Fighting For Families: 2017 Outlook on Immigration


Marshall Fitz and Kavitha Sreeharsha

If 2016 was a year of organizing and anticipation for America’s immigrant population and their allies, 2017 will be a year of fortification. Immigrant communities and advocates pinned our hopes on a candidate who promised to prioritize comprehensive immigration reform, end family detention, and double down on policies of inclusion. Instead we face a president-elect who has vowed to ramp up immigration enforcement, revoke programs providing protection to DREAMers, build a massive wall on the Mexican border, end refugee admissions from Muslim countries, and has leveraged fear to divide the country.

While the outlook appears grim today, we will not be deterred in our pursuit of justice and protection for hardworking immigrants and refugees seeking a life of dignity and respect. We intend to double down on our efforts to advance an agenda of inclusion and opportunity.

Central American Asylum Seekers

Over the past year advocates pushed for a more humanitarian response to the families fleeing violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. First and foremost, this includes demanding an end to family detention in private prisons, citing inhumane conditions and practices. Women and children have experienced significant physical and psychological harm in detention facilities, after having already experienced trauma in their home countries. Families fleeing violence and leaving their homes in panic arrive at our borders seeking protection. Instead, they’re placed in detention facilities run by private prison companies with little to no public accountability.

Families who are released from detention continue to be vulnerable. Our laws allow these families to seek asylum, but without sufficient counsel, most cannot navigate the complex U.S. legal system. Legal services are limited, but a number of agencies have been on the forefront of providing support, including Human Rights First, Public Counsel, Centro Legal de la Raza, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).

Under the new administration, we expect the practice of family detention to continue and possibly expand. We also anticipate increased use of private prisons—facilities with little to no transparency—as immigrant detention facilities. In response, we plan to redouble our support for those who are detained and to shine a light on the cruelty and inhumanity of these practices.

Temporary Protection Programs

In April, the legal fight over the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program came to a head at the U.S. Supreme Court. DAPA would have provided protection to millions of hardworking undocumented immigrants but the Court’s 4-4 deadlock kept the program on ice and millions of hopeful families in limbo.

The president-elect has explicitly declared his intention to terminate both DAPA and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has already protected more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children. DACA recipients have furthered their education, earned jobs that were previously out of reach, become vocal and visible advocates for their families, and enhanced our society across the board.

Organizations like Teach For America have embraced DACAmented teachers as corps members and given them the chance to give back to their communities.

Terminating the program would put all of that in jeopardy and expose these individuals to the threat of deportation to countries many of them barely know. This has generated deep concern across civil society and, thankfully, many are stepping up to declare their solidarity and support. Universities and colleges have pledged their intention to make their campuses safe zones. Organizations like United We Dream and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) work around the clock to provide information and resources to the DACAmented.

In 2017, our partners will leave no stone unturned in the effort to protect DACA recipients and their families from being torn apart. We will continue to tell their stories, provide legal support, and grow efforts to protect DACA recipients in every possible way.

Immigration Enforcement

More individuals have been deported under the current administration than ever before, but over time aggressive advocacy and concerted efforts within DHS leadership have resulted in enforcement more aligned with stated priorities. In fact, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., the Migration Policy Institute estimates that some 85 percent do not meet priorities for deportation. Annual removals have fallen from a high of 430,000 to approximately 210,000 last year.

That’s exactly why the incoming president’s rhetoric around enforcement is so alarming. He has committed to creating deportation forces, speedily removing millions of people, and rejecting the sensible exercise of discretion through programs like DAPA and DACA. These signals put immigrant communities on high alert, while spurring advocates and organizations to enact supportive infrastructure and resources like those in our guide to shield immigrant communities from these threats.

We have joined with our partners to develop a Post-Election Resource Guide to help immigrants and those working directly with immigrants navigate and prepare for stepped-up enforcement. Individuals, families, schools, health care professionals, municipalities, and other entities all have a critical role to play in protecting immigrant communities.

ILRC's "red card" can be slid under a door and presented to an ICE agent. Organizations have jumped to offer “Know Your Rights” seminars, webinars, clinics, and online resources.

Another major focus is expanding capacity to represent immigrants, including those who are detained, in removal proceedings. Though resources are strained, legal service providers greatly benefit from a number of organizations, including the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Innovation Law Lab, and more, who lend the technical expertise required to handle these very difficult cases.

Of the 11 million undocumented individuals, approximately 14% of them are eligible for immigration relief and possibly don’t realize it. Organizations are assisting non-lawyers to help with these cases; moreover, Immigration Advocates Network’s Immi tool allows these eligible individuals to self-screen online for common forms of immigration relief. Such tools allow anyone to become more involved in helping undocumented immigrants access immigration relief.

State and Local Pro-Immigrant Policy

As the federal government attempts to carry out its immigration enforcement plans, states are already responding with counter legislation that reinforces the value of immigrants’ contributions in their states. Organizations like the California Immigrant Policy Center have been on the front lines, already working with state policy makers to propose a number of bills, including the California Values Act, which will establish safe spaces and ensure no state resources are used in mass deportations.

Cities and mayors around the country have also stepped up to demonstrate their commitment to treat all residents in their communities with dignity and respect, regardless of immigration status. In addition to promising not to serve as de facto immigration enforcers, these locales are considering other ways to support their residents. One promising development is increased interest in covering the costs of legal representation for indigent immigrants in deportation proceedings. Whether an immigrant has an attorney is often dispositive as to the outcome of their case. We will continue to promote and support efforts like these to expand access to legal representation.

Citizenship and Naturalization

With an incentive to vote in the 2016 presidential elections, this year we saw a surge in applications for citizenship and naturalization. Dedicated organizers like those at the Citizenship Project of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas provided immigrants with the information resources needed to tackle the rigorous process of applying for citizenship.

Given the incoming administration's plans, it's no surprise that citizenship applications and requests for information continue to flood in. Through citizenship fairs and workshops, those seeking to naturalize will remain supported and guided through the application process.

Emerson Collective is profoundly grateful to our partners for their relentless advocacy on behalf of the voiceless and the marginalized among us. We will meet the new administration with vigorous advocacy to support our immigrant communities most under attack. We’ll ensure that government leaders and the American public recognize and understand the value our immigrant communities bring to the United States and how vital it is to protect their rights.

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