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USCCB Comments on Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review

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July 13, 2020

Submitted Electronically via Regulations.gov

Lauren Alder Reid, Assistant Director Office of Policy
Executive Office for Immigration Review 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 1800

Falls Church, VA 22041

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs,
Office of Management and Budget,
725 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20503;
Attention: Desk Officer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS

Re: “Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review” RIN 1125-AA94 or EOIR Docket No. 18-0002

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services (“USCCB/MRS”) appreciates the opportunity to provide public comment and share our grave concerns with the Department of Justice, Executive Office of Immigration Review (“DOJ/EOIR”) and the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) regarding the above referenced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM” or “Rule”) on eligibility for asylum, published in the Federal Register on June 15, 2020 (85 Fed. Reg. 36,264).1

The U.S. Catholic Church holds a strong and pervasive pastoral interest in the welfare of migrants, including asylum seekers, and welcomes newcomers from around the world. For decades, USCCB has collaborated with the U.S. government to welcome and manage the provision of services to asylees, unaccompanied immigrant children, domestic and foreign-born victims of human trafficking, Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrants, Cuban and Haitian entrants, and refugees. USCCB/MRS provides services and advocacy on behalf of these and other populations to advance the migration policy priorities of USCCB’s Committee on Migration and the teachings of the Gospel and of our Catholic faith.

The Catholic Church’s work of assisting immigrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image and all are deserving of human dignity. In the New Testament, the image of the migrant is grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. In his own life and work, Jesus identified himself with newcomers and with other marginalized persons, stating: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”2 Furthermore, while the Catholic Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their borders, it also teaches that nations have an obligation to respect the human rights of migrants and to protect the right to life for those fleeing violence and persecution. Through its direct service work and its advocacy, USCCB/MRS has affirmed a person’s right to seek asylum, as a life-saving protection and is deeply troubled by recent administrative policy changes that are cutting off access to that right, including this proposed Rule.

We believe this Rule, which attempts to curtail our nation’s long-standing commitment to providing individuals and families with humanitarian protection, is not only unlawful, but contrary to the public interest. The changes proposed by the Rule seek to detrimentally alter the regulations that provide the protective framework of our country’s asylum law and break from decades-worth of legal precedent, creating unrecognizable procedures and impossible standards for asylum-seekers to meet. Further, the proposed changes threaten due process, impose new bars, heighten a multitude of legal standards, and create sweeping categories of mandatory discretionary denials. The proposed changes set forth in the NPRM are so severe and expansive that they would upend nearly every facet of asylum and refugee law in the U.S., and as such, threaten to cut off access to asylum for nearly all asylum seekers.3 While USCCB/MRS is troubled by and strongly opposes each of the proposed changes set forth in the Rule, in the interest of complying with the 30-day period allowed for comment,4 we will express specific concerns over the following aspects the Rule:

  • The proposed regulations in the Rule are direct violations of domestic and international law; and
  • The Rule fails to consider the root causes of forced migration and threatens vulnerable individuals and family unity, violating the U.S.’s global leadership role in providing and being a model and catalyst for other nations to provide compassionate humanitarian protection to those in need.

    Further, we note that the Rule is particularly troubling as it has been proposed at an unprecedented time in our history due to the global coronavirus pandemic. For these reasons, and as explained below, we strongly urge DOJ and DHS to rescind the regulations proposed in the NPRM in their entirety.

I. In Changing the Standard for Persecution for Asylum and Withholding of Removal Claims, the Rule Is Contrary to Domestic and International Asylum Law.

The proposed Rule should be withdrawn, as it is inconsistent with several asylum-related provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as well as provisions of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees. Our analysis will be narrowly focused on one of the many proposed alterations to the current asylum protections that we find would be contrary to law: the heightened standard for establishing persecution.

A. The proposed changes to the definition of persecution defy Congressional intent, ignore firmly established legal precedent, and lack fundamental understanding of asylum seekers; experiences and vulnerabilities and why they need protection.

In order to be eligible for asylum, an applicant must meet the definition of refugee as written in the INA, which states that a refugee is “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”5 This definition was first given in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1951 Convention”) and the 1967 Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees (“1967 Protocol”),6 of which the U.S. is a signatory. Through the Refugee Act of 1980, Congress incorporated the Protocol definition of refugee into U.S. immigration law and thereby meet U.S. legal obligations under the international treaty.7

Protecting vulnerable populations from persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution is the cornerstone of our nation’s asylum law. Though the Refugee Act does not offer a definition of persecution, courts including the Board of Immigration Appeals have long held that persecution is the “threat to life or freedom of, or the infliction of suffering or harm upon, those who suffer in a way regarded as offensive.”8 The definition has been further refined by case law from the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. federal Circuit Courts of Appeals.9

The proposed Rule seeks to add a paragraph to the existing law and for the first time, codify the definition of persecution narrowly as “an intent to target a belief or characteristic, a severe level of harm, and the infliction of a severe level of harm by the government of a country or by persons or an organization that the government was unable or unwilling to control.”10 Further, with regard to the severity of harm, the proposed Rule adds that persecution is an “extreme concept involving a severe level of harm that includes actions so severe that they constitute an exigent threat.”11 The Rule does not offer a definition of “extreme.” It does, however, list non-exhaustive scenarios in which persecution would not be found.12 The scenarios amount to a list of bright line negative bars on which an asylum officer or immigration judge would be required to issue a negative finding for persecution. These narrow, bright line bars would drastically limit consideration of the kinds of varied harms that can cumulatively amount to persecution, and would erode the fact-based standards that have been previously set forth by case law. Such changes would in effect force adjudicators to reject claims involving violence and threats. For instance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (4th Circuit) has recognized that death threats alone are a form of persecution.13 Contrary to the 4th Circuit line of decisions, under the reading of the proposed Rule and coupled with the scenarios offered, an instance of repeated death threats would not rise to the level of persecution unless there was an action to carry out the threat.14 The proposed Rule provides an opportunity for premature denial of an asylum claim, cutting off inquiry about whether there was cumulative evidence showing past persecution. Moreover, in the example of death threats as recognized and relevant events in sustaining the presumption of well-founded fear of future persecution, illustrates the extreme confusion and limitations the Rule would create in a radical departure from existing law.

DOJ/EOIR and DHS appear to justify the addition of the definition of persecution by stating that the “changes better align the relevant regulations with the high standard Congress intended for the term ‘persecution.’”15 We believe this to be an erroneous interpretation of Congress’ intent. A look into the legislative history of the Refugee Act makes it clear that it was Congress’ fundamental intent for the U.S. to meet its legal obligation under the treaty which requires conforming with the definition provided by the 1967 Protocol.16 Further, in interpreting the 1967 Protocol’s definition, the U.S. is guided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (“Handbook”).17 The Handbook infers that “a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group is always persecution…other serious violations of human rights—for the same reasons—would also constitute persecution.”18 Further, the Handbook states that determining whether actions amount to persecution will vary by the circumstance of each case, includes an evaluation of the element of subjectivity, and states that that a claim to persecution can be made on “cumulative grounds.”19 The Rule’s proposed list of bright line bars on which an adjudicator could cut off access to asylum is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Handbook by unduly limiting the definition of persecution in an unacceptable manner. By incorporating the international definition of “refugee” into U.S. law, it is clear that Congress intended to adopt the humanitarian, definition set forth in the 1967 Protocol, and in turn, abide by the guidelines set forth in the Handbook on persecution. While the Handbook can serve as guidance as it is a non-binding international legal source, it is notable that in the drafting of the Refugee Act, Congress did look to incorporate and be responsive to international legal sources, including the Handbook. As such, the Rule is an abrupt change and contradiction to prior Congressional intent.

As long-time service providers to unaccompanied immigrant children, USCCB/MRS is especially concerned with the fact that the proposed Rule is silent on the factors for adjudicators to consider in regards to claims by children, who may experience harm differently than adults. In its officer training module, the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate (RAIO) explains that “the harm a child fears or has suffered may still qualify as persecution despite appearing to be relatively less than necessary for an adult to establish persecution.”20 Case law from several federal Circuit Courts of Appeals have held that: infants can be the victim of persecution even in the absence of present recollection of the actions and events that imposed the persecution21; a child completely dependent on their family and community can experience persecution based on a combination of circumstances, including displacement, economic hardship, and viewing the bullet-ridden body of a family member22; and that adjudicators should consider the “cumulative significance” of regular discrimination and harassment towards a child over several years on account of being Jewish.23 We note that in our experiences, children infrequently express their trauma in a linear manner nor often in an initial encounter. With the absence of explicit language relating to the vulnerability of children, we fear that the explicit exclusion of children from the newly proposed regulatory language will result in the negative adjudication of children’s asylum claims, placing an already uniquely vulnerable demographic at risk of further harm.

B. The proposed changes to the definition of persecution would be a breach to the international legal obligations of the U.S.

The U.S. has a two-fold legal obligation to provide protection to refugees—domestically and internationally. Not only does the Rule conflict with domestic law, but it also falls short of the U.S.’ international obligations under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol. As explained in Section I.A., supra, the UNHCR has issued guidance on determining an applicant’s persecution claim in the Handbook, and generally regards persecution as the threat to life or freedom on account of one of the five grounds of asylum eligibility.24 The UNHCR has also explained that it is “axiomatic” that an individual “fleeing from persecution should always receive temporary refuge if this is necessary for his immediate protection, and should also have the possibility of receiving durable asylum within the shortest possible time.”25

In addition, both Article 33 of the 1951 Convention26 as well as customary international law27 prohibit refoulment. The UNHCR has noted the importance of non-refoulment, stating that it is at “the centre of refugee protection principles.”28 Since the adjudication of asylum and withholding are carried out concurrently, the proposed Rule, increases the risk of refoulment for those refugees who, summarily cut off by the bright line negative bars from seeking asylum in the U.S., are likewise summarily cut off from accessing and attaining protection from removal. It therefore puts the country at serious risk of failing to meet its international obligations regarding non-refoulment.

II. The Rule Presents Grave Public Policy Concerns.

Finally, the Rule presents a myriad of serious public policy concerns. It fails to take into account the root causes of forced migration that explain why individuals are seeking protection in the U.S. It also jeopardizes the well-being of those vulnerable individuals fleeing persecution, including those seeking both safety and family unity. Further, the Rule thereby undermines the role of our nation as a traditional global leader in providing humanitarian protection.

A. The Rule fails to protect asylum seekers from the persecution that is the root cause forcing individuals to flee their homes and often to the U.S.

The Rule follows the disturbing policy and operational pattern established by the Administration of cutting off access to legal protections for asylum-seekers fleeing persecution.29 The Rule attempts to frame the proposed changes as an exertion of U.S. power to maintain “normal international relations” and defend “the country against foreign encroachment and dangers.”30 However, there is no meaningful analysis that is included to support this claim. Through our global work with immigrants and refugees, particularly in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, the Catholic Church has come to witness that many are fleeing violence and persecution and are seeking refuge—not looking to harm the U.S. or disrupt foreign relations.

We see the consistently high levels of violence in Central America, political instability in parts of South America (namely Venezuela), and the lack of many countries’ capacity to offer adequate protection.31 In his pastoral letter, I See Violence and Strife in the City, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador, stated: “[t]he faithful know that they are being monitored [by gangs] in their comings and goings in the communities. The same applies to pastoral agents who are constantly watched . . . The exodus of families is heartbreaking . . . It is truly unfortunate and painful that the Church cannot work because of this atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety that shakes our beloved country.”32 Over the course of one year, one parish alone was “exposed to murder, persecution, exodus, and extortion,” including the murder of six active parishioners by stabbing, dismemberment, or firearms.33 The experiential Catholic reality, is that the people fleeing violence are not themselves per se dangerous, rather they are escaping danger that is targeting them, their families and their communities.

While some individuals are escaping violence generally, there are certain groups who are expressly targeted for certain characteristics and actions and the proposed changes in Rule would make it more difficult to denote these particular characteristics. One of the proposed changes in the Rule is codifying the particular social group requirements for asylum by establishing a set of bright line bars, scenarios for which an asylum officer or immigration judge could deny the asylum seeker is part of a persecuted particular social group needing protection.34 Among the excluded bases are past or present criminal activity, presence in a country with generalized violence or a high crime rate, attempted recruitment of the applicant by criminal, terrorist, or persecutory groups, targeting of the applicant for criminal activity for financial gain based on perceptions of wealth, interpersonal disputes of which governmental authorities were unaware or uninvolved, private criminal acts of which governmental authorities were unaware or uninvolved, and status as individuals returning from the U.S.35 This change would thus bar asylum for victims of domestic violence, victims of gang violence and recruitment, and victims of extortion, which make up a great number of asylum claims for the many vulnerable migrants fleeing from Central America.36

As mentioned above, violence and forced internal displacement continue unabated within the Northern Triangle countries who will be disproportionately affected by changes proposed by the Rule,37 and much of the violence is targeted at the vulnerable families and children who are subsequently forced to flee for safety and seek haven in the U.S.38 The Northern Triangle is one of the most dangerous regions in the world, with homicide rates ranking amongst the world’s highest for decades.39 These realities—gang violence, domestic violence and femicide, corruption, impunity, and lack of opportunity related to displacement and violence—are the primary factors driving families to flee north for protection.

The Rule ignores the larger interrelated migration context. It minimizes the life- threatening dangers asylum seekers are fleeing and attempts to regulate its way out of U.S. domestic and international asylum obligations through administrative fiat. Instead of continuing with administrative efforts to narrow asylum protections, the U.S. should look to meaningfully address the root causes of forced migration at a regional level. It should invest in expanded programming to address the needs of vulnerable families and children in the Northern Triangle. Meanwhile, America should meet its asylum obligations to those fleeing from Central America.

B. The Rule undermines the role of the U.S. as a traditional leading provider of humanitarian protection in the global community.

The U.S. has a long and proud history of providing humanitarian protection to asylum seekers and refugees. George Washington envisioned the special global humanitarian role of the U.S. even in the early days of the Republic, stating in a welcoming letter to Francis Adrian Van Der Kamp, who was seeking asylum in our nation: “I take the speediest occasion to well-come your arrival on the American shore. I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong…”40 Further, as the years passed, the Statue of Liberty has become a lasting American symbol, not only signifying that the U.S. is a land of liberty, but that our nation is seen by the world as a place that welcomes and provides liberty and new life for “those yearning to be free.”41

In current times, the crowning manifestation of the American role as a nation that welcomes those fleeing persecution has been seen in how we have lived out our commitment to and obligations under the 1967 Protocol, as operationalized by the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum programs. Since 1980, the U.S. has resettled over 3 million refugees,42 more than three times as many refugees as the rest of the world combined.43 The U.S. Catholic Church proudly has assisted with that effort, resettling approximately 1 million of that total the U.S. government welcomed to our country. The U.S. has also contributed greatly to global refugee protection through asylum grants, including over 720,000 asylum grants from 1980 to 2018.44

This Rule undermines the U.S. global role in refugee protection by cutting off access to U.S. asylum. As described above, the Rule amounts to a virtual asylum bar for anyone seeking asylum in the U.S. Since 2016, through administrative actions, refugee resettlement goals have fallen from 110,000 in 201745 to 18,000 in 2020.46 Further, actual admissions have fallen from 84,994 in 2016 to 30,000 in 2019.47

The Rule undermines the U.S global role in refugee protection because it attempts to avoid international and domestic asylum obligations through unlawful regulations. The U.S. will therefore lose its moral authority to challenge other countries that are seeking to avoid their protection obligations. Coupled with the drastically reduced commitment to refugee resettlement, the U.S. is no longer leading by positive example in the community of nations and has lost considerable authority to positively influence refugee protection by other nations.

Conclusion

For these reasons, this Rule is unlawful and unjust. DHS and EOIR should rescind the Rule. We strongly believe that how we as a country respond to asylum seekers arriving at our borders is a test of our moral character. As Pope Francis encouraged: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunity, we must give opportunity. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”48 Given their vulnerability, asylum seekers arriving at our border deserve and need our protection and our compassion. We must remember that they are fellow children of God. We must also remember that our nation is bound by treaty and domestic law to provide that compassionate protection to them.

Respectfully submitted,

Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.
General Counsel & Assc. General Secretary

 

1 Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 36,264 (June 15, 2020).
2 Mt. 25:35.
3 Natalie Nanasi, “New Trump Immigration Regulations Would Devastate Refuge Pathways,” THE HILL (June 16, 2020), https://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/502938-new-trump-immigration-regulations-would-devastate- refuge-pathways.
4 It is important to note that the NPRM is over 160 pages long including more than 60 pages the proposed regulations themselves—including dense, technical language and broad new restrictions. Given the magnitude of the Rule, we note that any one of the sections of these regulations, standing alone, would merit 60 days for the public to fully absorb the magnitude of the proposed changes, perform research on the existing rule and its interpretation, and respond thoughtfully instead of the 30 days allowed for comment.
5 INA § 101(a)(42)(A), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A).
6 See Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature July 28, 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 137; see also Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature Jan. 31, 1967, 606 U.N.T.S 267.
7 INA § 101(a)(42)(A), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42)(A).
8 Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 222 (BIA 1985).
9 See INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 430-1 (1987)(finding that an individual who premises an asylum claim on a well-founded fear of future persecution must demonstrate both a subjectively genuine and an objectively reasonable fear and that a well-founded fear may exist even when there is as little as a one-in-ten chance of future persecution); see also Fisher v. INS, 79 F.3d 955, 961 (9th Cir. 1996)(en banc)(persecution is defined as “the infliction of suffering or harm upon those who differ in a way that is regarded as offensive”); see also Duarte de Guinac v. INS, 179 F.3d 1156, 1163 (9th Cir. 1999)(finding that persecution can be both physical and psychological); see also Korablina v. INS, 158 F.3d 1038, 1044 (9th Cir. 1998)(the cumulative effect of incidents sufferec may rise to the level of persecution).
10 Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 36,264 (June 15, 2020).
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 See, e.g., Hernandez-Avalos v. Lynch, 784 F.3d 944, 949 (4th Cir. 2015) (“[W]e have expressly held that the threat of death qualifies as persecution.”)
14 While we note the Rule addresses the inconsistencies due to such changes in footnote 32 of the Rule, we respectfully request that DOJ EOIR not retroactively apply the new standards and criteria proposed in the Rule.
15 Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 36,264 (June 15, 2020) (interpreting Fatin v. INS, 12 F.3d 1233, 1240 n.10 (3d Cir. 1993)).
16 INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 437 (1987).
17 Id. at 439-440; see also U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, The Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, (Geneva, 1979), available at https://www.unhcr.org/4d93528a9.pdf.
18 U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, supra note 15 at ¶ 51.
19 Id. at ¶ 52-53.
20 U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERV., REFUGEE, ASYLUM, AND INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTORATE, CHILDREN’S CLAIMS TRAINING MODULE 45 (Dec. 2019), available at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/nativedocuments/Childrens_Claims_LP_RAIO.pdf (citing Marina Ajdukovic and Dean Ajdukovic, “Psychological Well-Being of Refugee Children,” Child Abuse and Neglect 17:6, 843 (1993); Betty Pfefferbaum, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Children: A Review of the Past 10 Years,” J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 36:11, at 1504-05).
21 Id. at 45 (citing Benyamin v. Holder, 579 F.3d 970, 972 (9th Circ. 2009)).
22 Id. at 46 (citing Jorge-Tzoc v. Gonzales, 435 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2006)). 23 Id. at 46 (citing Kholyavskiy v. Mukasey, 540 F.3d 555, 571 (7th Cir. 2007)). 24 U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, supra note 15 at ¶ 51-53.
25 U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, Note on Asylum, EC/SCP/12 (Aug. 30, 1979), https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae68cd44.html.
26 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, supra note 7, at art. 33.
27 U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol 7 (Jan. 26, 2007), https://www.unhcr.org/4d9486929.pdf; see also United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Principle of Non-Refoulement as a Norm of Customary International Law. Response to the Questions Posed to UNHCR by the Federal Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany in Cases 2 BvR 1938/93, 2 BvR 1953/93, 2 BvR 1954/93 (Jan. 31, 1994), https://www.refworld.org/docid/437b6db64.html; GUY GOODWIN-GILL, THE REFUGEE IN INTERNATIONAL LAW 346 (3rd ed. 2007) (“The evidence relating to the meaning and scope of non-refoulement in its treaty sense amply supports the conclusion that today the principle forms part of general international law. There is substantial, if not conclusive, authority that the principle is binding on all States, independently of specific assent.”). 28 U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, Legal Considerations Regarding Access to Protection and a Connection Between the Refugee and the Third Country in the Context of Return or Transfer to Safe Third Countries 2 (2018), https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5acb33ad4.pdf.
29 See NAT’L IMMIGRANT JUSTICE CTR., ASYLUM SEEKERS AND REFUGEES (2020), https://immigrantjustice.org/issues/asylum-seekers-refugees; see also HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST, “Grant Rates Plummet as Trump Administration Dismantles U.S. Asylum System, Blocks and Deports Refugees” (June 2020), https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/AdministrationDismantlingUSAsylumSystem.pdf.
30 Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, 85 Fed. Reg. 36,264 (citing Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 765).
31 For example, the Mexican asylum system has seen large increases in requests for protection: from just over 1,000 in 2013 to nearly 30,000 in 2018. there was a further 185-percent increase
COMISIÓN MEXICANA DE AYUDA A REFUGIADOS, BOLETÍN ESTADÍSTICO DE SOLICITANTES DE REFUGIO EN MÉXICO (2013), available at
https://www.gob.mx/cms/uploads/attachment/file/413013/COMAR_2013.pdf.; Rachel Schmidtke, 2018 Migration To and Through Mexico Fact Sheet, WILSON CENTER (March 15, 2019), https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/2018- migration-to-and-through-mexico-fact-sheet.
32 Most Reverend Jose Luis Escobar Alas, I See Violence and Strife in the City: A Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of the Feast of the Beloved Blessed Oscar Romero, 18 (March 24, 2016).
33 Id. at 15.
34 Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 36,264 (June 15, 2020).
35 Id.
36 Nicole Narea, “Trump Is Quietly Gutting the Asylum System Amid the Pandemic,” VOX (June 12, 2020), https://www.vox.com/2020/6/12/21288063/trump-immigration-asylum-border-regulation.
37 Id., see also AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL, “Asylum in the United States,” (June 11, 2020), available at https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/asylum-united-states (finding that in FY18 El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were 3 of the 5 countries that made up 52.6% of the nearly 40,000 individuals granted asylum).
38 E.g., U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS/MIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERV., TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS: A VITAL PIECE OF THE CENTRAL AMERICAN PROTECTION AND PROSPERITY PUZZLE 6 (2017), available at
.
39 Amelia Cheatham, “Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle,” COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
(Oct. 1, 2019), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-turbulent-northern-triangle.
40 Letter from George Washington to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp (May 28, 1788), available at https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-06-02-0266.
41 Emma Lazarus, New Colossus (1883).
42 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE ET AL., REPORT TO CONGRESS: PROPOSED REFUGEE ADMISSIONS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2020 (2019), available at https://www.state.gov/reports/report-to-congress-on-proposed-refugee-admissions-for-fy-2020/. 43 Phillip Connor et al., For the First Time the U.S. Resettles Fewer Refugees than the Rest of the World, PEW RESEARCH CENTER (July 5, 2018),
.
44 See U.S. DEP’T OF STATE ET AL., REPORT TO CONGRESS, supra note 42.
45 See U.S. DEP’T OF STATE ET AL., REPORT TO CONGRESS: PROPOSED REFUGEE ADMISSIONS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2018 6 (2017), available at
.
46 See U.S. DEP’T OF STATE ET AL., REPORT TO CONGRESS, supra note 42.
47 Statistics are derived from data provided by the U.S. Department of State. See Interactive Reporting: Admissions and Arrivals, REFUGEE PROCESSING CENTER, available at https://ireports.wrapsnet.org/Interactive- Reporting/EnumType/Report?ItemPath=/rpt_WebArrivalsReports/Map%20- %20Arrivals%20by%20State%20and%20Nationality (last visited June 24, 2020).
48 Speech of His Holiness Pope Francis to the U.S. Congress (September 24, 2015).
2020-07-14T10:46:24-04:00News|

Letter to Representatives Regarding Emergency Appropriations funding for USCIS

Click here to Download a PDF version of this letter

June 15, 2020

Dear Representative:

As a Church at the service of all God’s people, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stands ready to work with the leaders of both parties to protect marginalized people, promote human life and dignity, and advance the common good. I write on behalf of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration to note the funding priorities of USCCB Migration Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS).

The committee has submitted a letter on our funding priorities with respect to programs for immigrants, refugees, unaccompanied children, and trafficking victims in Fiscal Year (FY) 21 (see attached). I write today regarding the recent request for funding by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) due to a projected shortfall of $1.2 billion. We note the important work of USCIS and our concern that not funding the agency in this moment will result in mission-threatening cuts to USCIS’s capacity for adjudicating immigration applications. Our requests fall into three core areas: (1) agency transparency; (2) efficiency in legal immigration; and (3) ensuring access to humanitarian protection for unaccompanied children, refugees and asylum seekers. Please consider the following requests as you work to fund USCIS:

Agency Transparency:

  • Conduct a formal accounting of how policy changes have affected USCIS’s efficiency and encourage a temporary pause on the implementation of all new policies.We would recommend a halt to new policy implementation within USCIS until there is a full accounting as to how changes have affected USCIS processing and contributed to the surplus drain and case backlog. Particular changes have added redundancy such as new labor-intensive in-person interview requirements on routine cases, and overall increases in paperwork. Furthermore, the sheer number of changes has affected efficiency, particularly with staff and contractors having to halt work for ongoing re-training.
  • Requested funds should only be spent on core USCIS mission work of adjudication. We would request that funding appropriated by Congress specifically be designated to facilitate adjudications of employment, family-based and humanitarian immigration applications. Funding should not be designated or transferred for enforcement, tip forms or other initiatives outside the scope of adjudications during this time. We would also recommend analysis of how much money has been spent on projects outside of core work and transfers outside of USCIS over recent fiscal years.

Encouraging Efficiency in Legal Immigration:

  • Improve family-based visa processing. The Catholic Church believes that the family is the building block of our society. We promote family reunification and oppose family separation. Family members of new Americans face increased delays in their legal reunification due to lengthening visa backlogs. For example, in 2019, for certain case types, USCIS estimated it would take the agency more than three years to complete the process.[1] We urge USCIS to work to improve the family-based adjudication wait times. We also urge quarterly reporting to Congress on family visa processing. Additionally, in order to reduce further delays, we suggest that USCIS ensure that any unused family-based immigration visas from 2020 can be used in 2021 or 2022.
  • Implement virtual oath ceremonies. Part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s mission in welcoming is to work to integrate immigrants into our society, with the naturalization process being a vital part of that journey. To clear the backlog and improve processing times, USCIS should clear naturalization cases that have been completed all but for the last step – the oath ceremony. USCIS should implement virtual ceremonies and take measures necessary to clear and complete cases. 
  • Ensure that USCIS utilizes premium processing fees and consider expanding to other benefit types. In recent years, USCIS has not consistently used premium processing fees, which are known revenue boosters to the financial well-being of the agency. Earlier this month, USCIS reintroduced premium processing for Petitions for Nonimmigrant and Alien Workers, (respectively (Form I-129 and I-140)) and H-1B petitions while this development is welcomed, we urge USCIS to expand premium processing to other benefit types. Additionally, we encourage the Committee to consider directing revenues from premium processing to cover the cost of payroll (instead of infrastructure improvement), in order to ensure that federal workers in USCIS Service Centers are not furloughed and also that adjudication is not disrupted.

 

Ensuring Access to Humanitarian Protection for Unaccompanied Children, Asylum-Seekers & Refugees

 

  • Require USCIS to adjudicate Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) petitions within 180 days and to provide Congress with quarterly reports on efforts to reduce overall case backlog. From FY 2016 to 2019, USCIS’s average processing time for Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, the petition filed by unaccompanied children seeking SIJ humanitarian protection, increased from 4.8 months to 16.8 months, in contradiction with congressional intent of adjudication in 180 days.[2] In our programs, we see directly the stress and harm these types of delays can cause children, as it can affect their ability to integrate in their communities and with families. Additionally, there are currently several children in USCCB/MRS foster care programs who are at risk of aging out before their SIJ cases will be adjudicated because of the case backlog delays. Aging out without an SIJ eligibility determination will severely limit a child’s eligibility for continuous placement and for vital social services.

 

  • Prohibit fees for seeking asylum and for asylum seekers’ initial requests for employment authorization. In November 2019, USCIS proposed a filing fee for Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, as well as for a first-time I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, filed by an asylum seeker.[3] These fees would preclude some unaccompanied children from requesting potentially life-saving relief, while pricing out many others from the employment authorization necessary not only to work, but also to obtain federal identification often needed to access housing, medical care, and educational opportunities while their asylum cases are pending. Likewise, these fees would also preclude many asylum seekers, who have often fled their countries with nothing, from pursuing U.S. asylum protection or supporting themselves as they pursue protection.

 

  • Extend flexibility with regard to adjudicated refugee cases. Thousands of refugees whose cases have already been adjudicated by USCIS and are ready for travel in FY 20 may not be able to arrive in the United States due to travel restrictions as a result of the coronavirus. In an effort to maximize USCIS resources, refugees marked “ready for departure” in FY 20 should be counted towards the FY 20 Presidential Determination and should be admitted regardless of category.

 

  • Extend validity periods for security checks. Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders face significant processing delays due to resource-intensive security checks. These delays have been exacerbated by the present pandemic. In order to prevent use of more USCIS staff resources to review security checks, USCIS and its vetting partners should extend security check validity periods until the resumption of arrivals.

 

  • Reduce USCIS expenditures related to refugee adjustment of status applications: Refugees are required by law to seek adjustment of status one year after arrival in the United States. Due to the vetting a refugee receives, these adjustment of status applications can be adjudicated more quickly and efficiently. USCIS should cut expenses by waiving in-person interviews for refugees applying for adjustment of status and re-using biometric information.[4]

 

  • Restore Cuban Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP): Managing potential migration flows in the Caribbean is essential to maintaining efficient USCIS operations in the future. The Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) was statutorily authorized to provide reception and resettlement services to newly arriving Cubans and Haitians paroled into the U.S. The USCIS should restore the program to be prepared for potential migration events in the Caribbean and Florida. From 2015 to 2019, an estimated 248,251 Cubans and Haitians came to the United States, including 89,422 during the initial years of this Administration.[5] The CHEP not only provides crucial humanitarian transitional support for these entrants but also helps the communities respond in an orderly and effective manner.

It is the mission of the Catholic Church to bring to the teaching of Jesus Christ, who reminds us of the truth that every person is created in God’s image merits dignity. The work of the USCCB/MRS on behalf of immigrants, refugees, unaccompanied children, and trafficking victims is part of our ongoing effort to live out this teaching.

 

Thank you for considering our recommendations.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, Chairman, Committee on Migration

 

[1]CLINIC Written Testimony to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, July 16, 2019, https://cliniclegal.org/resources/clinics-written-testimony-house-judiciary-committees-subcommittee-immigration-and
[2] See USCIS, “Historical National Average Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year,” https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/historic-pt.
[3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements, 84 Fed. Reg. 62,280 (Nov. 14, 2019) (Proposed Rule).
[4]See USCIS, Adjustment of Status, https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-processes-and-procedures/adjustment-status
[5]Department of Health and Human Services, Fiscal Year 2020, Budget Justification,  https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/olab/acf_congressional_budget_justification_2020.pdf (page 39)
2020-06-23T15:07:24-04:00News|

USCCB Comments on Proposed Information Collection Activity; Administration and Oversight of the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program

Click here for a PDF of this Document

 

Administration for Children and Families
Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) 330 C Street SW
Washington, DC 20201

-Submitted Electronically-

Re: “Expedited OMB Review and Public Comment; Proposed Information Collection Activity; Administration and Oversight of the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program” Docket No. FR 2020-07995

Dear ACF Reports Clearance Officer,

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services (“USCCB/MRS”) appreciates the opportunity to provide public comment and share our concerns with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (“HHS/ORR”) regarding the above referenced Proposed Information Collection Activities within the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, published in the Federal Register on April 16, 2020 (85 Fed. Reg. 21,240).1

USCCB is a nonprofit organization whose members are the active Catholic Bishops of the United States. MRS, a USCCB Department, advocates and promotes the pastoral teachings of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in diverse areas of the nation’s life. USCCB/MRS has operated programs, working in collaboration with the U.S. government to help protect unaccompanied children from all over the world for nearly 40 years. Since 1994, USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program, serving undocumented children apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and placed in the custody of the HHS/ORR. Through cooperative agreements with HHS/ORR and in collaboration with primarily Catholic community-based social service agencies, the Safe Passages program provides residential care (i.e., foster care and small-scale shelter placements) to unaccompanied children in HHS/ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (i.e. pre-release placement screening (“home studies”) and post- release social services for families (“post-release services” or “PRS”)). In fiscal year 2019, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,982 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—1,520 through the family reunification program and 462 through residential care programs.

Additionally, the U.S. Catholic Church has long worked to support families who have experienced some aspect of immigrant detention, through the provision of legal assistance, visitation, and pastoral accompaniment to those in immigrant detention facilities, as well as social services assistance to those released. USCCB/MRS has also operated several alternatives to detention programs to assist families and other vulnerable populations and is currently working with DHS in the administration of its alternative to detention programs which utilize case management.2 Through all of this work, the vital necessity and importance of the protections set forth in the Flores Settlement Agreement3 have been made apparent. In furtherance of these protections, the U.S. Catholic Church has worked in a bipartisan manner to help implement and ensure government compliance with these requirements. We are heartened to learn that HHS/ORR is working to further ensure the protection of unaccompanied children by setting forth a mechanism in the Form A-5 Authorization for Release of Records (ARR) that creates written requirements for the release of records, which include unaccompanied child’s biographical information, placement documents, legal information, medical records, educational services, case management records, clinical/mental health services, incident reports, discharge/release information, and post-release service records.4 While the proposed ARR form is a step in the right direction, USCCB/MRS is concerned with some aspects of the ARR for the following reasons:

I. New Proposed Changes to the Authorization for Release of Records May Facilitate Information-Sharing Between Agencies and/or Grant Access to Government Agencies Who Should Not Be Privy to an Unaccompanied Child’s Confidential Information

The proposed changes to the ARR form may authorize a government agency to access to a child’s records which the agency should not have in its possession. Under Section G: Authorization,5 the proposed form states that HHS/ORR will release an unaccompanied child’s information, placement documents, legal information, educational services, case management records, discharge, and release information to a government agency without an authorizing signature from the unaccompanied child, their caregiver or legal guardian or a witness. Due to the confidential information contained within the child’s case file, an authorizing signature should be required even when released to another government agency. USCCB/MRS is particularly concerned with this new proposed provision as it could facilitate information sharing with DHS and other non-social service government entities and enable the use of these records for enforcement purposes. The sharing of a child’s information for these purposes runs contrary to the confidential nature of the information and the trust that a child has that such information will remain confidential.

Further, while HHS/ORR will generally only release information from the above categories to a government agency in the absence of an authorizing signature, Section G explains that in cases where the unaccompanied child is still in HHS/ORR custody and is under the age of 14 or is 14 years or older and has been diagnosed with a developmental disability, HHS/ORR normally presumes consent and, without requiring a signature, will additionally release clinical and mental health records necessary for the provision of services in accordance with HHS/ORR Policy Guide Section 3.3.6 Where the information is requested for reasons other than the provision of services, HHS/ORR requires the consent of the child’s parent or legal guardian, but does not explicitly state that a signature is required, nor does the new form state ways in which consent will be considered granted in the absence of signature.7 This lack of clarity as to what would constitute consent is confusing for parents and guardians of unaccompanied children as well for caseworkers who may be asked about this issue. For children in ORR care, the proposed changes in the ARR form could potentially create broad categories of sensitive information that government agencies may access with little to no consent from children or their parents or legal guardians. This is of utmost concern in the case of mental health records, which include progress notes from individual counseling sessions, group counseling notes or records, mental health services progress notes, mental health assessments, records of mental health office visits or hospitalizations and more,8 in light of reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) using a child’s confidential therapy notes obtained while in HHS/ORR custody, to undermine their immigration claims.9

We recommend that any proposed change to the ARR form include specific information covering what type of information would be shared and with whom, in the form of the specific government entities and the exact information that will be shared. We also advise that this language be clearly included in simple and non-legal terms to help ensure that children, parents and guardians are able to understand what they may be assenting to in terms of sharing sensitive information with government entities.

II. The Proposed Form for Authorization for Release of Records Fails to Implement Acceptable Standards for Consent

As mentioned, under Section G: Authorization, HHS/ORR presumes consent for children in their custody under the age of 14 as well as children 14 years old or older with a diagnosed developmental disability and will release records in its discretion in the best interest of the child.10 This presumption grants HHS/ORR far-reaching discretion in its determination of which records will be released, as well as to which individuals or entities it will release records to regarding a child’s personal information. The proposed change could potentially lead to discrepancies in HHS/ORR’s application of its discretion, creating scenarios in which one child’s records are released and another’s withheld, with no oversight or meaningful insight into the reasons for the decision-making, and no tangible guidance for standards in future such instances. This breadth of discretion by HHS/ORR could lead to abuses of power that are consequential for the children in its care. Additionally, disparate outcomes on release of information could create obstacles for service providers in terms of explaining the process to adults and legal guardians.

III. The Proposed Authorization for Release of Records Needs to Be Accessible in Multiple Languages

As stated above, for children in and outside of HHS/ORR custody, HHS/ORR requires the signature of children age 14 or older for the release of records. The proposed ARR form is only available in English. Ideally, a child’s case manager will translate and explain the process to the child; however, the proposed form does not indicate the manner or the extent to which children required to sign for release of records are informed of their rights, or given details as to what it is they are consenting to, which in this case may include release of clinical/mental health services and medical records. In recent years, requiring immigrant parents to sign forms they did not understand after having been separated from their children was considered to be a coercive tactic used by DHS.11 This is a particularly worrisome notion in the cases of children age 14 or older who remain in ORR custody and may fear they will not be reunited with a parent or legal guardian but for the signing of this document. Without any meaningful way to determine whether a child 14 years old or older understands the ARR form, the signature requirement is not an acceptable standard for informed consent.

We urge that all pertinent forms, including the proposed ARR form be translated into Spanish, and the top three other languages of origin of unaccompanied children, including indigenous languages such as Mam, K’iche’, and Q’anjob’al. Further, in order to ensure accuracy and consistency in the way in which this information is shared with unaccompanied children and their caregivers, ORR care provider staff should receive thorough training on the requirements of the new ARR form. Additionally, as certain parents or guardians may not be literate, we recommend that HHS/ORR consider a guide to be included for explaining the forms and significance of them to those who cannot read as well as special need parents who may encounter obstacles to reading the text on the forms as well.

Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, we note that the proposed changes to the ARR fail to implement adequate safeguards against information sharing of an unaccompanied child’s records between government agencies and is not adequately accessible to the variety of literacy levels and languages represented among unaccompanied children, their parents, or guardians. We welcome the opportunity to work with you on this matter in the future. The care and safety of unaccompanied children is vital to our mission and the humanitarian interests of this country.

Respectfully submitted,

Anthony R. Picarello, Jr.
General Counsel & Assc. General Secretary

 

1 Expedited OMB Review and Public Comment; Proposed Information Collection Activity; Administration and Oversight of the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, 85 Fed. Reg. 21,240 (Apr. 16, 2020).
2 See e.g., U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and refugee Serv., et al., The Real Alternatives to Detention, JUSTICE FOR IMMIGRANTS, available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/wp- content/uploads/2019/06/The-Real-Alternatives-to-Detention-June-2019-FINAL-v.2.pdf
(last visited May 18, 2020).
3 Settlement Agreement, Flores, et al. v. Reno, et al., Case No. CV 85-4544 (C.D. Cal., Jan. 1, 1997), available at https://www.aila.org/File/Related/14111359b.pdf.
4 Expedited OMB Review and Public Comment; Proposed Information Collection Activity; Administration and Oversight of the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, 85 Fed. Reg. 21,240 (Apr. 16, 2020), Authorization for Release of Records at 5-6.
5 Id. at 7.
6 Id. See also Office of Refugee Resettlement, Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied, Policy Guide, Section 3.3, available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/children-entering-the-united- states-unaccompanied.
7 Authorization for Release of Records, supra note 4 at 7.
8 Authorization for Release of Records, supra note 4 at 6.
9 “Editorial: When the U.S. Uses Migrants’ Therapy Disclosures Against Them,” LOS ANGELES TIMES (Mar. 10, 2020), available at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-03-10/trump-administration- migrant-therapy-asylum.
10 Authorization for Release of Records, supra note 4 at 7.
11 “The Illegal and Systematic Practice of Coercing Separated Families Must Be Investigated,” AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL (Aug. 23, 2018), available at https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/advocacy/illegal-and-systematic-practice-coercing- separated-families-must-be-investigated.
2020-07-14T10:48:29-04:00News, Uncategorized|

USCCB/MRS Letter to DHS Regarding Care for Detainees and UAC in Light of COVID-19

Click here to see the full letter

 

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20528

Re: Catholic Bishops’ Concern for Vulnerable Migrant Populations’ Health in Light of COVID-19

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM), I am writing to you today out of concern for the health and welfare of vulnerable migrating populations: most notably detained immigrants and unaccompanied children in the context of COVID-19. I urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its components to continue to honor obligations under U.S. law to allow vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children to access protection in the United States while simultaneously following best health practices so that immigrants may not become exposed COVID-19. Specifically, I ask that DHS engage with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and medical experts to review all practices related to immigrant detention and encounters with unaccompanied children and asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border in light of internationally and domestically codified protection rights and the health risks of COVID-19. I strongly urge your agency to take additional measures in the interest of slowing the virus’s spread while continuing to protect human life and honor U.S. legal and moral commitments to protecting the vulnerable fleeing persecution.

The Catholic Church’s deep concern for people seeking safety during the COVID-19 pandemic is grounded in Catholic social teaching and our collective experience serving people in need. The core tenet of our faith is the belief that every human life is sacred. In promotion of that belief, we advocate and provide service for all, but especially the most vulnerable: the unborn, the poor, the homeless, immigrants and refugees, the elderly and the mentally and physically infirm. As reflected in Catholic teachings, the right to life extends to life-saving protection and the right to seek safety and well-being and to care for one’s family.

During this global pandemic and national emergency, access to appropriate health prevention measures and continued access to protection are critical.  Ensuring individuals are not unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19 while continuing to offer protection can save lives.  In this context, I make the following recommendations regarding immigrant detainees, unaccompanied children and asylum seekers to help ensure that no human life is placed unnecessarily at risk at this time:

  1. Immigrant Detainees

Ensuring the health, human dignity and due process of immigrant detainees is a concern of the Catholic Church. In Responsibility Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, immigrant detention is specifically mentioned as a priority issue: “The special circumstance of immigrants in detention centers is of particular concern.”[1] Catholic service providers have long been involved providing visitation, legal, social and pastoral services to detainees, the newly released and their families. We also have an extensive history of administering alternative to detention programming in partnership with the federal government as well as independently to those who have been recently released but need assistance. I also note that USCCB and our Catholic Charities network are currently working in partnership with ICE and its contractors to implement and administer alternatives to detention utilizing case management. We welcome working with you to help ensure individuals who may be released from detention in some form may be released to alternatives to detention.

As you are grappling with this public health crisis, we urge you to consider and implement the following recommendations for the health and well-being of your staff and all immigrant detainees:

  • Parole Vulnerable Populations from Detention Vulnerable individuals, such as those with physical or mental health ailments, over age 60, with compromised immune systems and people whose housing placements restrict their access to medical care and limit the staff’s ability to observe them, should be humanitarianly paroled from detention facilities. Efforts must be made to ensure that these individuals upon parole: (1) have family/friends to stay with for community support and (2) are willing and able to self-quarantine and have travel and transportation to be with family and friends arranged.

 

  • Enroll Individuals Who Are Not Required to Be Detained Under the INA on Alternatives to Detention In the current detention population, there are certain individuals, such as asylum seekers who have passed credible fear interviews, who do not have to be detained under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). I urge you to strongly consider utilizing alternatives to detention for this population as it will help prevent them from the possibility of exposure to COVID-19. DHS should use its discretion to immediately enroll such individuals in a variety of existing alternatives to detention including case management. As mentioned above, we operate alternatives to detention with ICE and its contractors can assist you in this respect. 

 

  • Provide Robust Public Education for the Detained and Those Working in Facilities The detained need to be informed about COVID-19 and the measures they can take to minimize their risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Information about the spread of COVID-19, the risks associated with it, recognizing symptoms, and prevention and treatment measures must be available in multiple languages and infographics for those who are illiterate. Additionally, cleaning and personal hygiene products should be made available to all detainees. Correctional, administrative, and medical staff all must be educated about COVID-19 to protect themselves and their families, as well as those in their custody. Staff should be properly trained and also should be given protocols for how to proceed if a family member or they themselves exhibit symptoms.

 

  • Maintain Consistent Access to Legal and Pastoral Services Access to attorneys, know your rights and other legal orientation services must be maintained through free phone access and video technology. Attorney/client calls should be free and available to be made in a private space. Legal service providers should be granted flexibility to provide know your rights and legal orientation programming via video. Additionally, in this moment, pastoral care is more important than ever. Creative means should be employed using telephone and video technology for group religious practices and individual appointments. Please note that almost every single religious denomination is web-streaming their religious services and web-access to these services should be provided and encouraged.

 

2.  Unaccompanied Children

Formally, in partnership with the U.S. government, the Catholic Church has been serving unaccompanied children since 1994. Currently, as of March 1, 2020, there are 3,617 unaccompanied children in the U.S. government’s custody.[2] The Catholic Church’s work in assisting unaccompanied children stems from the belief that every person has a unique and sacred dignity and that we must help protect and defend the vulnerable. The protection of migrant children is an especially important issue for the Catholic Church as one of Jesus’ first experiences as an infant was to flee for his life from King Herod with his family to Egypt. The Church recognizes the extreme violence and persecution that children are facing and seeks to ensure their safety and well-being.

As you are grappling with this public health crisis, it is vital that you consider the following recommendations for the health and well-being of your staff and unaccompanied children:

 

  • Continue to Process Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC)[3] under the obligations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) The recent Border Closure announcement is being applied to expel UACs from the United States, undermining protections for vulnerable children. Effective March 20th, CDC directed DHS to suspend entry of certain individuals to avoid their detention in DHS’s congregate settings such as Border Patrol stations, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) barred entry for many persons through ports of entry, except for “essential travel.”[4] Though DHS authorized CBP to designate further categories of essential travel and make exceptions on a case-by-case basis, neither a March 24 DHS order[5] nor operational CBP guidance[6] exempts unaccompanied children, including unaccompanied children seeking protection, from the CDC order’s restrictions. Pursuant to the TVPRA, UACs arriving at the border are entitled to special protections, including screening mechanisms to determine if they are at risk of trafficking or harm if returned to their country of origin.[7] Unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries are excluded from summary removal proceedings, and must be given the opportunity to present their claims for protection. I urge you to respect the existing law, and furthermore honor U.S. commitments to protect immigrant children who need this life-saving protection now more than ever.

 

  • Implement Existing Testing and Social Distancing Guidelines for Unaccompanied Children Encountered by Border Patrol and Also Those Placed in Their Custody Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must implement existing CDC Control protocols for testing,[8] identifying[9] and preventing[10] COVID-19 for UACs. Additionally, protocols must include adequate mechanisms to track, document, and communicate with both the UAC’s home country through the consulates and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ORR) cases of UAC who may be infected or may have been exposed to COVID-19.

 

  • Promptly transfer UACs to HHS/ORR Under the TVPRA, CBP has a statutory mandate to transfer unaccompanied children within 72 hours.[11] CBP has breached this duty in the past, and we are very concerned with the ability of CBP to quickly transfer for children and ensuring that they do not spend too much time in Boder Patrol processing facilitie. With this public health crisis, failing to comply with the TVPRA could have lethal consequences for immigrant children, exposing them to unsanitary conditions where the virus can spread unchecked. Immediate transfer to HHS/ORR is a best safety precaution for UAC and the Border Patrol staff.

 

  • Ensure UACs Who Are Sent Back to Home Country Receive a Best Interest Determination and Access to Health Care Responsive to COVID-19 If UACs are repatriated back to their home country, DHS has a responsibility to ensure that the children receive best interest determinations to assess protection and safety needs. Additionally, children should be received and promptly examined in light of COVID-19 and if appropriate, quarantined tested, and/or treated in child-appropriate spaces.

 

It is vital that you remember in this moment our own common humanity and that we are all God’s children, regardless of our immigration status. Again, I urge you to consider these recommendations and welcome any way that the Catholic Church can assist you at this time. I welcome a further discussion with your designated staff to see how we may work together to ensure humane treatment and compliance with U.S. immigration laws.

 

Sincerely,

Most Rev. Mario E. Dorsonville

Chairman

USCCB Committee on Migration

 

 

 

[1] Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration, A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, A Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States (Nov. 15, 2000).
[2] See Latest UAC Data FY 20 available at https://www.hhs.gov/programs/social-services/unaccompanied-alien-children/latest-uac-data-fy2020/index.html, (last accessed April 14th 2020)
[3] See Homeland Security Act of 2002, 6 U.S.C. 279(g)(2) The Homeland Security Act of 2002 defines the term “unaccompanied alien child” as a child under the age of 18 who has no lawful immigration status and for whom there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian available to provide care and custody.
[4] “Order Suspending Introduction of Certain persons From Countries Where a Communicable Disease Exists,” 85 FR 17060.
[5] “Notification of Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports of Entry and Ferries Service Between the United States and Mexico,” 85 FR 16547.
[6] CBP, “COVID-19 CAPIO”, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6824221-COVID-19-CAPIO.html.
[7] 8 U.S.C. § 1232.
[8] Centers for Disease Control COVID 19, Testing, available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html
[9]Centers for Disease Control COVID 19, Symptoms, available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
[10] Centers for Disease Control COVID 19, Prevention, available at  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html
[11] 8 U.S.C. § 1232(b)(3).
2020-04-15T09:08:46-04:00News|

Catholic Partners Letter to the Department of Justice with Concern on Proposed Fee Changes

Click here for a PDF of this document

 

Submitted via www.regulations.gov

March 30, 2020
Lauren Alder Reid
Assistant Director
Office of Policy
Executive Office for Immigration Review, Department of Justice
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2600
Falls Church, VA 22041

RE: EOIR Docket No. 18-0101, RIN 1125-AA90; Fee Review

Dear Assistant Director Reid:

Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) respectfully submit this comment on the proposed Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Fee Review, published on February 28, 2020. We are concerned about the proposed fee changes in the published notice and request that EOIR withdraw these proposals that make appeals, applications, and motions less accessible to respondents and could also negatively impact Catholic institutions who work with immigrants.

CCUSA is a national membership organization representing more than 166 diocesan Catholic Charities member agencies, which operate more than 2,600 service locations across the country. Their diverse array of social services reached more than 12.5 million individuals in need last year, and included immigration and refugee services. Our Catholic heritage includes a scriptural call to provide hospitality to newcomers as if welcoming Christ Himself. The Catholic Church, like our nation as a whole, finds its identity and roots in various immigrant communities. We affirm the inherent dignity bestowed by God on every human person, including immigrants and refugees, no matter the circumstances that compel a person to begin a new life in our community.

The USCCB is a nonprofit corporation whose members are the active Catholic bishops of the United States. USCCB advocates and promotes the pastoral teachings of the U.S. Catholic bishops in diverse areas of the nation’s life. For years, USCCB’s Committee on Migration has collaborated with the U.S. government to welcome and provide direct services to unaccompanied immigrant children, U.S. and foreign-born victims of human trafficking and refugees. USCCB/MRS advocates on behalf of these and other immigrant populations to advance the migration policy priorities of USCCB’s Committee on Migration.

CCUSA and USCCB/MRS oppose these dramatic increases in EOIR fees associated with filings for the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) appeals, cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation applications, asylum applications, and motions to reopen or reconsider before the immigration courts or the BIA. The proposed fee increases for most applications are unconscionably high. The greatest increase to appeal the decision of an immigration judge is nearly 800 percent, from $110 to $975. This astronomical fee increase places the pursuit of justice outside the grasp of even families with moderate incomes. Likewise, motions to reopen or reconsider before the BIA would rise to $895. The proposed fee levels are unreasonable and disproportionate to comparable fees in federal courts. The proposed fees also make it increasingly difficult to access justice.

EOIR should ensure that appeals, applications, and motions remain accessible and affordable. These filings are essential to upholding the principles of access to justice and the right to due process. Those who cannot afford these fees may be unable to apply for relief or appeal erroneous decisions. Respondents have only 30 days after an immigration judge’s decision to file an appeal, which is a very short timeframe to obtain the $975 fee. It is not uncommon for immigration judges to make errors and these changes would significantly hinder the applicant’s ability to correct errors and seek justice. We suggest that EOIR withdraw the proposal in its entirety. However if EOIR imposes increased fees, we formally recommend that EOIR should clarify that if a request by an individual for a fee waiver is denied, the 30-day filing deadline will be restarted from the date of that denial.

In 2018, 108 Catholic Charities agencies helped welcome and integrate over 300,000 immigrants, refugees, and asylees. This fee increase amounts to a denial of due process for the clients Catholic Charities serve. Clients first have to file with the EOIR for either an appeal or case re-opening before arguing their case in federal immigration court. The sheer amount of the fee increase is an abridgment of the constitutional right to due process based on income. These astronomical fees will lead to the inability to file relief applications, petitions, motions or appeals and may lead to deportation to countries which immigrants do not know or have ties to, particularly for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, among others. Vulnerable populations such as domestic violence victims, unaccompanied minors and survivors of torture will also be harmed by these proposed fee increases. The ramifications can lead to a lifetime of mental and emotional harm and family separation. Increasing the fees will also have an impact around the compliance with U.S. immigration law that all individuals see to the extent that they are able. By making such costs prohibitive, you discourage people with legitimate claims from participating in our independent judicial process.

Our agencies serve low-income immigrants at minimal cost across the country with high quality and accredited immigration legal services. Our agencies operating in expensive localities, such as Catholic Charities San Diego, recognize how the proposed fees and the high cost of living in locations like southern California will disproportionately affect low-income families struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their immigration cases. We are very worried that unscrupulous actors will utilize these proposed fee increases to attempt to impose even higher financial demands on vulnerable immigrant communities. Economic realities may lead these immigrants to use notarios against their best interests. Making immigration appeals and court filings more costly will result in less accountability and lead to an increase in ineffective and harmful notario services that prey on immigrants.
Individuals who otherwise may prevail with their motion or appeal will be prevented access to justice due to these proposed fees. These proposed fees heighten low-income immigrants’ inability to pursue their case. Many of the people most in need of access to our judicial system do not have enough income to pay for representation and the new exorbitant fees. While fee waivers are available, they are not guaranteed.

While the proposed rulemaking states that current EOIR fee waiver policies would remain available, it does not acknowledge that with fees rising as much as 800%, the number of fee waiver requests will also increase dramatically. Respondents’ increased reliance on fee waivers under this proposal would heighten the burden on judges to adjudicate fee waiver requests. The increasing number of fee waiver requests would divert valuable judicial resources to adjudicating fee waivers rather than substantive claims at a time when the court already has a backlog of more than a million cases. Keeping EOIR fees at a level that most respondents can afford ensures that fee waivers do not become necessary for nearly all filings and do not become a source of increasing backlogs.

Fee waivers may be granted for detained clients, but they face extreme obstacles in the current immigration processes that are drastically heightened if a fee waiver is denied. The proposed fees would only exacerbate the pursuit of justice for detained individuals, particularly for those denied a fee waiver. A detained person’s only access to income is $1 a day for a volunteer job while in detention. If they are quarantined during the current COVID-19 global pandemic or unable to work for other reasons, they will have further limited access to earning finances for their case and well-being. Daily earnings of $1 are small amounts but necessary for immigrants to buy telephone “minutes” to make personal calls or buy necessary items in the commissary. Detained individuals are already at a disadvantage in obtaining counsel and evidence. The proposed fee increase poses an extreme and unnecessary disadvantage to continue their case. Without financial means from family or friends in the U.S., they are likely out of options.

EOIR also plans to charge a $50 fee for asylum applications for the first time ever; DHS recently proposed the same fee for affirmative asylum applications. The United States has a moral imperative to accept asylum seekers as well as obligations under domestic and international laws. As a signatory to the 1967 Protocol of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the United States has an obligation to accept asylum seekers who seek protection. The administration appears to acknowledge that sending those facing persecution into harm’s way because they cannot pay a fee would run afoul of international law by allowing respondents to submit an I-589 without a fee if they seek only withholding of removal or protection under the Convention against Torture (CAT), but not asylum. These lesser forms of relief are in no way comparable to asylum, because they do not have a path to lawful permanent residence or citizenship. Furthermore a respondent who wins withholding or CAT protection will likely face permanent separation from family members because there is no provision for them to apply for family members as derivatives.
Refusing asylum applicants for the inability to pay would effectively cause the United States to break its treaty obligations and flies in the face of the basic intent of the 1980 Refugee Act. In fact, the vast majority of countries that are signatories to the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol do not charge a fee for an asylum application. First-time asylum seekers are ineligible for a work permit, so charging them $50 to simply access asylum protections may force them to depend on charity or choose between feeding their families and paying this fee. This uncertainty may result in asylum seekers renouncing this protection altogether. The United States has long been a world leader in refugee protection. If the United States imposes a filing fee for asylum, other countries may begin to do the same. The United States should adhere to its international and domestic obligations and not refuse asylum seekers their chance to seek protection simply for the inability to pay.

We are also concerned that such significant changes are being proposed with only a 30-day comment period, rather than the traditional 60 days. EOIR acknowledges that it has not conducted a fee study in 33 years. Further, our nation’s response to the COVID-19 workforce limitations warrant additional time for concerned advocates and practitioners to review these proposed fee changes. Since EOIR has not changed its fees in over three decades, it is imperative that the public be granted sufficient time to understand the reasons and methodology EOIR used to arrive at such substantial increases, and how EOIR plans to ensure that vulnerable, low-income noncitizens will be able to assert their rights in immigration court and before the BIA.
CCUSA and USCCB/MRS urge EOIR to withdraw its proposed fee increases and maintain its current fee levels for appeals, applications, and motions. EOIR has historically drawn the majority of its funding from congressional appropriations. Unlike USCIS, EOIR is not a fee-funded agency. The rulemaking never explains why EOIR needs this additional money, nor does it state that it cannot cover its operating costs through congressional appropriations, or that it must be self-sustaining and why. Any increased funding that EOIR requires should be requested through the appropriations process as it has done in previous years.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed fee schedule. Please do not hesitate to contact our offices should you have any questions.

Best,

Brian R. Corbin                                                             William A. Canny
Executive Vice President,                                             Executive Director
Member Services                                                           Migration and Refugee Services
Catholic Charities USA

 

[1] See Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Miriam Jordan, New Trump Administration Proposal Would Charge Asylum Seekers an Application Fee, N.Y. Times, Nov. 8, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/08/us/politics/immigration-fees-trump.html (noting that the United States would be only the fourth country in the world to charge a fee for asylum).
[2] See, e.g., Executive Order 12866 (Sept. 30, 1993) (stating that agencies should allow “not less than 60 days” for public comment in most cases, in order to “afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on any proposed regulation”); see also Executive Order 13563 (January 18, 2011) (stating that “[t]o the extent feasible and permitted by law, each agency shall afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment through the Internet on any proposed regulation, with a comment period that should generally be at least 60 days”).
[3] See, e.g., Executive Office for Immigration Review, Department of Justice, FY 2020 Budget Request, www.justice.gov/jmd/page/file/1142486/download.
2020-03-31T10:02:50-04:00News|

Catholic Partners Letter: Removing Barriers to Care During the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic

Click Here for a PDF of the Letter

 

March 18, 2020

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20528

 

RE: Removing Barriers to Care During the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic

 

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM), Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), we write to urge DHS and its components to remove barriers to healthcare access so that immigrants may safely comply with government recommendations during this global pandemic health crisis. Specifically, we ask that DHS review all immigration enforcement activities and operations, particularly suspending activities at sensitive locations, and broadly release explicit guidance that the public charge rule does not apply during this COVID-19 outbreak. We strongly urge your agency and its components to take these additional measures in the interest of slowing the virus’s spread and protecting human life.

The Catholic Church’s deep concern for people seeking safety and access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic is grounded in Catholic social teaching and our collective experience serving people in need. The core tenet of our faith is the belief that every human life is sacred. In promotion of that belief, we advocate and provide service for all, but especially the most vulnerable: the unborn, the poor, the homeless, immigrants and refugees, the elderly and the mentally and physically infirm. As reflected in Catholic teachings, the right to life extends to life-saving protection and the right to seek safety and to care for one’s family.

During this global pandemic and national emergency, access to treatment and care for immigrants, including undocumented individuals, is critical to tracking and responding to the crisis. Removing barriers to testing and treatment not only saves lives but keeps all Americans safer.

In this context, we make the following recommendations to help ensure that no human life is placed unnecessarily at risk at this time:

 

  1. DHS Should Ensure No Immigration Enforcement Actions Occur at Sensitive Locations and Robustly Communicate This Policy

The U.S. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “Enforcement Actions at or Focused on Sensitive Locations” memo includes, but is not limited to, hospitals as a sensitive location.1 DHS has communicated that “ICE does not conduct operations at healthcare

facilities. Anyone in need of medical care should seek care[.]”2 This suggests that DHS is appropriately clarifying the understanding of sensitive locations apply to all healthcare facilities during this global pandemic. Continuing to update, revise and publicize this guidance as testing facilities are potentially implemented at non-traditional healthcare locations, will be critical to removing barriers to testing.

Unfortunately, there are recent news reports of ICE agents following an undocumented immigrant to a Scranton, Pennsylvania, area hospital.3 Should more reports of ICE agents conducting operations at healthcare facilities emerge throughout the country, a chilling effect on immigrants seeking medical assistance is all but inevitable. While we note that the ICE and CBP Sensitive Locations memorandum describes exceptions for enforcement due to “exigent circumstances,”4 at this time we urge you to cease any enforcement at sensitive locations due to the heightened public health needs.

Additionally, DHS and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should share this information through a robust public messaging campaign that is accessible in multiple languages and includes visual graphics for those who may be illiterate. Healthcare facilities, places of worship, and other agencies should not be linked to immigration enforcement activities. People must feel safe to access critical services such as testing and treatment for the virus, pastoral care, and legal and social services.

 

  1. DHS Should Issue and Broadly Distribute Explicit Guidance that the Public Charge Rule Does Not Apply During this COVID-19 Outbreak and Provide Necessary Protections and Extensions to Immigrants Affected by USCIS Closures

USCIS recently posted an update to its public charge webpage5 with information about how it will consider health issues related to the COVID-19 contagion in the context of public charge, stating that it will not consider testing, treatment, or preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination. As of the date of this writing, USCIS has not shared this information broadly through its email lists or social media feeds. DHS should issue an additional statement clarifying explicitly that the public charge rule does not apply during this COVID-19 outbreak. Further, DHS and USCIS should continue to share this information through a robust public messaging campaign that is accessible in multiple languages.

We also note the closures of the USCIS offices as a public health precaution. In response to the USCIS office closures we request extensions for certain visa categories, including DACA renewals, given the substantial impact and harm the closures could pose.

 

  1. DHS Should Review All Immigration Enforcement Activities and Operations

While we acknowledge the important initial steps of ensuring no enforcement activities at sensitive healthcare facility locations and issuing clarified public charge information, DHS should reconsider all deportations, immigration arrests, mass raids, detentions and enforcement actions and give priority to removing barriers to testing, treatment, and protecting public health. An effective community-based response to COVID-19 requires all people living within our borders to contribute to the common good. Barriers to treatment or testing, as well as causing fear to stay home to care for children, will undermine ongoing healthcare efforts. Therefore, we urge DHS to review all of its practices and give the highest priority to preserving life and safety.

We remain grateful for your vigilant efforts to respond to this global crisis and request your constant consideration of the vulnerable communities we serve.

Regards,

Sister Donna Markham OP, PhD, ABPP, President & CEO, Catholic Charities USA

Most Rev. Mario E. Dorsonville, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Sister Mary Haddad, RSM, President and CEO, Catholic Health Association of the United States

Anna Marie Gallagher, Executive Director, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

 

 

1 “Enforcement Actions at or Focused on Sensitive Locations,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Memorandum, 24 October 2011, available at: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/ero-outreach/pdf/10029.2-policy.pdf.
2 @SpoxDHS, (Heather Swift). “Dishonest fear mongering is dangerous to the immigrant community. The disinformation campaign pushes a false narrative when people are looking to elected officials for info. ICE does not conduct operations at healthcare facilities. Anyone in need of medical care should seek care.” 5 March 2020, 9:46 PM: https://twitter.com/SpoxDHS/status/1235758584073465857.
3 “ICE criticized for arrest at Scranton hospital,” Hall, Peter. The Morning Call, 16 March 2020, available at: https://www.mcall.com/news/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pa-ice-immigrant-arrest-hospital-scranton-coronavirus-20200316-3itqa24pdfau3kjnkm62jcdsai-story.html.
4 Supra at Note 1.
5 “Public Charge – Alert,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 17 March 2020, available at: https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/public-charge.
2020-03-18T15:50:11-04:00News|

Testimony of Most Reverend Mario E. Dorsonville for House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship “Current State of the U.S. Refugee Program”

Click here to view this Testimony as a PDF

 

“In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family. Migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable, help us to read the “signs of the times”. Through them, the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.”

–Pope Francis, Message for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees[i]

 

Thank you to Representative Sylvia Garcia who is leading this hearing on behalf of Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren and to Ranking Member Ken Buck and members of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for the opportunity to testify before you and to submit this written testimony regarding the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

As chairman of the Committee on Migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I wish to address the importance of America’s global leadership role in accepting and integrating refugees for the last forty years. Refugees are a blessing to our country. I speak on behalf of the Catholic Church when I say that the Church teaches that every human being is created in God’s image and deserves dignity and respect. We view assisting those in need as is a fundamental Christian duty that is derived directly from the words and the life of Christ, who himself was a migrant and part of a refugee family, and that as Christians, we are called to welcome our new neighbors with the same love and compassion that we would want ourselves to be shown. In the spirit of the quote I cited from Pope Francis, the USCCB urges the U.S. government, in collaboration with civil society, including the faith-based community, to assert its traditional and strong moral international leadership — a reflection of American values and global strategic interests — in all phases and parts of the refugee protection system.

I am particularly conscious of the legacy of the U.S. refugee program as we approach March 17, 2020, the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980. The Refugee Act provides the framework for the United States to meet its domestic and international obligations to refugee protection through the two major U.S. humanitarian protection systems for refugees—asylum and resettlement. While having deep concerns about reduced access in recent years to both asylum and resettlement and urging rejuvenation of both, I will focus my remarks today on resettlement, the subject of today’s hearing.

 

I. Catholic Social Teaching and Concern, Care and Support for Migrants and Refugees

The Catholic Church has a long history of solidarity, pastoral care, community outreach, service, and advocacy related to people migrating to the United States. Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB (USCCB/MRS) is historically the largest U.S. refugee resettlement agency in the United States. USCCB/MRS has worked to welcome and integrate refugees, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, or religion. Working in partnership with the U.S. government, state and local governments, and local communities, USCCB/MRS has resettled over one million of the three million refugees who have come to our country since 1975.

The Catholic Church’s solidarity and service related to migrants and refugees stems from the belief that every human being is created in God’s image. In the Old Testament, God calls upon his people to care for the alien because of their own experience as aliens: “So, you, too, must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). In the New Testament, the image of the migrant is seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. In his own life and work, Jesus identified himself with newcomers and other marginalized persons in a special way: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt. 25:35). Jesus himself was an itinerant preacher without a home of his own, and as noted, a refugee fleeing to Egypt to avoid persecution and death (Mt. 2:15).

In modern times, popes over the last 100 years have developed the Church’s teaching on migration. Pope Pius XII reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to care for pilgrims, aliens, refugees, and migrants of every kind, affirming that all peoples have the right to conditions worthy of human life and, if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate.[ii] Meanwhile, we advocate to address the root causes for such poor conditions while also protecting those forced to migrate. In our joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, A Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration,” January 23, 2003, the U.S. and Mexican Catholic bishops call for nations to work toward a “globalization of solidarity.” In that document, we affirm that “Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community.” (No. 99). We likewise state that refugees should “have access to appropriate due process protections consistent with international law.” (No. 99).

From the beginning of his papacy, including when Pope Francis traveled to Lampedusa, Italy, he has defended the rights of refugees and migrants and called for their protection. He decried the “globalization of indifference” and the “throwaway culture” that disregards those fleeing persecution in order to seek a better life. Pope Francis also created a new Vatican department, the Dicastery to Promote Integral Human Development, to be a catalyst for Catholic collaboration in developing policies and systems to effectively address refugee and migration crises. He is personally overseeing the Migration & Refugee Section of that Dicastery as the Church seeks to improve the welcome, protection, promotion, and integration of refugees and immigrants.

 

II. Bipartisan and Community-Based History of the US Refugee Admissions Program

At the height of World War II (1943), the U.S. bishops established War Relief Services (WRS) as the mechanism through which the Church would participate in overseas refugee and relief work. Soon after its establishment, the bishops assigned WRS with the responsibility to lead the Church’s work with displaced persons abroad and extend “help to war-afflicted people, especially children, on the basis of need alone, without reference to race, creed, or other factors.” By 1948, of the 119 dioceses in the U.S. at the time, 105 dioceses had a resettlement director appointed by their respective bishop.[iii] This effort established the foundation upon which the Church’s current resettlement program was built.

During the next three-decades, the Church remained responsive to migration flows – often forced – that emerged under the cloud of the Cold War. From 1948 to 1952, the Church helped to resettle 190,275 persons who were displaced by the devastation of World War II, another 70,000 persons through the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 and in the aftermath of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.[iv]  Striking more closely to home, the periodic influx of Cubans following the rise of Fidel Castro reshaped the demographic and cultural identity of southern Florida. The Catholic Church in Miami, due in large part to the efforts of Catholic Relief Services and the local Catholic Charities (the social services arm of the Church), was indispensable to the reception and placement of Cubans upon their arrival.

The Catholic Church played a critical role in the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which permitted Vietnamese immigration to the United States and other countries after the Vietnam War. Prior to the ODP, tens of thousands of “boat people” fled Vietnam monthly and to neighboring countries. From 1979 until the end of 1999 the Orderly Departure Program processed more than 523,000 Vietnamese for admission to the U.S. as refugees, immigrants, and parolees.[v]

By the mid-1970s, it had become apparent that the ad-hoc nature of the resettlement process needed significant revision. Different refugee populations received different levels of support; the parole power of the Executive branch raised concerns within Congress that the President was effectively skirting immigration law and admitting migrant populations outside the Congressionally established system of admissions. The differentiated nature of the program was an important contributing factor to the passage of The Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized the system through which refugees were admitted, clarified the objectives of the program, regularized assistance programs for refugees, and delineated the roles and responsibilities of federal and private agencies responsible for resettlement. Since 1980, the U.S. Refugee Admissions program has received broad, bipartisan support, with the annual admissions goal averaging 95,000 each year.[vi]

The current resettlement system in the U.S. is an expansive public-private partnership with longstanding commitments from a broad group of faith-based organizations, including Jewish, Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, and Evangelical faiths, as well as secular non-governmental organizations. Each involved entity raises private money, cultivates in-kind donations from local communities, and volunteers matching federal dollars.

USCCB/MRS operates the Parishes Organized to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees (POWIR) program throughout its resettlement network to strengthen parish and community support for newcomer populations. In the first 8 months of 2019, 23 POWIR programs engaged over 131 parishes, identified and trained 1,579 new volunteers, and formed 162 new community partnerships.[vii]

 

III. Contributions of Refugees to the United States

As explained above, our call to resettle refugees is deeply ingrained in Catholic social teaching and thought which is based off of our Catholic faith and in the teaching of Jesus Christ. We believe that every human life is sacred and entitled to protection and human dignity. It is our responsibility to help refugees not based on their achievements or contributions but because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Despite this fundamental underpinning of our approach to resettlement, my brother Bishops and I feel that it is important to highlight the amazing accomplishments and contributions of refugees who have been resettled here in the United States.

In addition to the many fine refugee families we have been blessed to assist through our Catholic Charities’ network, there are some truly noteworthy refugees whose accomplishments have changed the face of U.S. and global history important to mention. Such U.S. refugees include Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and Sergey Brin (founder of Google),

As well as countless other contributors to U.S. society. A recent study[viii] highlighted the profound, positive economic impact of refugees collectively.

 

Refugees:

  • earn $77.2 billion and pay taxes of $20.9 billion, annually;
  • earn initial median household wages of $22,000 per year and in25 years, averages $67,000;
  • earn as entrepreneurs $4.6 billion annually, as 13% of refugees start their own businesses;
  • share collective spending power of over $1 billion in each of 18 U.S. states for a total of $57.4 billion, including $17.2 billion in California and $4.6 billion in Texas; and
  • provide part of the solution for future tax support to address the aging of America as 49.7% of U.S. born people are of working age, while 77.1% of refugees are of working age. [ix]

 

 IV. Recommendations

 

As noted above, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a long-standing public-private partnership that has provided life-saving protection to millions of individuals fleeing violence, political turmoil and religious persecution.  Understanding the pivotal moment that the program finds itself; we respectfully request Congress to consider the following recommendations:

  • urge the Administration to ensure that the Fiscal Year 2020 admission goal of 18,000 refugees is met;
  • urge the Administration to return the refugee admissions goal in future years to a level consistent with global need and traditional U.S. global humanitarian leadership, that is, at least 95,000, the historical norm over the past 40 years of the USRAP;
  • maintain robust appropriations levels related to accounts that support the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program; and
  • recognize the unique and vital role that faith-based organizations and faith communities play in welcoming and integrating refugees.

 

A. Congress must strongly encourage the Administration to reach its Fiscal Year 2020 refugee admission goal of 18,000

In recent years, the numbers of the refugee program have dramatically dropped. While these lower numbers were stated to be resulting from increased and improved vetting, we which appreciate and recognize as important, it has been disheartening to see the numbers of refugees arriving continually not meet the Presidential Determination number that has been given. To this point, there was a Presidential Determination in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 of 110,000 refugees, and only 53, 716 were resettled; in FY 2018 there was a Presidential Determination of 45,000 and only 22,491 were resettled.[x] In FY 2019 there was a Presidential Determination of 30,000 and while we were dismayed at the low number of refugees allowed by the President to be resettled in 2019, we were grateful that the U.S. government resettled all 30,000 in FY 2019. [xi]We are hopeful that this may be something to build on, in terms of ensuring that the goal number is likely to be met in future years going forward. However, despite the increasingly low number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the United States, (this year another reduction to 18,000), we are currently not on track to reach that resettlement goal. As of February 21, 2020, there have been 5,792 refugees resettled.[xii] If this pace is continued, we will only be resettling 14,682 refugees in Fiscal Year 2020. As a country we can and must do better to help those in need.

To help ensure that we are able to resettle 18,000 refugees this year, we encourage Congress to conduct robust oversight into the resettlement program. We urge Congress to help troubleshoot areas within the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security that are leading to delays for refugees to reunite with families living here in the United States. We remind Congress and the Administration that refugee resettlement is reserved for the most vulnerable who have vital need to leave their precarious and dangerous living situations, such as religious or ethnic or social minorities who are as unsafe in the neighboring host country as they were in their home country. It includes unaccompanied refugee children in child-headed households, women at risk, victims of torture and human trafficking, and the elderly. These most vulnerable populations need our help immediately, and we, along with the other voluntary agencies, stand ready to work with you and with the Administration to ensure that together we reach this year’s goal of 18,000 refugee admissions.

 

B. Given the unprecedented level of global need, and the U.S.’s historic leadership role in the world, we need to return to the historic average for resettling refugees

While urging the Administration to use every one of the 18,000 designated admission slots in

FY 2020, we also urge that the Administration build admissions back up to a level commensurate with the global resettlement need, to at least the 95,000 average.[xiii] Given the extremely high levels of displacement globally and the U.S.’s traditional leadership role in humanitarian assistance through aid and programs such as refugee resettlement, it is vital that the U.S. refugee admission program is restored to the historical levels.

Currently there is unprecedented migration-related displacement throughout the world. As of June 2019, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there was forced displacement of over 70.8 million people globally, with over 25.9 million individuals considered refugees who have fled to other countries.[xiv] For the majority of the refugees, the solution is to either voluntarily return home when returning can be done in safety and dignity or integrating into a nearby refugee host country. Resettlement to a third country is a last resort. For 2020, UNHCR identified that over 1.44 million of the 25.9 million refugees need access to resettlement, up from 1.2 million in need of resettlement in 2016.[xv]

Yet, despite a documented rising need for resettlement, the current global resettlement capacity is decreasing. For example, in 2018, UNHCR referred only 81,337 refugees for resettlement, a nearly 50% reduction from 162,500 referred in 2016.[xvi] The U.S., in its dramatic reduction of refugees, has greatly contributed to the reduced capacity, with an over 70% reduction in U.S. arrivals from 85,000 in 2016 to 22,500 in 2018. With maximum arrivals to the United States in 2020 of 18,000, we will soon be experiencing an almost 80% reduction in U.S. resettlement since 2016. It is important to note that in prior Republican and Democratic administrations, the State Department worked with UNHCR to help grow the number of countries globally who would resettle refugees. As these new programs begin to gain strength, the United States is abruptly moving in the opposite direction, drastically cutting back on resettlement. We fear that other nations will follow suit and that even more vulnerable refugees will be left behind.

The U.S.’s retreat from global leadership in this area has great consequences not only to the annual number of refugees that other countries will resettle but also as resettlement is used as a diplomatic tool, there are far reaching effects in global and regional stability. This (hopefully temporary) reduction in U.S. leadership also comes at a time when there are several world crises which have large components of forced migration, including in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa, Syria and Iraq in the Middle East, and Venezuela in Latin America.

  • In Africa, for example, the U.S. has previously played a key responsibility-sharing role through resettlement for the many refugees from the DRC. The largest African refugee resettlement population includes those fleeing from DRC, and many of them are Christians fleeing ethnic and religious persecution. From FY 2016 to FY 2019, the total U.S. resettlement out of Africa has fallen 49% from 31,624 to 16,366.[xvii]
  • In the Middle East, the arrivals from 2016 to 2019 have fallen 92%, from 35,555 to 2801.[xviii] On the humanitarian level, many Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities fleeing from Syria and Iraq will lose access to resettlement.
  • Lastly, forced displacement in Venezuela may soon even exceed that of the Syrian crisis. UNHCR projects that the number of Venezuelans forced to flee their country will reach 6.5 million by the end of 2020.[xix]

Reducing our leadership role in these situations potentially leaves a vacuum with not only negative humanitarian consequences but also negative strategic consequences. Given the life-saving nature of the resettlement program, the heightened global need, and the vital strategic leadership role the United States has occupied, we urge a return to the historical average numbers of the resettlement program.

 

C. Maintain and Increase Funding for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

Robust funding needs to be in place to ensure the continued operation and hopeful return to historical refugee resettlement admission norms. First, we commend the bipartisan efforts of Senate and House appropriators and lawmakers to ensure existing funding for refugee resettlement admissions and domestic implementation. We are grateful to see the maintenance of bipartisan humanitarian focused support for the refugee resettlement program. Second, we urge continued support and funding for the Department of State which deals with the overseas admissions elements of the refugee resettlement program and for the Department of Labor, Health, and Human Services which funds the domestic integration and short term support of refugees once they have arrived to the United States. To fully support the international element of the U.S. refugee admissions program, in FY 2021, we are asking Congress appropriate $3.604 billion for the Department of State’s Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, $1 million for the Department’s Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account, and $4.52 billion for the International Disaster Assistance (IDA). To ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement can adequately serve these vulnerable populations of concern, we are requesting $4.692 billion for the Refugee Entrant and Assistance (REA) account. Such funding is to maintain robust levels of funding to meet the ongoing work of local U.S. communities welcoming not only refugees but others suffering from the global displacement crisis—such as asylum seekers, Cubans and Haitians, unaccompanied children, survivors of torture and human trafficking.

 

D. Recognize the unique and vital role that faith-based organizations and faith communities play in refugee resettlement and integrating newcomers

We urge Congress and the Administration to continue to recognize and understand the overwhelming support that various faith-based groups have exhibited for the United States refugee admissions program. As noted, our Christian faith tradition and Catholic social teaching urges us to welcome the refugee, however, it is noted that many other faith-based groups also resettle refugees. It is important to note that six of the nine voluntary agencies resettling refugees in partnership with the federal government are faith-based. In addition to our programmatic experience and expertise to caring for refugees, faith-based groups are uniquely situated to support refugee resettlement and welcome refugees into American communities through their dioceses, parishes, congregations and synagogues. Resettling refugees and welcoming individuals at the local level in communities of faith is a tradition that we have been engaging in for many years and continue to do. An example of the strong support of local communities for refugees can be seen in the recent efforts to comply with the President’s Executive Order requiring consent for resettlement from governors and local county executives. Before the current preliminary injunction was put in place, 43 states had consented to resettlement and faith groups played a very prominent role in almost every state to help secure that consent.[xx] In addition to being active supporters, communities of faith work to help to integrate refugees into their local communities and equip them and their families up for success in our country. In the Archdiocese of Washington, there are several parishes who have sponsored and supported refugee families who have come to the United States via the U.S. resettlement program. It is a profound and powerful experience to be able to personally witness the welcoming of the stranger, one of the core elements of our faith, because it allows us to see the love and compassion that our faith calls us to express and live out in our lives. We urge Congress and this Administration and future Administrations to recognize the unique and vital role that we as faith-based entities play in this important program.

 

V. Conclusion.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our insights, our long-standing commitment and historic work with refugees to our country, and our analysis. We respectfully urge the Subcommittee to pursue these recommendations.

 

 

[i] Pope Francis, “Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees,
2019,” Vatican, released September 29, 2019, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20190527_world-migrants-day-2019.html
[ii] Pope Pius XII, Exsul Familia (On the Spiritual Care of Migrants), September 1952.
[iii] Todd Scribner, “’Pilgrims of the Night’: The American Catholic Church Responds to the Post-World War II Displaced Persons, Crisis,” American Catholic Studies 124(3): Fall, 2013, 14.
[iv] Scribner, 19.
[v] The U.S. Department of State, “Fact Sheet: Refugee Admissions Program from East Asia”, January 16, 2004, https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/prm/rls/fs/2004/28212.htm.
[vi] See Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Number of Refugees Admitted since 1980, available at https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/us-annual-refugee-resettlement-ceilings-and-number-refugees-admitted-united.
[vii] This data is derived from internal USCCB/MRS survey results of participating POWIR Programs. More detail is available upon request.
[viii] From Struggle to Resilience, New American Economy, June 2017, p. 2, available at https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/NAE_Refugees_V5.pdf.
[ix] Id. at 20.
[x] Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committees FY2021, Administration of Children and Family, Department of Health and Human Services, p 39, available at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/olab/fy_2021_congressional_justification.pdf?nocache=1581352571
[xi] President Trump, Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions FY2019, Federal Register, 10/4/2018, available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/11/01/2018-24135/presidential-determination-on-refugee-admissions-for-fiscal-year-2019
[xii] Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS), , Department of State, available at https://wrapsnet.org (Information publicly available on wrapsnet; also, USCCB can provide upon request).
[xiv] UNHCR, Global Forced Displacement in 2018, June 2019, p 2, available at https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/statistics/unhcrstats/5d08d7ee7/unhcr-global-trends-2018.html
[xv] UNHCR, Global Resettlement Needs 2020, June 2019, p 12, available at https://www.unhcr.org/5d1384047.pdf
[xvi] Id.
[xvii] Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS), Department of State, , available at  https://wrapsnet.org (This report is publicly available on wrapsnet; USCCB will also provide it upon request) .
[xviii] WRAPS, Department of State, available at https://wrapsnet.org (This report is publicly available on wrapsnet; USCCB will also provide it upon request).
[xix] Danny Bahar, Meagan Dooley, Venezuela refugee crisis to become the largest and most underfunded in modern history, Brookings, 12/9/2020, available at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2019/12/09/venezuela-refugee-crisis-to-become-the-largest-and-most-underfunded-in-modern-history/
[xx] The Texas governor said he would not consent, and governors from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina had not yet made decisions. Wyoming has no refugee resettlement program.

 

2020-02-26T11:37:37-05:00News|

“Oversight Hearing: Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody”

Written Statement of William Canny,

Executive Director U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services

For a Hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations,

Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

Oversight Hearing: Mental Health Needs of Children in HHS Custody”

 

My name is Bill Canny, and I am the Executive Director of the Department of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). On behalf of USCCB/MRS, I would like to thank the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, as well as the Subcommittee Chair Representative Rosa DeLauro and Ranking Member Representative Tom Cole for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.

The care of unaccompanied immigrant children is of great importance to the Catholic Church. USCCB/MRS has operated programs to help protect unaccompanied children for nearly 40 years, often working in a public/private partnership with the U.S. government. In this statement, I share insights from our work serving these children and their families. I also offer recommendations to help ensure that vulnerable unaccompanied children, including those with mental health needs, are connected to critical support services upon their release from federal custody.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Social Teaching

The Catholic Church in the United States has played a critical role in the care of unaccompanied children, and USCCB/MRS has been a leader in the protection of, and advocacy for, these children. Our work assisting unaccompanied children is rooted in the belief that they, like all God’s children, were created in His image and have a unique and sacred human dignity. We believe that once an unaccompanied child arrives at our border, our nation has a moral obligation to ensure his or her safety and well-being. As Pope Francis has said: “Among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group, because as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless.”1

Since 1994, USCCB/MRS has operated the “Safe Passages” program. This program serves unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and placed in the custody and care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Through cooperative agreements with ORR, and in collaboration with community-based social service agencies, the Safe Passages program provides community-based residential care (foster care and specialized groups homes) and small- scale shelter placements to unaccompanied children in ORR custody, as well as family reunification services (pre-release placement screenings (home studies)and post-release social services for families). In Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the USCCB/MRS Safe Passages program served 1,125 youth who arrived as unaccompanied children—907 through our family reunification program and 218 through our residential care program.

In addition to our work serving unaccompanied children through the Safe Passages program, during the summer 2018 USCCB/MRS worked in collaboration with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to assist both DHS and the HHS in their work reunifying separated families.

Besides providing initial humanitarian and reunification assistance, USCCB/MRS worked with families into late 2018 and early 2019 to provide access to social and legal service and case management.USCCB/MRS provided these charitable services because of our belief that such services would help support the separated children and families, reduce their ongoing trauma, and help ensure positive compliance outcomes.

Through this work, we have learned of the trauma that many unaccompanied and separated children have suffered, and we have witnessed the resulting impacts on their mental and emotional health. I attach a report that we issued about the work that we undertook entitled, “Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity” and ask that this report also be admitted to the record.

Needs of the Children and Importance of Support Services

While poverty and the desire to reunify with family are ongoing motivations for unaccompanied children to migrate, violence in the home and at the community and state levels is a primary factor forcing children to flee El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (the Northern Triangle of Central America). As a result, unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S. have often suffered incredible trauma – trauma which may be compounded by violence inflicted upon them during their journeys north.

Take, for example, Lupe,a 14-year-old girl from the Northern Triangle who was referred to USCCB/MRS for services after her release from ORR custody due to past trauma. In her home country, Lupe had been sexually assaulted by a family member and the target of both physical abuse and verbal threats from individuals in her local community. Lupe was further victimized – both sexually and physically – as she fled to the U.S. seeking protection. As a result, Lupe suffered from traumatic stress symptoms, including irregular moods, irritability, nightmares, and behavioral issues; she was eventually diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Similarly, we have seen the terrible consequences for the thousands of children who were unnecessarily separated from their parents and deemed “unaccompanied” as a result of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy and subsequent separation practices. These children often also experience terrible anxiety and, in some cases, developmental delays. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted: “[H]ighly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long- term health.”5

Ensuring that these children’s mental health needs are addressed is critical. One existing tool that can assist with this, as noted by HHS in its response to the recent Office of Inspector General

report,is post-release services (PRS). Post-release services connect referred unaccompanied children and their sponsors to a social services agency for support after the child’s release from ORR care. PRS includes risk assessment and action-planning with families around areas of need and concern, connection to community services, and referral to legal services. Further, for children with mental health concerns, PRS will provide a referral to a qualified mental health services provider and, if needed, a case manager will discuss with the family the importance of therapy. These services are also generally important to help ensure a child’s safe placement, mitigate the risk for family breakdown, facilitate community integration, and help the family understand the need to comply with their immigration court proceedings.

Mariais just one example of a child who has benefited from post-release services. Maria left the Northern Triangle at age 14 due to severe violence she had suffered in her home country. She had been targeted and trafficked by a local gang, and she was sexually assaulted twice before she was able to flee. Thankfully, Maria made it to the U.S. and was released from ORR care with post- release services after receiving a positive home study. Through these services, a USCCB/MRS affiliate was able to connect Maria with a mental health agency within two weeks. She began attending individual therapy weekly and family therapy as well. When the case closed in early 2019, Maria reported that she was continuing to attend therapy to help her address her past trauma. She noted that being connected with her therapist had greatly helped her as she was learning important coping skills and felt much better than when she first arrived in the U.S.

Unfortunately, despite the importance of these post-release services, we know that most unaccompanied children released from ORR care do not receive such services. Additionally, in recent months, even those children who are referred for PRS may wait for weeks or even months before they are connected to a service provider. While ORR is taking steps to address this backlog, thousands of children who qualify for PRS have been released from care without services in place. This is, of course, a concern for any such child, but particularly those with mental health needs who are especially vulnerable.

Recommendations

Considering the importance of post-release services and the concerns discussed above, we respectfully suggest that Congress and ORR:

  • Provide Robust Funding for Expanded Post-Release Services. In accordance with domestic child welfare best practices, Congress should urge ORR to increase the number of unaccompanied children and families receiving post-release services. As noted above, expanded services would increase protection for these children, allow them to be linked to local resources, including mental health services providers, when needed, provide education on immigration court requirements, and provide monitoring of the child’s safety and wellbeing. We note with appreciation the funding provided for such services in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 emergency supplemental appropriations bill, as well as the House FY 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill. We hope that as the FY 2020 bill is negotiated with the Senate, and in future appropriations cycles, that funding such services remains a priority.
  • Confirm Adequate Mental Health Referrals and Related Training. ORR should review the guidelines that residential care providers use to refer a child with mental health concerns for post-release services. It should conduct a review to ensure that such referrals are occurring regularly and consistently across its network of providers. Further, it should implement increased training for providers to ensure that they recognize mental health concerns and understand the importance in referring such children for PRS.
  • Work to Identify Additional Risk Factors for Children. We appreciate the steps ORR took in 2016 to designate additional risk factors warranting “discretionary” home studies (those not mandated by law) and corresponding post-release services. We encourage ORR, however, to regularly engage with providers to evaluate new and additional risk factors that could help to indicate groups of unaccompanied children who would benefit from family reunification services.

    For example, we recommend that ORR categorically provide PRS to all children who have been separated from parent or legal guardian at the border. While assisting the separated and reunified families in 2018, USCCB/MRS was able to provide short-term post- reunification assistance to nearly 700 families. Through this process, USCCB/MRS found that many of the reunited children and families were experiencing symptoms of trauma, including separation anxiety. Longer-term post-release services are clearly needed for this population. The three months of services provided by the USCCB/MRS could typically only address the families’ immediate needs in their new communities. Often, it is only at the point in which these immediate needs are addressed that families are ready to start tackling the trauma and stress from which they suffer.

  • Ensure Flexibility to Respond to Newly Identified Needs. Children who are receiving PRS-only services, (those who did not also receive home studies), typically receive services for a shorter period than those children for whom family reunification services (PRS and a home study) are required by law. In some instances, we have seen children appropriately being designated to receive PRS-only services, only for the provider to later discover concerns that would have warranted legally mandated family reunification services (PRS and home study). In our experience, ORR has historically not allowed these children to be re-designated to receive the lengthier services.

    ORR must ensure that that the system maintains flexibility to address such situations. When risk factors are identified by service providers, it should allow for re-designation of the child for legally-mandated PRS, even after release, so that the child can receive services through the pendency of his or her immigration court proceedings. We have found that month-to-month extensions of PRS, which can be granted by ORR and are appreciated, do not fully address these concerns as they do not allow PRS providers to engage in long-term service planning.

Conclusion

Unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable arriving at our border. We must recognize their vulnerability and look for ways to address their trauma and help alleviate their suffering. This is both our moral obligation and reflective of who we are as a nation of historical refuge. As always, USCCB/MRS stands ready to offer our support to Congress and HHS/ORR to improve protections and services for these children.

Read the PDF version of the Testimony Here

 

Pope Francis, 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees Message (September 8, 2016), available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20160908_world- migrants-day-2017.html.
2During a home study, a community-based case worker assesses the safety and suitability of the proposed caregiver and placement, including the caregiver’s capacity to meet the child’s unique needs, any potential risks of the placement, and the caregiver’s motivation and commitment to care for the child. Home studies result in a recommendation on whether placement with the proposed caregiver is in the child’s best interest.
3U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE, SERVING
SEPARATED AND REUNITED FAMILIES: LESSONS LEARNED AND THE WAY FORWARD TO PROMOTE FAMILY UNITY (2018), available at https://justiceforimmigrants.org/2016site/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Serving-Separated-and- Reunited-Families_Final-Report-10.16.18-updated-2.pdf.
4Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
5Colleen Kraft, AAP Statement Opposing Separation of Children and Parents at the Border (May 8, 2018), https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press- room/Pages/StatementOpposingSeparationofChildrenandParents.aspx.
6HHS OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL, CARE PROVIDER FACILITIES DESCRIBED CHALLENGES ADDRESSING MENTAL
HEALTH NEEDS OF CHILDREN IN HHS CUSTODY (2019), available at https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-09-18- 00431.pdf.
7Name and identifying information changed to protect client confidentiality.
2019-09-17T11:22:11-04:00News|

Written Testimony of Most Reverend Mario Eduardo Dorsonville-Rodríguez For a Hearing of the House Committee on the Judiciary “Protecting Dreamers and TPS Recipients”

Click here for the full testimony

My name is Mario Eduardo Dorsonville-Rodríguez. I am the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and the incoming Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM). On behalf of USCCB/COM, I would like to thank the House Committee on the Judiciary, as well as the Committee Chair, Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NJ), and the Ranking Member, Representative Doug Collins (R-GA), for holding this important hearing and for inviting me to testify before the Committee.

The Catholic bishops have long supported and will continue to support Dreamers,[1] as well as holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).[2] We recognize these individuals as children of God, and we will remain focused in our efforts to ensure that they and their families can live dignified lives and reach their God-given potential. In this testimony, I provide a brief overview of USCCB’s work in serving immigrants and advocating for immigration reform, discuss the importance of finding a permanent solution for Dreamers and TPS holders, and share our key recommendations for Congress as it seeks a legislative solution for these individuals.

 

Catholic Social Teaching and Migration

The work of our Committee on Migration is carried out by USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS). USCCB/MRS works to advance the migration-related priorities of our Committee, which include advocacy and policy advancement around humane and comprehensive immigration reform, just and proportionate immigration enforcement, and improved access to justice and due process for immigrants and refugees seeking refuge and fleeing persecution. Among its many activities, USCCB/MRS is also a long-standing government partner, providing support for and assistance through the Catholic Charities network to refugees, foreign national and U.S. citizen human trafficking survivors, Cuban and Haitian entrants, and unaccompanied immigrant children.

Our work assisting and advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image. We follow the teaching of the Gospel, and in his own life and work, Jesus identified himself with newcomers and with other marginalized persons in a special way: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt. 25:35). When we see Jesus’s example we reflect those values.

Dreamers and TPS and DED holders are our neighbors, parishioners, and – most importantly – fellow children of God. We, as a Church, have long advocated for their legal protection, full inclusion into our country and the overall wellbeing of them and their families. USCCB worked with Members of the House and Senate in helping to draft the first versions of the DREAM Act in 2000 and 2001, and it has been calling for passage of the measure since that time .[3] Even as we welcomed the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhoods Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, our Committee noted that it was not a substitute for enactment of the DREAM Act or similar legislative protections.[4] We steadfastly believe that Dreamers need permanent legal protection, with a path to citizenship, enacted by Congress.

Similarly, for years, USCCB has advocated for TPS for those seeking safety from the ravages of violence, environmental disasters, and despair. In fact, USCCB worked closely with Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) and Representative Joe Moakley (D-MA) to support enactment of the authority for TPS in the Immigration Act of 1990.[5] Through its global presence and the work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official humanitarian and development agency of the  Catholic community, the Catholic Church has assisted and ministered to those who have experienced firsthand the ravages of armed conflict, violence, and environmental disasters in their home countries. Given this global presence, the Catholic Church consistently advocated for protections of nationals living in the United States when Congress began debating the concept of temporary protected status in various forms during the 1980s.[6]

Over the years, the USCCB and other Catholic entities have encouraged various Presidential Administrations to designate countries for TPS in situations of environmental disasters and political instability.[7]  In 2017, USCCB/COM led delegation trips to Haiti[8] and to El Salvador and Honduras[9] in order to explore conditions and the need to extend TPS for these countries. The reports found that despite some improvements by home countries, the conditions still existed for the extension of TPS, most notably as most of the home countries could not adequately handle the return and reintegration of their nationals as required by the statute.[10]

In addition to our call to protect the individuals directly impacted, the Church also views the need to protect Dreamers and TPS recipients as the need to protect families – the very foundation of our country and of our Church. Not only do Dreamers and TPS recipients deserve a chance to stay and fully integrate in the U.S. through permanent protections – they deserve to be able to stay with their families. Dreamers and TPS holders and their families should not face family separation. Family unity is vital for the strength of our country, our Church, and our communities.

 

Dreamers

Knowing the many contributions of DACA youth to our nation, it was with extreme concern that we witnessed the Administration’s attempt to terminate the program in 2017.[11] And, while the DACA termination has been partially and temporarily halted due to ongoing litigation, we know that DACA youth continue to face great uncertainty. Furthermore, we know that many of the over 1.8 million Dreamers do not have DACA protection.  For these young people, Congressional action is the only solution.

We see and hear about this uncertainty every day in our dioceses and in our parishes. I have been personally impacted by the stories I have heard from DACA youth in the Archdiocese of Washington. I have witnessed their tears, their secret concerns not only for their futures but for their families. Many ask: What will happen to me? What will happen to my family?

Dreamers are exemplary youths.  Like their name implies, they are examples of the American Dream. They are contributors to our economy, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people have grown up in our country, some even choosing to put their lives on the line to serve in our armed forces. They truly exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants have long provided to our nation. I have been privileged to meet so many of these ambitious young people who want nothing more than to work and achieve in this country so that they may better themselves and their families. This is the only home that they know and where they are sure they will be able to succeed because they are part of the language, the culture and they have their roots here.

Dreamers are young people like Edith. Edith is a 19-year-old DACA recipient and student at the University of New Mexico. Born in Mexico, Edith was brought to the U.S. as a toddler by her mother and father. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her parents and her two younger sisters, both of whom are U.S. citizens. As Edith states: “America is my home . . . . Despite being born in Mexico, I [] always felt at home here, where I have grown up since arriving as a two-year-old.” Edith worked incredibly hard in school and graduated her high school class as valedictorian. She continues to excel in college and is double majoring in psychology and math. Her passion is helping others, and she finds time in her busy school schedule to volunteer at the Campus Agora Crisis Center, which handles area-wide crisis calls. Edith dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen so that she can one day work as a behavioral analyst for the F.B.I.

Providing Dreamers, like Edith, with a path to citizenship will advance the common good and allow these young people to reach their God-given potential.

Finding such a solution will further help families. Take, for example, Maria, a native of Peru, 21-year-old DACA recipient, and student at William Joseph University. Her parents, both undocumented, brought her to California when she was only four years old. As Maria explains: “This is the country I know. This is the country I grew up in. I know the language; I know the history. I know it better than I know the country I was born in.” Maria has been a role model for her three younger sisters who are all U.S. citizens. Given that her parents are both undocumented and the uncertainty surrounding her DACA status, Maria worries about the possibility of deportation and the implications for her family: “My sisters, who are U.S. citizens, would be left without anyone.”

Dreamers are young, educated, tax-paying individuals who are valuable members of American families, our work force, and our communities. They have not only the support of the Church but of the American public as well. Finding a solution for these admirable young people is both the moral and common-sense path. On behalf of the USCCB Committee on Migration, I urge Congress to act now to ensure that Dreamers have permanent legal protection that includes a path to citizenship.

 

TPS and DED Holders

Over the past few years, we have also expressed our deep concern over the Administration’s attempt to terminate the TPS designations for many countries, including Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These termination decisions have left hundreds of thousands of individuals and their families in a state of uncertainty and fear. While the terminations are subject to multiple lawsuits, an estimated 320,000 TPS holders – some of whom have lived in the U.S. for over twenty years – face potent