• A Broken Asylum System, and How We Ended Up With Kids in Cages

    July 17, 2019 // 8 Comments »


    How did we end up with kids in cages? We put them there, across multiple administrations, and created a politicized immigration and asylum system that constrains better options. So time to stop saying this isn’t who we are and start looking beyond the hysteria.

    There are givens. Immigration restrictions are not inherently racist. All countries have borders. They have to so they can make decisions about who can enter their country and who can be a citizen.

    No nation allows people to simply move in. Every border globally is designed to place a barrier in between those allowed and those who are not. At the same time, most economies depend on the cheap labor of immigrants. For most of the developed world, labor needs are worked out via a points system that admits a regulated number of workers with designated skills coupled with border enforcement. The U.S. instead focuses on “reunification,” with family members legally in the country petitioning for relatives with unknown skills to immigrate (do we get the brother with the 4.0 GPA or the one with 3.0 murders under his belt?) Our borders have historically then been left porous to ensure an adequate number of exploitable workers. But since the number of people drawn to work usually exceeds the demand, our immigration laws also place speed bumps in front of the many, many people around the globe who want to try their luck. Inevitably you end up with kids in cages.

    Bill Clinton’s 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act set new records for immigrants detained. Next up was George W. Bush’s 2005 Operation Streamline, a zero-tolerance plan to prosecute all illegal entrants. But to avoid the logistics and negative optics, the program made exceptions not written into the law for adults traveling with children. Nature finds a way, and more and more economic migrants arrived with somebody’s child in hand as a Get Out of Jail Free card. Fewer kids in cages, but more illegals.

    Obama initially prosecuted only those found illegally entering more than once. Caught off guard by an influx of asylum seekers from Central America, the administration in 2014 established then-legally permitted family detention centers to hold parents and children — potentially indefinitely — in cages as a means of deterring others. There were also children held alone in cages when they arrived without parents, or in the hands of human traffickers, or when their parents were criminally dangerous. The program ended only because of a 2016 court decision ordering the release of most of those hostage families and largely prohibiting family detention facilities. Adult men, women, and children, would be caged separately in the future.

    The whole Obama program got little media attention, although kids were in cages, mostly at the same facilities in use today. The holding facility at Clint, for example, currently a focal point for progressives, has been open since 2013. It was set up specifically for children. Fort Sill, Oklahoma, housed Japanese-American detainees during WWII, 1200 immigrant children during the Obama years, and will reopen to again take in immigrant children for Trump. Immigrant rights activists dubbed Obama “deporter in chief” for having deported more immigrants than any president. He still holds the title because his administration deported more migrants per year than Trump.

    While many children at the border are with parents, others arrive with human traffickers, some on their own. “Children” can include everyone from infants to 17 year old “boys,” and the dangers of housing those vulnerable people among adults of all types should make it obvious why the law is written as it is. While on the face a nice solution sounds like “parents with their own kids,” imagine the terrible things that can happen when children and adults are detained together.  Also under Trump, parents arrested at the border are criminally charged with illegal entry. Due process laws do not allow children to be kept with the parent because the child is not being criminally prosecuted.

     

    Trump set out in April 2018 to prosecute every illegal crosser, first or tenth time, with or without kids, the letter of the law. There had been a growing rise in the number of people from the Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) along with Mexico. For example, the border patrol detained 6,405 unaccompanied children in May 2018, up from 4,302 in April. In comparison with May 2017, the number of unaccompanied children soared by 329% and parents migrating with kids as a family surged by 435% in 2018.

    By law now children and adults cannot be detained together; it was allowed during the Obama years and earlier under the Flores Settlement. Most parents arrested at the border are criminally charged with illegal entry. Due process laws do not allow children to be kept with the parent because the child is not being prosecuted. Overall, interpreting what these laws say must be done versus can be done to end up at what should be done draws some very fine, politically-motivated legal lines.

    What is clear is by ending the various catch-and-release, and ignore and don’t catch policies of his predecessors, Trump triggered the next variation on an old problem. With no legal avenue to immigrate for work, and with border enforcement stopping many from simply walking north and blending into the estimated 11 million illegals already in the U.S., a vast number of economic migrants now ask for asylum. They are aided by for-illegal profit asylum cartels, staff from a Democratic Congresswoman’s office, and volunteer American lawyers.

     

    Asylum applicants must demonstrate if sent home they would be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. The definition of those five protected grounds has varied based on American domestic politics. For example, since 1994, LGBT status has been a possible grounds of asylum. Victims of domestic violence were granted consideration for asylum under the Obama administration, rolled back under Trump. However, asylum never has been and was never intended to stretch to security or economic situations affecting blanket-like most everyone in a country. “Wanting a better life” has never been grounds for an asylum claim.

    However, economic immigrants without legitimate claims to asylum have long taken advantage of slow processing by American authorities. A Mexican man caught on the border who says he came just to work may be sent back almost immediately. However, should he make a claim to asylum, the U.S. is obligated to adjudicate his case, however frivolous (there are potential expedited processes.)

     

    The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act requires those seeking asylum be detained while their cases are processed. But for logistical and political reasons, prior administrations simply released most asylum seekers into American society to wait. Asylum seekers become eligible for work authorization if their case has been pending for more than 150 days, as almost all do. Trump has directed the letter of the law be followed, ending this catch-and-release system. He also has negotiated for many asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico instead of working the while in the U.S.

    The problem is the backlogs are unresolvable. Affirmative asylum seekers, such as most of those now at the border, apply administratively through DHS. The number of such pending cases as of January 2019 was 325,277, more than 50 times higher than in January 2010. Defensive seekers are those applying for asylum once facing deportation or removal for some reason, including being denied under an earlier affirmative application. These cases go through the courts. As of July 2018, there were over 733,000 pending. The average wait time for a hearing was a staggering 721 days.

    The approval rates for asylum claims are low, and always have been. Some recent figures for Mexican claimant approvals are 12%, Salvadorans 21%, Honduras 22%, and Guatemalans 26%. Those countries account for more than 40% of asylum applications, and have for some time. The high refusal rates, while up under Trump, are not at odds historically. In 1984, only 3% of asylum cases from El Salvador and Guatemala were granted, even as U.S.-sponsored wars raged there. Approval rates for all nationalities over the past decade average only 28%, skewed high over recent years by waves of cases designed to pander to general U.S. voters (Chinese pro-democracy applicants) and evangelical voters (Chinese anti-One Child Policy applicants.)

     

    But as we talk there are still kids in cages. None of this is to defend the conditions in detainee camps. Those are a result of a sudden shift in implementation of immigration law coupled with a lack of infrastructure planning, driven by a president who impulsively wants to be seen as “tough” facing down a problem, all backed by an asylum system no longer suited for the conditions imposed on it. Conditions can be quickly improved, and the House just voted $4.6 billion to do that.

    But we need also acknowledge the dangers in 2019 of hysteria, driven by media and progressive politicians exploiting the situation to paint themselves as liberating another concentration camp on the road to Berlin, when the immediate solutions are more in line with hygiene kits and child care workers. And no whataboutism. Under Obama we tolerated kids in cages. Without that tolerance then we would not have the intolerant situation now.

    But there are deeper dangers. Progressives don’t want to fix Trump’s logistical mistakes (AOC and others voted against the recent humanitarian funding increases.) The camps must not be made more humane, they say, they must be closed. Deportations must not be limited, they must be ended by decriminalizing illegal entry. Free medical care for illegal immigrants. Asylum to economic migrants. Abolish ICE. Open borders.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s immigration policies resonate with important sectors of the public. Some 60% of likely voters support efforts to “prevent migrants from making fraudulent asylum claims and being released into the country.” This does not grow from racism or white supremacy (Latinos support much of the Republican immigration agenda), though using those words is an easy way to blame people impacted by decades of imposed change and delete them from the conversation on how to do better.

    The driver seems to be the imposition by elites of an uncounted number of illegal immigrants with unknown skills and unknown criminal backgrounds to have an unknown impact on the places they choose to settle. Do we get the guy with the 4.0 GPA or the one who committed 4.0 murders? We are destined — required — to take the bad with the good, scatter them around the country, and hope for the best.

    So when economic turmoil in Mexico during the early 1990s pushed migrants north, just as war in Central America drove them in the 1980s, and gang violence does today, in America there is no plan. Tired, consumed, with resources stretched, there was a backlash building Trump sensed and acted on. As Trump was unprepared at the border and told DHS to make do, America for decades has been unprepared and told to make due. A de facto open border similar to 2015 Europe imposed by progressives would have the same effect here as there, leading to a new, even more conservative backlash.

     

    The peak year for legal immigration to America was 1907. Your great-grandfather entered an agricultural and rapidly industrializing nation desperate for workers with no time to waste putting kids in cages. To get them out today we need more than olde timey nostalgia and modern outrage. We need a 21st century asylum and immigration policy.

     

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    U.S. Customs to Solve Terrorism by Asking Tourists for Their Social Media Accounts

    February 12, 2017 // 23 Comments »

    NSA_User_Activity_Leads


    The United States government seems to have a real thing for social media and terrorism, stoutly believing if only they could “take out” Twitter the global jihadi movement would collapse. Or something like that. Maybe it’s Instagram?



    Social Media vs. Jihad

    But while Trump talks the talk, Obama walked the walk.

    You may not know it, but since December the United States quietly changed the standard online entry form (ESTA) used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a part of your neighborhood Department of Homeland Security.

    The question added is “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier.” The question is for all foreign travelers’ who use the visa waiver (visa-free) system for admission into the U.S. The form is not used for American citizens.

    The form also asks for info on citizenship, passport data, and contact information in the U.S., along with hilarious questions inquiring if the traveler is coming to the U.S. to commit espionage, sabotage or terrorism (seriously; see here). Not so many people answer Yes.

    The entry process for all foreigners already includes fingerprinting, photographing, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.


    The U.S. government had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors is producing one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind.

    And even though the social media question is voluntary, apparently most travelers have been filling in the blank out of fear of calling attention to themselves and prompting further attention at the border.

    As a reminder to all those who bark fascism at every turn: this change went into effect by order of the Obama administration, not Trump’s.

    And who is having their social media examined? Citizens from the visa-waiver countries. No, no, not those naughty people from the Seven Banned Muslims nations, but American allies like Japan, the UK, Germany and the like. And guess what? There’s not been a word of protest, not a single court challenge. It’s almost as if people paid no attention to any of this before Trump came long.

    Mohammed Atta on Twitter?

    According to the rules, the new info “will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

    So the concept is that Mohammed Atta (for example) rolls up to the Customs checkpoint at the airport, and jots down his Twitter handle as @terrorist911 and then enters the U.S. to resume his flight lessons. Someone from Customs later trolls Atta’s account to discover “Shout out to all the brothers, gonna lay down some whoop ass on Septemb–” Ah poo, only 140 characters, now we’ll never know.

    Image Courtesy of Edward Snowden



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    Teen Sues U.S. Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She was Billed $575

    June 23, 2016 // 9 Comments »

    strip search

    Ashley Cervantes, a then 18-year-old American citizen, was stopped at the Mexico border and, for some unspecified reason, perhaps related to her being young and of Hispanic ethnicity, accused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of smuggling drugs.



    What Drugs?

    A search of her person and belongings proved fruitless, which often is a strong indicator that there are no drugs. The process involved being locked into a detention room for several hours, handcuffed to a chair, while several dogs were brought in to sniff at her. A request to call her mother was denied.

    But bullying is the best law enforcement tactic, so they gave her a body cavity search, which means a CBP agent put on some rubber gloves and shoved a finger up her vagina and butt. She was also made to squat pantless so female investigators could visually inspect her privates. Still no drugs.

    So Customs and Border Protection took her to a local hospital against her will, in handcuffs. No warrant, no consent. Instead, a Customs and Border Protection agent signed a “Treatment Authorization Request” as she was considered an alleged “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” That form requested an X-ray.

    After the X-ray showed no drugs, doctors performed another vaginal and anal search. No drugs. She was finally released after seven hours of humiliation and given a bill for $575 for “medical treatment.”



    What Rights?

    Cervantes now has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the government. “[I] had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of my life, will always remember that my first pelvic and rectal exams were done under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil,” she charges.

    What Border?

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, or as they enter a CBP office on the border, as with Cervantes in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    What Border, 2016 Edition?

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can and conduct warrantless searches.




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    Judge Sets Limits on Some Invasive Border Searches

    May 27, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    fourth amendment

    Only a scant 14 years after 9/11 opened the door to unprecedented government violations of the rights of American citizens, what has come to be known as the Post-Constitutional Era, there are small signs that our somnolent courts are slowly rousing.

    Slowly.



    The Case of Jae Shik Kim

    A federal judge determined the search of a traveler’s laptop without a warrant as he was leaving the country was unreasonable, in a ruling that could help derail the government’s long-held search criteria for international travelers.

    In the case, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia allowed defendant Jae Shik Kim to suppress key evidence the government found after searching his laptop at Los Angeles International Airport. The Department of Homeland Security suspected Kim of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran and seized his computer before allowing him to board a flight home to Korea in December 2012. The government cloned Kim’s hard drive, shipped it off to a forensic lab, and searched it, uncovering a series of alleged “incriminating emails” that formed the basis for the government’s case against Kim.

    The court concluded the government not only conducted an unreasonable search, but further violated the Fourth Amendment by shipping the computer to a second location where they continued the extensive search.

    The judge wrote:

    The government points to its plenary authority to conduct warrantless searches at the border. It posits that a laptop computer is simply a container that was examined pursuant to this authority, and it submits that the government’s unfettered right to search cargo at the border to protect the homeland is the beginning and end of the matter.

    But to apply those principles under the facts of this case would mean that the border search doctrine has no borders. The search of the laptop began well after Kim had already departed, and it was conducted approximately 150 miles away from the airport [at the forensics lab]. The government engaged in an extensive examination of the entire contents of Kim’s hard drive after it had already been secured, and it accorded itself unlimited time to do so.

    There was little or no reason to suspect that criminal activity was afoot at the time Kim was about to cross the border, and there was little about this search — neither its location nor its scope and duration — that resembled a routine search at the border.”


    The Constitutional Borderline

    Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, as Mr. Kim was in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.

    Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.

    The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.

    Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

    Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

    The same process works in reverse; at some point as you depart the U.S., the government believes you are “outside” and thus lack any Constitutional protections. That’s what happened to Mr. Kim.

    What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras — whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular — knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.

    Back to the Kim Case

    Hanni Fakhory, for Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the opinion in the Kim case wasn’t binding like an Appellate or Supreme Court decision that requires other courts have to follow suit. “But it’s persuasive because it adds to the growing body of case law that says digital devices are different,” he said.

    That means the next time the government searches someone’s phone, tablet or laptop on suspicion of criminal activity, a defense attorney can use the case as an example of an invalid forensic search, a deeply invasive search that reveals old emails, call records and other information that can’t be obtained just browsing through one’s device. It is a start.

    BONUS: The Supreme Court ruled last year in Riley v. California that law enforcement cannot search a cell phone during an arrest without a warrant.




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