did the humane thing and allowed these families to reunite by releasing the children into the custody of their parents while asylum or deportation cases played out in immigration court. After all, unaccompanied minors are often traumatized and housing them with a caring parent seems like the most sensible thing to do.
However, last February a memorandum was released by DHS Secretary Kelly indicating Obama’s humane policy was about to end. This memo, being issued to implement two of President Trump’s executive orders, included directives that raised red flags among immigration advocacy groups. It laid out how new policies would be implemented that would target for deportation anyone who directly or indirectly facilitated the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States. Through this memo, a warning shot was fired by the new administration that disrupting and dismantling human trafficking rings wasn’t their only priority; parents who were reunified with their unaccompanied minor children as a result of the previous administration’s policies were also in the crosshairs.
Having unaccompanied minors and their parents being targeted in the above mentioned memo was so troubling that attorneys from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) prepared a practice advisory in order to assist legal practitioners who represent child clients in removal proceedings and to help them advise family members of such children. It cannot be understated how important it is for legal advocacy groups to quickly respond with effective strategies when these types of laws are put into place. While I do not represent unaccompanied minors or have any of their parents as clients, I have many colleagues who do and am fully aware of what they are experiencing as the Trump administration targets yet another cohort of immigrants they view as a priority to put into deportation proceedings.
To date, there are reports of ICE agents visiting the homes of unaccompanied minors after they are released to start deportation proceedings against their parents. There are other reports of parents being arrested and detained by ICE as they accompany their children to scheduled ICE appointments. As I write this, Secretary Kelly has been reassigned and no longer heads the Department of Homeland Security. It is unknown who his predecessor will be but I long for the days when DHS was led by someone like former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson who held the position under President Obama.
It’s a well-known fact that children of deportees suffer from trauma, economic and social instability, as well as other harmful effects that are devastating and long-lasting. With the deportation net widening under the Trump administration, it’s highly likely even more children will be emotionally scarred due to the deportation of their parent(s). Therefore, I was pleased to see a letter had been spearheaded by N.Y. State Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, and was directed to DHS Secretary, John Kelly, and DHHS Secretary, Tom Price addressing this topic. Gillibrand, along with 15 of her Senate-colleagues have asked them for concrete data on what in fact does happen to those children who are left behind. Also, what policies are in place both before and after they are separated from their parents only to become part of the foster care system?
Families being split up due to deportation is nothing new – even in rural parts of the country such as upstate New York. For many years now, I have seen Cornell Farmworker Program’s Director, Mary Jo Dudley, make a concerted effort to get parents to sign a Parental Consent for Alternative Childcare Form so they can have a plan in place for their children in case they are deported. Having this type of document prepared could potentially keep children out of the welfare system and into the hands of someone the family knows and trusts. But then what? The Senators’ letter inquires about what types of trauma-informed services are in place to assist those children who are placed with kin families. It makes you wonder, do they even exist? If not, then the guardians named in the Parental Consent forms like the one above might not have the trauma-informed services they will also need to assist the children left in their care.
The following letter asks many critical questions and they deserved to be answered. It’s important to know whether or not the system can adequately handle children of deportees and whether or not the “continuity of care” for children being separated from their parent(s) is in place or even considered. From what I know about Senator Gillibrand, she seems to carefully choose the issues she gets behind and stays on top of them. Therefore, I’m cautiously hopeful the children of deportees will finally get some of the attention they deserve and the services they will need to address their trauma and emotional pain. In the meantime, the letter is quite powerful and immigration advocates should follow what happens to make sure it isn’t dismissed or brushed aside.
Dear Secretary Kelly and Secretary Price:
We write regarding the recent uptick in immigration enforcement actions across the country pursuant to President Trump’s policy directives. We are particularly concerned about the impact of such policies on vulnerable people, including the children of deported parents. More than 5,100 children enter the child welfare system each year because of the deportation or detention of their parents. These children are United States citizens, and the deportation of their parents leaves them vulnerable in myriad ways.
As you know, separation from a parent can cause significant negative mental health effects in children. Studies have shown that children who experience these types of traumatic events can suffer from symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, have poorer behavioral and educational outcomes, and experience higher rates of poverty and food insecurity. Abruptly separating from parents is a highly destabilizing, traumatic experience for children, and one that carries long term consequences such as feelings of loss and grief, economic hardship, and increased risk of neglect and abuse. Additionally, as parents and children are separated, more youth are entering into the child welfare system – a system that is already straining to meet the needs of the many children it serves.
We therefore seek answers to the following questions, and would be grateful for your response within 30 days:
- How many children have entered the child welfare system and been removed from their parents’ care as a result of their parents being deported since January 2015?
- Of these children, please provide data on the type of placements, i.e. foster families, kinship care, or congregate care placement. For those children placed with kin families, what types of trauma-informed supportive services are in place to ensure that these placements are stable and children can thrive?
- What is the estimated financial cost to taxpayers to support U.S. citizen children of deported parents while they are in foster care? Please provide all available data since January 2015, to include an aggregate number and the average cost per child per day, and the average length of stay in foster care.
- What procedures are in place to screen individuals who are in the process of deportation to identify whether they are parents?
- What is your policy when making an arrest of a parent in terms of ensuring continuity of care for minor children?
- What is Department of Homeland Security’s policy regarding contacting local child welfare agencies and what is your protocol when the agency detains an individual and children are in the home without a caretaker?
- What policies are in place to protect the children’s interests in these proceedings?
- What are your agencies doing to ensure that parents in deportation proceedings can meaningfully participate in resultant child welfare cases, and visit with their children?
- Is there a plan to increase federal funding through DHS to support local departments of social services across the country as they experience an increase in their foster care responsibility as a result of new DHS policy?
If the data requested in this letter are not available, we would like to request that your agencies start maintaining them. This information is critical for identifying children in need of support and illuminating potential unintended consequences of immigration policies.
Thank you for your attention to this issue. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
In recent weeks, both Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca passed Resolutions to protect undocumented immigrants from harassment and the threat of unjust deportation. Both measures prohibit local police from enforcing immigration law, or asking someone’s immigration status unless it is relevant to an underlying crime. They also limit collaboration between local officers and federal immigration agents.
The city of Ithaca formally declared itself a “sanctuary city” on February 1. Tompkins County, however, doesn’t call itself a “sanctuary” jurisdiction. Its Resolution is entitled “Public Safety for All,” and aims to “maintain a safe, inclusive government, and [the] protection, order, conduct, safety, health and well-being” of all residents.
Why the difference? Both measures were passed in response to an Executive Order that greatly expanded the categories of people targeted for deportation. Except for minor distinctions, both provide law enforcement officers with the same operational guidance. Each adopted a “legal roadmap” provided by the New York Attorney General’s Office describing just how far jurisdictions could go to protect undocumented people without violating federal or state law.
While I cannot speak to the Common Council’s decision to adopt a “sanctuary” specific resolution in Ithaca, I can explain why the County avoids the word “sanctuary” because I assisted lawmaker Anna Kellis in drafting its Resolution.
“Sanctuary” means different things to different people. Proponents are often motivated by the historical idea of sanctuary as a way to protect people from government persecution. Opponents say that sanctuary jurisdictions cherry-pick which laws to apply, and selectively protect certain groups of people from the consequences of committing crime. In reality, both of these interpretations miss the mark when it comes to understanding what a “sanctuary” jurisdiction does, and does not, do.
The word “sanctuary” has no legal definition, so the protection sanctuary jurisdictions provide varies from place to place. Some jurisdictions prohibit local law enforcement officers from collaborating with federal agents to the extent permitted by law. Other jurisdictions provide free legal services to undocumented people in deportation proceedings. Yet others simply affirm general human rights principles or a commitment to non-discrimination, without further explaining what “sanctuary” really means.
When it came to drafting the Resolution in Tompkins County, we didn’t want the word “sanctuary” to be manipulated, or misunderstood. We especially did not want undocumented individuals to think they would be safe from deportation proceedings initiated by federal agents. The Resolution, for example, limits the kind of assistance that local officers will provide federal agents, but neither State nor local officials have the authority to interfere when federal agents conduct their own investigations.
It was also important to highlight how the Resolution promotes public safety for everyone. For example, because the Resolution prohibits local officers from investigating someone’s immigration status, it encourages immigrants to call the police when they need help or have information about a crime without triggering a chain of events that could ultimately lead to deportation. The resulting separation between local law enforcement on the one hand, and immigration enforcement on the other, protects undocumented people from harassment, but it also makes for safer communities overall because it builds trust and opens the lines of communications between immigrants and the police.
Also, “law and order” voters in Tompkins County might have opposed a “sanctuary” resolution, not knowing how our proposal actually supports local officers and economic interests. The Tompkins County Sheriff had in fact publicly endorsed the Resolution because it made sense both legally and pragmatically, and because it was consistent with the Department’s own practice.
Local enforcement of federal immigration law is also expensive, because the federal government does not reimburse the County for time its officers spend on immigration, or the resources they use. Moreover, because federal immigration agents operate under a more flexible set of enforcement guidelines, a County that cooperates with federal agents can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of undocumented people.
There are plenty of good reasons for a municipality to embrace the word “sanctuary.” A resolution adopted by the City of Ithaca in 1985 to protect refugees gave the Common Council historical support for protecting undocumented people against federal aggression this time around. Voters in Ithaca also supported the principle of protecting undocumented people, separate and apart from any broader local interests served by the Resolution. Tompkins County has a different history, and its residents as a whole are more politically divided. The decision to avoid the word “sanctuary” reflected that context, in hopes that the merits of the County Resolution would carry the day, regardless of the name we gave it.