Immigration Attorney Answers ‘What the Hell is Going On?’

  • 02/16/2017
  • Kym Cunningham

Sanctuary Cities, the Cost of ICE and Trump’s Immigration Policies

By Kym Cunningham, Contributing Writer

Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13768, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, on Jan. 25. This order cuts funds for so-called “sanctuary cities” and gives immigration officers unlimited discretion in instituting deportation proceedings. The order belies the Trump administration’s lack of knowledge concerning the realities of immigration law.

“‘Sanctuary cities’ is a misnomer,” Ally Bolour explained. “The cities don’t enforce immigration law. That’s a good thing because immigration law is the most complicated area of law next to tax law.”

Bolour has worked as an immigration attorney in downtown Los Angeles for almost 20 years.

The Los Angeles Police Department is, and should be, in support of sanctuary cities, he said.

“They don’t want to be the ones to enforce immigration law,” Bolour said. “They don’t know the law … and … if people stop trusting your police force, then crime will go up. Then you and I, as citizens, are less safe because no one’s reporting.”

Bolour argues that local police forces are not meant to enforce immigration law because they lack the technical know-how and the manpower.  This  is why an entire department,  Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, exists.

“I would think that the federal government would actually support the concept of sanctuary cities,” Bolour said. “They’re the ones that are supposed to enforce it, not local offices, not local police forces.”

The Trump administration does not seem to understand the nature of “sanctuary cities,” just as it does not understand the reasons behind the alleged 11 million undocumented workers or, as Trump refers to them, “criminal aliens.”

“There’s no reason to have 11 million undocumented individuals,”  Bolour said. “We’ve never had this. Migration between Mexico and the United States … has been going on since the birth of both countries. This particular problem can really be pinpointed to the present law [the Illegal Immigration and Immigration Responsibility Act].”

This act, also known as IRAIRA, came into effect in April of 1997 under Bill Clinton. The law tightens immigration controls, making it incredibly difficult for people who come to the United States without authorization to obtain legal status.

Essentially, if an immigrant comes to the United States without being inspected, it is incredibly unlikely that she or he will be able to adjust status and obtain a green card.

“People come here, perhaps, to work the farm, not knowing what the full consequences are,” Bolour said.

Unless the undocumented immigrant can prove “Extreme Hardship” and is willing to travel back to his or her home country to be processed, she or he is not eligible for a green card and cannot be legalized, even if she or he marries a U.S. citizen. Many immigrants opt instead to remain undocumented in order to avoid separation from their loved ones for prolonged periods of time. Bolour gave a hypothetical example of a common scenario in which an immigrant can easily fall into this “undocumented trap.”

“[Let’s] say a female Mexican national comes here to work [on a] farm,” said Bolour. She meets a U.S. citizen farmworker. They fall in love. They have babies. The babies are U.S. citizens. That woman is unlikely to be able to get a green card — even though she has U.S. citizen kids, a U.S. citizen husband, for all practical purposes is an American — she is unable to legalize. She is one of … the 11 million.”

Before IRAIRA, an undocumented person could have paid the federal government a $1,000 penalty for crossing over without documentation and then adjusted status. Although the process takes time, the undocumented individual could have eventually applied for citizenship. As the law stands now, undocumented individuals who keep under ICE’s radar cannot obtain green cards. Therefore, they cannot become U.S. citizens.

“When you’re not a citizen, you don’t fully participate in society,” Bolour said. “You can’t, perhaps, go to your kids’ PTA meetings because you’re scared…. You don’t feel like a full member of society. Perhaps you don’t learn English. You certainly don’t vote; you don’t serve on a jury. That’s a loss to American society in general.”

IRAIRA Costs Taxpayers

But the loss to American society due to IRAIRA is not merely general, it is specifically fiscal as well. As it stands, Bolour explained that the law costs the government and, by extension, the taxpayers who foot ICE’s bill.  The government could stand to make $11 billion in potential profit if it legalized these immigrants.

“That a $1,000 penalty,” Bolour said. “Multiply it by 11 million [people]. Just do the math.”

Alternately, Bolour proposes another solution termed, “paroled-in-place.”

Currently, this relief is only offered to the spouses of military veterans. If an undocumented immigrant marries a veteran, his or her attorney can ask the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, to issue him or her a parole-in-place. This essentially produces a document which states that she or he was “paroled-in,” allowing the person to retroactively gain legal documents. After this process, the person is eligible to adjust status, becoming legalized by obtaining a green card or visa.

Although less lucrative for the federal government than the $1,000 penalty, this system of parole-in-place would save American taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars in immigration enforcement.

In 2013, the estimated budget for immigration enforcement was more than $5 million per day. In 2016, the budget proposed an increase of 2,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP,  officers — to include their salaries, benefits and future pensions. Alongside this increase in personnel, the ICE fiscal year budget included $373.5 million to “maintain the necessary infrastructure and technology along the Nation’s borders.”

Bolour’s paroled-in-place solution for these 11 million undocumented workers would allow the federal government to divert these funds, channeling a deficit funded by citizens into benefits for American citizens via universal healthcare or better public education.

Bolour maintains that by legalizing these immigrants, the government will be able to weed out what he called “the low-hanging fruit.”

“As it is, it’s a wide net and it’s not effective,” Bolour said. “We need a system to sift through everybody [who] can be legalized … then we spend money to deport criminals.”

It is important to note that the Trump administration is not the first to target undocumented workers. Rather, Trump’s attack on the working class builds on policies set forth by Presidents Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton (the progenitor of IRAIRA).

In fact, Obama has been labeled the “deporter-in-chief” by many immigration groups, as his administration was responsible for the physical removal of more than 2.5 million people — a figure that does not include those individuals who were turned away at the border or who left of their own volition. The Obama administration was responsible for more deportations than any other administration in U.S. history.

And yet, there was not the same fear felt by the immigrant community under the Obama administration.

Recently, reports of ICE raids have put whole communities on edge. Although ICE has issued statements claiming that these raids are business-as-usual, this cavalier bureaucratic attitude only seems to create more fear and confusion.

On Feb. 9, University of California Undocumented Legal Services Center sent out the following message:

ICE agents are targeting individuals with prior removal, or deportation, orders. We have also gotten reports that even individuals without prior orders of removal are being targeted. This includes people who do not have any criminal records. The reports describe that unmarked white vans are going through neighborhood, with agents targeting specific individuals for enforcement.

The message then urges affected students or their family members to contact their respective campus center attorneys.

Bolour said this fear is the true difference between the Obama and the Trump administration in regards to undocumented workers.

“Tyrants rule by creating this set of circumstances that create confusion, uncertainty and just panic,” Bolour said.

Trump Targets Muslims

In a different part of the immigrant community, this same panic spread on Jan. 28, when Trump announced yet another Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. Now infamously labeled  the “Muslim Ban,” this order refused entry to immigrants traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

However, the true terms of the executive order remained murky even to those enforcing it.

In conjunction with the executive order, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement, saying that it would immediately stop processing the benefits for immigrants from the aforementioned seven countries. These benefits included work permits, green cards and citizenship.

Shortly thereafter, Secretary John Kelly declared that green card holders were exempt from these restrictions and were going to be allowed back into the country.

“Well, I have a bunch of green card holders who are just confused whether to board a plane,” Bolour said. “They’re being refused boarding a plane wherever they are worldwide. So this element of confusion … was the immediate aftermath.”

While many have argued the inherent discrimination that belies this executive order, to Bolour, the legal issue of discrimination lies not with the executive order itself, but with the intent behind the executive order.

“I would say yes [it is discrimination], but it’s not because he’s attempting to deny a class of individuals from entering the country—that’s within his authority,” Bolour said. “The intent is there. The intent is: Muslim ban. But [Jan. 7] in court, the government attorney was going up and down swearing that ‘hey it’s not Muslim ban.’ But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

Bolour argued that at the most fundamental level, this executive order challenges the separation of church and state as laid out in the Constitution. Similarly, he argued that the order discriminates against individuals based upon their religion, which is prohibited in the Bill of Rights.

“So you have several issues,” Bolour said. “You have the religious ban issue [and] you have due process issues. If somebody is doing everything that they are supposed to do and suddenly they are prevented from getting a benefit, that’s a due process issue.”

Executive Orders Damage Society

As a result of the confusion generated by the implementation (or not) of the “Muslim ban,” Bolour shared some advice he gave to his clients.

“If someone’s going to come in, I’m advising them to come in as soon as they can,” Bolour said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what Trump’s going to do. If somebody wants to travel abroad, I still tell them only travel if you have to. Don’t travel for pleasure.”

Bolour was angry that he even had to suggest this advice.

“People should not feel fearful,” Bolour said. “People should be celebrating that they’re becoming U.S. citizens.”

“I have clients, business clients, that routinely travel overseas because they have meetings,” Bolour added. “Even if they’re not one of the seven stated countries — that’s the thing the element of fear — they’re still asking me, ‘Should I go? What if he adds more countries and what if I’m affected?’ That affects business life.”

Bolour recounted the chilling effect of  Trump’s “Muslim ban” on one of his clients, a student from Iran who applied for and was granted asylum and a green card. This student planned to celebrate his birthday in Puerto Vallarta later this month but canceled, even after everything had been paid for, because he was worried he was not going to be allowed back into the country.

“It may sound trivial to people but in America…we’re supposed to be certain,” said Bolour. “We’re supposed to know what’s going on. This is the only place in the world where political uncertainty has no basis, right? Because we’re supposed to have a stable set of institutions.”

However, there is a glimmer of hope on an otherwise bleak horizon.

In the Los Angeles field office of USCIS, paperwork from the seven “banned” countries is being processed normally. Applications for citizenship from countries such as Iran are being accepted, processed and approved. Other applications are being scheduled and processed normally. All the visas that had been canceled by the State Department were reinstated.

“But again, the element of uncertainty is at the whim of a circle of people,” Bolour said.

Lastly, Bolour suggested that Trump’s executive orders were not only problematic for immigrants, but also for the community as a whole.

“You don’t even have to be an immigrant or a green card holder, you can be born here and you are affected,” Bolour said. “He’s attacking the very fabric of American consciousness and society … where people don’t trust one another … That’s extremely destructive beyond the four years or the eight years or even 20 years…. It has created this atmosphere of paranoia, of fear.

“Trump’s regime will end. But the damage that it is doing to our society is going to prevail for many, many years.”