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Immigration Raids Cause Fear Among Immigrant Communities

The recent deportation raids targeting immigrants and refugees from Central America have caused hysteria and panic among immigrant communities.

Rumors have been circulating of immigrant officials taking families from churches and schools thus prompting people not to leave their houses.

While these rumors may not at all be true, they came about after President Barack Obama ordered the deportation of asylum seekers from Central America especially those who have been issued final removal orders by the immigration courts either because their asylum petition was denied or they did not file any at all. However, even as immigration officials say that they mainly target the undocumented, these rounds of deportation clearly has caused fear and panic even to those who have papers and have the right to stay in the United States.

At the start of the year, the first large-scale effort by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to deport families who fled the violence caused by gangs and drug syndicates in Central America rounded up 121 individuals. They now fear that they will be separated from their loved ones and taken from places that they now consider as homes as deportations continue.

ICE agents have reportedly rounded up houses at wee hours in the morning, only giving about five minutes for fathers, mothers and children to gather their belongings before they were made to board ICE vehicles.

Over 150 members of Congress, and many human rights advocates and immigration lawyers have expressed their concern over what has happened.

Immigrant advocates argue that those migrants should be treated as refugees with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), not illegal immigrants. The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely like in cases of ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war), an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic and other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

During a designated period, individuals who are TPS beneficiaries or who are found preliminarily eligible for TPS upon initial review of their cases are not removable from the United States, many obtain an employment authorization document (EAD) and may be granted travel authorization.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) condemned the raids and called it an unconscionable move against the vulnerable populations and something that essentially abrogates our legal obligations to provide protection to refugees.

“Our laws protect asylum seekers crossing the border from being prosecuted for illegal entry, but the government refuses to acknowledge that these mothers and children have fled from uncontrollable violence and need asylum protection,” said AILA President Victor Nieblas Pradis.

The United States is obliged to recognize valid claims for asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. This obligation was codified and expanded with the passing of the Refugee Act by the United States Congress.

The lack of transparency and due process in these recent raids was also underscored by Pradis saying “since these plans came to light, AILA and its partners have been pleading with the administration to be more transparent about how it will conduct the raids and to work with us to ensure that no one is wrongly deported.”

“Traumatized families who may not have access to legal counsel or understand their rights and responsibilities under our nation’s asylum laws could be sent to their deaths.”

TPS Designation for Philippines

The Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to designate a foreign country for temporary protected status (TPS) due to conditions in the country such as an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters and other extraordinary conditions that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely.

Once the designation is made, TPS grants eligible nationals of the TPS country who are in the U.S. a temporary, humanitarian form of relief from deportation during the designated period and allows them to obtain work authorization and travel documents. It does not however lead to permanent residence status. Once granted TPS, the beneficiary cannot be detained by the DHS on the basis of his immigration status in the US unless he becomes ineligible or the country loses the designation.

Efforts to designate the Philippines for TPS have been made. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land, affected over 7 million people in the Philippines. Over 5,000 lives have been lost and over 4 million people displaced.

At least three U.S. Senators, namely, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Benjamin Cardin, and Senator Bob Menendez have submitted a request to the DHS to designate the Philippines for TPS. Other groups such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the NY Legal Assistance Group have also sent similar requests.

According to them, requiring the Philippines to reabsorb its nationals from abroad, many of whom may have lost their homes, would impose a great burden on the rescue and restoration efforts in the country. TPS would provide a safe haven for those who are reluctant to return to potentially dangerous situations. It would also allow Filipinos in the U.S. to work and support their families in the Philippines who were impacted by the typhoon.

Eligible nationals of a country designated for TPS are also allowed to apply for nonimmigrant status, file for adjustment of status based on an immigrant petition and apply for any other immigration benefits or protection. The applicant must however still meet the basic requirements for other benefits sought.

To be eligible for TPS, the foreign national must meet the basic requirements, namely: that he is a national of a country designated for TPS, or a person without nationality who last habitually resided in the designated country; that he files for TPS status during the initial registration period or re-registration period or he meets the requirements for late initial filing during any extension; that he has been continuously physically present in the U.S. since the effective date of the designation; and that he has been continuously residing in the U.S. since the date specified in the designation.

Those who have been convicted of any felony or two or more misdemeanors committed in the U.S, or are found to be inadmissible to the U.S. based on grounds listed in INA section 212(a), including non-waivable criminal and security-related grounds, or are subject to any of the mandatory bars to asylum are not eligible for TPS. Those who fail to meet the initial or late initial registration requirements or fail to meet the continuous physical presence and continuous residence requirements are also ineligible for TPS.

Registration for TPS is made on Form I-821. It must be filed with Form I-765, application for Employment Authorization even if the applicant does not want an employment authorization document.

The decision to designate the Philippines for TPS lies with the executive branch of the federal government. Congress does not have to vote on it although members of Congress may make the request to the President. The decision ultimately rests with the President and his agencies.

Countries currently designated for TPS are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria.

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