U.S. Supreme Court blocks permanent residency for some immigrants

By Andrew Chung

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to let immigrants who have been permitted to stay in the United States on humanitarian grounds apply to become permanent residents if they entered the country illegally, siding with President Joe Biden’s administration.

The justices, acting in an appeal by a married couple from El Salvador who were granted so-called Temporary Protected Status, unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that barred their applications for permanent residency, also known as a green card, because of their unlawful entry.

The case could affect thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States for years. Biden, who has sought to reverse many of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, had opposed the immigrants in this case, placing the president at odds with immigration advocacy groups and some of his fellow Democrats.

A federal law called the Immigration and Nationality Act generally requires that people seeking to become permanent residents have been “inspected and admitted” into the United States. At issue in the case was whether a grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which gives the recipient “lawful status,” satisfies those requirements.

Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said that “because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission, it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

Foreign nationals can be granted Temporary Protected Status if a humanitarian crisis in their home country, such as a natural disaster or armed conflict, would make their return unsafe. There are about 400,000 people in the United States with protected status, which prevents deportation and lets them work legally.

The case involves Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, who live in New Jersey and have four children.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court doubts ‘green cards’ for some protected migrants

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared reluctant to let people who have been allowed to stay in the United States on humanitarian grounds apply to become permanent residents if they entered the country illegally.

The justices heard arguments in an appeal by a married couple from El Salvador who were granted so-called Temporary Protected Status of a lower court ruling that barred their applications for permanent residency, also known as a green card, because of their unlawful entry.

The case could affect thousands of immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States for years. President Joe Biden’s administration opposes the immigrants in the case. The dispute puts Biden, who has sought to reverse many of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, at odds with immigration advocacy groups and some of his fellow Democrats.

A federal law called the Immigration and Nationality Act generally requires that people seeking to become permanent residents have been “inspected and admitted” into the United States. At issue in the case is whether a grant of Temporary Protected Status, which gives the recipient “lawful status,” satisfies those requirements.

Some justices suggested it might be a stretch to interpret the law as deeming the plaintiffs “admitted.”

“They clearly were not admitted at the borders, so is that a fiction, is it metaphysical, what is it? I don’t know,” conservative Justice Clarence Thomas asked.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan also cast doubt on whether the law broadly considers people who the government categorizes as “non-immigrants,” including those with Temporary Protected Status, as having been legally admitted.

Some justices suggested that the law’s meaning is not so clear cut.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Justice Department lawyer Michael Huston, “If you’re asking us to find the better reading of the statute, we should go by its terms: Those people have been admitted.”

Foreign nationals can be granted Temporary Protected Status if a humanitarian crisis in their home country, such as a natural disaster or armed conflict, would make their return unsafe. There are about 400,000 people in the United States with protected status, which prevents deportation and let them work legally.

The case involves Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, who live in New Jersey. They have four children, the youngest of whom was born in the United States.

The couple twice entered the country illegally: in 1997 and 1998. After a series of earthquakes in 2001, the United States designated El Salvador as covered under the Temporary Protected Status program. The couple received protection under the program that same year. U.S. officials rejected their 2014 applications for green cards because they had not been lawfully admitted.

They sued in federal court, saying that those with lawful status, including Temporary Protected Status recipients, are deemed to have been lawfully admitted, and may apply for permanent residency. Last year, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the couple.

Besides El Salvador, 10 other countries have such designations: Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. judge blocks deportation freeze in swift setback for Biden

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily blocked a move by new U.S. President Joe Biden to halt the deportation of many immigrants for a 100-day period, a swift legal setback for his ambitious immigration agenda.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, an appointee of former President Donald Trump in the Southern District of Texas, issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the policy nationwide for 14 days following a legal challenge by Texas.

The Biden administration is expected to appeal the ruling, which halts the deportation freeze while both parties submit briefs on the matter.

Biden promised on the campaign trail to enact a 100-day moratorium on deportations if elected, a proposal that contrasted sharply with the immigration crackdown promoted by Trump, a Republican.

After Biden took office on Wednesday, the top official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo that ordered a pause on many deportations to enable the department to better deal with “operational challenges” at the U.S.-Mexico border during the pandemic.

In a complaint filed on Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state would face irreparable harm if the deportation freeze was allowed to go into effect. Paxton, a Republican, said it would increase education and healthcare costs as more immigrants remained in Texas illegally.

Paxton also said it went against the terms of an enforcement agreement Texas brokered with the Trump administration less than two weeks before Biden took office.

Tipton said in the order on Tuesday that Texas had “a substantial likelihood of success” on at least two of its claims, including that the deportation freeze violated a federal immigration law stating that authorities “shall remove” immigrants with final deportation orders within 90 days.

The judge also found it likely that Texas would succeed on its claim that the Biden administration “arbitrarily and capriciously departed from its previous policy without sufficient explanation” when it issued the moratorium.

Paxton praised the ruling in a statement, saying a deportation moratorium would “endanger Texans and undermine federal law.”

Approximately 1.2 million immigrants in the United States have final orders of removal, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Reuters.

As of Jan. 16, ICE was holding around 6,000 detainees with final deportation orders, the spokeswoman said.

The number of detained migrants has dropped sharply during the pandemic, falling by roughly two-thirds.

Kate Huddleston, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which filed a brief in support of the Biden administration, criticized the Texas lawsuit in a statement after the ruling.

“The administration’s pause on deportations is not only lawful but necessary to ensure that families are not separated and people are not returned to danger needlessly while the new administration reviews past actions,” she said.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Ross Colvin, Franklin Paul, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. judge hears lawsuit targeting deportation protections for ‘Dreamer’ immigrants

By Mimi Dwyer and Ted Hesson

(Reuters) – A Texas-led coalition of nine states will urge a federal judge on Tuesday to invalidate a program that grants hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States as children the right to live and work in the country.

The states have argued that the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was not created lawfully by former President Barack Obama in 2012.

The case could upend the lives of the nearly 650,000 immigrants who are beneficiaries of the program, which protects them from deportation, allows them to work, grants access to driver’s licenses, and in some cases improves access to financial aid for education.

The DACA program has withstood a number of challenges since its creation, including a move by Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 to end it.

The Supreme Court did not rule on the overarching legality of the DACA program. A ruling on the challenge brought by Texas and the other states, which is being heard by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, could address that question.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. immigration raids that targeted 2,100 people snared 35: NY Times

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees watch from a window as activists hold the "Shutdown ICE" rally in Washington, U.S., July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

(Reuters) – A scant 35 people were taken into custody during a long-threatened U.S. series of raids that targeted more than 2,100 immigrants who had been ordered deported, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing federal figures.

President Donald Trump described the raids over the July 13 weekend, dubbed “Operation Border Resolve,” as “very successful” even though much of the activity was not visible to the public.

The raids, originally scheduled for June for a dozen major U.S. cities, were highly publicized, likely prompting many who believed they were targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to leave their homes or hide, the Times reported.

As word spread about the possible ICE raids, immigration rights groups circulated “know your rights” materials in immigrant communities and on social media while local activists advised people not to answer the door to agents without a warrant and not to talk or sign any documents without a lawyer present.

Trump signaled the impending enforcement in a June tweet, saying officials would soon “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.”

Facing a re-election battle next year, Trump has wanted to show his supporters that he is delivering on campaign promises to crack down on illegal immigration, a signature policy objective of his administration.

He has pushed Guatemala, Mexico and other countries in the region to act as buffer zones and take in asylum seekers who would otherwise go to the United States.

Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that he is now considering a “ban,” tariffs and remittance fees after Guatemala decided to not move forward with a safe-third-country agreement that would have required the Central American nation to take in more asylum seekers.

It was not immediately clear what policies he was referring to. The White House and the Guatemalan government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

In losing legal battles over census, Trump may win political war

T-shirts are displayed at a community activists and local government leaders event to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – The Trump administration has few realistic options to get a citizenship question onto next year’s census, but by keeping the issue in the public eye it could still trigger an undercount of residents in Democratic-leaning areas, legal and political experts told Reuters.

Constant media coverage linking citizenship and census forms could scare undocumented immigrants away from responding and rally U.S. President Donald Trump’s base to participate, they said. That, in turn, would help redraw voting districts across the country in favor of his Republican party, encouraging the president to pursue a legal battle that he has little chance of winning.

The latest parlay came on Sunday evening, when the U.S. Department of Justice installed a new team of lawyers to handle the last iterations of litigation that has been going on for more than a year.

“Even if the question is (taken) off, if people are tweeting as if it may be a real possibility, it continues to raise fears and depress the count,” said Thomas Wolf, a lawyer who focuses on census issues at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The U.S. Constitution requires the government to count all residents – whatever their legal status – every 10 years. The information collected becomes the basis for voting maps and distributing some $800 billion in federal funds each year.

It is illegal for the Census Bureau to share information about individuals with law enforcement or immigration authorities. But the idea of asking residents about citizenship status has nonetheless stoked fears that the survey would become a tool for the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies.

The president and his allies have said it is important to know about citizenship status, and characterized the question as something that should not draw controversy.

“So important for our Country that the very simple and basic ‘Are you a Citizen of the United States?’ question be allowed to be asked in the 2020 Census,” the president tweeted on July 4.

A Reuters poll earlier this year also showed 66% of Americans support its inclusion.

But demographers, advocacy groups, corporations and even the Census Bureau’s own staff have said the citizenship question threatens to undermine the survey.

Communities with high immigrant and Latino populations could have low response rates. Researchers have estimated that more than 4 million people out of a total U.S. population of some 330 million may not participate.

That would benefit non-Hispanic whites, a core part of Trump’s support, and help Republicans gain seats in Congress and state legislatures, critics have said.

The question seemed dead in June, when the Supreme Court blocked it, saying the administration had given a “contrived” rationale for its inclusion.

However, the high court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale. Department of Justice lawyers said on Friday that they were exploring other explanations. Trump also said he may try to force it into the survey through an executive order.

Legal experts immediately slapped down the ideas. It will be hard to convince justices that a new explanation is not also contrived, and an executive order would not override the Supreme Court decision or undo other court orders blocking the citizenship question, they said.

“There is nothing talismanic about an executive order,” said a statement from Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of MALDEF, a Latino rights group pursuing one of the cases against the administration. “Our government is not a dictatorship.”

Trump also said on Friday that although census forms are already being printed, the government could later produce “an addendum.”

It is not clear how that might work, but census experts said it would be an unprecedented disruption to a process that has been in motion for years.

“Any suggestion that on a moment’s notice the Census Bureau could add an extra piece of paper with an additional question to a census that it has been planning literally for a decade demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of what it takes to pull off a census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a census consultant.

An addendum would also likely be challenged in courts for running afoul of various administrative laws.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/motion-amend to prevent the citizenship question from being added.

In the meantime, attention surrounding the legal debacle may already be hurting the census and helping Trump achieve his goals, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“The longer he has this conversation, the worse it is for an accurate census count,” she said.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Rosalba O’Brien)

Supreme Court conservatives sympathetic toward Trump census citizenship query

Advertisements for 2020 Census Jobs are posted at a restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared sympathetic toward a bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a plan opponents have called a Republican effort to deter immigrants from taking part in the population count.

During an extended, 80-minute argument session, the court’s liberal justices voiced skepticism over the need for the question to enforce a federal voting rights law – the administration’s stated justification.

Lower courts have blocked the question, ruling that the administration violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution in seeking to include it on the census form.

The court has a 5-4 conservative majority, and conservative justices signaled support toward the administration’s stance.

Chief Justice John Roberts challenged New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, whose state sued the administration over the plan to add the question, saying citizenship is critical information for enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

The case comes in a pair of lawsuits by a group of states and localities led by New York state, and a coalition of immigrant rights groups challenging the legality of the question. The census forms are due to be printed in the coming months.

The official population count, as determined by the census, is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal funds.

Opponents have said inclusion of the question would cause a sizeable undercount by frightening immigrant households and Latinos from filling out the census, fearful that the information would be shared with law enforcement. This would cost Democratic-leaning areas electoral representation in Congress and federal aid, benefiting Republican-leaning parts of the country, they said.

Trump, a Republican, has pursued hardline immigration policies. His administration said the citizenship question would yield better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects eligible voters from discrimination.

The Supreme Court, with includes Trump’s conservative appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, has handed the Republican president victories on some major policies, including last year allowing his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Business groups and corporations such as Lyft, Inc, Box, Inc, Levi Strauss & Co and Uber Technologies Inc also opposed the citizenship question, saying it would compromise census data that they use to make decisions including where to put new locations and how to market products.

Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman on Jan. 15 ruled that the Commerce Department’s decision to add the question violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act. Federal judges in Maryland and California also prohibited the question’s inclusion in subsequent rulings, saying it would violate the Constitution’s mandate to enumerate the population every 10 years.

In November, when the Supreme Court allowed the trial before Furman to proceed, three of the court’s conservative justices – Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – said they would have blocked it, indicating they may be sympathetic to the administration’s legal arguments.

Furman found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department includes the Census Bureau, concealed his true motives for his March 2018 decision to add the question.

The Census Bureau itself estimated that households corresponding to 6.5 million people would not respond to the census if the citizenship question is asked, leading to less accurate citizenship data.

Citizenship has not been asked of all households since the 1950 census. It has featured since then on questionnaires sent to a smaller subset of the population. While only U.S. citizens can vote, non-citizens comprise an estimated 7 percent of the population.

 

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Dozens killed as gunman livestreams New Zealand mosque shootings

An injured person is loaded into an ambulance following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/SNPA/Martin Hunter

By Praveen Menon and Charlotte Greenfield

WELLINGTON/CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – A gunman shot dead 49 people and wounded more than 40 at two New Zealand mosques, some as they were kneeling at prayer, livestreaming online some of the killings that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism.

The gunman broadcast footage of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch on Facebook, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a “manifesto” in which he denounced immigrants, calling them “invaders”.

The video footage widely circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, showed him driving to one mosque, entering it and shooting randomly at people inside.

Worshippers, possibly dead or wounded, lay huddled on the floor, the video showed. Reuters was unable to confirm the authenticity of the footage.

It was the worst ever mass killing in New Zealand which raised its security threat level to the highest, Ardern said, adding that “this can now only be described as a terrorist attack”.

Police said three people were in custody including one man in his late 20s who had been charged with murder. He will appear in court on Saturday.

Police have not identified any of the suspects.

“We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are enclave for extremism,” Ardern said in a national address. “We were chosen for the fact that we are none of these things. It was because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values.

“You have chosen us but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said 49 people had been killed in total. Health authorities said 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, including young children.

U.S. President Donald Trump condemned the “horrible massacre” in what the White House called a “vicious act of hate”.

“The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

The gunman’s manifesto praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

Forty-one people were killed at the Al Noor mosque, seven at a mosque in the Linwood neighborhood and one died in hospital, police said. Hospitals said children were among the victims.

The visiting Bangladesh cricket team was arriving for prayers at one of the mosques when the shooting started but all members were safe, a team coach told Reuters.

Three Bangladeshis were among the dead and one was missing, the consulate said.

Shortly before the attack began, an anonymous post on the discussion site 8chan, known for a wide range of content including hate speech, said the writer was going to “carry out an attack against the invaders” and included links to a Facebook live stream, in which the shooting appeared, and a manifesto.

The manifesto cited “white genocide”, a term typically used by racist groups to refer to immigration and the growth of minority populations, as his motivation.

The Facebook link directed users to the page of a user called brenton.tarrant.9.

A Twitter account with the handle @brentontarrant posted on Wednesday images of a rifle and other military gear decorated with names and messages connected to white nationalism. What looked like the same weapons appeared in the livestream of the mosque attack on Friday.

Facebook and Twitter said they would take down content involving the shootings.

KILLINGS CONDEMNED

It was not immediately clear if the attacks at the two mosques were carried out by the same man.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the men in custody was Australian.

All mosques in New Zealand had been asked to shut their doors and post armed guards, police said, adding they were not actively looking for any other “identified suspects”.

Political and Islamic leaders across Asia and the Middle East condemned the killings.

“I blame these increasing terror attacks on the current Islamophobia post-9/11,” Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan posted on social media. “1.3 billion Muslims have collectively been blamed for any act of terror.”

Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s 1000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, said the attacks had “violated the sanctity of the houses of God”.

“We warn the attack is a dangerous indicator of the dire consequences of escalating hate speech, xenophobia, and the spread of Islamophobia.”

Six Indonesians had been inside one of the mosques, with three managing to escape and three unaccounted for, its foreign minister said.

Afghanistan’s ambassador said on Twitter three Afghans had been wounded. Two Malaysians were wounded, their foreign ministry said.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s population, a 2013 census showed.

‘FIRING WENT ON AND ON’

The online footage, which appeared to have been captured on a camera strapped to a gunman’s head, showed him driving as music played in his vehicle. After parking, he took two guns and walked a short distance to the mosque where he opened fire.

Over the course of five minutes, he repeatedly shot worshippers, leaving more than a dozen bodies in one room alone. He returned to the car during that period to change guns, and went back to the mosque to shoot anyone showing signs of life.

One man, with blood still on his shirt, said in a television interview that he hid from a gunman under a bench and prayed that he would run out of bullets.

“I was just praying to God and hoping our God, please, let this guy stop” Mahmood Nazeer told TVNZ.

“The firing went on and on. One person with us had a bullet in her arm. When the firing stopped, I looked over the fence, there was one guy, changing his gun.”

The video shows the gunman then driving off at high speed and firing from his car. Another video, taken by someone else, showed police apprehending a gunman on a pavement by a road.

Police said improvised explosive devices were found. The gunman’s video had shown red petrol canisters in the back of his car, along with weapons.

The Bangladesh cricket team is in Christchurch to play New Zealand in a third cricket test starting on Saturday.

“They were on the bus, which was just pulling up to the mosque when the shooting begun,” Mario Villavarayen, a team coach, told Reuters in a message. “They are shaken but good.”

The third cricket test was canceled, New Zealand Cricket said later.

Violent crime is rare in New Zealand and police do not usually carry guns. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the head of state of New Zealand, said she was deeply saddened by the shootings.

Before Friday, New Zealand’s worst mass shooting was in 1990 when a gun-mad loner killed 13 men, women and children in a 24-hour rampage in the tiny seaside village of Aramoana. He was killed by police.

(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook, John Mair and Swati Pandey in Sydney, Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Michael Holden in London; Writing by Micheal Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Exclusive: For migrant youths claiming abuse, U.S. protection can be elusive

An unidentified Honduran immigrant is photographed in his apartment in New York, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zachary Goelman

By Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Growing up in eastern Honduras, Jose said his father would get drunk and beat him with a horse whip and the flat side of a machete. He said he watched his father, a coffee farmer whose crops succumbed to plague, hit his mother on the head with a pistol, sending her to the hospital for three days from the abuse.

At 17, Jose said, he hired a coyote to ferry him to the United States, seeking to escape his home life and violent feuding among his relatives, as well as seek better opportunities for himself and his siblings. He was picked up by border agents, then released pending deportation proceedings.

After struggling to get a good lawyer, Jose applied at 19 for special protection under a program for young immigrants subjected to childhood mistreatment including abuse, neglect or abandonment.

But like a growing number of applicants, his petition hit a series of hurdles, then was denied. Now he is appealing.

“It’s like being stuck not going forward or backwards,” said Jose, now 22 and living in New York. He spoke on condition his last name not be used because he is working without a permit and does not want to jeopardize his appeal. “You can’t advance in life,” he said.

As President Donald Trump vociferously pushes for a physical barrier across the country’s southern border, young people claiming to be eligible for protection under the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) program increasingly face a less publicized barrier: heightened demands for paperwork.

Data obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act show that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently ramped up demands for additional documents through “Requests for Evidence” and “Notices of Intent to Deny,” which can tie up cases for months.

The program allows immigrants under 21 to apply for permanent residency in the United States if a state court determines that they need protection and that returning to their home countries would be unsafe. Since 2010, about 54,000 applications have been approved.

In fiscal year 2016, before Trump took office, USCIS issued 347 “Requests for Evidence,” the data show. A year later, the agency issued 4,153, while the overall number of new applications rose only slightly.

“Notices of Intent to Deny,” one of the last opportunities to submit additional information before a petition is rejected, doubled in fiscal year to 767 in 2017 compared to fiscal 2016.

Meanwhile, approvals of special immigrant juvenile status petitions dropped by nearly 60 percent in the 2018 fiscal year compared to a year earlier, to 4,712, while denials increased more than 88 percent, according to federal data.

USCIS Spokesman Michael Bars said in a statement that the agency evaluates every petition case by case and that requesting additional evidence “cut down on frivolous petitions and applications, reduce waste, and help to improve the integrity and efficiency of the immigration petition process.”

Immigrant advocates and attorneys have turned to the special protection program as one avenue to offer young migrants who had come from violent pasts a path to legal residency in the United States. Some apply for asylum at the same time.

But for years critics have seen the youth program and other forms of legal relief for Central Americans, including some asylum protections, as “loopholes” that are too permissive and end up encouraging more migration.

It’s “shockingly easy for any minor that is represented by a lawyer to meet the requirements of the law regardless of whether they have been abused, neglected and abandoned,” said Jessica Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports increased immigration restrictions.

‘LOW-HANGING FRUIT’

Migrant attorneys say the administration is using an administrative back door to curb the program. They say many of the requests for additional evidence are technical – requiring proof, for instance, that a state court’s order was issued according to that state’s law.

These advocates say a large chunk of cases being challenged by the Trump administration are those like Jose’s, in which applicants applied between the ages of 18 and 21, and in which the government has challenged the jurisdiction of state family courts in the proceedings.

Immigration rights groups have sued the government in California, New York and Washington state over what they say are blanket denials of petitions from that older group. In the California suit, a judge in February issued a preliminary ruling against the administration, saying state courts do have jurisdiction. A ruling is expected soon in New York, and the Washington suit was just filed Tuesday.

“These post-18 cases are the low-hanging fruit,” said Maria Odom, the former independent ombudsman for USCIS under President Barack Obama. “This is just one piece of (the administration’s) overall plan to destroy protections for unaccompanied minors to try to stop the flow.”

Rich Leimsider, Executive Director of Safe Passage Project speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in New York, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Rich Leimsider, Executive Director of Safe Passage Project speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in New York, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

MISSION CREEP?

Underlying these disputes is a conflict over the purpose of the 1990 law authorizing the youth protection program.

The law was passed in response to growing concerns about foreign children becoming homeless or orphaned in the United States because of abandonment or abusive family situations. Eligibility was expanded in 2008 under a U.S. anti-human trafficking law to include kids abandoned by just one parent even if they were being cared for by the other.

Applications ballooned during the Obama administration following a surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, many from violent countries in Central America.

The government received 1,646 applications for the status in fiscal year 2010; in 2018, the number of applications jumped more than thirteenfold.

“This is not what the original law anticipated,” said Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies. “It was meant for kids who were trafficked.”

By statute, USCIS is supposed to process applications in six months, but Randi Mandelbaum, who runs a legal clinic at Rutgers Law School that serves immigrant foster kids, said she is handling a dozen cases that have been pending longer than a year. The delays can be painful, she said.

Young people “are already very vulnerable and now they can’t move on,” Mandelbaum said. “Their lives are on hold.”

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of USCIS spokesman’s name in 13th paragraph)

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Julie Marquis and Marla Dickerson)

Trump administration asks top court to restore asylum order

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on immigration and border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to let his order barring asylum for immigrants who enter the United States illegally take effect even as litigation over the matter proceeds.

The U.S. Justice Department asked the court to lift a temporary restraining order against the asylum rules issued by San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar. Trump has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration since taking office last year.

Citing what he called an overwhelmed immigration system, Trump issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that authorities process asylum claims only for migrants crossing the southern U.S. border at an official port of entry. Tigar blocked the rules on Nov. 19, drawing Trump’s ire.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused on Friday to lift Tigar’s injunction pending an appeal by the administration, saying the government “has not established that it is likely to prevail.”

The Justice Department said in its request to the Supreme Court that the injunction frustrated the government’s effort to re-establish control over the southern border and reduce illegal crossings.

Trump issued his proclamation alongside a new administration rule that effectively prohibited asylum for migrants crossing from Mexico outside a port of entry. The policy came as the government sought ways to block thousands of Central Americans traveling in caravans to escape violence and poverty at home from entering the United States.

Immigrant rights groups immediately sued, arguing the policy violated federal immigration and administrative law.

In his ruling, Tigar said Congress clearly mandated that immigrants were eligible for asylum regardless of where they enter the country.

The ruling prompted Trump to blast the 9th Circuit as a “disgrace” and dismiss Tigar as an “Obama judge.” Tigar was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

That criticism led to an extraordinary rebuke by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who issued a public response to Trump.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” said Roberts, a conservative who was appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)