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The Trump Administration Plans To End A Refugee Program For Children

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

The Trump administration plans to stop accepting refugee applications from children with U.S.-based parents from three violence-riddled Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — according to the summary of a presentation the State Department made recently to refugee organizations.

The decision to end the Central American Minors program, which began in 2014 and is the only refugee program aimed at helping people from that region, could put hundreds of families split between two countries in a delicate situation.

The children will no longer be able to come legally to the U.S. Of course, they can still attempt to cross without authorization and then either request asylum or try to navigate the border region without being detained or injured — just the kind of dangerous illegal immigration that the CAM program was meant to discourage. (And if the children do cross the border, as ProPublica recently reported, they could expose their parents to an investigation for child smuggling.)

“Ending the program would force desperate children into the arms of smugglers and traffickers because they don’t have a safe and orderly way to get to the U.S.,” said Lisa Frydman, a vice president of Kids In Need Of Defense, an immigration advocacy group. “This administration is giving the unconscionable message that Central American children are not welcome here for protection.”

Refugee organizations were alerted to the impending demise of CAM two weeks ago by State Department officials, according to a memo summarizing the meeting that was obtained by ProPublica.

“We were told that [the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration] will begin winding down the CAM program in its entirety,” according to the summary, which circulated at one resettlement agency. “Please note that this information was conveyed to us in person (verbally) with no documentation that we can share with you at this time … the CAM refugee program will be discontinued no later than December 31, 2017, perhaps sooner.”

A State Department spokesperson said that “all aspects of the FY2018 resettlement program are under review” but added that “no decisions have been made.” Asked about the meeting with the refugee agencies, the spokesperson responded, “The State Department works closely with its resettlement partners and shares information as part of an ongoing dialogue and partnership. No formal announcement has been made to partners regarding the CAM program.”

CAM admissions had already dwindled to a trickle. In August, 19 Central American refugees were admitted. By comparison, 160 were admitted last December, the single highest month. Over the history of the program, 1,627 refugees entered the U.S. through CAM, the overwhelming majority of them from El Salvador.

In August, the Trump administration terminated a program that served as a sort of back-up to CAM. The program allowed children who failed to qualify as refugees to be allowed into the U.S. temporarily if they could show there was a compelling humanitarian reason. (Obtaining refugee status requires demonstrating a “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” The definition of “humanitarian” is much broader.) That program allowed 1,465 minors to travel to the U.S. before its cancellation.

An additional 2,500 who were approved for the humanitarian program but had yet to make it to the U.S. had those approvals rescinded. “No more individuals will travel into the United States under this … program,” according to a letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency that announced the cancellation. “As such, USCIS is rescinding your condition approval.”

So far this year, Central American refugees accounted for just 1 percent of the 51,000 refugees who have been admitted to the United States. Latin America overall accounts for only 3 percent of the total.

“The CAM refugee program has been a small but an incredibly critical lifeline for Central American children,” Frydman said.

The cancellation of CAM is one of many moves the Trump administration has taken to discourage immigration from Latin America.

This month, the Trump administration announced the phaseout of DACA, a program for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who are overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will soon end protections from deportation for 50,000 Haitians, and floated the possibility of doing the same with 200,000 Salvadorans, 60,000 Hondurans, and 3,000 Nicaraguans by next March.

DHS has also sought to detain all asylum applicants, who are mostly from Venezuela and Central America, until their cases are adjudicated, which can take years. And it has sought to swiftly deport all illegal border crossers, overwhelmingly Mexicans and Central Americans, to Mexico, even if they aren’t Mexican.

The agency has endorsed slashing legal immigration by half. VICE reported this week that next year the U.S. will accept a historically low number of refugees from around the world.

The CAM program was launched in 2014 amid an exponential surge of Central American children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, most of them claiming they had parents or other relatives in the U.S. To qualify for CAM, parents must be legally allowed to be in the U.S. and children must pass a DNA test proving they are the offspring of the person or people in question. (The tests cost the families close to $600.) The process takes an average of 13 months and about 75 percent of the refugee applications were denied.

It’s unclear how many applications are pending, but the number is likely to be in the thousands, based on figures from 2016. It’s also unclear what will happen to pending applications once the cancellation of the program takes effect.

“Usually, there is an attempt to have an orderly wind down and people who would be in the pipeline would be completed, their cases would be completed,” said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and a commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under Bill Clinton. “But we’ve certainly seen in others aspects of what the new administration has done, that they haven’t necessarily being so orderly.”

 

Advocacy Groups Protest Trump’s Immigration Pick

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Marcelo Rochabrun ProPublica

As President Trump’s pick to lead the agency that approves immigration petitions heads towards likely confirmation, more than 300 advocacy organizations are urging the Senate to oppose it, citing ProPublica’s examination of the nominee’s record.

Lee Francis Cissna, a veteran policymaker, was nominated in February to lead the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the sprawling agency that handles applications for green cards, citizenship, visas, asylum and the controversial deportation protections known as DACA, which benefit 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

In a letter sent Monday to all Senate members, the groups noted that Cissna had volunteered for the Trump campaign and later provided “technical assistance” for Trump’s executive orders on immigration. The letter also referenced a story by ProPublica that showed Cissna helped draft dozens of letters under the letterhead of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, between 2015 and 2016. Cissna had worked for Grassley’s office while on loan from his longtime employer, the Department of Homeland Security.

“Mr. Cissna … contributed to a slew of letters criticizing USCIS for implementing various humanitarian programs and initiatives,” the letter read, citing ProPublica. “These include initiatives that reunited families and protected children facing violence, provided young people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals the opportunity to obtain travel documents, and assisted victims of crime, including those affected by domestic and sexual violence.”

In the letter, the organizations urged senators to oppose Cissna’s confirmation or “at the very least,” delay it until after Congress can come up with a permanent legislative solution for DACA. The program was created by President Obama in 2012 through executive action, but its future has recently been the subject of ambiguous statements by the Trump administration.

The letter was signed by some of the biggest immigration advocacy organizations in the country, including the National Immigration Law Center and UnidosUS (until recently known as the National Council of La Raza). A separate letter signed by 45 Latino advocacy organizations, including the Mexican American Latino Defense and Educational Fund was sent on Thursday and also cited ProPublica’s reporting.

In a statement emailed to ProPublica on Monday, Grassley defended Cissna’s nomination.

“Francis Cissna’s remarks at his nomination hearing and responses to written questions from senators demonstrate his deep expertise on immigration policy, which I witnessed first-hand when he was detailed to my office,” Grassley wrote.

Cissna’s nomination sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Grassley, in May with a bipartisan 17-2 vote, but has yet to be voted on by the full Senate. He currently serves as immigration policy director at DHS, where he started working in 2006.

David Lapan, a DHS spokesman, said in an email Monday that Cissna “is well-respected and highly qualified” and noted the support he received at the committee level. “Secretary [John] Kelly looks forward to a confirmation vote by the Senate as soon as possible,” he said.

Early last week, the White House said “unprecedented obstruction” by Senate Democrats had stalled Cissna’s nomination. But on Friday The Washington Times reported that a Republican, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, had personally intervened to block Cissna’s nomination from reaching the floor until DHS increased the number of temporary visas for unskilled workers this year. On Monday, DHS announced it was adding 15,000 of these visas, known as H-2B. Despite the increase, Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis, said in an email Monday that the senator was still reviewing the situation and had not decided whether to continue to block Cissna’s nomination.

In written responses during his vetting process, Cissna said he began volunteering about once a week for Trump’s campaign two months before Election Day.

“I offered my expertise in immigration-related policy and operations on a wide variety of projects,” Cissna wrote, “principally relating to employment-based visa policy.”

Cissna has said he personally supports the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on the perceived abuses of employment visas, notably H-1Bs, which are meant for college-educated foreigners.

In his public comments he has been cautious on DACA, perhaps the most contentious of all immigration programs. At his confirmation hearing in May, he noted that both Kelly and Trump had said that DACA would remain in place, but he did not say he personally supported the program.

“And if confirmed,” Cissna said at the hearing, “I would see my role to be the — to administer that program — as it stands with its current parameters.”

Last Wednesday, however, Kelly met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and told them he’d been advised that the future of DACA was actually in the hands of the Department of Justice, which would have to decide whether to defend the program in court. He added that several lawyers had advised him that DACA would most likely not survive a legal challenge.

“Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said in a statement about the meeting. Ten Republican state attorneys general have said they will challenge the legality of DACA if the administration does not stop the program by September.

But a day after Kelly’s remarks, Trump appeared to pull rank.

“It’s a decision that I make,” Trump said on the future of DACA while aboard Air Force One, “and it’s a decision that’s very, very hard to make.”

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ICE Officers Told To Take Action Against All Undocumented Immigrants Encountered While On Duty

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Marcelo Rochabrun

The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.

In a February memo, Matthew Albence, a career official who heads the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE, informed his 5,700 deportation officers that, “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.”

The Trump administration, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, has been clear in promising to ramp up immigration enforcement, but has so far emphasized that its priority was deporting immigrants who posed a public safety threat. Indeed, Kelly, to whom Albence ultimately reports, had seemed to suggest a degree of discretion when he told the agencies under his command earlier this year that immigration officers “may” initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encountered. That guidance was issued just a day before Albence sent the memo to his staff.

A spokesman with ICE said Albence’s directive did not represent a break with Kelly’s stated aims, and was consistent with current agency policies.

“The memo directly supports the directions handed down in the executive orders and mirrors the language ICE consistently uses to describe its enforcement posture,” the spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement. “As Secretary Kelly and Acting Director [of ICE] Homan have stated repeatedly, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats; however, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.”

However, Sarah Saldaña, who retired in January as head of ICE for the Obama administration, said the wording in the memo would have real consequences for undocumented immigrants.

“When you use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may’ you are taking it a step further,” said Saldaña. “This is an important directive and people at ERO are bound by this directive unless someone above Matt Albence comes back and says, ‘You went too far.’ I don’t think you are going to find that person in this administration.”

David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the fallout from the memo has been evident for months. “The memo explains what we have actually been seeing on the ground,” Bier said, asserting that immigrants without criminal backgrounds were routinely being arrested and ordered deported.

Since 2008, Congress had traditionally used its annual spending bill to instruct the secretary of homeland security to prioritize the deportation of convicted immigrants based on the severity of their crimes, but that language was left out of this year’s bill, helping to pave the way for broader enforcement.

In recent months, the number of undocumented immigrants arrested who are considered to be non-criminals has risen. (Under the law, merely being here illegally is not a crime. Rather, it’s a civil violation.) Between February and May, the Trump administration arrested, on average, 108 undocumented immigrants a day with no criminal record, an uptick of some 150 percent from the same time period a year ago.

For example, an Ecuadorean high schooler was detained by ICE agents who showed up at his home in upstate New York hours before his senior prom in June. Three restaurant workers targeted for immigration violations were arrested in May in Michigan after ICE agents ate breakfast where they worked. A Salvadoran man is facing deportation in Houston after voluntarily showing up to an ICE office for a routine check-in.

The ICE memo acknowledges that space in detention facilities limits the number of undocumented immigrants who can be detained upon apprehension. Still, it says ICE officials are mandated to begin deportation proceedings against all undocumented immigrants with whom they cross paths — even if those apprehended remain free as they face an immigration judge, a process that can take years.

Others may be swiftly deported if they are found to already have final deportation orders signed by an immigration judge. As of May 2016, there were 930,000 undocumented immigrants who had been ordered deported but remained freely in the country, according to ICE statistics.

“My concern is that what you end up doing is siphoning away resources that should go to the public safety threats,” said John Sandweg, who preceded Saldaña as acting ICE director.

Under Obama-era guidelines, undocumented immigrants with no criminal record — but perhaps with a pending deportation order — could only be arrested if an agent’s supervisor determined their deportation “would serve an important federal interest.”

Homan has appeared to acknowledge the impact of the agency’s more aggressive approach even if he did not mention Albence’s explicit direction.

“There has been a significant increase in non-criminal arrests because we weren’t allowed to arrest them in the past administration,” Homan told a House committee. “You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.”

Both Homan and Albence are career employees who have worked for decades helping the government enforce immigration laws. Before Homan was promoted to lead ICE, he led ERO, with Albence as his assistant director.

“I expect that the agency believes that there is no one in the White House or DHS that is going to tell them ‘No. Don’t do this,'” Bier said. “And without an effective check in the administration we are going to see arrests being made without any regard to prioritization.”

Trump has yet to nominate a political director to lead ICE. In fact, all three immigration agencies under Homeland Security — ICE, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — are currently implementing Trump’s agenda while being led by career staff.

Homan has so far served as a vocal supporter of Trump’s ramped up immigration enforcement. Last week, he even made an appearance at a White House press briefing.

“Why do you think we got 11 million to 12 million people in this country [illegally] now?” Homan asked White House reporters. “Because there has been this notion that if you get by the Border Patrol, if you get in the United States, if you have a U.S. citizen kid, then no one is looking for you. But those days are over.”

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Trump’s Immigration Pick Attacked Obama Programs In Ghost-Written Senate Letters

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.
by Marcelo Rochabrun

Lee Francis Cissna, President Trump’s nominee to head the federal agency that handles applications for visas, refugee status and citizenship, has put little on the public record in his 20 years as a lawyer, government employee, diplomat and Capitol Hill aide.

But it turns out he has left many clues about how he could reverse Obama-era policies if he becomes director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a non-enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday, May 24, Cissna, 50, who has worked on immigration policy at Homeland Security for much of his career, is scheduled to appear at a confirmation hearing chaired by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. From 2015 until earlier this year, Cissna worked for Grassley on immigration issues, having been detailed to his staff by Homeland Security. During that time, he remained on the agency’s payroll.

While there, he drafted dozens of letters under the senator’s name to Homeland Security officials, helping Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to intensify his oversight of immigration and creating a blueprint for dismantling President Obama’s initiatives, according to a dozen current and former agency and congressional staff members.

ProPublica reviewed more than 60 of the letters sent by Grassley during the time Cissna worked in his office. Among the policies they criticized were:

  • An emergency program for Central American children to reunite with parents in the U.S. The system “unquestionably circumvents the refugee program established by Congress,” according to a November 2015 letter.
  • The system for granting asylum to people claiming persecution in their home countries. A November 2016 letter claimed thousands of immigrants were “amassing” in Mexican border cities with the intention of “asserting dubious claims of asylum, which will practically guarantee their entry.”
  • Giving so-called “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — the chance to obtain travel documents on top of work permits. This program would “open the door to undocumented immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship,” a March 2016 letter said.
  • A program allowing undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime to stay in the U.S. even if there are no visa slots available. A December 2016 letter said the policy is “being exploited by those wishing to defraud the system and avoid deportation.”

Many of the Obama-era humanitarian immigration programs were created through executive action and thus can be easily overturned. Trump has already issued several executive orders on immigration intended to restrict the leeway of immigration officers to admit people into the U.S. Many of the details of these policy changes, as well as how they will be carried out by the 19,000 USCIS employees, will fall to Cissna if he’s confirmed.

And Cissna would help cement Grassley’s influence at the agency. Another of the senator’s former aides was recently named to a senior position: Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, now chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy.

The Grassley letters written during Cissna’s tenure “exhibit an overall anti-immigrant view,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell who reviewed them at ProPublica’s request. “They seem to think that immigrants are only causing harm to the United States as opposed to giving it a more nuanced view of both benefits and the potential dangers of immigration.”

Cissna did not respond to requests for comment. Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the Judiciary Committee, said Cissna had produced “initial drafts” of some oversight letters, adding that “all of this work was subject to a review and approval process by permanent committee staff and it may not reflect Cissna’s own policy preferences.”

Foy added it was “absurd” to suggest that it’s being unfair to immigrants to perform congressional oversight aimed at preventing fraud. “How is working to ensure that sponsors of unaccompanied minors are appropriately vetted, addressing policies that allow for exploitation of foreign labor, or improving the integrity of our lawful immigration system anti-immigrant?” he asked.

‘Almost Derogatory’

Cissna, who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown Law School, is well-versed in the details of immigration. He served as an attorney at USCIS, as well as in private practice, and as immigration policy director at Homeland Security. He also worked for the State Department in Sweden and Haiti, according to the White House.

The job of USCIS director requires “a minimum of 5 years of management experience” under the law that created the Department of Homeland Security and its sub-agencies in 2002. Several former agency officials questioned whether Cissna had any managerial experience, saying he has focused mostly on the policy minutiae of employment visa programs. In announcing Cissna’s nomination, the White House stated that at Homeland Security he “develops and coordinates policy with particular emphasis on temporary worker, immigrant, and other immigration benefits programs.”

It’s not unusual for agency employees with expertise to be detailed temporarily to congressional staffs and, in that capacity, it would be routine to help draft oversight letters. But Cissna was unusually prolific. While he was on staff, Grassley sent the agency at least 93 letters on immigration matters, which records reviewed by ProPublica show was six times as many as Grassley sent during the previous two years.

The volume elicited a complaint from then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who in late 2015 wrote to Grassley, saying the inquiries were preventing his staff members from getting their work done. One November 2015 letter requested information “in precise detail” on 250,000 immigrants — and gave the agency two weeks to respond.

Some people at the agency found the letters to be especially hostile.

“They became these very detailed, almost derogatory letters with knowledge about agencies that an ordinary Hill staffer wouldn’t know about,” said a former Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Despite being a career bureaucrat, at a public forum in Washington, D.C., in 2014, Cissna hinted that he had disagreements with the Obama administration’s policies. “If I say something that’s not exactly party line, then it’s me [speaking], not DHS,” said Cissna, whose remarks were videotaped. “Though if I don’t come to tomorrow’s panel, then you know that I was eliminated or something for having spoken wrongly.”

But then, he gave no policy specifics. And he kept his job.

On Grassley’s staff, Cissna also worked on legislation aimed at changing the controversial visa program for college-educated foreign workers known as H-1B, which Grassley has criticized as displacing American workers with people willing to work more cheaply.

At a 2015 conference organized by the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit that favors restrictions on immigration, Cissna said his boss’ bill “addresses this whole nightmare.” He said there were “elements of monkey business and shenanigans in this program that we think ought to stop. The primary reform of the bill is it requires the employers to hire an American first if there is an American who’s available and eligible to do the job.” A video of the event shows the audience cheering when he says he worked for Grassley.

Dealing with ‘Parole’

The new USCIS director will help decide how to manage Obama programs expanded under an authority in immigration law known as “parole.” It allows the executive branch, on a case-by-case basis, to admit foreigners who don’t fall under visa categories created by Congress if there’s a humanitarian or public interest reason.

“Parole was always meant as an exception that was to be used sparingly,” said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has been critical of the Obama administration’s policies.

A November 2015 letter from Grassley said, “with each parole program implemented by this Administration, further damage is caused to the Constitutional authority of the United States Congress.”

One parole program Grassley criticized admits children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have parents in the U.S., aiming to discourage them from going through Mexico to cross the border illegally. According to USCIS, 1,500 children have been granted travel documents through the program, but advocates say the program has been on hiatus since shortly after Trump took office, with no official explanation.

Nina Zelic, director for refugee services at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that because so few children from the region have been granted the more stringent status of refugee in recent years, “parole offers a life-saving alternative. It’s a recognition of the humanitarian crisis in Latin America.”

Earlier this month, the Lutheran group and some 30 other organizations pleaded with Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, to continue granting travel documents. “Eliminating or reducing parole or other aspects of the program will leave children no choice but to embark on the treacherous migration journey northward in order to save their lives,” the organizations wrote, according to a copy of the letter provided to ProPublica.

Another parole program, launched in 2014 for the purpose of “family reunification,” granted discretionary admission into the U.S. to Haitians who had been approved for family-based green cards — the document that allows permanent residency — but couldn’t travel yet because of a visa backlog that can last for as long as a decade. Citing the need for “reconstruction and development” in Haiti, USCIS argued it was important to allow “Haitians to safely and legally immigrate sooner to the United States.” As of last month, more than 5,000 Haitians have been able to do so, according to USCIS.

A November 2015 Grassley letter to Homeland Security objected to that program as setting a bad precedent. “On what rational basis,” said the letter, “would USCIS deny a request from Syria, Liberia, Bangladesh, or any other country on earth with severe reconstruction and/or economic development needs to implement a parole-based ‘family reunification’ program for such a country?”

Two parole programs announced by the Obama administration but not implemented are likely to fade away under the new leadership.

One program would allow foreigners to create startups in the U.S., but according to a November 2015 Grassley letter it “circumvents the visa programs that Congress has established as the exclusive means to bring foreign workers into the country.” Another Obama proposal would have permitted foreigners who were victims of crimes in the U.S. and are willing to assist in the investigation of those crimes to travel even if the 10,000-a-year quota for that particular type of visa had been met. But Grassley’s December 2016 letter said that “fraud and abuse of the program can lead to unjustified approvals leaving legitimate victims in the shadows.”

Overall, the letters argue that creating immigration programs is the business of Congress, not of the executive branch.

“The parole authority isn’t a magic wand that the Department can use whenever it wants to create a visa program that Congress has … chosen not to pass or even consider,” an October 2016 letter from Grassley read.

Yale-Loehr, the Cornell law professor, said the Grassley letters on parole are so thorough they “look like a legal brief that probably went into the administration’s thinking in drafting its executive orders.”

Indeed, Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on border immigration made clear that the administration wants immigration rules to be interpreted very narrowly, particularly parole.

However, Homeland Security and USCIS haven’t yet settled on how to implement those provisions. A Jan. 25 draft memo from Homeland Security said it was the “consistent and clear intent” of the law that parole should be used “rarely, and only in exigent circumstances.” But a second draft, issued Feb. 17, softened that language somewhat, saying that the law on parole only “appears to strongly counsel in favor of using the parole authority sparingly.” The final version, issued three days later, simplified things further: “In my judgment, such authority should be exercised sparingly,” wrote Kelly, the agency’s head.

A narrow interpretation is likely to be embraced by Cissna. One of the Grassley’s letters from November 2015 derided as “nonsense” an opinion by the Obama administration that argued the agency had substantial discretion in deciding when parole programs were justified.

David Martin, who was deputy general counsel at Homeland Security under Obama, said that the guidelines for using parole are more flexible than what the Trump administration is willing to acknowledge.

“But it’s perfectly within the administration’s prerogative to argue that the previous uses were unlawful,” Martin said in an interview. “It just means that we have a new leader in town and they want to use parole in a narrow set of categories.”

Another Grassley Choice

Nuebel Kovarik, the other Grassley aide in a top job at USCIS, was appointed after Grassley sent public tweets about her to Trump’s Twitter account.

Grassley watched a segment about the H-1B visa program on CBS’s 60 Minutes one Sunday in February. First the senator called the visa program a “ripoff.” Then, he addressed President Trump himself:

It’s unclear if they ever spoke, but two Sundays later, Nuebel Kovarik got the job.

Nuebel-Kovarik had spent 19 years with Grassley as a legislative aide — having taken that job immediately after graduating college — before taking a temporary political appointment on the seventh day of the Trump administration. According to her USCIS biography, she worked on “all immigration legislation” on Grassley’s behalf.

One change showed up almost immediately after her appointment. On the Sunday Nuebel-Kovarik was formally appointed, a banner on the agency’s website was still promoting the H-1B program in starkly positive terms as “Strengthening the U.S. workforce.”

By that Monday, the phrase was gone.

At noon the same day, the agency issued a press release titled, “Putting American Workers First,” and promising an end to “H-1B Visa Fraud and Abuse.” The agency also announced a tip line to report H-1B abuses and said it would be conducting more workplace inspections at companies that hire foreign workers.

The unit that Nuebel Kovarik is heading up is “an extremely important office,” said Stephen Legomsky, former chief counsel at USCIS.

For example, she will be in charge of completing the official USCIS policy manual, an initiative begun under the Obama administration. According to the agency’s website, the sections that have yet to be written include those on parole, asylum and refugee programs.

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Mexican Official Says Deporting Non-Mexicans To Mexico Is A ‘Non-Starter’

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Mexican officials have flatly rejected the Trump administration’s plan to deport to Mexico migrants caught illegally crossing the U.S. southern border, regardless of nationality.

On the eve of a high-level meeting between the two countries, Mexican officials said Mexico will never accept the return of Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, and others who traveled through the country on their way to the United States, most often to ask for asylum here.

“It’s a non-starter,” a Mexican official familiar with the situation said, switching to English for emphasis. The rest of the conversation took place in Spanish. “I don’t see a scenario in which Mexico accepts this solely because an executive order from the United States says so.”

The idea of deporting non-Mexicans to Mexico as long as they entered the U.S. from that country is a never-implemented provision in American immigration law. A pair of memos signed by John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, said the Trump administration plans to use the law. Multiple immigration lawyers said they either had never heard of the provision being used, or they had only seen it used with citizens of Mexico.

The Mexican official said his country learned about the proposal when the Kelly memos were disclosed by McClatchy and other media outlets over the weekend.

“As of Tuesday evening there is nothing communicated to us officially other than what we’ve seen published,” the Mexican official said. He acknowledged that the Mexican government had received “hints” recently the Trump administration was considering such an approach.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly — who bears ultimate responsibility over this immigration plan — and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet on Thursday in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto. The possible deportation of non-Mexicans to Mexico was not on the initial agenda until at least Tuesday evening. However, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said Wednesday that new American immigration policies will be “the main point in the agenda,” according to Reuters.

The American plan calls for Mexico to house asylum seekers caught illegally crossing the southern border until their petitions are adjudicated, granting them permission to come into the United States or forcing them to go back to their home countries.

“I want to make clear in the most emphatic way possible that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept dispositions that one government wants to unilaterally impose over another,” Videgaray said.

According to the memo, the U.S. even wants to build a video conferencing system in Mexico to allow asylum seekers to plead their cases in front of American immigration officials. The plan is attractive to the Department of Homeland Security, which doesn’t have enough detention space to house the current influx of asylum seekers.

The relations between Mexico and the United States were chilly long before disclosure of the deportation plan. Earlier this month, Peña Nieto abruptly canceled a scheduled visit to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that Mexico will pay for construction of a multibillion dollar wall on the U.S. side of the border. Mexican officials have vehemently rejected that idea as well.

In a briefing call with reporters on Tuesday morning, a DHS official said that implementing this statute was simply a plan to exploit the laws that already exist to their fullest extent.

“If you enter the U.S. illegally, there’s a provision in law … that authorizes the department to put that person back into Mexico,” a DHS official, who also requested anonymity, said.

Several immigration law experts said they had simply never heard or seen cases where this statute had been deployed. Jonathan Montag, a San Diego-based immigration lawyer who has written legal analyses about the statute, said he had only seen it used in a radically different scenario: to send to Mexico citizens of that country who had obtained green cards but were later convicted of crimes in the U.S.

“I think everyone knows that all countries get the permission of other countries before depositing deportees,” said Montag. “How much ‘toughness mileage’ they get while this percolates and before they clarify is the Trumpian unknown here.”

IMAGE: A Salvadoran father (R) carries his son while running next to another immigrant as they try to board a train heading to the Mexican-U.S. border, in Huehuetoca, near of Mexico City, June 1, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo