Tuesday, May 29, 2007

USCIS Dramatically Increases Fees Starting July 30, 2007

USCIS announced today that it will be dramatically increasing its fees starting July 30, 2007. After reviewing over 3,000 comments, it made some slight modifications to the proposed fee increases it announced in February 2007. For example, it slightly reduced the fee for children who file for a green card along with their parents (sensible because it will take much less time when they are reviewed at the same time as their parents). Also, fee waivers can be requested for asylees, human trafficking victims, juveniles who fit a certain category of deserving juveniles, and domestic violence victims filing under VAWA. Special immigrant juveniles do not have to pay the $375 filing fee for the Form I-360 for SIJ status. And USCIS has the power to waive the $80 biometrics fee for those who get fee waivers on their main applications.

The new fees may cripple people's ability to obtain immigration status that they would otherwise be deserving of. It is hard to understand why immigrants must pay for the entire USCIS infrastructure when the government is the one with responsibility for enforcing the law and granting the benefits that Congress has created.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Detention Watch Network Week of Action

May 28 to June 2, 2007 is Detention Watch Network's Week of Action to raise to Congressional representatives the problems with immigration detention and the immigration laws today. DWN points out that the number of people detained by ICE has exploded from around 7,500 in 1994 to around 20,500 in 2002. And under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, it may grow to 62,000 by 2010. All this for what is a mere civil violation -- almost all violations of the immigration laws are not crimes.

Most detainees (57%) are held in county and city prisons that ICE rents out to hold immigration detainees. About half of the detainees have no criminal record -- the rest already paid their debt by completing their entire criminal sentence.

DWN points out that the problems include that it is not a wise use of taxpayer's dollars to spend a billion on detention, there an inadequate safeguards of detainees' rights because courts have not been granting them court-appointed lawyers (resulting in 84% going ahead with their cases without a lawyer), and detention policies are damaging asylum-seekers who have survived torture overseas just to be put in jail-like detention centers in the US.

These rules affect real people -- for example, DWN reports how Warren Joseph is facing deportation to Trinidad and being separated from his mother, sister, and four daughters -- all of whom are United States citizens. The reason is that after serving the army for 8 years with green card status (receiving 13 achievement medals), he returned with post traumatic stress disorder and turned to alcoholism, smoking, and drug use. In 2001, Warren was convicted on a gun and tobacco charge and given two years probation, which he violated in 2003 and spent six months in jail. Instead of releasing him after 6 months, ICE has detained him for over 2 more years (four times his criminal sentence). Despite all of his good qualities, the harsh immigration laws prohibit any immigration judge from considering pardoning the immigration consequence of the crime he committed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Immigration Judges Chosen For Politics, Not Actual Ability?

Monica Goodling gave a prepared statement this week to Congress in which she admitted that she took political considerations into account in making recommendations for immigration judge appointments and for members of the BIA (the Board of Immigration Appeals). She said that someone else who at that time was in the Attorney General's office (Kyle Sampson) had said that the Office of Legal Counsel supposedly had said immigration judge appointments were not subject to the type of civil service rules that prohibit using political considerations.

It now seems that everyone is clear that civil service rules should apply to BIA and immigration judge appointments. But what this means is that for some time, the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (acting under the Bush Administration) appointed immigration judges with an eye toward political considerations, perhaps whether the candidates were Republican supporters. Dan Eggen wrote in the May 28, 2007 Washington Post that "Officials Say Justice Department Based Hires On Politics Before Goodling Tenure." According to his report, the practice probably began in early 2004 -- so it went unchecked for perhaps 2.5 years. Only in April 2007 did they actually put in place a new merit-based personnel process.

What does this mean from a policy standpoint for the government to choose immigration judge candidates based partly on politics, not the actual merit or abilities of the candidates? It opens up the danger that immigration judges, no matter how well-intentioned, might not be the best candidates for the job. When you are dealing with an area where courts refuse to give the litigants charged with deportation the right to appointed counsel, you not only are taking away the basic protection of letting them have their own lawyer, you are further weakening the system by not even having the most qualified people act as the judges to make sure the case is decided properly. Congress is not really taking action on this, although some senators want to make it more difficult for courts to review immigration judges' decisions -- precisely the wrong move to make!