Undocumented Parents Face Unequal Volunteer Opportunities in Pennsylvania Schools

Written by Joanna Bernstein for LatinoRebels.com

For some undocumented parents living in Pennsylvania, the opportunity to volunteer at their children’s schools is a privilege, not a guarantee.

In Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, the public school district explicitly states undocumented parents can volunteer inside their children’s schools, provided they pass necessary background checks. District policy continues to be that undocumented parents must obtain the same Pennsylvania State Criminal History Record Check and Child Abuse Report as documented parents. Most important, the district does not require parents of any immigration status to obtain a background check from the FBI, provided that no previous convictions show up in the those two checks. Only if a previous conviction is revealed from the two primary background checks is the parent’s information turned over to the FBI for federal investigation.

Some 300 miles west, however, lies the state’s second largest city, Pittsburgh. Its public school district does not afford undocumented parents the same opportunities as their counterparts in Philadelphia, and are prohibited from volunteering.

During the planning of a “Know Your Rights” event which involved a Pittsburgh school partnering with Friends of Farmworkers, a legal advocacy organization for immigrants based in Philadelphia that just recently opened an office in Pittsburgh, I asked the school’s administration if they had many Latino parents volunteer at the school, hoping to gauge the current level of civic engagement taking place at the education level. The answer was essentially no, but there was an asterisk: “because they can’t.”

“What do you mean they can’t?” I immediately retorted, both confused and surprised.

A long-time social worker from the school and a community organizer from another local group working directly with the district explained that it was literally not possible for the district to conduct the necessary background checks on undocumented parents because “they don’t have driver’s licenses or Social Security cards.” The organizer added on a separate occasion, “We don’t want to send any undocumented people’s information to the feds.”

Read more at Latino Rebels

American Siblings in a Family Divided by Law

As immigration continues to be front and center, much of the conversation around this topic leaves out the more than four million U.S. citizen children who have at least one undocumented parent. Data show these children are at a disadvantage in education, health and economic opportunities. No matter what side of the immigration debates one takes, these are American citizens…the next generation of police officers, school teachers, doctors and army soldiers.

Jim, Bill, Naomi and Bobby de la Rosa are seeing how the unintended consequences of immigration policies affect their lives.

These siblings live in Tucson, Arizona. They are U.S. citizens and so is their father, but their mother lacks legal status in this country.

This story offers a glimpse into the challenges they face.

Featured image: Naomi and Bobby sleep on the same bed most nights, they are each other’s best friends. The siblings are the two youngest in a family of four American citizens affected by U.S. immigration policies. (Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star)

The original version of this story, Divided by Law was produced by Fernanda Echávarri for Arizona Public Media for a project that was done in collaboration with The Arizona Daily Star. The original story was co-reported with Perla Trevizo and all photography was done by Mike Christy, both of The Arizona Daily Star.

Cruz and Rubio Spar Over Immigration (Again) at #GOPDebate

Continuing a theme they started in the last Republican debate, senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of Cuban immigrants, had another testy exchange over immigration at last night’s debate in South Carolina. The tone of last night’s comments positioned immigration policy as a national security issue, a far cry from the bipartisan 2012 “Gang of Eight” bill, which Rubio supported.

Lawyers Succeed in Protecting 33 Mothers and Children from Immediate Deportation

This afternoon, Latino USA received the following information from the CARA Pro Bono Project, a partnership of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), the American Immigration Council (Council), and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). We decided to publish the press statement in its entirety:

In the last week, 121 mothers and children were brought to the South Texas Residential Family Center in Dilley, Texas, after being rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project reviewed the cases of 13 families, filed appeals for 12, and won stays of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals for all 12 families – 33 mothers and children. While this is a major victory for these families, the troubling fact remains that many, who very likely also had claims for relief, were swiftly deported without the chance to consult with CARA staff or volunteers. The 12 families for whom CARA obtained stays were fleeing extreme domestic violence or targeted for recruitment, kidnapping, assault, or extortion by transnational criminal organizations.

We now call on the Obama Administration to release the families confined at Dilley pending their appeals. The continued detention of these children and mothers violates well-established law regarding the treatment of immigrant children, as reflected in the Flores Settlement Agreement. CARA Managing Attorney Katie Shepherd explains,

“Under Flores, the government may not hold children in unlicensed, secure detention centers like Dilley. The children should be released immediately, with their mothers, as the law requires. The plight of these families, victims of ICE’s recent raids, highlights more pervasive problems with our immigration system. The Obama Administration’s troubling approach toward refugee families needs to be rethought, beginning with the immediate closure of its current family detention centers.”

The CARA Project team served as the last hope for these families. Their successful stays of deportation raise serious concerns about the glaring due process violations that deprive bona fide asylum seekers of a meaningful opportunity to present their claims. Every single mother for whom the CARA Project filed an appeal had been denied due process in one or more ways, including:

Cases thrown on a “rocket docket,” leaving no time for their attorneys, if they were able to secure legal representation, to compile the evidence required;

Lack of information on what the process was and what their obligations were;

Officials pressuring them to sign legal documents without access to counsel;

Arrest and detention after they had cooperated with every single requirement ICE had mandated.

The government’s decision to round up Central American families over New Year’s weekend and its refusal to disavow such aggressive enforcement tactics against vulnerable mothers and children continues to reverberate across the United States and beyond. President Obama must fully acknowledge that these families deserve humanitarian protection rather than punishment. The Obama Administration has consistently refused to recognize and treat these families as refugees and has erected enormous obstacles again and again in an effort to deter future asylum seekers. This is a shameful choice that contradicts our own laws and our history as a nation of immigrants.

CARA looks forward to receiving details from the government regarding plans to partner with the United Nations to assist refugees fleeing Central American violence. But, in order to live up to our country’s values and principles, real solutions need to be sought and implemented for those fleeing violence who reach our borders, including meaningful access to counsel and full due process, as well as an immediate end to family detention. Additionally, the administration should immediately protect this vulnerable population from deportation by granting humanitarian parole, Temporary Protected Status, or another form of relief.

O’Malley, Sanders Continue to Pressure Obama Administration’s Deportation Plan

Following up on Christmas Eve statements sharply criticizing news that the Department of Homeland Security was planning to increase deportation raids on Central American families who entered the United States after 2014, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have continued to apply pressure on the Obama administration to quickly change its course.

Last night, O’Malley campaign senior advisor Gabriela Domenzain tweeted O’Malley’s remarks from Nevada, where O’Malley proposed the extension of Temporary Protective Status for individuals from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

According to the federal government, Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is granted to individuals “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.” Countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are some of the most violent countries in Latin America. Earlier today, USA Today called El Salvador “the world’s new murder capital.”

O’Malley also had strong words this past weekend in Iowa at a campaign event, where he said the following: “What the hell have we come to as a country that you’re talking about rounding up women and children fleeing death gangs at Christmas time?”

This morning, Sanders used his Senate credentials to write a letter to President Obama, where he called on the administration to stop all raids:

Raids are not the answer. We cannot continue to employ inhumane tactics involving rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of immigrant families to address a crisis that requires compassion and humane solutions

Sanders also called for an extension of TPS. This is the full letter, which was also delivered to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña:

Deportation Raids Letter to President Obama by Latino USA

After releasing the Obama letter online, Sanders’ official Senate Twitter account tweeted the following:

Latino USA emailed the Hillary Clinton campaign about the Sanders letter and O’Malley’s Nevada remarks. As of this posting, the campaign has yet to respond. On December 24, Clinton campaign spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement that Clinton has “real concerns” about the initial reports of new deportation plans.

She believes it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues.

Featured images: Martin O’Malley (l) speaking at an immigration roundtable in Phoenix, Arizona (Gage Skidmore); Bernie Sanders at a rally in New Orleans, Louisiana, 2015 (Nick Solari)

DHS Secretary: ‘If You Come Here Illegally, We Will Send You Back Consistent With Our Laws and Values’

In response to reports this weekend of increased deportation raids of Central American families, the Department of Homeland Security released the following January 4 statement from Secretary Jeh C. Johnson.

Southwest Border Security

As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.

In the spring and summer of 2014 we faced a significant spike in families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross our southern border illegally. In response, we took a number of actions in collaboration with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the numbers declined dramatically. In Fiscal Year 2015, the number of apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol of those attempting to cross our southern border illegally –an indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally– decreased to 331,333. With the exception of one year, this was the lowest number of apprehensions on our southern border since 1972. In recent months, however, the rate of apprehensions on our southern border has begun to climb again.

In November 2014, I issued new priorities for immigration enforcement as part of the President’s immigration accountability executive actions. These new Department-wide priorities focus our enforcement resources on convicted criminals and threats to public safety. These new enforcement priorities also focus on border security, namely the removal of those apprehended at the border or who came here illegally after January 1, 2014.

We must enforce the law in accordance with these priorities, and secure our borders.

Accordingly, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with our domestic and international partners, is undertaking the following actions:

Removals. Since the summer of 2014 we have removed and repatriated migrants to Central America at an increased rate, averaging about 14 flights a week. Most of those returned have been single adults.

This past weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children. This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.

The focus of this weekend’s operations were adults and their children who (i) were apprehended after May 1, 2014 crossing the southern border illegally, (ii) have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and (iii) have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws. As part of these operations, 121 individuals were taken into custody, primarily from Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, and they are now in the process of being repatriated. To effect removal, most families are first being transported to one of ICE’s family residential centers for temporary processing before being issued travel documents and boarding a return flight to their home countries.

Given the sensitive nature of taking into custody and removing families with children, a number of precautions were taken as part of this weekend’s operations. ICE deployed from around the country a number of female agents and medical personnel to take part in the operations, and, in the course of the operations, ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion in a number of cases for health or other personal reasons.

This enforcement action was overseen by Sarah Saldaña, the Director of ICE, and supported and executed by Thomas Homan, a career law enforcement official who leads ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.

At my direction, additional enforcement operations such as these will continue to occur as appropriate.

Increasing border security.We are continuing to enhance our border security resources and capabilities, working closely with state and local counterparts. As a result of our long-term investment in border security over the past 15 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has greater capability to identify and interdict illegal crossings than at any time in our Nation’s history. This includes the largest deployment of vehicles, aircraft, boats, and equipment along the southwest border in the 90-year history of the Border Patrol.  And through the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan we launched in early 2015, we are for the first time putting to use in a combined and strategic way the assets and personnel of CBP, ICE, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Coast Guard to better protect the border.

In response to the recent increases in migrant flows along the southwest border, CBP has deployed additional permanent Border Patrol Agents to high-traffic areas, augmented operations in South Texas with Mobile Response Teams, and redirected support from other Border Patrol sectors including through remote interviewing technology.  CBP has also increased surveillance capabilities by adding tethered aerostats (long-range radars) and other technology, along with additional aircraft. CBP will sustain these heightened border security efforts, along with the humanitarian aspects of its responsibilities, while the current migration levels persist.

Unaccompanied children. As the number of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border has risen again in recent months, DHS has continued our close coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as it increases its capacity to care for unaccompanied minors and place them with sponsors. Our goal is to ensure that CBP has the continued capability to quickly and efficiently transfer unaccompanied minors after they are apprehended to HHS custody, as is required by U.S. law. In the past month, HHS added over 1,000 beds for this purpose, and recently announced that another estimated 1,800 beds will be available soon. HHS is continuing to explore options for additional beds if necessary.

Cracking down on criminal smugglers. In the summer of 2014, the Deputy Attorney General and I announced “Operation Coyote” to crack down on those involved in the criminal smuggling of migrants from Central America and elsewhere. Since then, 1,022 smugglers and their associates have been arrested, and hundreds of bank accounts have been seized.

With the Department of Justice, we are now doubling down on these efforts. This will build on existing initiatives such as ICE’s Human Smuggling Cell, which is working with the financial industry to target and disrupt the flow of funds to human smuggling organizations. DHS’s recently formed Joint Task Forces, JTF-West and JTF-Investigations, will coordinate the deployment of additional DHS investigative and prosecutorial resources and their integration into the Department of Justice’s ongoing law enforcement and prosecution operations.

Cooperation with Mexico. We are expanding our cooperation with Mexico in dealing with illicit migration. In particular, we are working with our Mexican partners to enhance joint efforts on our shared border, to support Mexico’s efforts on its southern border, and to shut down the criminal groups and illegal support networks that exploit vulnerable migrants. DHS and the Department of State will also continue to support the Merida Initiative, the longstanding partnership between the United States and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence.

Expanding the public messaging campaign. DHS and the Department of State are expanding our existing messaging campaign in Central America, Mexico, and the United States to educate those considering making the journey north, as well as their families abroad, about the dangerous realities of the journey. The messaging will also highlight the recent enforcement operations.

The Flores case. We continue to disagree with the District Court decision in the Flores case that a 1997 settlement of a case solely involving unaccompanied children now applies to children who arrive with a parent and their processing at today’s family residential centers. The decision, and the resulting injunction, significantly constrains our ability to respond to an increasing flow of illegal migration into the United States. We have appealed the decision, and the appellate court has agreed to hear the appeal on an expedited basis. Meanwhile, we have implemented significant reforms to how we operate our family residential centers to transition them to temporary processing facilities for these individuals, and have taken steps to ensure compliance with the District Court’s July 24 and August 21 orders.

Creating an alternative, safe and legal path. Finally, to effectively address this situation, we recognize that we must offer alternatives to those who are fleeing the poverty and violence in Central America. More border security and removals, by themselves, will not overcome the underlying conditions that currently exist in Central America. I am pleased that Congress, in the recently-enacted omnibus spending bill, included $750 million in aid for Central America.

In the meantime, DHS and the Department of State are accelerating the development of new mechanisms to process and screen Central American refugees in the region, about which we hope to make a more formal announcement soon. We will expand access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in the region and develop more legal alternatives to the dangerous and unlawful journey many are currently taking in the hands of human smugglers.

These new refugee processing mechanisms will build upon the existing Central American Minors Program, which is already providing an in-country refugee processing option for certain children with parents lawfully in the United States.  Thus far, we have received more than 6,000 applications for the Program, some children have begun to arrive in the United States as part of the Program, and we expect the pace of arrivals to increase steadily moving forward. We are also engaging other countries in the region, encouraging them to join us in broadening access to protection for refugees from Central America.


I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don’t go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities. At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity.

Featured image: (John Moore/Getty Images)

Why Are Immigrant Mothers Wearing Ankle Monitors?

Over the last 10 years, immigration officials have been the expanding the use of what they call “alternatives to detention” (ATD) for immigrants released from their custody: ankle monitors, telephone check-ins, home visits and so on. The idea is find ways to ensure that immigrants will show up for court hearings, without needing to detain them for the full period that their case makes its way through the system, which can take years. There are currently about 12,000 immigrants wearing ankle monitors. By 2016, the Department of Homeland Security plans to expand to 50,000 immigrants on some form of supervision.

Immigrant advocates say the ankle monitors aren’t a true “alternative to detention,” but rather a way to expand the scope of detention and to further punish immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. They point to evidence that more humane tools —like providing legal help to immigrants— are just as effective at getting people to show up to their hearings. And they question how appropriate is it to strap ankle monitors on mothers seeking asylum with their young children, one of the groups that has been seeing more and more use of the monitors. Latino USA investigates.

Featured image: John Moore/Getty Images

Pew: Americans Not Informed About Immigration

A new comprehensive analysis from Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends group provides deep insights into the history of immigration in the United States and concludes that current attitudes from Americans about this contentious topic are mostly mixed and somewhat misinformed.

The top-line points from Pew share several key findings —“nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushing the country’s foreign-born share to a near record 14%”— but it is a specific section of the analysis (Chapter 4: U.S. Public Has Mixed Views of Immigrants and Immigration) that presents some telling conclusions about the current immigration debate and the 2016 election cycle:

How Well Do Americans Know About Immigration Facts?

The following chart from Pew shows how well Americans answered questions about certain immigration facts. The first question in the chart shows that 53% of American adults did not know the current percentage of foreign-born individuals was 13% of the U.S. population. In addition, 36% believe that the share of undocumented individuals as part of America’s immigrant population is higher than 26%, which is the correct answer. Furthermore, 69% of American adults believe that Latin Americans represent the largest group of new immigrants from the last five years. The correct answer is Asian immigrants.

PH_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-51 (1)

How Do Americans View Immigrants From Different Parts of the World?

According to Pew, American adults view European and Asian immigrants more favorably than immigrants from others parts of the world, with Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants being viewed as “mostly negative.”

PH_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-42 (1)

Pew also drilled down a bit more to share how Republicans view Latin American immigrants. This chart shows that 58% of Republicans have a “mostly negative” view of Latin American immigrants.


How Do Americans Describe Immigrants?

According to Pew, 12% of American adults say the word “illegal” first when asked to describe immigrants. This is the chart Pew presented, showing all the different words that came to mind:


How Do Americans View Impact of Immigrants?

Pew also provided one chart showing how American adults view immigrants’ contributions to society.


Based on that chart, Pew concluded the following:

Americans are more likely to say immigrants to the U.S. are making American society better than making it worse. According to the survey, a plurality of Americans (45%) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. make American society better in the long run, while 37% say they make society worse and 16% say immigrants don’t have much of an effect one way or the other.

But there are major differences in the way different groups of Americans answer this question, with immigrants themselves, college graduates, Hispanics and younger Americans much more likely to be sanguine about the impact the foreign born are having on the United States, while Republicans, those with a high school diploma or less, and whites are more likely to have the most negative views of immigrants’ impact on the U.S.

Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to say immigrants are making U.S. society better, possibly reflecting the groups’ strong recent immigrant roots. According to the survey, about six-in-ten (61%) Hispanics say that in the long run, immigrants to the U.S. are making American society better while just 20% say they make it worse and 17% say immigrants have not had much effect on U.S. society.

By comparison, 44% of blacks say the impact of immigrants is positive, a plurality among them. But among whites, while 41% say immigrants make American society better in the long run, a similar share (43%) says immigrants make American society worse.

Fabio Comes Home

Fabio and his little brother Delvis can travel freely between their families in Honduras and the U.S., but their parents and grandparents can’t. Reporter Nina Feldman accompanies Fabio on a journey back home to pick up his little brother from his grandparents’ home in San Pedro Sula and bring him back to his parents’ waiting arms in New Orleans.

Photo of Fabio (l) and Delvis (r) via Nina Feldman

What the GOP Candidates Said About Immigration

The second Republican debate last night in California dived into several topics, but as expected, immigration was part of the discussion. Here is a Storify series of video clips that highlighted what the candidates said.

Featured image: screen grab via YouTube