You know what we forgot to do? We forgot to abolish ICE.

Joe Biden is president and things are getting better. But our shitty anti-immigrant law enforcement agency is continuing to do terrible things to immigrants.

The ugly truth is that, since at least the '90s, pretty much all presidents have sucked on immigration, including the Democrats. Immigrants rights activists called Obama the "Deporter-In-Chief."

Of course, Donald Trump set a new standard for evil, what with his kidnapping of immigrant children, throwing babies in cages, banning Muslims, refusal to let asylum-seekers into the country, Nazi-esque anti-immigrant speeches, and whatnot. But ICE didn't suddenly become a good agency full of decent people who care about immigrants when Trump left.

So let's take a look at what's going on with immigration one month into the Biden administration.

9-year-old Haitian boy reunited with his family

Remember Vladimir Fardin, the 9-year-old who was away from his family and detained in the final hours of the Trump administration?

Yup, that was a real thing that happened. He arrived with his 19-year-old brother and they both had visas, but CBP agents decided it would be fun to separate the brothers, hold them for 24 hours, interrogate both of them with no adults or lawyers present, and refuse to let them call anyone.

Those same lovely CBP agents then decided that their visas didn't really count, which meant Vladimir was an "unaccompanied minor," and he was sent to a refugee detention center. Alone. And without being able to talk to his brother, family, or lawyer. His brother was deported for not having the right paperwork to go with his visa.

After more than a week in baby jail, a terrified and traumatized Vladimir was finally sent back to Haiti and reunited with his family. Even after Biden took office, DHS had continued to insist the child must be detained for a full two weeks, to complete a COVID quarantine. The local office wouldn't budge. Vladimir's lawyer was finally able to secure the child's release by going straight to DC.

We are soooooooo glad Vladimir is finally home with his family. But his case is a stark reminder that the change in administrations hasn't stopped ICE's evil bullshit.

We're ending the COVID-rape camps

We told you before about how the Trump regime kept asylum seekers in horrific conditions in really dangerous camps in Mexico. Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy (aka Trump's "Migrant Protection Protocols") has kept some 70,000 would-be immigrants in camps on the Mexican border that are notoriously dangerous places full of disease, kidnapping, rape, and violence. About 26,000 people are still there today.

The Biden administration immediately stopped placing people in the camps on January 20, but it has taken longer to start moving out the people who were already there. Yesterday, we finally started letting some of these poor, long-suffering people into the country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working with local organizations on the ground to select the migrants who get to enter the country first. The UNHCR will work with the US government to determine who to prioritize.

Conditions at the camps in Mexico are horrific. And this week, they were hit by the winter storms currently ravaging Texas and northern Mexico. Tens of thousands of people are still there today, sleeping in tents. Some people have been living in these camps for more than two years.

And while it is wonderful that we are finally starting to let these long-suffering people in, we are starting with very small numbers. Yesterday, it was a group of 25 people who crossed the border in San Ysidro, California.

A Citizenship and Immigration Services official and former asylum officer told the LA Times,
"I'm disgusted that the program has not been abolished," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect against professional retaliation. "And I mourn for all those who suffered and continue to because of it."

Immigration bills are on the horizon

On Thursday, Dems introduced the US Citizenship Act of 2021 in both the Senate and the House. The bill is a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, expand visas and green cards, make it easier to claim asylum, and provide protections to immigrant workers.

It's a good bill that would do a lot to address some of the key problems in our current system. It has strong Democratic support and powerful co-sponsors. It bill was drafted around the Biden admin's stated priorities for immigration.

But unless the Senate nukes the filibuster, it's never going to pass.

With the current GOP's focus on really hating immigrants who aren't white, there is just no way 10 Senators defy Mitch McConnell and cross party lines for this. And unlike some other measures, immigration reform can't be done through budget reconciliation.

I wish I could say I saw a path for this to become law, I really do. But unless Dems can get Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on board to abolish the 60-vote threshold for legislation, which they are both on record opposing, I just don't see it happening.

However, that doesn't mean we won't see any action from Congress on immigration. The DREAM Act, which would give a path to citizenship to some of the people who came to the US as children, has bipartisan support and is incredibly popular nationwide. So fingers crossed we will finally be able to really protect the Dreamers.

Biden has some new rules for ICE

This week, Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson issued a memo with new guidance based on the Biden administration's immigration priorities. And, well, it's not great.

Don't get me wrong, it is definitely a step up from ICE policies under Trump. And on some things, it's also quite a bit better than Obama. But overall ... meh.

The Biden administration hopes the new guidelines will curb arrests and deportations. It creates three tiers of deportation priorities: (1) people who present a potential threat to national security; (2) undocumented immigrants who came into the country after November 1, 2020; and (3) undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of an "aggravated felony."

The memo also instructs officers to look at a bunch of different factors, like the "extensiveness, seriousness and recency" of criminal activity, and factors that would weigh against deportation, like "personal and family circumstances, health and medical factors, ties to the community, evidence of rehabilitation and whether the individual has potential immigration relief available," before making decisions about arrests, releases, and deportation proceedings. And that's great; taking a real, holistic look at each person's circumstances is an important step we have been skipping altogether. But it still gives ICE officers a ridiculous amount of discretion.

When ICE has discretion to do evil shit, it does evil shit. And this memo still allows a lot of it.

ICE agents are told in the memo that "no preapproval [is] required for presumed priority cases." In practice, that means that, if an agent decides one of the three priority conditions is met, deportation proceedings don't have to be sent up the ladder for approval. It also gives agents free rein to pursue non-priority cases, as long as a supervisor signs off. But I'm sure an agency like ICE would never attract shitty people who just really love deporting people. And an "aggravated felony" is not always as bad as it sounds, and can include things like failing to appear in court or filing a false tax return.

Immigration activists are pissed. RAICES said the memo "only makes it easier for ICE to detain and deport immigrants and is "a clear back-track from President Joe Biden's campaign promises and earlier Executive Orders." And ACLU senior advocacy and policy counsel Naureen Shah called it "a disappointing step backward" and that "the interim enforcement priorities [...] import the injustices of the criminal legal system and will lead to continued disproportionate deportations of Black and Brown immigrants," noting:

At a time when Black immigrants are being deported, including to the lethal situation in Haiti, the Biden administration must not hesitate to put real limits on ICE. As it works to undo the chaos and cruelty of both the Trump and Obama administrations, the Biden administration must fully break from the racist and unfair policies of the past.

ICE agents, naturally, are whining about how the memo constrains them, while at the same time saying "anyone unlawfully in the United States will still be subject to arrest."

#AbolishICE

There are Nazis and shitheads at every level of ICE and CBP and that didn't magically change when Joe Biden took office.

ICE's disgusting page about the "Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement Office" is still up. It deported a witness to the El Paso massacre whose only "crimes" were traffic violations. And the Biden administration has exempted ICE from its crackdown on private prisons.

It's important that we finally have people running our government who don't hate non-white immigrants and actively try to find new ways to hurt them. But ICE and DHS still employ a bunch of shitty people who will continue to do shitty things.

We need to make serious changes to our current immigration system. Little things here and there are bandaids that can help. But we aren't going to have a humane, caring immigration system in the US until we create one.

[ Time / LA Times / Citizenship Act / ICE Memo / Vox ]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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