Our Statement: The “Remain in Mexico” Policy Leaves Survivors More Vulnerable to Violence

The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our overburdened and broken immigration system.

Lori Adams is the Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families.

Sanctuary for Families urges Congress to intervene to stop the Trump Administration from implementing its “Remain in Mexico” policy. The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our dysfunctional immigration system.

According to the plan, which DHS began to implement on January 25th, most refugees who reach the U.S.-Mexico border seeking protection in the United States will be required to stay in Mexico while they wait for their first hearing in a U.S. immigration court. 

The Impact

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen calls this a  “humanitarian approach” to address the crisis at the border, but there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable families will suffer under these new protocols. Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala often face violence and persecution so severe that it leaves them with no choice but to embark on a treacherous journey through Mexico to the U.S. Many of them are women and children fleeing gender-based harm. By requiring these families who have already proven “credible fear” to remain in Mexico while they await their immigration court date, we are putting families at risk of further violence.

The stated policy includes an exception for Mexican nationals, unaccompanied children, and refugees who can demonstrate that they are more likely than not to face persecution or torture in Mexico. In practice, however, it will be nearly impossible for migrants who have only been in Mexico for a short time to articulate a greater-than-50% likelihood of persecution or torture, simply due to the fact that such a determination requires knowledge of conditions throughout the country.

Chaos in the Courts

According to DHS, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will be implemented first at the San Ysidro port of entry which connects Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, CA. Rolling out this new policy at one of the busiest land border crossings in the world would be a logistical nightmare under normal circumstances but the Trump Administration’s decision to do so following the conclusion of the longest government shutdown in our country’s history is certain to cause chaos. Immigration courts across the country have been closed for the last month, including the non-detained court in San Diego. The result in San Diego is a backlog that has ballooned to over 800,000 pending immigration cases.

Beyond the case backlog, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will only add to the chaos at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border itself. Refugees will likely miss their court dates in the United States due solely to the logistical hurdles of transporting them across an international border and getting them to a courthouse in the United States in time for their hearings.

Congress Must Act

There is a crisis in the U.S. immigration system, but it is not the crisis that the Trump Administration has described in the context of his administration’s recent border proposals. Congress should demand an immediate halt to the “Remain in Mexico” policy and the “Migrant Protection Protocols” that followed. These policies violate our international and domestic law obligations to protect those who flee to our border seeking protection. The United States must return to the rule of law to ensure that we remain a safe haven for survivors of gender-based harm and others who flee to the U.S. for protection because they have no other options.

Sanctuary is Taking Action

Sanctuary for Families is a leading provider of immigration legal services for survivors of gender-based harm. We are based in New York City where many refugees, survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable immigrants, receive our life-saving services every day.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending two delegations of immigration attorneys to Tijuana where they will provide legal and humanitarian assistance to migrants, including survivors of gender-based harm, who will be disproportionally impacted by this new policy.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive updates from the border, and please consider donating if you would like to provide financial support to sustain this life-saving work.

Thank you for your support for Sanctuary for Families, and for the immigrant survivors of violence who rely on our services.

Gender Violence Survivors Seeking Asylum Need Our Protection

Last week, President Trump addressed the nation to warn of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” His administration’s rhetoric and immigration policies are endangering the lives of survivors of gender violence. Read our statement.

On Tuesday night, President Trump used his address to the nation to argue for a border wall that he says will make our nation safer. Sanctuary for Families believes that the President’s statement failed to address the deep-rooted issues in our immigration system and instead, focused on policies that would further harm and endanger refugees and other vulnerable immigrants, including survivors of gender-based violence.

At Sanctuary, we work with gender violence survivors, 70% of whom are immigrants. Many are seeking asylum due to extreme intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and/or death threats they experienced in their home countries. Some have been tricked or forced into the U.S. by traffickers. Some come directly to New York. Others have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, itself dangerous and re-traumatizing, and eventually, make it to New York where organizations like Sanctuary can help.

For those currently stuck on the Mexican side of the border, however, the consequences can be deadly. Due to the Administration’s new metering system, thousands of adults and children, most of whom are seeking asylum, will have to wait weeks, even months, before making their plea for protection in the U.S. Sleeping on streets or in over-crowded migrant shelters, their desperation and fear only increase, and they become more vulnerable to the kind of violence they fled in the first place.

To be clear, seeking asylum at any of our borders is not illegal. Turning asylum seekers away, however, is a cruel violation of international law. We need policies that protect survivors of gender violence seeking refuge within our borders and provide clear pathways to legal status, not ones that scapegoat immigrant communities and use their lives as political tools. To these ends, Sanctuary is taking action.

Every day, Sanctuary provides free high-quality legal representation to ensure that immigrant gender violence survivors receive the committed advocacy they need to present their best case for immigration status. Here in New York, we advocate for State legislation to better protect our immigrant communities and deepen our partnerships with fellow immigration agencies. Across the country, we partner with advocates to push for a functional immigration system and rational border policy.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served survivors of gender violence regardless of immigration status. As we enter the New Year, we reaffirm our long-held commitment to our immigrant communities both here in New York and across the border. Thank you for standing with us.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

 

A Call to Reject the Proposed Public Charge Rule

As the end of the public comment period approaches, we invite you to learn about the severity of the changes to the Public Charge rule and urge you to submit comments to DHS by December 10, 2018.

Sonia Mansoor is Manager of Public Benefits Legal Advocacy and Nabah Ikram is the Immigration Specialist at Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project. They are co-chairs of Sanctuary’s Public Charge Advocacy Subcommittee. 

Sanctuary for Families stands with immigrant survivors of violence in condemning the proposed changes to the “Public Charge” doctrine that will detrimentally impact the well-being and health of vulnerable communities including children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

As the public comment period ends tonight, we invite you to learn about the severity of these changes and urge you to join us in preventing the implementation of this heartless rule by submitting comments to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today.

WHAT IS PUBLIC CHARGE?

To enter the United States or to obtain lawful permanent residence, certain noncitizens have to demonstrate that they are unlikely to become a “public charge,” which currently refers to someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” On October 10, 2018, however, DHS published new provisions that broaden this definition to “someone who receives one or more public benefits.”

Currently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can deny adjustment to Legal Permanent Resident Status or admission to the United States to individuals who have received public cash assistance or institutionalization for long term care. Under these proposed changes, USCIS will also consider participation in the following programs in a public charge determination:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Low-income subsidies under Medicare Part D
  • Housing choice vouchers, project-based subsidies, and public housing ­­­­

The proposed regulation also adds criteria to the “totality of circumstances” evaluated in each determination and changes the weights attributed to certain “positive” and “negative” factors. Among the heavily-weighted negative factors are current or recent unemployment, current receipt of public benefits, and a lack of unsubsidized health insurance.

HOW DO THESE CHANGES IN THE PUBLIC CHARGE RULE RELATE TO ISSUES OF GENDER VIOLENCE?

While there are important exceptions to the proposed rule – including refugees, asylum applicants, victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes, VAWA self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles –  there is no guarantee that such exceptions will provide sufficient protection to vulnerable communities. At Sanctuary, we are seeing that a significant number of survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, confused by the new rule’s language and its arbitrary standards, are already cancelling critical public assistance benefits to which they may be legally entitled.

Lori Adams, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project (IIP), explained the risks that this new regulation poses to immigrant survivors and their families:

Poverty and homelessness are the high prices that many immigrant survivors of gender-based violence pay to escape abuse. At Sanctuary for Families, we see this firsthand with our clients, over 75% of whom are immigrants. Many survivors, often with small children, are afraid of being forced to return to dangerous and abusive situations due to lack of resources. The fear is that the Administration’s proposed “public charge” rule will discourage them from applying for public benefits and housing assistance.  They may, consequently, be faced with an impossible choice, between feeding their children or pursuing immigration status that could save their lives.

JOIN US IN TAKING ACTION NOW!

Sanctuary is committed to pushing back against the incremental erosion of the rights of immigrant survivors seeking protection in this country. Our Public Charge Advocacy Committee has been working with Cohen & Gresser LLP in developing desk aids and flyers for our clients and staff members that clarify whether someone of a particular immigration status would be deemed a public charge. Furthermore, the firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP drafted Sanctuary’s official comments on the Public Charge Rule for submission to the DHS.

Finally, our Survivor Leaders and staff members drafted and submitted individual and department-specific comments after being trained by members of Sanctuary’s Public Charge Advocacy Committee. Below are some of the comments our Survivor Leaders submitted to the DHS:

Submitter: Anonymous

I am a legal resident alien originally from the Dominican Republic. I am currently on disability benefits because of bipolar disorder. Previous to my status of disability I have worked since I was in Junior High School. Also, though I am not working at the moment, I am an active member of my church where I volunteer many hours. Also, I volunteer in my community helping fellow tenants understand their rights to prevent homelessness. Lastly, I am a mentor at Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization, and educate the community on domestic violence.

To assume that because a person has a need today that they will be forever a charge on the system is short sighted. Although I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1992 and am a survivor of domestic violence I have managed to raise two independent women. My oldest daughter graduated from George School and Haverford College; she also has a Master’s Degree from Middlebury College. My youngest daughter, who quit college (she was working on a Bachelors in Engineering at Syracuse University) has a good job in the retail industry.

I suspect that there are many people who are applying for entry to this country that fit this profile. I urge you to reconsider this decision especially in this country made by immigrants. Ultimately, the United States is the one that’s going to suffer as immigrants bring fresh ideas. Einstein was an immigrant! Remember him? Please remove this regulation.

Submitter: Guadalupe

I recommend the department security please take a moment and thinking about these families who receive some public assistance.

I am a mother of 3 children and work every day to clean houses and the food stamps help to have food on my table. My 2 older children was in the college and that benefit help me for they went to the college. If I did not take the benefit my children did not got the education because they needs to work and help me to pay the bills for my house.

This is not only my history. We are many families and work every day but the bills are so expensive in New York.

Please thinking about this families, Medicaid help to families for health care, and the other benefits is for food of the children.

Submitter: Deyanira

In my opinion the proposed regulation will hurt a lot of families because the people who apply for public assistance are low income and are in poverty. I work with the community and I know them. There are so many people who are immigrants and they didn’t apply for public benefits for themselves, but for their children. I work with Mixteca community, Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB), Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President, Community Education Council (CEC) of District 14, and also I am a Survivor Leader for Sanctuary for Families. I will be affected because I do not have any immigration status.

The public comment period is about to end, but you can still take action and help protect the rights of survivors of gender violence and their families. Submit a comment requesting the DHS to withdraw the proposed “Inadmissibility on public charge grounds” rule here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=USCIS-2010-0012-0001

Sanctuary secures largest NYS Office of Victims Services grant out of 61 competing service providers

Sanctuary will receive $4.5 million over 5 years in new funding to expand high-need areas of our legal services. Read to learn how these new funds will be used.

We are thrilled to share that earlier this fall, Sanctuary was awarded over $4.5 million in new funding, more than any other agency in New York, from the State Office of Victims Services (OVS). The grant, which will be disbursed over five years, is part of a larger pool of $17 million which OVS is distributing to 61 leading victim assistance programs to support the hiring of attorneys who will assist crime victims with civil legal matters.

With this new funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire 9 staff members to support high-need areas of our legal services.

Immigration

Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project serves the highest volume of clients of any project within our Legal Center. Since President Trump came into office, the challenges our immigration attorneys have faced on behalf of our clients have been escalating on a nearly daily basis. Over the last two years, our staff have experienced a drastic increase in the amount of time and resources needed in order to effectively represent each client. These changes have resulted in overwhelming case loads and an increasingly long waitlist.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire two staff attorneys and two project assistants to join our Immigration Intervention Project.

Campus Gender Violence

Sanctuary initially addressed the interlinked problem of sexual assault and gender violence on college campuses by launching the Campus Advocates Project in 2014 in partnership with Columbia University. The project brought resources and advocacy for victims of sexual assault. Recognizing the need to expand these services to higher education institutions across New York City, Sanctuary launched the Campus Gender Violence Project in 2017. With just two attorneys working on this project, however, and a growing need for legal consultation and representation on behalf of survivors of campus sexual or intimate partner violence, we are excited to expand this program.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new staff attorney to join our Campus Gender Violence Project.

Legal Helpline

Sanctuary’s Legal Helpline receives approximately 700 calls per year by survivors of gender-based violence seeking legal assistance – some are calling to learn about their legal rights and possible recourses while others are facing looming courts dates and are in the midst of litigation without adequate representation. Currently, two staff attorneys with caseloads of their own, with the support of a project assistant with additional outreach responsibilities, manage this helpline. Given the high demand for legal information, advocacy, and representation, Sanctuary urgently needed to increase staffing.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new Legal Helpline/Family Law staff attorney and a Legal Helpline project assistant to better meet both the requests survivors present and to identify the additional array of needs through thorough assessment.

Divorce

Sanctuary’s Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project (EJP) advocates on behalf of economically-disadvantaged domestic violence and trafficking victims in a wide-range of cases. EJP’s goal is to ensure that our clients and their children survive financially in the short-term and receive economic and housing stability in the long term, while severing their legal ties to their abusers. For survivors of gender violence, many of whom struggle financially, this kind of multifaceted legal representation is critical. Over this last year, however, staffing changes have revealed a need for additional support.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new staff attorney to focus on uncontested divorces and a project assistant to join our Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project.

Considering the 19% rise in the number of domestic violence police reports the NYPD saw between 2016 and 2017, the increasing reluctance of undocumented gender violence victims to report abuse for fear of deportation, and rapidly changing policies around sexual assault on college campuses, this OVS grant could not come at a better time.

We thank Governor Cuomo and the Office of Victims Services for their support and commitment to ending gender-based violence in New York, and look forward to seeing the impact this funding will have in extending more services to victims in need.