November 1, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – While the United States is known as a nation of immigrants, recent federal policies have made it much more difficult for today’s immigrants to obtain permanent resident status, for people from Central America to be granted asylum, and for “Dreamers” who may have only known life in the United States to be safe from deportation.
That was the gist of a presentation October 29, 2019, by immigration attorney Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office. Sister Attracta provided background on a number of specific immigration policies, described their current status, and in many cases suggested actions that the public can take to bring about just immigration policies.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a policy built on “prosecutorial discretion,” delaying the deportation of young adults – known as “Dreamers” – who had come into the United States at a very young age with parents who did not have the proper immigration papers, Sister Attracta said. Since 2012, when the DACA act was passed, she said, about 800,000 young adults were granted temporarily relief from the threat of being deported. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA on September 5, 2017.“We’re talking about people – many of whom are very wonderful professional people,” Sister Attracta said. “They have gone to school, held down two jobs, and worked really hard. Many of our DACA people are doctors and physician’s assistants, working where most U.S.-born professionals would not dream of going to work.” Many of the Dreamers have only known life in the United States and could face deportation to their parents’ country of origin, which would be foreign to them.
“The fate of DACA will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” beginning with arguments on November 12, 2019, Sister Attracta said. “Between now and November 12 we need to pray very, very genuinely from our hearts to open the hearts of the Supreme Court justices so they do what Jesus would do – look at these people as human beings who need to be treated with respect.”
Sister Attracta announced a novena – developed by Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – that begins on Sunday, November 3, and concludes on Monday, November 11. She also encouraged people who live in the Adrian area to attend a prayer service for Dreamers at 7:00 p.m. Sunday, November 10, 2019, at the St. Joseph campus of Holy Family Parish, 415 Ormsby Street, Adrian.
Sister Attracta noted that asylum seekers – especially those from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua – have been in the news because of changes in the U.S. administration’s asylum policy and its treatment of those who have come to the U.S. border without formal papers.
Asylum is defined by international law as pertaining to “people fleeing persecution in their home country where the government will not or cannot protect them from harm,” Sister Attracta said. Those seeking asylum “must show past persecution or fear of future persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group,” she said.
The U.S. government no longer allows people seeking asylum to wait in the United States for their court hearing, Sister Attracta said. Instead, they must return to Mexico or apply at a “safe” country closest to their home country. But, Sister Attracta said, while the United States considers Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to be safe, they actually are not.
It has been the treatment of families seeking asylum that has garnered the most attention, Sister Attracta said. Under the U.S. government’s zero tolerance policy, “all adults crossing the U.S. without proper documentation will be criminally prosecuted,” she said. In the past, such offenses were considered civil rather than criminal violations.
In June 2018, the U.S. policy of separating families at the border and holding children as young as less than a year old in confinement “shocked the world with its cruelty,” Sister Attracta said, adding that the public later learned that this policy had already been in practice a year before it became known. Although the courts ordered that this practice be stopped, many of the children have not yet been reunited with their families, Sister Attracta noted
Sister Attracta encouraged action to bring about immigration reform in the United States:
“Pope Francis urged us to embrace what he terms a ‘culture of encounter,’ face-to-face encounter with others, which challenges us with their pain, their pleas, and their joy,” Sister Attracta said. “The Christian way of life is to pray, be available, and passionately act for the common good. If we respond as Pope Francis calls us, we must look at the root cause of our immigration problem. We must work together to fix our very broken immigration laws.”
Watch Sister Attracta’s complete presentation in the video below.
By Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD
On November 6, in an editorial on asylum published in the Adrian Daily Telegram (see below), I stated that United States law and International law allow people to seek asylum in the United States “without regard to where they enter the country, at an airport, another official port of entry, or through the desert.” I also noted at that time that President Donald Trump had announced he was going to make it much more difficult for people to claim asylum and that he would enact a series of executive orders to ensure that this happened.
On November 9, President Trump, through the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, issued a proclamation that will deny the ability to apply for asylum to anyone who crosses the southern border of the United States at any place other than a port of entry. This change will be in effect for 90 days, with a possibility of extension after the 90 days are up.
The proclamation stipulates that only those who present themselves at ports of entry at the southern border will be eligible to apply for asylum through the “credible fear” interview process. Credible fear is the first step toward asylum and indicates a “significant possibility” that a person meets the asylum standard of proof.
According to President Trump’s recent order, those who enter the southern border anyplace other than a port of entry, they will not – no matter how credible their claim – be able to apply for asylum. Instead, they may be allowed to apply to stay in the U.S. through Withholding of Removal or the Convention Against Torture. In both of these cases, one must meet a higher “reasonable fear” standard of proof than those applying for asylum. Even if successful through either the Withholding of Removal or the Convention Against Torture, people are not granted permanent forms of protection – they are not allowed to apply for residence in the United States, not allowed to travel outside the United States, and cannot apply for family members to join them in the U.S. In contrast, if a person is granted asylum, they will later be granted legal permanent residence and eventually citizenship.
Asylum has always been a safeguard for those people whose lives are in danger and have fled their homeland, because they faced lives of persecution and torture. How far have we as a country strayed from “send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?” Where is our compassion?
Asylum is Law of the Land
Published in the November 6, 2018, issue of the Adrian Daily Telegram
By Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD
Are you as mystified as I am as to why our administration is sending 5,200 members of our military (more than double the number serving in Syria) to our southern border?
Despite public rhetoric around the migrants traveling through Mexico, there is no crisis at our southern border. Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), an organization that conducts extensive research in all areas of immigration, reports that over the years, similar groups of migrants have been organized and have been processed without the least bit of fanfare. This was demonstrated by the most recent example in April that began with 1,200 people, of which only 200 reached the U.S. border.
Many of those currently traveling through Mexico will not ever reach the border, and the majority of those who do will ask for asylum at points of entry, as prescribed by law.
The asylum system in the United States was established in 1968 when it signed the protocol to the 1951 United Nations Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, and when Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.
The law says a person may apply for asylum at a port of entry or from within the United States. In order to seek asylum at a port of entry, asylum seekers must declare that they fear being returned to their home country and are seeking asylum. According to the law, the person is to be promptly interviewed by an asylum officer, who makes an initial determination on whether the asylum-seeker’s fear is credible. If deemed credible, the case will be heard by a judge, who will make a final decision. If the claim is considered not credible, the asylum-seeker may be allowed to stay in the U.S. in order to file an appeal in Immigration Court. If it is denied, the asylum-seeker will be deported.
Military personnel are not trained as asylum officers, so what could they be doing at the border?
Asylum laws were established by Congress in accordance with our obligation as a country and under international accords we signed with our allies to protect refugees worldwide. Therefore, any of the migrants traveling through Mexico who reach our border should be processed through the asylum system, just as all migrants arriving at our borders have been for many years. Yet on November 1, President Trump indicated that he would make it much more difficult to claim asylum and would enact a series of executive orders to shut down access to asylum for people who seek safety in the United States unless they go to legal ports of entry. Let us remember that our laws explicitly allow people to seek asylum here without regard to where they enter the country, at an airport, another official port of entry, or through the desert. Asylum is the law of the land and the administration must follow it as enacted by Congress.
Many of those in the caravan now traveling to the U.S. are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – three countries known for having high murder rates, and where people’s lives are threatened by gangs, drug traffickers, and organized crime on so many levels. These people are forced to flee because their governments will not or cannot provide protection for their own citizens. They are fleeing to find a safe place to live and to raise their families.
It is good to remind ourselves that as people of faith from many traditions, we are called to protect all of God’s children, especially those who are vulnerable. We believe in human dignity and the value of all people, regardless of where they’re from or what they look like, or what language they speak or how much money they have in their pockets. In our Christian tradition we are reminded in the Gospel of Mark 12:31, “The second commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD, is an immigration lawyer and Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office. She may be reached at 517-266-3448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.