Published January 6, 2016

In the summer of 2014, thousands of individuals from Central America showed up at the U.S./Mexico border seeking refuge in the U.S.    Escaping extreme poverty, a breakdown in governmental institutions, domestic violence and gang warfare, individuals from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala made the journey to our border to avail of our nation’s refugee protection laws.  In theory, all of these individuals were, and are, given access to our nation’s legal protections and system of assessment.   Some were successful at meeting applicable legal standards and have been allowed to stay in the U.S. as “asylees”.  Others were not, including some who had been released into the U.S. while awaiting the scheduling of their final hearings but failed to appear as (supposedly) instructed.   It is this group of denied applicants, all of whom technically are the subject of a final removal order, that are the targets of this latest immigration enforcement initiative, with subjects being arrested and detained pending deportation.

On the one hand, the vast majority of these individuals are escaping poverty, violence and/or awful living conditions in their countries – none of which, by themselves, necessarily constitute a legal basis upon which refugee protection can be conferred.  On the other hand, if an individual can prove that he/she is the subject of persecution by their government, or a group their government cannot or will not control, AND that such persecution is premised on the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs or social group, then a case for asylee status (refugee protection) – and a path to resident status, may be viable.

The current immigration enforcement initiative is premised on the assumption that each of the individuals being targeted are the subject of a final deportation order and entered only after each has been afforded a fair and complete hearing to have their case for refugee protection heard.  Anyone failing to appear as scheduled, and thus the subject of an in absentia order of removal, are themselves presumed to be at fault for missing court, according to our system’s foundational principles.   Furthermore, this administration wants to send a clear message to others throughout Central America, and perhaps the rest of the world (with so much turbulence taking place in so many parts of the world), that individuals cannot expect just to show up at our border and be given a free pass to live here, at least not without a legal basis to remain.

Critics of the current immigration enforcement operation place the fault on our government, since not everyone has had a complete, exhaustive opportunity for a full hearing on their claim for refugee status.   Given that these refugee applicants are not entitled to free legal counsel, and that there is a scarcity of volunteer attorneys to assist, indeed many of these individuals’ cases were not given proper presentation.   Further, critics allege that many of the individuals failing to appear for final hearings were not provided proper legal notice of their hearing time and place.

Sadly, many family units now getting established in the U.S. may indeed end up being torn apart as a result of this operation.  Unfortunately though, the mere wish of a family unit to be left to live in peace in the U.S. and after escaping an impoverished, perhaps violent homeland, does not, in and of itself, provide enough of a legal basis to remain in the U.S.  Otherwise,  it would seem most of the rest of the world may very well have a right to knock on our nation’s door and be let in.

In the meantime, federal court legal challenges by many of those fighting deportation have yielded some temporary victories and stays of removal/deportation due to alleged legal shortcomings in the way their cases were processed, presented, and/or considered.  Developments will continue to be reported here.

PUBLISHED January 6, 2016– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2016, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois