Shutting the Door

The Obama administration has longed talked a good game on immigration reform, promising a more humane policy and blaming Republicans for Congress’ failure to address a dysfunctional system that leaves immigrants vulnerable and vexes officials.

But with the recent announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that it has begun deporting recent border-crossers who were denied refugee status, Obama once again is showing he is a hardliner on immigration.

The first “wave of removals,” in the words of the New York Times (Jan. 5), occurred during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with 121 arrests in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. The latest effort, according to the Times, is focusing on “parents and children, mainly from Central America, who came during the border surge in 2014 and failed to win asylum in immigration courts.” These were “migrants who had lost their cases and were ordered deported by immigration judges.”

According to the Times, which reviewed court records, 905 cases of parents and children “caught at the southwest border and held at one of three special detention centers for families” have resulted in just 156 orders allowing immigrants to remain in the United States.

Supporters of the efforts, like Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, say the cases have been adjudicated and the deportations are therefore warranted.

“These are folks who have been adjudged, as I understand it, by a court, have received an order to leave and have not left. And the law says that they need to leave,” Hoyer said, according to The Hill.

But this is a simplification of what is happening. While it is true that these cases have been decided by immigration judges, it is far from clear that the proceedings are fair or that they meet the definition of due process. As the Times reported, 67% of the 726 deportation orders were issued “in absentia because the migrants did not appear for their hearings.”

The system, as Michele Chen wrote in The Nation, may violate international law, which “dictates that these desperate parents and children be granted protection from the persecution and violence they have fled in their home countries.” The vast majority of these recent immigrants — estimated to total about 100,000 over the last two years — are doing just that. They are escaping “drug-war violence, political instability, epidemic poverty, and the utter failure on the part of the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” Chen wrote.

As the Times points out, “(m)ore than 80% of women held at the family detention centers passed an initial interview with an asylum officer to determine if their fears of being sent back home were credible, according to the most recent figures. Mothers at the centers said they fled because gangs had murdered their husbands or siblings, tried to recruit their sons or threatened sexual violence against their daughters.”

And while people like Hoyer and the Obama administration point to the court process, they remain silent on its failures, most notably its inability to guarantee fair hearings and representation.

“Those slated for deportation have spent months bouncing around a legal gauntlet that baffles even attorneys, let alone 7-year-olds who don’t speak English, or young mothers suffering from post-traumatic stress,” Chen wrote.

And then there is the matter of cost of legal counsel — something these desperately poor immigrants have difficulty covering.

“Many of these mothers and children had no lawyers because they could not afford them,” Cecillia Wang, the director of the immigrants’ rights project for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times. “Without counsel, traumatized refugees don’t understand what is happening in court and cannot get their legitimate asylum claims heard.”

This means that, rather than opening the door to the most vulnerable and victimized, we are shutting in their face, and allowing our immigration policy to be governed by fear. What is needed is a more humane approach to immigration that recognizes the consequences our economic, environmental and foreign policies play in creating instability around the globe. These policies — unbridled capitalism and the use of our military to impose our interests, our thirst for oil and our willingness to prop up dictators when we deem them useful — have real consequences for the powerless and result in violence and mass migration.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 & @kaletjournalism; Facebook,

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2016

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