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The immigration court system currently has a backlog of more than 1 million cases, according to data released on Wednesday (September 18) by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), CNN reports.

Per TRAC: “The latest case-by-case court records through the end of August 2019 show the court’s active case backlog was 1,007,155…. If the additional 322,535 cases which the court says are pending but have not been placed on the active caseload rolls are added, then the backlog now tops 1.3 million.”

Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told CNN that the immigration courts, which are managed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), are severely damaged. “If nothing else, the continuing rise of the backlog shows that the immigration court is broken,” she said. “Until we fix the design defect of having a court in a law enforcement agency, we will not be able to address the backlog in a fair and effective manner.”

A spokesperson for the DOJ sent a statement to CNN, but did not verify the information included in TRAC’s report. “[The DOJ] does not certify data from third parties,” the statement reads. “This report and DOJ’s own data further confirms there is a crisis at the border. This administration is taking aggressive steps to increase productivity, close loopholes and hire a record number of judges to address the backlog with our existing authorities.”

As Colorlines previously reported, the Trump administration set up tent courts in Texas this month for “asylum-seekers impacted by the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.” Over 40,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico under the MPP. However, as TRAC’s report on Wednesday notes, they represent a small fraction of the court’s backlog. 



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A new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) digs into the connection between school suspensions and adult incarceration. As Harvard Graduate School of Education reports, this paper—written by Andrew Bacher-Hicks and David Deming of Harvard University and Stephen Billings of the University of Colorado–Boulder—is “the first causal evidence that strict schools do indeed contribute to the so-called school to prison pipeline.”

The research focuses primarily on the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district in North Carolina, where 23 percent of middle school students are suspended every year. A majority of the kids suspended are students of color, and boys make up the majority of those students.

The study’s authors found that young people who attend schools with high suspension rates are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated later in life, and less likely to attend a four-year college. From the Harvard article:

“One of the arguments in favor of suspensions is that if a student is removed from the classroom, they’re no longer causing disruptions, and so removing disruptive students could have positive benefits on those who remain in the classroom,” says Bacher-Hicks, a Ph.D. candidate in public policy at Harvard. “But we found for all students, there are large negative impacts on later-life outcomes, related to attending a school with a high suspension rate. That suggests there are not overwhelmingly positive benefits of removing disruptive peers from the classroom.”

The research ultimately shows that there are virtually no long-term benefits associated with suspension. “We tested a range of variables, and only one short-run benefit popped out for any subgroup: There was some evidence that test scores increased for non-minority males,” Bacher-Hicks says. “But even for that subgroup, we find negative long-run outcomes in terms of arrests and incarcerations.”

You can read the full study here.



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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Monday (September 23) that next week will mark the end of its so-called “catch and release” immigration policy, NPR reports. Catch and release refers to the practice of letting migrant families detained at the United States border enter the country while they await the completion of asylum proceedings.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan made the announcement while speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.:

“With some humanitarian and medical exceptions, DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol Stations into the interior,” McAleenan said in his prepared remarks. “This means that for family units, the largest demographic by volume arriving at the border this year, the court-mandated practice of catch and release due to the inability of DHS to complete immigration proceedings with families detained together in custody—will have been mitigated.”

In an official statement, a DHS spokesperson explained the shift in policy as, “part of the Trump administration’s strategy to mitigate the loopholes that act as a ‘pull factor’ for family units seeking to cross illegally at the Southwest border.” 

DHS also explained how it will implement the changes: “If migrant family units do not claim fear of return, they will be quickly returned to their country of origin, in close collaboration with Central American countries,” the statement reads. “If they do claim fear, they will generally be returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).”

MPP, also called “Remain in Mexico,” sends migrants who seek asylum at the United States-Mexico border to wait for their hearing dates in Mexico. The program has been rife with confusion and disorganization.

This news follows a Supreme Court decision earlier this month that allows the Trump administration to require migrants to first seek asylum in “a third country,”—a country they traveled through on their way to the U.S. border—before they are allowed to seek asylum in the United States.



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A group of five women separated from their children after migrating to the United States to seek asylum have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, NBC News reports. The suit says the federal government caused their families “extraordinary trauma” via its “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Zero tolerance, which started in summer 2017, included forcibly removing nearly 4,000 children from parents who crossed the border in a manner the government deemed “illegal.” Those children were later sent to migrant children shelters, foster homes and detention facilities.

As Colorlines previously reported, experts have weighed in on the emotional trauma that comes with separating children from their guardians:

“If you take the moral, spiritual, even political aspect out of it, from a strictly medical and scientific point of view, what we as a country are doing to these children at the border is unconscionable,” Luis H. Zayas, dean of the school of social work at The University of Texas at Austin, told The Washington Post. “The harm our government is now causing will take a lifetime to undo.”

Trina Realmuto, directing attorney at the American Immigration Council, represents the five mothers in the lawsuit. She spoke to NBC about her clients and this groundbreaking case. “The separations are going to harm them for the rest of their lives,” she said. “This is about putting a human face to both the human cost and the financial cost of implementing these policies, as well as seeking the monetary compensation needed to recover from this trauma.” They also want to ensure “that this does not happen to anyone else,” Realmuto said.

NBC reports:

One of the mothers suing the Trump administration was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychologist at a detention center in Texas, the lawsuit says, adding that she lives “in a constant state of fear and worry” after her son was sent to an immigration facility in New York while she was still detained at the border.

Her 14-year-old son also continues to manifest symptoms stemming from the trauma of being forcefully separated from his mother for two and a half months. A year after the separation, the teenager shows indications of severe emotional distress, such as outbursts of inexplicable anger, as well as a refusal to eat or discuss the separation, the lawsuit says.

Realmuto says these are all signs of “clear abuse,” and that the United States is essentially terrorizing people who are already fleeing dangerous, life-threatening situations. “When people are fleeing horrible persecution, they see the U.S. as a place of refuge where they can seek safety,” she said. “We don’t think of the U.S. as the place that inflicts pain and suffering, but that is exactly what is happening.”

According to NBC, immigration authorities declined to comment because this lawsuit is “pending litigation.”



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Actor Kal Penn’s (“Harold and Kumar”) new sitcom “Sunnyside”—which centers on immigration and American citizenship with one of the most diverse casts on primetime television—debuted on Thursday (September 26).

“Joel [Kim Booster] is Korean American, Poppy [Liu] is Chinese American; obviously, we’re not fans of the ‘[All Asians] look the same’ statement, so we thought, ‘How do we ground this?’” Penn said in an interview with Deadline.

In the pilot, which NBC describes as “former New York City councilman [Penn] finds his calling when he meets a group of immigrants in search of the American dream,” viewers are introduced to a colorful cast that includes Booster and LiuDiana-Maria RivaKiran DeolMoses Storm and Samba Schutte. Though immigration is a politicized issue in the United States, Penn says he wants audiences to find the show to be more funny than political.

“They don’t just want something that’s like, ‘Oh, this is diversity and we’re checking the box.’ They want compelling characters that are reflective of the world that we live in, and the people that we know,” Penn told Deadline. “It’s really amazing that there are opportunities right now to develop comedy in this authentic space that’s also very inclusive.”



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The Trump administration can no longer move forward with its plan to expand the group of people who are subject to its “expedited removal” process, NPR reports. A federal judge on Friday (September 27) blocked the policy change that would allow the United States to deport migrants of undocumented status who have been in the United States for less than two years without giving them an opportunity to appear in immigration court. 

In the past, “fast-track deportations” were reserved for migrants of undocumented status who crossed the U.S. border and were arrested within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks of their arrival. The Trump administration’s decision to expand the policy is unlawful, according to U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She issued a 126-page report and a temporary injunction to halt the policy expansion until the court can finish litigating the matter.

According to NPR, the judge said the administration likely violated federal law by failing to “follow the correct decision-making procedures, such as the formal notice-and-comment period required for major federal rule changes.” In her report, Judge Brown Jackson said, “no good cause exists for the agency to have not complied with these mandates in this instance.” She also referred to the policy expansion as “arbitrary and capricious.”

The judge writes in her report

Put in common parlance, if a policy decision that an agency makes is of sufficient consequence that it qualifies as an agency rule, then arbitrariness in deciding the contours of that rule—e.g., decision making by Ouija board or dart board, rock/paper/scissors, or even the Magic 8 Ball—simply will not do. There are well-established legal constraints on the manner in which an agency exercises its discretion to make discretionary policy decisions, and there are also legally established consequences if an agency does not adhere to these procedural requirements when it determines the policies that it imposes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice responded to the judge’s ruling in a comment to NPR on Saturday (September 28):

Congress expressly authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to act with dispatch to remove from the country aliens who have no right to be here. The district court’s decision squarely conflicts with that express grant of authority and vastly exceeds the district court’s own authority. This ruling undermines the laws enacted by Congress and the Trump administration’s careful efforts to implement those laws.

Advocates at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Immigration Council and Simpson Thacher and Bartlett filed for the injunction, according to NPRACLU attorney Anand Balakrishnan argued the case in front of Judge Brown Jackson and released a statement to NPR following the decision. “The court rejected the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to remove hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S. without any legal recourse,” Balakrishnan said. “This ruling recognizes the irreparable harm of this policy.”

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It’s been 25 years since Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994—also known as the ’94 Crime Bill. Signed into law by President Bill Clinton and authored by now-presidential hopeful Joe Biden, it was designed to send a political message that Democrats could be just as tough on crime as their Republican counterparts. It was supposed to reduce “violent crime” by imposing longer jail sentences, creating more death penalty-eligible offenses, cutting higher educational opportunities for incarcerated people, and providing billions of dollars to states to build more prisons and hire 100,000 new police officers. In short, the plan was to lock up more people, lock them up longer, and lock them up in more places. It was a brutal strategy that targeted and devastated Black and Brown communities for an entire generation.

The ’94 Crime Bill endorsed a false view that punitive and retributive systems of policing and incarceration can advance public safety. In reality, both perpetuate racial disparities, family separation, community destabilization, voter disenfranchisement, misdirected spending of limited public resources and systemic state violence.

The bill and the systems it promoted have wreaked deep damage on our democracy and on public safety. Its approach is immoral and ineffective, and it fails to address how a lack of investment in low-income and working-class communities perpetuates social harms and violent crime.

As a key part of the ballooning prison industrial complex, the ’94 Crime Bill incentivized states to increase prison sentences, create three-strikes laws, enact mandatory minimums and eliminate parole. Twenty-five years later, government agencies, financial institutions and corporations increasingly use surveillance, violent policing and incarceration as supposed solutions to economic, social and political problems.

Nearly five million people are arrested, taken out of our communities and jailed every year. There are currently more than 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, languishing in federal facilities, state prisons and local jails. People of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, but 67 percent of the prison population. Every year, more than a quarter of a million students are arrested or referred to law enforcement at school—70 percent are Black boys. Black girls are also increasingly criminalized and suspended at school. In all, half of all U.S. adults have a family member who has been incarcerated, which studies show destabilizes families and whole communities.

The largest crime reform bill in our nation’s history also undermines public safety by disregarding the resources that actually keep our communities safe. Consider funding for mental health services. Cities and counties nationwide often choose to build new jails instead of developing public healthcare and housing facilities where people can receive shelter and treatment for mental illness, trauma and substance use. For example, Milwaukee currently invests less than 2 percent ($25 million) in the city’s public health department, while 50 percent of the city’s personnel budget—more than $311 million—goes to pay Milwaukee Police Department officers. Connections between investing in policing versus public services becomes more apparent when you consider that people suffering with untreated or undertreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, with 1 in 4 of them actively experiencing mental distress at the time of their death.

This is not justice. This is not public safety. This is a crisis of criminalization and incarceration, a man-made mess borne out of history, racism, public policy and disordered priorities. Like the calls to address our healthcare and climate crises, we must respond with the bold and transformative vision that justice requires and communities deserve. Twenty-five years later, the nation is in desperate need of a new federal vision for public safety and justice.

This is why a coalition of organizations representing formerly incarcerated and convicted people, racial justice advocates and grassroots organizations have come together as the People’s Coalition for Safety and Freedom with one clear message: it is time to dismantle the ’94 Crime Bill and create a new federal vision for public safety and justice transformation.

The first step is to dismantle the ’94 Crime Bill and acknowledge and address the decades of harm it left in its wake. This will require elected officials at all levels, progressive organizations and politicians on both sides of the aisle who supported this dangerous legislation to join forces with the people most harmed by policing, criminalization and incarceration who have long been fighting for safety and freedom in their communities to develop new public policy. Finally, elected officials and candidates must commit to a public safety agenda that prioritizes decarceration and decriminalization and centers sweeping investments in housing, substance use treatment, youth services, education, infrastructure and jobs.

Let’s chart a new path forward so that in 25 years, we can celebrate a new paradigm that embraces public safety and our collective freedom to thrive.

DeAnna Hoskins is president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA (@JustLeadersUSA), which is dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in #HalfBy2030. Follow Hoskins on Twitter @MzDeHoskins.

Andrea C. James is executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls (@TheCouncilUS)which works to shift from a criminal legal system to community-led human justice.



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New Monument Honors Mexican Braceros

A new statue called Bracero Monument was unveiled in Los Angeles’ Migrant’s Bend Plaza on Sunday (September 29). Braceros were workers who temporarily migrated to the United States to work on farms, mines and railroads, helping to fill labor shortages as a result of World War II. The monument highlights the 4.5 million Mexican nationals who worked in L.A. from 1942 to 1964.

Created by artist Dan Medina, the 19-foot bronze statue shows a worker holding a hoe—“el cortito”—for field work, while standing beside his wife and young child. Medina completed the scene with a pile of workers’ tools. For the L.A.-native artist, whose stepfather was a bracero, this work is personal. “The immigrant has been demonized,” Medina told the Los Angeles Times. “Although many complain about the immigrant, if you look at history through the scope of honesty, we wouldn’t be here without their contributions.”

L.A. City Council member Jose Huizar also feels connected to the work. “My father was a bracero. All my uncles were braceros. And they tell me many stories of the time they would come,” Huizar reportedly told KTLA. “They tell me about the sacrifices they made, sometimes they would go without water during the day, the barracks they put them in, terrible barracks, the living conditions were horrible. But despite these sacrifices, they were appreciative of the opportunity, because they were able to get a little money [and] send it back to their families.”

The monument is part of a larger project that will also highlight Indigenous, Black and immigrant cultures from many L.A. communities. 



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Immigration and privacy advocates are ringing alarm bells over the U.S. government’s plan to forcibly collect DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of detained immigrants for entry into a national criminal database, The New York Times reports. Critics say this latest move from the Trump administration targets a population that is already criminalized by immigration detention, raids, stops and deportations. 

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) representative spoke to reporters about the new rule on a call that was joined by The Times. The rep insisted that a 2005 rule that exempted immigrants from DNA collection is outdated and has to be removed. The new Trump administration rule would also allow immigration agents to collect DNA “from children as well as those who seek asylum at legal ports of entry.” Immigration detention facilities across the country are currently holding more than 40,000 people. 

After agents collect the DNA, the samples will be entered the F.B.I.’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). According to its website, CODIS “blends forensic science and computer technology into a tool for linking violent crimes. It enables federal, state, and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically.” 

Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told The Times this shift has to be taken seriously. “That kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance,” she said. “[That] is basically contrary to our basic notions of a free, trusting, autonomous society.” Eidelman added that because genetic material also carries family connections, the collected DNA data could also impact family members who may or may not be legal residents of the U.S.

Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University School of Law says this new rule could go a long way reinforcing the Trump administration’s running narrative that immigrants are directly linked to crimes. “We don’t have a statistical database of how many businesses immigrants create, or the ways they enrich our communities,” she said. “But if the government has a way to say, ‘This is the number of immigrants we’ve linked to crimes,’ and this is something we already see anecdotally, we might lose sight of all the positive benefits.”



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