Whether as part of the government shutdown negotiations or through other legislative efforts, Congress can make a real difference in the lives of immigrants a number of way. Here I've outlined five effective steps that can be taken:
1. Ensure judicial independence
Congress should make the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) — which oversees the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals — an independent Article 1
They have also attempted to alter the law on the right to a bond hearing
, duress exceptions
and access to asylum for victims of domestic violence
. It is unprecedented in our democratic system for the executive branch of government to exercise so much control over the Judicial branch.
Congress can also take independent action to eliminate the case completion quota
so judges don’t feel pressured to rush through cases that require time to ensure the respondent has their due process rights protected . They can also pass other legislation to ensure judges have the freedom to effectively and efficiently manage their dockets.
2. End prosecutions of asylum seekers
3. Protect domestic violence victims
In response to the former Attorney General Sessions decision in Matter of A-B-
Congress should stand up for domestic violence victims and designate them as qualifying for asylum under ‘‘particular social group’’ and/or “political opinion."
Congress has done this before for victims of forced abortion and sterilization
. As a result of Matter of A-B-
many women we work with at the Migrant Center have been denied protection and face imminent deportation back into the hands of their abusers, where there is a high probability they will be beaten, raped, and possibly killed.
4. Protect family unity and well-being
Congress can put an end to all family separation, not only for young children from their parents, but also end family separation for children 18 and older, siblings, spouses, and others. If we are a nation that values families, we should work to preserve the integrity of the family.
They can also pass legislation protecting the parent or sponsor of unaccompanied children so that the administration does not deport them while the child is going through immigration court proceedings. Fear of deportation has made some sponsors hesitant to come forward and has increased the time children remain locked up.
Additionally, Congress should stop the administration from charging parents with smuggling their children under 8 U.S. Code § 1324.
Congress can pass a law clarifying that bringing a minor child with you does not constitute smuggling, thereby clarifying that we are not a country that penalizes parents and children for wanting to be together.
5. Eliminate unjustified detention
Congress should ensure that detention is only used when necessary. That should be done after an individualized determination that a person is a flight risk or a danger to the community. First, to protect children, Congress can pass legislation enshrining the detention limits and other protections of the Flores Settlement Agreement
that the administration is currently in the process of dismantling. Second, Congress can end detention bed quotas, which provide an incentive to imprison immigrants regardless of necessity.
Third, Congress can ensure ICE is held accountable for making appropriate decisions by increasing transparency in decision making. Legislation is needed to require that ICE provide written notice within two weeks of release requests to both detainees and their counsel of record with an explanation of the basis for the denial, a practice they very frequently do not. It is a basic human right, and a fundamental constitutional right, for a person to know why the U.S. government is taking away their liberty.
Fourth, Congress should also grant the right to a bond hearing for arriving aliens, those who present themselves at a Port of Entry, so that there is judicial oversight of ICE decision-making and all individuals are treated equally before the law (non-arriving aliens already have the right to a bond hearing, although this law is currently under review
by the Department of Justice).
Lastly, lawmakers should also look at ways to re-initiate the case management program
and otherwise ensure that everyone is held in the least restrictive manner possible. The case management program has proven to very effective at ensuring appearance at immigration hearings by connecting immigrants to services that help them navigate the complexities of immigration court and help them settle in as they await their hearing.
Sara Ramey is an immigration attorney and the executive director at the Migrant Center for Human Rights in San Antonio, Texas. The views in this article are not intended to reflect the official position of the organization.