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Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting – Notes from Program April 23, 2017 – Immigration Clients’ Challenges and What Monthly Meetings Can Do

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Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting – Notes from Program April 23, 2017

 

Immigration Clients’ Challenges and What Monthly Meetings Can Do

 

After a brief break for refreshments, Friends reconvened for the planned program by Quaker immigration lawyer and Frankford MM co-clerk Joe Hohenstein on “Clients’ Challenges and What Monthly Meetings Can Do.”

 

Joe, who specializes in deportation and family immigration issues, spoke to the varying status of immigrants, who include those who have legal status/authorization, those who arrive without documentation, and those who enter with visas that are now expired. A particularly well-known group are the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA/Dreamers), who have temporary protected status; if they have no criminal interactions, their residency gets renewed fairly easily.  Another special group, “Haitian TPS” is going to be eliminated in 2018, as the Trump administration avers the current situation in Haiti is unrelated to the earthquake.

 

Philadelphia-area detainees are held in the York County and Pike County Prisons. These are being stretched beyond their capacity; some detainees are being transferred to Ohio and elsewhere.

 

An immigration violation differs from a criminal violation in that those accused of crimes are granted the right to an appointed attorney and not to incriminate oneself, while immigrants are not. Currently, expanded enforcement is taking in five times as many people as happened under Obama. Obama had chosen not to prioritize three groups—people who were arrested for crimes without a final conviction and don’t have legal status; anybody who has already been deported before; anybody who no longer has legal status. Obama’s administration also only authorized detention of specific people charged with committing crimes, not the people around them, Now, ICE will question and take others they find in the location raided.

 

Immigrants used to be able to request the due process of being seen by an immigration judge. Those who have been here less than two years are put into an expedited removal process that doesn’t give them their days in court.

 

If you do get to be seen, ICE imposes a bond that has to be paid in full and is often extremely high. Often, the immigrants fall victim to predatory lenders. In the event of an infraction in the meantime, the bond gets canceled and re-imposed.  The lowest amount a judge can set is $1,500. The length of time individuals that have to wait to stand trial has also increased. Although these cases mostly involve “civil detention,” in effect they are being run out of prisons and are identical to criminal detention.

 

A recent court decision was handed down regarding Leesport’s “Family Detention Center,” a space designed to hold mostly women (sometimes both parents) together with their children. The more common practice is to split the father off to a regular detention facility. There is a “Special Immigration Child Status”—if one parent abandons the child and the other is in custody, the child is supplied with dependency services and has the right to ask for permanent residency. Legal minor residents are often jailed alongside their mothers.

 

There is a facility especially for children by themselves, rampant with abuse. All this has happened without a single change to the current law (which even under Obama was never reformed to be fair to immigrants).

 

When Trump took office, the number of immigration judges lagged 100 behind need, and with the huge increase in detentions since then the problem will only mushroom.

 

The administration’s efforts to push through a travel ban are still moving forward under slightly different cover, but still contain criteria clearly based on religion. Challenges to these practices and to expedited removal orders—both forms of enforcement that deprive individuals of due process--need to come from the court rather than the legislature. There has never been a Republican consensus on how to handle immigration; the vocal Tea Party minority derailed an otherwise popular immigration reform measure some years back.

 

Philadelphia is a “Sanctuary City,” or more appropriately, a “Fourth Amendment City”—which means making certain that individuals who are not charged with crimes go free, and not having local police enforcement assist ICE with information or in other ways. Two current candidates for District Attorney, Larry Krasner and Joe Khan, favor the Mayor’s above policies, which Joe Hohenstein also endorses.

 

The current harsh immigration practices, executed without due process, destabilize communities; treat victims of crimes as if they were themselves criminal; and rip away people who were the economic mainstay of their families.

 

Probable cause is still required for ICE to stop a person or enter their property. If a person has no ID available, it is best to say nothing apart from explicitly mentioning one’s need for a lawyer. To take someone in they would have to hear or know that that person was not a citizen.

 

Joe indicated that he would share follow-up information with Friends in the Quarter, and called Friends’ attention to a key local organization (affiliated with a number of faith communities) that is fighting for immigration justice, The New Sanctuary Movement (sanctuaryphiladelphia.org).

 

--Submitted by Sara Palmer, recording clerk

 

Note: Any errors are mine. Corrections would be most welcome.

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