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Recent Raids Drive Immigrant Families to Passport Scramble

Fearing deportation, immigrant families are crowding passport lines across the state as undocumented parents seek U.S. passports for their American children.

Carlos Bernal and his wife woke up their children, gathered their documents and drove to the Travis County passport office before dawn Monday. They were first in line at 5 a.m., three hours before the office opened.

“We’re here to get our kids passports, in case they kick us out,” Bernal said in his native Spanish.

His children, ages 14, 13 and 6, are U.S. citizens. He and his wife are not. Because of recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, he said, they have to be ready to pack up and leave the country for Mexico.

A recent flurry of ICE apprehensions around the country has sent undocumented immigrants from various countries running to passport offices and their native countries’ consulates for documentation they pray they won’t need.

At the Salvadoran consulate in Dallas, Consul General Jose Mario Mejía Barrera said his office has seen a 25 percent increase in passport applications and child registries in the past month. Mejía Barrera’s consulate serves around 150,000 Salvadorans who live in North Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“There’s uncertainty and worry among the community. People are realizing they have to file the right paperwork,” Mejía Barrera said. “Children who are born here, with Salvadoran moms or dads, are being registered so they have dual citizenship. Couples are registering their marriages so that they’re valid in El Salvador.”

At the Mexican consulate in Austin, Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutiérrez said his office has seen an uptick in the number of applications for passports and birth certificates since the November presidential election. Last month’s ICE activity in Austin scared immigrants more, he said, because non-criminal immigrants were detained — a change from Obama-era policies.

On Friday, Gonzalez Gutiérrez’s consulate will hold its first-ever custody session to help undocumented Mexicans understand how guardianship works in case they have to leave their children with a documented family member or friend. Gonzalez Gutiérrez said immigrants also ask the consulate about property rights, wondering if the U.S. government can confiscate their homes.

“Their questions show the state of anxiety that the community is in,” said Gonzalez Gutiérrez, whose office oversees nearly 450,000 people of Mexican origin in Central Texas. “Up until a few months ago, these questions were unimaginable.”

Two weeks ago, ICE arrested dozens of undocumented immigrants across the nation in what they said was a routine action. But the immigrant community was already on edge because of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric during the presidential campaign, and the ICE actions sent many undocumented families into a panic.

Families wait in line outside Travis County's passport office. Undocumented parents fearing deportation visited the office to get passports for their American children.  | Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Families wait in line outside Travis County’s passport office. Undocumented parents fearing deportation visited the office to get passports for their American children. | Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Behind the Bernals at the Austin passport office, the majority of the line was made up of immigrant families clutching their children’s birth certificates; they waited several hours before being allowed inside the passport center.

For some families, this was the first of two passport lines they had to navigate to ensure their children are correctly documented.

Romina, a Mexican woman who has lived in Austin for 10 years, said she was going to get Mexican passports for her U.S.-born children after they secured their American passports. This is part of her emergency plan, she said, in case she or her husband are deported. Because she’s an undocumented immigrant, she asked to be identified only by her first name.

“Yes, there are some bad immigrants,” she said, “but there are so many more good immigrants who pay taxes. I pay taxes.”

Nancy Howell, manager of Travis County’s passport program, said her office normally serves slightly more than 100 applicants a day. In the past couple of weeks, however, they’ve been serving more than 200, with most lining up outside early in the morning. Most days, she said, her office has to tell some families to come back the next day when the office closes.

On average, she said, it takes between 15 and 30 minutes to serve each family. The office has five to six staffers, but only two are fluent Spanish speakers. Howell said it is the customer’s responsibility to bring a translator.

“We could probably do more if we had more clerks,” she said.

Outside, Anallely Aviles observed her kids, 6 and 4, running around, weary from waiting. Young children are as scared as the adults about the increased deportations, she said.

“They know already because they hear it from us or they hear it in school,” she said in Spanish. “If ICE comes to the door, they know they don’t have to open it and should go hide in the room and try to make no noise.”

Read more

  • A week after immigration agents launched surprise raids in Austin and surrounding areas, hundreds marched downtown in protest, saying fear has engulfed the Central Texas immigrant community.
  • Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. In what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

Critics: Arrest of Alleged Abuse Victim in El Paso Could Deter Immigrants from Reporting Crimes

Experts fear the undocumented community will be more reluctant to report crimes after immigration agents detained an alleged domestic abuse victim as she left an El Paso courthouse.

After an alleged domestic abuse victim’s arrest by immigration agents in El Paso gained national attention, advocates and attorneys said the case could set a dangerous precedent for immigrants who might decide against reporting crimes if faced with the possibility of deportation.

On Feb. 9, an undocumented, transgender woman was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shortly after receiving protection from an alleged abuser in an El Paso courthouse. The woman, initially referred to only by her initials but later identified in an ICE statement as 33-year-old Irvin Gonzalez, was taken to a detention center.

Experts nationwide said the case set a dangerous precedent and might deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to authorities. However, ICE authorities revealed Thursday that the woman is a previously deported felon with six deportations and at least eight convictions for crimes including false imprisonment, domestic violence and assault.

During a press call Thursday, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza confirmed that the woman had a criminal history but said his main concern in this case was not the victim’s status but the access federal law enforcement agents had to the courthouse. He said a domestic violence victim’s legal status should not matter when they’re reporting a crime or offering testimony.

“[Federal agents] came into the courthouse, and I think that sends a horrible message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they’re actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse,” Esparza said. “We will work this out with federal authorities. They can do what they have to do, but not in the courthouse.”

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said Gonzalez had filed three police reports against her alleged attacker, who reportedly had kicked her, punched her and chased her with a knife. Gonzalez was being escorted out of the courthouse by an El Paso attorney when ICE agents stopped her and arrested her, Bernal said, adding that at least one ICE agent sat through Gonzalez’s court hearing before detaining her.

“In all our years, none of us can recall an incident where immigration authorities made their presence known inside a courtroom in this courthouse, and especially not in a courtroom that is reserved for victims of domestic violence,” Bernal said.

The El Paso Times had initially reported that ICE officers located the woman after receiving a tip, presumably from her alleged abuser. Bernal told reporters that she can’t verify that claim, but she said the only two people informed of Gonzalez’s court hearing were Gonzalez and her alleged abuser.

ICE Central Region communications director Carl Rusnok said in a statement that Gonzalez had been arrested after agents received a tip from another law enforcement agency “indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States.”

If ICE did receive a tip from her alleged attacker, her arrest would violate certain provisions in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that protects undocumented women when reporting perpetrators, said Denise Gilman, director of the University of Texas’ Immigration Clinic.

“Congress has said that victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes should be able to come forward and seek assistance and not fear that doing so will put them in danger,” Gilman said.

Gilman said she has seen instances in which individuals sought out assistance as a result of domestic violence and ended up tangled in immigration proceedings. These cases, she said, “absolutely have an impact” on the immigrant community, in terms of their willingness to report domestic violence or other crimes.

“I do expect this to have a very negative impact on women’s safety and on public safety,” she said. “If victims of crime aren’t willing to come forward, that really endangers the whole community.”

According to immigrant rights organization We Belong Together, immigrant women are three to six times more likely to experience domestic abuse than U.S.-born women. Lora Petty, a representative of Texas immigrant rights group American Gateways, said this is because abusers use deportation threats as fear tactics against their victims.

State lawmakers have already responded to the incident, including El Paso Sen. José Rodríguez, who in a statement said this case will prevent people from reporting crimes to law enforcement officers for fear of facing deportation.

The case also attracted the attention of national public figures, including Chelsea Clinton, who called the arrest “horrifying.”

Read more about recent ICE detentions here: 

  • Immigration officials arrested an El Paso woman who alleged she was a victim of domestic abuse. The tip that got her arrested may have come from her alleged abuser.
  • Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. Now, in what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres is in an immigration lock-up near San Antonio.

Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

Report: Deportations Could Hurt U.S., Texas Economies

AUSTIN, Texas — According to a new report, Donald Trump’s proposal to deport all unauthorized immigrants from the country would have devastating effects on the American economy.

The study from the Center for American Progress said that removing 7 million unauthorized immigrants from the U.S. workforce would reduce the nation’s Gross Domestic Product by almost $5 trillion over the next decade.

Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy with the Center, said the Texas economy – which has a significant percentage of unauthorized immigrants in its workforce – could shrink by $60 billion over the same period.

“Thirteen percent of the state’s GDP that’s derived from construction would be lost,” Jawetz said. “Ten percent of the state agricultural industry will be lost, and in leisure and hospitality, $6 billion annually would be lost. That’s 12 percent of the GDP, from that one industry alone.”

Jawetz said industries such as manufacturing, mining, and wholesale and retail trade would also be hit hard, both across the country and in Texas.

Undocumented immigrants make up almost 9 percent of the Lone Star State’s workforce, second only to California.

Jawetz said it’s unlikely there would be enough qualified American citizens to replace the deportees, potentially causing a worker shortage.

“Pursuing mass deportation of unauthorized workers – that’s 5 percent of the country’s total workforce – would reduce the national Gross Domestic Product by 2.6 percent,” he warned. “That’s a cumulative $4.7 trillion over a decade and would decrease federal revenues by $900 billion over that period.”

Reforming the nation’s immigration policy could reap sizeable economic benefits, Jawetz said.

“If our immigration laws were modernized and updated to reflect the real needs of American businesses, American families, American communities,” he said, “then we would be able to supercharge the economic benefits that we already receive from immigration.”

Author – Mark Richardson, Public News Service – TX

On the Migrant Trail: Professor Studies Human Smuggling Organizations

Border security and immigration aren’t just issues in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They are topics being addressed and discussed in countries around the globe.

Gabriella E. Sanchez, Ph.D., assistant professor of security studies at The University of Texas El Paso’s National Security Studies Institute, is an anthropologist who studies the social organization of human smuggling groups. Her research looks at “coyotes,” the men and women who, for a fee, facilitate the transit of migrants and refugees across borders while attempting to avoid law enforcement detection.

Sanchez has conducted fieldwork in Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia, where she has learned that the conditions that lead to smuggling activity are similar everywhere. However, socio-cultural and geographic characteristics unique to each region shape the dynamics of the markets.

“I have been fortunate to travel to locations where I can spend time working with migrants, refugees and smugglers themselves,” Sanchez said. Despite the many challenges of the market and its potential for violence, among migrants and refugees in transit “there’s a great sense of community, support and solidarity” which she credits for the success of her research.

Sanchez’s work has been supported by federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of State, and has informed smuggling research and policy.

“Dr. Sanchez’s research and expertise into the organizational dynamics of smugglers is groundbreaking and unmatched by anyone in the United States,” said Victor M. Manjarrez Jr., project director for UTEP’s Center for Law and Human Behavior. “We are fortunate to have someone such as Dr. Sanchez at UTEP conducting research into an area rarely studied.”

Sanchez is a regular contributor to academic blogs and online magazines, and her work has appeared in multiple edited volumes and academic journals. Last year, her book “Border Crossings and Human Smuggling” was a finalist for the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime’s Annual Prize for organized crime research.

Her work on women’s roles as facilitators of human smuggling, published in 2016 in the journal Geopolitics, described women’s roles as coyotes in Phoenix, Arizona, one of the main U.S. hubs for irregular migration.

“While frequently overlooked within the mainstream rhetoric of smuggling dominated by male-centered narratives of exploitation, victimization and violence, women play fundamental roles in the facilitation of irregular migration,” Sanchez explained. “[Women] recruit customers, negotiate fees and payment plans; withdraw smuggling payments from banks and wire transfer stores, care for migrants and drive or guide groups of border-crossers through the desert.”

In April 2016, Sanchez organized a groundbreaking event at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, in collaboration with Luigi Achilli, Ph.D., from the institute’s Migration Policy Centre, and with the support of UTEP’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects and the National Security Studies Institute. The top scholars on smuggling worldwide attended the event and explored the ways in which the smuggling business has evolved and adapted in Europe, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and the Pacific.

“The smuggling market is always changing,” Sanchez said. “Some policymakers often claim smugglers are becoming more sophisticated, or that they have acquired more technology and see that as a synonym of their progress. I myself dislike the use of the word ‘sophistication’ because I think it professionalizes the activities of the smugglers who exploit and abuse migrants and refugees. Yet our collective research reflects that some smugglers are indeed quite effective at what they do, but that the smuggling market and its conditions have created room for exploitive, violent practices that have a negative impact on human life. ”

One way the smuggling market is changing has to do with advances in technology. Sanchez explained that with smartphones, people don’t always need a smuggler because they can use apps to lead them across most terrains.

“We’re witnessing this in Europe,” Sanchez said. “Smugglers only perform certain, very specific tasks along the trail, like the provision of the boats.”

Currently Sanchez is developing work outlining the kinds and the nature of the contacts that exist between drug and human smuggling organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It is not enough to say these contacts exist,” Sanchez said. “We need nuanced knowledge of the dimensions of these encounters if we want to be able to devise effective enforcement responses.”

Author:  Leonard Martinez – UTEP Communications

Texas-Mexico Border apprehensions dipped in 2015

The number of people apprehended by immigration agents while trying to enter Texas illegally dropped by more than 35 percent during the federal government’s 2015 fiscal year, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics released Tuesday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stopped some 210,470 people in Texas between October 2014 and September 2015, compared to 332,457 the previous year. On the entire southwestern border, 331,335 people were apprehended in the 2015 fiscal year, compared to 479,371 the year before.

Homeland security leaders attribute the dip to lower numbers of would-be illegal crossers and a ramped-up border security effort that has nearly doubled the number of agents on the southwestern border since 2001. The number of Mexican nationals apprehended decreased by 18 percent, they said; apprehensions of people from countries other than Mexico — mainly Central Americans — decreased by more than 65 percent.

The new data is not likely to allay the concerns of GOP state leaders, who argue the Obama administration is failing in its duty to secure the border and remove undocumented criminals already present in the country.

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he’d be keeping National Guard troops on the state’s border with Mexico instead of sending them home as planned, the result of a spike in illegal crossings by minor children in the Rio Grande Valley in October and November of this year.

The Guard is deployed to assist federal agents and state troopers in surveillance and border crossings but has no arresting or removal powers.

The downward trend in federal apprehensions wasn’t just limited to the border; nationally, they decreased by about 30 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement also removed roughly 80,000 fewer undocumented people from the country — a total of 235,413 — in 2015 than the agency did the prior year.

During a conference call with reporters, homeland security officials said of Immigration and Customs Enforcement removals in 2015, about 86 percent were considered “Priority 1” — immigrants who pose a viable threat to national security, border security and public safety.

The 2015 totals also include roughly 40 percent fewer unaccompanied minors and family units.

Homeland security officials said their focus in 2016 would be “more interior enforcement” to return “convicted criminals” to their home countries.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, pol itics, government and statewide issues.

Border Patrol have busy weekend in Southern NM

NEW MEXICO – U.S. Border Patrol Agents assigned to New Mexico Stations in the El Paso Sector seized almost $183,000 in marijuana, recovered a stolen vehicle and arrested a convicted child molester over the weekend period.

Late Friday night, agents assigned to the Border Patrol Checkpoint on Interstate 10 just west of Las Cruces were alerted to a possible stolen vehicle.  The Agent referred the U.S Citizen driver, Eduardo Perez, 24 and his U.S. Citizen passenger, Luis Gordon Dominguez, 21, to secondary inspection.

A records checks revealed that the 2011 Nissan Titan truck that the subjects were in was reported stolen from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.  New Mexico State Police took custody of both individuals in addition to the truck.

Then on Sunday morning, Lordsburg Agents using night vision technology near the Arizona border located and detained three subjects carrying large backpacks.  The backpacks contained 145 pounds of marijuana valued at $116, 240.

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The three were identified as: 24-year-old Tomas Silva-Flaco of Mexico, 18-year-old Vidal Gonzalez-Armendaris of Mexico, and 22-year-old Oracio Ramos-Palmas of Mexico.  Each of the men freely admitted to their Mexican nationality.

The marijuana and the subjects were taken to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Station pending prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Later that same day, Santa Teresa Agents apprehended eight subjects who entered illegally into the United States in the desert area near Sunland Park, New Mexico.

One of the subjects was positively identified using the IAFIS/IDENT fingerprint system as 44-year-old Sergio Reyes-Alvares of Mexico. Reyes-Alvares had an extensive criminal history which included a conviction for a “Lewd and Lascivious Act with–a- Child in March 2012. he also had a prior deportation from the United States.

USBP official say Reyes-Alvares was booked into the Otero County Detention Center pending criminal charges for his illegal re-entry into the U.S.

 

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