The chaos that follows our president through almost every other phase of his political life extends to immigration as well. Other stories understandably get more attention, and there’s almost always so much going on that it’s hard to know what to respond to with genuine concern and what deserves a dismissive “Of course he did.” Immigration lawyers in New Orleans and around the country are left trying to find answers to the same questions that immigrants and news watchers are searching for as well. We have to wonder:
Civil rights attorney Henry Sias doubts that this move will make migrants fleeing dangerous homes think twice if many of the other measures the Trump Administration has tried to implement haven’t.
"It's hard for me to believe that a woman who is on a journey of 1,000 miles in broken flip-flops with a two-year-old on her hip, doing everything she can and sacrificing everything ... is going to be deterred by DNA collection," he said.
At this point, harvesting DNA sounds outrageous, but it’s also likely to be challenged in court, so it’s hard to know how outraged to get about it now.
According to NPR’s Franco Ordoñez, some immigrants who were assessed five- and six-figure fines received letters recently saying that they no longer owed the money. “Following consideration of matters you forwarded for ICE review, and in the exercise of the its discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine," wrote Lisa Hoechst, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, in the October 17 letter to one of those who had been fined.
"Returns under the IFR policy have not started," said ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes said this summer. “IFR” is an appropriately Orwellian piece of language—"interim final rule,” and it leaves detainees in limbo, unable to be released but unable to be deported. And considering the fluidity of the situation and the accompanying confusion, there’s no guarantee it will ever be implemented.
The offshoot of all of this is confusion, which is problematic at a number of levels. For immigration attorneys, it means they have to check regularly to make sure that the strategies they choose with clients still comport with the conditions they actually face, and for immigrants, it means uncertainty about their future. When they commiserate with others, speculation about what is happening and why it’s happening can easily graduate from guesswork to fact in people’s minds, and that misinformation can easily spread and inadvertently make their efforts to change their status worse instead of better.
Confusion can also affect the functioning of the courts and agencies themselves. Observers watching hearings for asylum seekers waiting in Mexico report that many court dates have had to be rescheduled because the necessary translators were not available the day of the hearing. (Observers also report that many of the supporting documents that asylum seekers are asked for are to be written in English, and any translation needs to be accompanied by a Certificate of Translation, a document many living in migrant encampments near the border can’t afford.)
Another possible offshoot of the confusion is that the administration’s get tough approach to immigration hasn’t had the deterrence factor that it hoped for. Many factors contribute to this including the likely possibility that the communities that the Trump Administration is trying to deter doesn’t get cable news and doesn’t follow American politics. What people know comes secondhand and is likely filtered by hope, desperation, and disbelief. But the confusion and chaos that manifest in the practice of immigration law enforcement make it easier for people looking to escape the dangerous and hopeless situations they’re in to believe the things they want to believe and try anyway.
As a result, all of the get tough policies have failed to stem the tide of people seeking to enter the United States across the Mexico border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that this fiscal year (starting last October) it apprehended more than 780,000 people along the southern border. In fiscal 2018—the year that brought us family separation—it apprehended more than 521,000, and 415,000 in fiscal 2017.
In 2014, Kathleen started PB&J—Pro Bono for Juveniles—to help children who had made the kind of journey that Sias described find immigration lawyers in Louisiana, and Catholic Charities, ISLA, and the Pro Bono Project are similarly working to find immigration lawyers for detainees in Louisiana to help them deal with not only the laws on the books but the confusion created by the current administration.
Those who are concerned need to do the hardest thing to do under this administration: Be patient. Jumping online to worry about every new outrage on social media only adds another layer of confusion. Many of Trump’s executive orders and the Department of Justice’s policy changes have been unconstitutional, or close enough to unconstitutional that they’ll have to journey through the courts for a while before they go into practice. And as always, if some of this confusion might affect you or people you are close to, consult an experienced immigration attorney. Relying on second- or third-hand information only adds to the confusion.