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Guest Host: Jen Golbeck
As federal immigration enforcement heats up, check-ins and legal hearings required by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are seen by some as more risky. Reports of surprise detentions at ICE field offices have increased anxiety around deportation.
We explore how one local organization is training people to accompany immigrants to meetings where they can expect to interact with ICE. We also learn about a lawsuit alleging that an ICE field office in Maryland is using green card meetings for people marrying U.S. citizens as a chance to arrest immigrants in what they call a “bait-and-switch” scheme.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
- Carmel Delshad Editor and reporter; @cdelshad
- Austin Rose Organizer with Sanctuary DMV
- Nick Steiner Equal Justice Works Immigrants’ Rights Fellow for ACLU of Maryland
JEN GOLBECKWelcome to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Jen Golbeck sitting in for Kojo. Later in the show we'll talk to author Tope Folarin about his new novel, "A Particular Kind of Black Man." But first as immigration enforcement increases around the country so does fear in immigrant communities that once routine check-ins or court hearings could end with being detained by ICE. Today we hear about what this means for people in the Washington region, learn about why activists are organizing people to accompany immigrants to these check-ins, and find out about a lawsuit in Maryland that's trying to stop the practice of detaining people during meetings about the green card process. Joining us to discuss are Carmel Delshad, editor and reporter for WAMU. Thanks for being here.
CAMEL DELSHADThank you.
GOLBECKWe also Austin Rose, organizer with Sanctuary DMV. Austin, thanks for joining us.
AUSTIN ROSEThanks for having me.
GOLBECKAnd Nick Steiner of Equal Justice Works Immigrants' Rights Fellow for ACLU of Maryland. Nick, thanks for being here.
NICK STEINERThanks for having me.
GOLBECKAnd you can also join the conversation. Have you or anyone close to you faced deportation? You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You can e-mail us to kojo@WAMU.org or send us a tweet to @kojoshow. Carmel, you've been reporting on immigration in the Washington region. Could you give us an overview of how the changes in enforcement on the federal level are effecting immigrants locally?
DELSHADOf course, yeah. I think there's a large sentiment of people who are waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, they're seeing immigration enforcement happening across the country and waiting when that will happen in a major way locally. There are definitely widespread fears of increase and ongoing immigration enforcement through the summer. Initial reports were June, then it got pushed to July. We didn't see that materialize in a big major way locally, but advocacy groups, one of them being Sanctuary DMV said, that at least one person was deported recently from Alexandria, Virginia. So there are ongoing ICE enforcement activities going on throughout the region. And just not, you know, hundreds of people being rounded up in a major way that's getting the headlines.
GOLBECKAs you mentioned earlier this summer President Trump threatened mass raids in cities across the country, including Baltimore, which led to heightened fear among immigrants. What kind of ripple effects is this fear having in local immigrant communities?
DELSHADYeah, I think that there are, is a lot of fear in some immigrant communities about again, waiting for that other shoe to drop. I've heard from people who are afraid to go to church, afraid to go out. Some that I've spoken to have said that it's a good thing it's summer so their kids are not going to school, and they're out a little bit less. And again, this isn't all happening in a vacuum. If we go back just a couple of weeks ago there are definite fears that were heightened after the shooting in El Paso, Texas, after a manifesto was linked to the suspected shooter, where it spoke of a Hispanic invasion of Texas.
DELSHADSo that brought about a new sense of fear in folks, who said, that they're not only afraid of immigration enforcement, but now acts of violence. But I do want to also underscore that activists have said there's a lot of people who refuse to live in fear. They're going about their daily lives sort of embolden by the solidarity of people or allies of theirs, who are standing with them in cases where they might be fearful of immigration action.
GOLBECKAnd if you're one of those allies we'd love to hear from you. If you've accompanied immigrants to hearings or ICE check-ins, give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Austin Rose, one space that people have been facing detention is in routine ICE check-ins and immigration court hearings. Your organization Sanctuary DMV trains volunteers to accompany people to those check-ins and hearings. First, what exactly is supposed to happen at an ICE check-in? Who attends them? And what are they like?
ROSESure. So ICE check-ins occur relatively frequently for folks, who are going through the immigration court process, and are released while they go about that or for folks who have a final order deportation or something like that, and that's pending and so while they do their check-ins. So at a check-in it's actually really unpredictable. We have seen folks arrive at their check-ins and then just get two weeks, a month in the future of their next check-in, and they're okay. It's sort of a quick process. And then we've had other people detained at their check-ins when volunteers were there. So it's really unpredictable. The idea is for ICE to keep an eye on folks. And it's really oppressive system for them. We just try to stay in the solidarity with the people we accompany regardless of what happens.
GOLBECKWhat does having someone accompany an immigrant at an ICE check-in or hearing do?
ROSESure. So first we provide logistical support, transportation and stuff like that. Secondly, we provide emotional support that as we were mentioning today. It's a really stressful process to navigate this process, and to feel like you could be taken away from your family at any moment. So we try to provide that support. And then finally we're a presence, we observe what's going on. And while we don't have data to confirm this, we believe that our presence can make an impact in convincing the ICE agents, who have a lot of discretion to not detain a person today, and to give them more time. So our role is just to stay in the solidarity and do what we can.
GOLBECKAre there any legal issues that arise when a volunteer is accompanying someone for an ICE check-in or a court hearing?
ROSENo, I don't think so. So for ICE check-ins and for ankle bracelet appointments at ICE app we are respectful of the process. We respect the rules, 'cause we're not there to instigate. That's not going to come back on us, it's going to come back on the compa, and so we're just providing support. There's no legal issues with that. In terms of immigration court, that's a public process. If we're asked to leave the court, because it's a private hearing we will do so, but we're just there to be part of the public and observe what's going on.
GOLBECKCamel, the risk of detention at ICE check-ins and immigration legal hearings could theoretically keep people from attending them. What are the legal implications of immigrants skipping meetings like these?
DELSHADYeah, I recently caught up with a lawyer, who works with immigrant groups and he underscored that there's almost no situation where the best solution is skipping these immigration check-ins, because ICE will find out and they will likely track when people are skipping them. So again, in the past under the Obama administration these check-ins were seen as pretty routine. The administration did not prioritize people, who had clean criminal records for deportation. Obviously we're under a different administration now, and things have changed. So through groups like Sanctuary DMV, I think people are feeling a little bit more embolden to be able to go to those check-ins and not skip them.
GOLBECKNick Steiner you work with the ACLU, which recently announced a lawsuit alleging that the Baltimore ICE field office, which handles cases for immigrants who live throughout Maryland, is engaged in what you're calling a bait and switch tactic to deport recently married immigrants. What exactly is the ACLU suggesting that ICE is doing here?
STEINERYeah. So at its core of this case against the Maryland ICE office is a family separation issue for immigrants, who are married to U.S. citizens there's an immigration process that allows them to get legal status and receive a green card. And at the very beginning of that process there's an interview. And the interview is meant for the couple to come in and to prove that the marriage isn't fraudulent. That they got married just for immigration purposes. And so U.S. citizens who are married to non-U.S. citizen immigrants go into their interview and after, immediately after the interview ICE will arrest the immigrant, detain them, and try and deport them, and this practice is entrapment.
STEINERIt's a bait and switch where people have to come in for these interviews if they want to ever receive a green card, and instead are taken away from their families and deported. In one client's case Mr. Sanchez, he and his wife went in for an interview on May 7th of this year, had their petition approved, and then Mr. Sanchez was escorted out of the room to a room where there were two armed ICE officers. He was handcuffed, taken away from his family, held in detention for about a one and a-half. And at that point we had intervened right before he was about to be deported back in June. And ICE agreed to let him go.
STEINERSo he's now currently back with his family. But the trauma from that arrest, the trauma of being held in detention for that long separated from his two kids still stays with him. And a couple weeks ago on August 5th we amended that individual case just for Mr. Sanchez into a class action to target the practice itself.
GOLBECKSo can you, as someone who doesn't understand the legalities behind all of this, right. I read the news stories about this. So if this man Elmer Sanchez and his wife went in, they had -- they're married, they had their petition approved. How can he then be taken for deportation, like what's the legal basis for that?
STEINERRight. So for Mr. Sanchez specifically he was ordered removed by an immigration judge back in 2005. He missed his immigration hearing, because he didn't receive notice of that hearing. And if you miss your hearing the immigration judge will order you removed. So he had that final order of deportation since 2005 and that was the basis for the arrest. But the removal order, the deportation order is not relevant for this process. People with removal orders can go through this process and still receive green cards if they're legitimately married to a U.S. citizen.
GOLBECKLet's take a call now from Paul in Chantilly, Virginia. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead.
PAULHi. Thanks for taking my call. Here's my question. The U.S. government has invested hundreds of millions in dollars building consulates and embassies around the world. Okay. The consulates were built for the express purpose of interviewing foreign nationals, who want to apply for visas to come to the United States, either as tourists or as permanent residents. So we require that they fill out all the applications, they pay all the fees. We vet them, we interview them, consulate officers interview them to make sure that they're good candidates to come into the U.S. legally. We do this for the purpose of knowing that they won't be a threat to the country or a burden on the economy.
PAULSo when I hear your guests say we want to make sure that undocumented immigrants aren't arrested even if they're unlawfully in the country and deported, that's nonsensical to me. I'm a retired DEA agent and all we did it seemed was arrest illegal aliens, Mexican nationals.
GOLBECKAll right. Well, let me get comments from our panel here Paul. So Nick Steiner, do you want to start then?
STEINERSure. Yeah, so the consulate interviews actually is a step in this process. What the previous process was, was that the individual who's married to a U.S. citizen has to go abroad and receive all of the necessary waivers of unlawful presence, things like that, before he can or she can reenter the country. And what the regulations did in 2016 was change that process just so that people with final orders of removal can remain with their families, which and this process can take years getting all the necessary waivers. So people wouldn't take advantage of the process, because they'd have to be separated from their families for so long.
GOLBECKCan you, one more kind of legal question. I'm glad I have an expert here to answer all my questions that I've had. So say I am not from the United States, I come into the country, say I get in, I don't go through a border check point. Right, I'm just here. So I'm here in an undocumented status. What kind of a crime is that? Like that would make me a quote/unquote "illegal immigrant." Like what is the seriousness of that crime? Is it a misdemeanor? Is it a felony? Like what does that mean if I've done that?
STEINERSo being in this country undocumented is not a crime. It is a civil offense. It's an immigration violation, which is not a crime.
GOLBECKSo I couldn't go to jail just for being here?
STEINERThere are two crimes, immigration related crimes. One is illegal entry, and one is illegal reentry, so illegal reentry being that you were deported once and then come back in, but obviously you'd have to be charged and prosecuted for those.
GOLBECKOkay. And are those misdemeanors or felonies?
STEINERThe illegal entry is a misdemeanor. Illegal reentry is a felony.
GOLBECKOkay. Thank you for clarifying that. So I have a question for both you Nick and Austin Rose. About how do we respond to people who say, look, the people being arrested here are people who are here illegally. They might have an order of removal. So why does it matter if they're detained by ICE? And maybe Austin, I'll have you start, and then Nick.
ROSESure. Just to respond to the question from the caller. I think if folks had the opportunities to apply for visas through consulates they would do so, but the fact of the matter is there's just not many visas available to folks and for their circumstances. And then they make the choice to come, to protect their families. And in response to your question, Jen, I think what this administration has done very effectively is criminalize immigrant communities to make it easier to suppress descent and make it easier for us to forget about them. And so we talk, we were just talking about what's a crime and what's not? Well, when we do that we make it easier to forget about folks. The fact of the matter is people are living in our community. They're contributing to our community. They are members of our community.
ROSEWhether or not they have a final order of deportation or whether or not they came to the country undocumented. It's doesn't matter to us here at Sanctuary DMV. We stand in solidarity regardless, and I think we should remember that for folks who are interested in supporting undocumented immigrant communities is to stand in solidarity regardless of the background, and regardless of why they entered the United States or whether or not that would be a crime.
GOLBECKNick, your comments.
STEINERYeah, and I think just to piggyback off of that. I think there is a real consequence of demonizing immigrants in the way that our administration is doing that I think where this caller was going with. That really prevents a lot of immigrants and especially Latin-X immigrants from actually taking advantage of a lot of legal processes. The legal process that we're suing about is actually an immigration process that is available to them, and a lot of people are not going to their marriage interviews out of fear that when they go they'll get arrested.
GOLBECKAustin, Sanctuary DMV also organizes people to accompany immigrants to ICE app check-ins. What is ICE app? And how are those check-ins different than other ICE check-ins or legal proceedings?
ROSESure. When ICE will contract out some of their work to a private company, ICE app is the sub-section of that company. That's for ankle bracelet appointments. So folks who are on release for whatever reason will report normally every two weeks or so to check-in on their ankle bracelets and to get to monitor them. So it's effectively similar to an ICE check-in, but it's a separate office. It's a private company that ICE contracts with and ICE supervises that company.
GOLBECKWe did get a tweet that is relevant to you, Austin. CAH tweets. Do you have to speak Spanish to become a volunteer for ICE check-ins?
ROSENo. So we have over 500 trained volunteers. And we have expanded greatly in the last couple of years under this administration to respond to what's going on. We have many folks, who do speak languages including Spanish, but that's not a requirement. We just ask that you devote the time to do this work. If you have access to a car, transportation is really helpful, if you have the language skills that's helpful, but they're not required by any means.
GOLBECKCarmel Delshad. Some people might be surprised to hear that all of this is happening in places that are ostensibly sanctuary jurisdictions. What can sanctuary city legislation and executive orders do and not do when it comes to these kinds of detentions?
DELSHADYeah, it varies quite a bit, depending on the location. So generally sanctuary cities and jurisdictions limit their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement actions. A jurisdiction doesn't have to abide by a detainer request from ICE. Again, that is a request. The jurisdiction does not have to hold people just for ICE.
CARMEL DELSHADSo if you look at it, in the case of Montgomery County for example, just recently their County Executive Marc Elrich signed an executive order that bars county officials from asking people about their immigration status. So in that case in particular employees are forbidden from coordinating with immigration officials for the purpose of detaining people. Elrich has said that it is not in the interest of the county to quote, "utilize its limited resources to facilitate with immigration law. And it is the job of the federal government to enforce immigration law not the county."
GOLBECKNick, I want to follow up with you on that. How much power do local jurisdictions actually have around immigration issues?
STEINERYeah. So there are, aside from Montgomery County, other counties where there's executive orders issued by the county executive in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and then there's other places where there's actual laws on the books, like in Tacoma Park. The need for these kinds of actions are incredibly necessary to target that fear that actually exists. A lot of people are fearful even to communicate with the police, out of fear that by doing so they will put themselves at risk of being arrested for an immigration issue.
GOLBECKCamel, there's conflicts between ICE in Montgomery County over a man arrested in the county on sexual assault charges. ICE said this week that the county refused to comply with a detainer for the man, who the federal agency wanted to detain. And they released him from county jail. And the county executive Marc Elrich said that the county did inform ICE about the man's release and didn't receive any follow-up from ICE about the case. So what do we know about this? And what does it demonstrate about the relationship between Montgomery County and ICE?
DELSHADSo to your second question I think it shows that there's friction between Montgomery County and ICE. As I mentioned above, the county limits its cooperation with the agency. In this particular case a man was arrested and charged with the rape and assault of a woman in his acquaintance. And according to news reports ICE filed a detainer for the county to maintain custody of him for 48 hours. A judge granted him bond, and he was released. The county said that it called ICE to let them know that the man was being released from their custody. But they said, no one picked up the number, the phone from the number that they had. And according to reports ICE has said that the county should have contacted more people to get in touch. This particular individual has a court hearing in early September.
DELSHADBut again it just underscores a tension that exists between localities like Montgomery County, who have stricter, you know, laws on the books for not cooperating with ICE, and the immigration agency itself.
GOLBECKAustin Rose, you said that D.C. is not really a sanctuary jurisdiction. Why not?
ROSESo I think we have an illusion that D.C. is a sanctuary jurisdiction, because of labels, but practically we are not. There are multiple avenues through which folks are transferred to ICE from D.C. government practically every day. One of those is that the D.C. jail notifies ICE of the release of all people who have an immigration detainer. And another way is that the U.S. marshals, who operate in the D.C. courthouse will regularly call ICE openly and transfer people over to ICE. So the reality is D.C. is not a sanctuary city. And we need to continue to fight in order for it to be a sanctuary city.
GOLBECKCarmel, after President Trump threatened to start mass deportations earlier this summer though, Mayor Bowser released a statement saying in part, Washington D.C. remains a proud sanctuary city. And we're committed to protecting the rights of all our immigrant families in the face of these disturbing threats. What does Bowser mean when she calls D.C. a sanctuary city?
DELSHADSo in effect it means a city as an administration limits its cooperation with the federal deportation orders and ICE. D.C. police says its officers are prohibited from asking about citizenship or residency status. Unless an officer is investigating a crime in which this person's immigration status is relevant. The police department recently released videos in a number of languages with that policy from Arabic to Spanish to Mandarin, just putting that policy out there on the books. And there's about just for people's knowledge 25,000 undocumented immigrants living in D.C. currently. Bowser has allocated funds to legal groups offering services for immigrants and for undocumented immigrants. And they're also able to get driver's licenses as well for limited use in the city.
DELSHADBut, you know, there have been some, a larger push from advocates to say that, you know, we need more stringent regulations on the books that go beyond what the administration is currently doing.
GOLBECKWell, I want to thank all of our guests for helping us sort this out. Carmel Delshad, editor and reporter for WAMU. Austin Rose, organizer with Sanctuary DMV. And Nick Steiner, Equal Justice Works Immigrants Right Fellow for the ACLU of Maryland. Thanks to all of you. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be back in just a minute. Stay tuned.
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