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December 20, 2017

2017's Top 10 Immigration Stories

By Kevin R. Johnson

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf.]

Here is ImmigrationProf's Top 10 Immigration Stories for 2017, a memorable year indeed:

1.   President Donald TrumpPresident Trump's fiery immigration rhetoric and tough immigration enforcement policies unquestionably were the biggest immigration story in the United States in 2017.  It is hard to know where to start, from the travel bans to immigration enforcement executive orders to the end of DACA to many statements and initiatives greatly increasing fear in the immigrant communities.  President Trump's aggressive immigration measures might only have been topped by his tough, often caustic, immigration rhetoric.  The good news is that the Trump administration's immigration measures have revitalized and inspired the immigrant rights movement.

2.   The End of DACA.   After months of speculation, the Trump administration, in an announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in September began the phasing out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Obama's signature immigration initiative.  The future of DACA recipients was thrown into disarray. There were protests of the end of DACA across the country and many calls for congressional action to address the many deficiencies with the immigration laws.

3.   The Pardon of Joe Arpaio  In August, President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio After a criminal contempt trial, a U.S. district court had found Arpaio to have intentionally refused to comply with court orders that he not engage in unlawful racial profiling of Latina/os in Arizona, U.S citizens as well as immigrants. In continued violation of numerous court orders, Arpaio continued his discriminatory law enforcement practices and even had an investigator tail the wife of the district court judge who ordered the injunction. Not surprisingly, the pardon was widely criticized.

4.   Chief Justice of California Criticizes ICE Operations at the California Courthouses.   In March, Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye expressed concerns with federal immigration enforcement operations at the California courthouses in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly.  Her specific concerns centered on "reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests."   California's courageous Chief Justice received a less than friendly response from the Attorney General and DHS Secretary.

5.   Defense Verdict in Kate Steinle Case.  The tragedy of Kate Steinle's death on the San Francisco waterfront became a front page immigration football for, among others, President Trump.  In November, a San Francisco jury reached a verdict in the trial of a homeless undocumented immigrant in the fatal shooting of Steinle.  The jury found for the defense on all counts but a firearms charge.  The verdict provoked much discussion and debate. President Donald Trump, who had previously talked about the Steinle case as an example of why undocumented immigration was out of control, condemned the verdict.  He tweeted that the not guilty verdict in the Steinle murder trial was "disgraceful."  Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen who had been released from a San Francisco jail and had previously been deported many times, had been charged with murder.

6.   The Supreme Court and Immigration.   The Supreme Court's 2016 Term ended with a whimper in its remaining immigration cases.  On the last day of the Term, the Court agreed to review the travel ban decisions in the 2017 Term (a grant that it later dismissed as moot in the wake of the issuance of a new travel ban by President Trump).   The Court also decided Hernandez v. Mesa, which involved a cross border shooting by U.S. immigration enforcement officer of a young Mexican national.  The Court in a per curiam opinion vacated and remanded the case to the court of appeals to consider whether the family could sue for violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Last but not least, on the last day of the Term, the Court ordered reargument in two immigration cases that were re-argued in October -- Jennings v. Rodriguez  (reviewing the legality of detention of immigrants without a bond hearing) and Sessions v. Dimaya (reviewing a Ninth Circuit decision, written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, striking down a criminal removal provision as unconstitutionally vague).  Justice Kagan later recused herself in the Jennings case.

The Court earlier in the 2016 Term had decided four decisions touching on immigration, with the decisions generally favoring the immigrant:

1.  Sessions v. Morales-Santana (invalidating gender distinctions favoring women over men based on antiquated on stereotypes in derivative citizenship laws).

2.  Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions  (interpreting criminal removal provision and finding in favor of noncitizen convicted of a crime).

3.  Maslenjak v.. United States  (finding in favor of a U.S. citizen in a denaturalization case).

4.  Lee v. United States  (finding in favor if immigrant in ineffective assistance of counsel case based on erroneous advice on immigration consequences of guilty plea).

 7.       Sanctuary resistance.  As President Trump's immigration initiatives were put into place, many state and local governments resisted and sought to protect immigrant residents.  California in fact became a "sanctuary" state.   The Golden State made national news when, in a rebuke to President Trump's expanded immigration enforcement measures, Governor Jerry Brown today signed "sanctuary state" legislation, vastly limiting who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question, and transfer at the request of federal immigration authorities.  Senate Bill 54, which takes effect in January, has been hailed as part of a broader effort to protect more than 2.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the state. The law was met with swift denunciations from Trump administration officials and became the focus of a national debate over how far states and cities can go to prevent their officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.  Here is my take on SB 54.  A number of states, including New York, Hawaii, and others also have been resisting the Trump administration's aggressive immigration enforcement initiatives.

8.   RAISE Act.  Congress has debated comprehensive immigration reform for years.  This summer, President Trump endorsed immigration reform in the name of the RAISE Act, S. 1720, which was introduced in the Senate by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA).   The RAISE Act would drastically reshape American immigration.  The Act would cut the annual immigrant admissions by one-half by eliminating all family sponsorship beyond spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and would reduce various family categories from 226,000 green cards to 88,000.  The cuts to family-based immigration would reduce immigration from, among other nations, Mexico, China, and India. An analysis by the Migration Policy Institute looks critically at the RAISE Act.  Besides dramatically reducing family-based immigration, the RAISE Act would replace the current selection scheme with a points system in which applicants would earn points based on "merit."  The bill also seeks to eliminate the Diversity Visa program and further caps refugee admissions, cutting back lawful immigration by 100,000 a year.   In total, the RAISE Act would lead to an overall reduction of legal immigration by 50 percent over the next decade. That would exacerbate the current problem of undocumented immigration.  

9.   Human Trafficking Deaths in San Antonio News in July of a tragedy in Texas offered a frightening glimpse of the horrors of modern human trafficking.  Outside a San Antonio Walmart morning, authorities found eight bodies and 30 undocumented immigrants in the trailer of a truck.  The victims of trafficking were severely injured from overheating inside. A ninth person later died in hospital.  A federal complaint was filed alleging that James Matthew Bradley Jr. unlawfully transported aliens in violation of law resulting in the deaths. Upon conviction, the offense is punishable by life imprisonment or death, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.  Despite increased border enforcement, the smuggling of migrants into the United States continues to be a problem and a lucrative enterprise for some.  For many years, death on the border (and here and here) as migrants attempt to make the journey to the United States have been commonplace.  Increased immigration enforcement measures have re-routed migrants through deserts and mountains where migrants are more likely to die.  Human smuggling has grown as a business enterprise.  

10.   A Family Slave?  In a gripping family storyAlex Tizon, who passed away this past March, wrote in The Atlantic about his "family's slave," Lola, who was brought to the United States from the Philippines.   Tizon tells about Eudocia Tomas Pulido called "Lola," who his mother inherited from her father. Lola,  a modern-day slave, worked as a domestic servant.  As reported in one news story: "The article drew mixed reactions, with some labeling him complicit to the abuse of Lola-how was it allowed to go on for so long? Others acknowledged that the story was neither about glorification nor justification, but to give Lola the voice she was made to feel she never deserved. . . ."