The Houston Coalition Against Hate (HCAH) joins many other communities around the country in condemning the message of white supremacist groups this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that they engendered.

We join the many voices around the nation in denouncing the hatred we saw on display, recognizing that this tragedy is not an isolated incident, but rather the manifestation of centuries of systemic violence, racism, and anti-Semitism in this country. We send our condolences to the families of Heather Heyer, Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates, and we hold in our hearts those who were injured while standing up to injustice.

What happened in Charlottesville can serve as a teachable moment for Houston’s residents and leaders. As residents of one of the most diverse cities in the nation, we are proud of our city and our country’s diversity. At times like these, we must speak up, call out, and stand united against cruelty, bigotry and hate. We know that Houston is stronger when all of our communities feel safe in the expression of their unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds and we are committed to ensuring that Houston is an inclusive and welcoming city.

The Houston Coalition Against Hate is a network of community-based organizations in Houston that have come together to collectively address incidents of bias, hate, discrimination and violence against Houstonians because of their religion, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, and immigration status.

Signatories:

Alliance for Compassion and Tolerance

American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

Anti-Defamation League – Southwest Region

The Asia Society

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston

The Chinese Community Center

Council on American Islamic Relations – Texas

Daya, Inc.

Emgage

Holocaust Museum Houston

Houston Endowment

Houston GLBT Political Caucus

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative*

Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston

Justice For Our Neighbors Houston

Migrant Rights Collective

The Montrose Center

My Brothers Keeper (MBK) Houston

OCA-Greater Houston

The Rothko Chapel

Stardust Fund

The Simmons Foundation

Texas Organizing Project

United We Dream – Houston

University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

*The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative is a member of the Coalition Against Hate, which came together in part as a result of the Welcoming Houston recommendations. 

Members of Houston’s legal services community – both non-profit organizations that serve low-income immigrants and members of the private bar – oppose SB4, which was signed by Governor Abbott on Sunday, May 7th and will go into effect on September 1, 2017. Punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” was one of the Governor’s “emergency items” for the 2017 legislative session.
At its core, SB4 will lead to racial profiling and the detention and deportation of long-standing members of our Texas community. Specifically, the bill:

  • Prohibits any local jurisdiction or campus police department (both private and public) from adopting, enforcing or endorsing any policy that “prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.”
  • Requires all local jurisdictions to comply with ICE detainers, despite the fact that detainers have been found by federal court to be unlawful and are acknowledged by the federal government to be voluntary.
  • Creates civil, financial penalties for local jurisdictions or campus police departments who fail to comply with these policies.

It is important to note that immigration law is a federal, civil matter, and is in no way the jurisdiction of local law enforcement or local jurisdictions. As has been argued by many members of local law enforcement agencies and advocates, SB4 will erode trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

SB4 Will Lead to Increased Detention and Deportation of our Neighbors

The greater Houston region is also home to the third largest population of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. – estimated at 575,000, or nearly one-third of the region’s immigrant population (compared to 28% nationwide). Under President Trump’s expanded immigration enforcement priorities, all of the undocumented members of our community are at risk of detention and deportation. SB4 will only exacerbate this process as local officials are empowered to inquire about immigration status and then refer individuals to ICE for detention and eventual deportation. This will have a dramatic impact on Houston’s local economy – 32% of the labor force and 42% of the self-employed population is foreign-born – and social fabric, from school enrollment to family stability.

SB4 Will Reduce Access to Legal Representation and Due Process

We estimate that local service providers currently serve only 20% of low-income immigrant clients who are eligible for any type of immigration legal services. This number is much lower when it comes to representation for detained immigrants in removal proceedings (deportation).
It is well documented that detention dramatically decreases an individual’s access to legal counsel. Indeed, from 2007-2012, 69% of non-detained respondents in the Houston Immigration Court were represented as opposed to just 13% of detained respondents. Neither is a good figure, but the representation rates for detained individuals is dismal.

Studies have shown that immigrants who are represented are much more likely to win relief than those who go without representation. A 2014 study by the Stanford Law School found that detained immigrants with representation are three times more likely to win their deportation case than those without attorneys. For asylum-seeking women and children, the odds of winning an asylum case increases fourteen-fold with legal representation. Having a good immigration lawyer is the key factor in being able to establish a right to remain in the United States. This has been proven true particularly in the unaccompanied minor context. While the vast majority cases initially filed in the Houston immigration Court in FY2016 are still pending, less than 1% of represented cases resulted in removal, whereas 99% of unrepresented cases resulted in removal.

SB4 Empowers Domestic Abusers and Human Traffickers

It is well-documented that domestic abusers and traffickers routinely manipulate their victims by threatening to have them deported if they call the police. A survivor might therefore face the impossible “choice” of risking separation from her young children and forfeiting custody to her abuser upon deportation, or continuing to endure life threatening violence at home.  Abusers also commonly hold proof of their victims’ lawful immigration status hostage in order to keep them silent.  Citing immigrants’ growing mistrust of police, Houston Police Department cited a 42% reduction in rape reported from Hispanics from January to March 2017 compared to the same period last year.

Regardless of any carve-outs, when local police and federal immigration functions are indistinguishable to immigrants, police become the unwitting accomplices of abusers and traffickers in creating a climate of fear for the most vulnerable among us. Abusers and traffickers are often recidivists and engage in other criminal activity as well.  Law enforcement officers rely on victims and witnesses to provide critical, firsthand information to help solve crimes that afflict all members of our communities.  Knowing this, Congress created protections for victims in the Violence Against Women Act and Trafficking Victims Protection Act to incentivize immigrant cooperation with law enforcement. SB4 directly undermines their intent.  We are all less safe when immigrants are too afraid to come forward, or are swiftly deported and unable to provide eyewitness testimony or access their rights under federal law.

The undersigned stand opposed to SB4 and its chilling effects on due process and public safety.

SIGNED*
United We Dream Houston
BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers)
Texas Organizing Project
Justice for our Neighbors Houston
Bonding Against Adversity
Daya Inc.
Mi Familia Vota
EmergeUSA-TX
Tahirih Justice Center
Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Living Hope Wheelchair Association
Migrant Rights Collective
SEIU Texas
Chinese Community Center
Muslim Bar Association of Houston
Mexican American Bar Association
ACLU of Texas
OCA-Greater Houston
Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO

State Representative Gene Wu
Andrea Guttin, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Kate Vickery, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Geoffrey A. Hoffman, Director UHLC Immigration Clinic
Hania Luna, Tahirih Justice Center
Heidi Tso, Chinese Community Center
Teresa Messer, Law Office of Teresa Messer
Deborah Chen, OCA-Greater Houston

Marisol Valero Torres
Laila Nabi
Erika J. Lindberg
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Coty Meibeyer
Joy Green, Esq.
Salma H. Khan
Elizabeth Tran
Dalia Castillo-Granados
AJ Durrani
Kelli King-Jackson
Dr. Nusrat Ameen
Yamilet Aguilar
Kristin Zipple-Shedd, JD/MSW
Kathy Kraiza
Sanjay Bapat
Doug Salisbury
Meha Gargi
Robert H. Etnyre, Jr.
David Rusk
Michael Ballard
Hilary Greene
Jane Langdell Robinson
Neal Sarkar
Cesar G. Leyva
Alisa Lipski
Adam Milasincic
Mark Holden
Rey Flores
Matthew Cummins
Amar Raval
Vanessa Hernandez
Edgar Hernandez
L. Jaimes
Joseph Y. Ahmad
David Martinez
S. Mendez
Jared Tyler
A. Mendez
S. Moreno
Nino Moreno
Murtaza F. Sutarwalla, Esq.
Saad Khan
Sophia Bajwa, Esq.
Jason E. Beesinger
Razwana Fazil
Rehan Alimohammad
Christian Menefee

P&M Law
AZA
Law Offices of Midhat Syed

*Individuals are not signing on behalf of their institutions/organization. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.

Houston is the most diverse city in the nation and nearly one in four Houstonians is foreign-born. Houstonians and our elected leaders recognize that our diversity of culture, language, and ethnicities make Houston a better place; yet SB4 – which Governor Abbot signed into law yesterday –  targets our diverse communities and makes us less safe by proposing civil and criminal penalties for cities like Houston that have chosen to prioritize protect our communities instead of enforcing federal immigration law.

Community Safety

SB4 penalizes cities and counties for setting policies that prevent officials from asking about immigration status – this is a mistake. The Houston Police Department has long recognized that policing requires community support and assistance. Houston’s policy generally prohibits officers from asking about immigration status and has been in place for over two decades in recognition of the disastrous impact on police-community trust when police are perceived to be acting as immigration enforcers.

Trust is already beginning to erode as national anti-immigrant rhetoric has spiked deportation fears among immigrant communities, resulting in a sharp decrease in crime reporting.  Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo recently announced that the number of Hispanics reporting crime has sharply decreased compared to the same period last year: rape reporting is down 42.8% and violent crime reporting is down 13%.  Unfettered crime can quickly spread across neighborhoods, not distinguishing immigration status. SB4 will force Houston to change our community-building policies by threatening fines and even the removal of elected officials.

Police rely on victims and witnesses to help solve crimes that afflict all members of our communities.  We are all less safe when immigrants are too afraid to come forward, or are deported and unable to provide eyewitness testimony. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is “concerned that Senate Bill 4 could limit our ability to address a myriad of local safety priorities – such as rape, murder and human trafficking to elder abuse and the challenges of mental health in our criminal justice system.” Houston’s Police Chief agrees that the local enforcement of immigration law diverts limited resources needed to prevent crimes.

Victims of domestic and gender-based violence are likely to feel the impact of this law most severely, as it will be another barrier among the many that immigrant women face in reporting crime. In addition to fearing retribution by violent partners and navigating an unfamiliar system, immigrant victims will worry that they or someone else in their household might be deported as a result of calling the police.

SB4 does not create exceptions to the policy for domestic violence shelters, nor does it exclude universities, pre-kindergarten schools, homeless shelters, and other sensitive locations. The national anti-immigrant sentiment has already led some Houston families to keep their children home from school and to avoid going to the doctor out of fear.

Increased Detention

In addition to the many unintended consequences, SB4 intends to increase the number of individuals transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. When someone is apprehended by ICE, they are held in a detention facility while their case goes before a judge, unless they are eligible for and can pay a bond.

It is well documented that detention makes it more difficult to get legal representation. In the Houston area’s three detention centers, a mere 13% of detained persons were represented compared with two thirds of those not in detention. This year, only 3% of detained cases were granted relief from deportation. This is not because of a lack of relief, but a lack of counsel  – studies have shown that having an attorney makes it three times and up to fourteen times more likely to win a case. Unfortunately, only three of Houston’s 20 non-profit legal services providers have the resources to provide even limited representation to Houston’s three (soon to be four) detention centers.

Constitutionality

This law raises numerous constitutional issues and it is likely that lawsuits will soon be filed. After Arizona passed a “show me your papers” law in 2010, a federal judge struck down parts of the law since only Congress has power to create immigration law. Legal experts say this problem exists with SB4, particularly the requirement that local jails comply with immigration “detainer” requests that federal officials have said are voluntary. Further, a federal court recently held that ICE detainers issued without a warrant are unlawful and a pending case in Bexar County, Texas challenges the constitutionality of detainers. There are also concerns the law will lead to racial profiling, as occurred in Arizona – the rampant racial profiling did not stop even after a judicial order forbade it. Other legal experts argue that SB4 broad and vague provisions could violate the First Amendment.

The impact of SB4 may be difficult to separate from the impact that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have already had on Houstonians, though no doubt it will worsen an already dire situation. Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative partners hear from immigrants who are worried about their safety and that of their families every day.

For a more extensive legal opinion as to the constitutionality of SB4, please see this analysis from Professor Geoff Hoffman, University of Houston Law Center.

HILSC and the amazing staff and volunteers who comprise our network have been addressing community concerns through “Know Your Rights” presentations, family preparedness workshops, and an immigrant rights hotline, in addition to their ongoing services: consultations, case assistance, naturalization workshops, deportation defense, and more. However, organizations are already overwhelmed and at capacity. They could use your help in volunteering or donating today.

In August of 2016, the City of Houston, BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers) and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative launched the Welcoming Houston initiative, a multi-sector strategic planning effort focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans.

In January, the Welcoming Houston Task Force presented its recommendations to Mayor Turner, highlighting the urgent need for a number of key recommendations in the “Well-being and Security” section.

The mission of Welcoming Houston is to recommend and implement policies and programs that foster the integration of immigrants and refugees into the civic, social, and economic fabric of Houston. This document represents the first step in this mission. The strategic plan and detailed recommendations below call upon public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to work collaboratively to ensure that Houston is not merely diverse, but pluralistic and committed to equity.

The Welcoming Houston recommendations were compiled with the input of more than 100 individuals, including a 39-member Task Force, 50+ community members and civic leaders across committees covering six different topic areas, a Project Team, and several volunteers. Welcoming Houston participants include immigrant and native-born voices, refugees, documented and undocumented individuals. It also includes those who work with asylees and asylum seekers as well as victims of human trafficking, the LGBTQI community, faith leaders, persons of all abilities, academics and researchers, civil servants, and individuals from the private sector and the education sector. The Task Force also administered a web- and paper-based survey and focus groups to garner ground-level input from immigrant community members.

The planning effort was supported by the Gateways for Growth Challenge, an initiative of Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.  Houston was one of 20 communities nationwide selected to receive support for immigrant integration planning. We thank NAE and Welcoming America for their assistance in this work.

The implementation of these recommendations will require ongoing collaboration and communication among all stakeholders, accountability measures, transparent metrics, and direct engagement with immigrant individuals and families across Houston. The Collaborative is working on a number of the recommendations as part of its ongoing work to provide high quality legal services to low-income immigrants in Houston.

Download the Welcoming Houston Task Force Recommendations (full document)

Download the summary presentation from January 20, 2017 

Originally published on the ImmigrationProf Blog by Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman

Over the weekend hundreds of immigrants were arrested.  Despite statements by some in the administration that the arrests were “routine,” they appear to be an implementation of the Executive Order on interior enforcement signed by the President on January 25, 2017.  The fact that these raids were a fulfillment of campaign promises was acknowledged by the Present in a tweet where he said, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”  The DHS Secretary later also made a statement that the raids were targeting those who allegedly posed a threat to public safety, had been charged with criminal offenses, and had committed immigration violations or had been deported and reentered the country illegally. More than 680 reportedly were arrested.

The operative word is “others” in the tweet by the President. This word must be analyzed in light of the Executive Order on interior enforcement. The Order has up-ended priorities that the former administration had in place. Former Secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson, promulgated an ICE policy memo in November 2014, setting out the then alleged priorities for enforcement.  The priorities were meant to focus attention on threats to national security, public safety, serious misdemeanants, as well as felons and recent immigration violators. The new Executive Order replaces those priorities with a new set. Unfortunately, the new “priorities” are so expansive that arguably no undocumented person in the United States may actually fall outside of them.

The new priorities are defined as anyone who is convicted of “any criminal offense,” charged with any crime, or even who has committed any acts which could lead to a charge.  There is no attempt to distinguish between misdemeanors and felonies, minor misdemeanors and serious misdemeanors, non-violent offenses and violent ones.  No provision is made for family unity, those with U.S. citizen children or other family members, humanitarian concerns such as medical needs or a relationship to U.S. military personnel, or asylum seekers.  Also targeted are those who have engaged in a material misrepresentation in connection with an official matter, abused any program relating to public benefits, received a final order of removal.  There is a very far reaching catch-all category as follows:  those who “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”  Additionally, anyone who is subject to expedited removal under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)  235, 8 USC § 1225, is also made a priority.

What we know also is that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has promulgated a policy memo which sets forth the immigration court’s stated priorities for removal proceedings. According to the January 31, 2017 memo to all immigration judges, the priorities are as follows:   “(1) All detained individuals, (2) Unaccompanied children in the care and custody the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) who do not have a sponsor identified, and (3) Individuals who are released from custody on a Rodriguez bond.”  The reference to Rodriguez concerns those individuals in the Ninth Circuit whose cases are pending more than six months. See  Rodriguez v. Robbins, 804 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2015) (holding that noncitizens detained pending their removal cases are entitled to an automatic bond hearing before an IJ at six months of detention, where the government bears the burden of justifying continued detention).

Interestingly the priorities memo deprioritizes the following individuals in removal:  (1) All other unaccompanied children, (2) Adults with children who are released on alternatives to detention, (3) Adults with children who may have been initially detained but then subsequently released from custody, and (4) Recent border crossers who may have been initially detained but then subsequently released from custody.

What does all this mean in terms of foretelling the future of enforcement operations under the new administration?  The first and most prevalent concern is that many more individuals than just those with criminal convictions will be swept up in the raids given the exceptionally wide breadth of enforcement priorities set forth in the President’s executive order.  Secondly, given the interplay between the Executive Order and the priorities memo from EOIR, detained people will be prioritized which means that bonds and alternative forms of custody such as ISAP may now be opposed by DHS. There is already some evidence that is happening.  Third, there is a real danger of abuse of INA § 235 proceedings, or expedited removal, since that is a category specifically set forth as prioritized under the Executive Order.

The section 235 process requires no judicial review by an immigration judge. An ICE officer can place someone into this process if they entered the U.S. without a valid entry document or committed fraud or misrepresentation and if they cannot prove that they have been present in the U.S. for more than 2 years, according to the statute. (Previously, the expedited removal process was geographically limited to 100 miles by policy and the temporal limitation was 2 weeks).

Given the new way the statute will be implemented many may have trouble proving that they have been living in the U.S. for any fixed period. What happens if an undocumented person is caught-up in a raid and is not otherwise a priority, but cannot prove they have been in the U.S. for the requisite period? Likely they will be deported, unless they can show some persecution-based relief and then hopefully would be placed into either asylum-only or withholding-only proceedings. There is an important safety-valve for those who have persecution based claims under INA § 235 requiring a credible or reasonable fear interview. But the problem will be in making sure those individuals are referred by ICE for their credible fear or reasonable fear interviews. If not, they could be issued an expedited removal order without further notice and then physically deported.

The INA does provide some limited judicial review of such orders, but the only review of an individual section 235 process is a habeas corpus proceeding under  INA 242(e); 8 USC 1252(e). Federal court review is limited, however, to the following determinations:  “whether the petitioner is an alien, whether the petitioner was ordered removed under such section, and whether the petitioner can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the petitioner is an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, has been admitted as a refugee, or has been granted asylum. INA § 242(e)(2). Given the limited ability of federal courts to review the Department of Homeland Security’s determinations, many people may be placed into the expedited removal program.

Another possible source of review is more global and also contained in INA § 242(e).  Although as we saw INA § 242 limits quite severely the use of judicial review over any individual expedited removal decisions  it is possible to challenge more broadly the “validity of the system” of expedited review and its implementation in federal court.  INA § 242(e)(3). Such an action must be brought no later than 60 days after the date of the challenged “directive, guideline, or procedure…” is first issued. Id. § 242(e)(3)(B).

The directive, guideline or procedure would have to comply with APA notice and comment rules and those presumably will be coming.  However, if no directives are forthcoming the government could maintain the Executive Order itself is the directive, guideline or procedure. Once the directive is promulgated and finalized, advocates are then able to challenge both: (a) the constitutionality of the section’s implementation and (b) whether it is being done in violation of the any other law, such as other parts of the INA.  See INA 242(e)(3)(A). There may be possible 4th and 5th amendment violations or other constitutional violations that may have occurred in the process of placing people into Expedited Removal. Although Fourth Amendment claims in the immigration context are difficult, they are possible and have been successful in egregious circumstances.   See INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032, 1044 (1984); Oliva-Ramos v. Attorney Gen., 694 F.3d 259, 271 (3d Cir. 2012) (holding exclusionary rule applies to egregious or widespread violations of the 4th Amendment).

Since INA 235 requires no judicial review by any immigration judge, who would be there to question the removal of such a person if they do not have an attorney to represent them? Even with an attorney present the only recourse in such cases to challenge the 235 order in the federal courts.  Under the doctrine of apparent eligibility, if one is in removal proceedings under an immigration judge the judge is required to advise respondents of their eligibility for forms of relief, with or without counsel. See 8 CFR 1240.11(a)(2) (doctrine of apparent eligibility).  Without an attorney or an immigration judge in the process, there is little to no possibility that those individuals who may otherwise possess some type of potential relief would be even advised of those possibilities.

The new administration appears unaware or perhaps willfully ignorant of the entire concept of prosecutorial discretion. They may be under the misimpression that there is no discretion whatsoever, according to remarks made on television over the weekend by advisor Stephen Miller in a round of appearances over the weekend. However, the history of prosecutorial discretion in the context of immigration law is widely documented and well-settled.  For an exhaustive discussion, see Shoba Wadhia’s authoritative study, Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases (NYU Press 2015).

The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program under Professor Deborah Anker has also recently authored an excellent paper entitled, “The Impact of President Trump’s Executive Orders on Asylum Seekers.” Find it here.  In this paper, other aspects of the new priority system (or lack thereof) are elucidated. Specifically, the impacts on persons who otherwise under the previous administration would have been given a chance at pursuing their claims may now be detained, fast-tracked, and quickly deported. See discussion in the Harvard paper regarding the new administration’s policies’ impact on asylum seekers, parolees, those placed in expedited removal, and those who may be sent back to their home countries in violation of non-refoulment, as well as denial of family reunification among other issues.

As further noted in the Harvard paper, there is a little known provision which provides that individuals can be returned to a contiguous country pending their removal hearings. See Exec. Order, § 7, citing INA § 235(b)(2)(C). The fact that there is mention made in the executive order of this procedure means plans may be in place to return individuals, even asylum seekers, to Mexico or Canada, even where they are eligible for a hearing in removal proceedings under INA § 240, and even where they may be otherwise eligible for other relief.  The problem with this, as noted by Harvard, is that there is no guarantee that Mexico or another country would not deport them back to their home country while they await their asylum decision here in the U.S. Implementing this provision in this way and sending asylum seekers back to Mexico for any length of time, would violate U.S.’s domestic and international legal obligations. See Harvard paper, at 7, and n.44.

The “priorities,” as we have discussed, set forth in the January 25 Executive Order on border and interior enforcement are largely illusory. They exhibit the strange logic of this new administration where the “priorities” do not protect most and perhaps not any undocumented person, since asylum seekers, crime victims, children and others with valid claims for relief are left wholly unprotected. The priority system under the Obama “priority enforcement program” or PEP was far from perfect. However, in the prior case of PEP there was at least some semblance of an expression of policy preferences which could then be used to advocate for persons to be granted prosecutorial discretion. Under the new regime, even the semblance of such a priority system has been eviscerated.  Instead, the new system enshrines the following principle: where no one is truly prioritized everyone is at risk.

 

Geoffrey A. Hoffman, University of Houston Law Center, director of the Immigration Clinic (Institution for identification only. The views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the University’s or any other party).

In response to ongoing “requests for interviews” to refugees and asylees from the FBI and/or DHS, the Collaborative has compiled an FAQ and set of resources for service providers and families.  The below Refugees and FBI Interviews FAQ is available in PDF format in the following languages:

English: Refugees and FBI interviews FAQ
Arabic
Bengali
Dari
Indonesian
Pashto
Somali
Tigrinya
Urdu
Punjabi

 

What do I do if the FBI or DHS request interview with me?

  • Contact a Lawyer before you speak with DHS or the FBI!
  • You have the right to a lawyer before you meet with anyone from DHS or the FBI.
  • You can decline the interview, but this may be viewed as suspicious in some cases.

Note: If you receive any document from the FBI/DHS, we recommend you contact an attorney.

Free legal assistance available at:

Tahirih Justice Center[email protected]

Human Rights First: [email protected] / (713) 955-1360

YMCA International Services: Free walk-in legal clinic every Wednesday, 9am – 3pm at 6300 Westpark Dr., Suite 600

Catholic Charities: Call 713-874-6570 for the dates of free informational sessions (charlas) at 2900 Louisiana St.

Who are the FBI/DHS and why do they want to interview me?

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a government agency that is responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration laws and keeping the borders secure. DHS tries to keep communities safe by identifying people who are doing things that the U.S. government does not support, such as supporting organizations or people by sending money to groups overseas that the U.S. government does not support.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a government agency that monitors internal U.S. security and fights domestic and international terrorism.
  • The FBI or DHS may interview asylum seekers or refugees with regard to general community engagement or something potentially concerning in your history before you came to the U.S. or since you came to U.S., and they need additional information.
  • The FBI or DHS may ask you for one or multiple interviews; neither of these is necessarily a bad indication.

If I agree to the interview, what are my rights?

  • You have the right to have an attorney present. There are legal organizations in Houston that may be able to provide you a free attorney.
  • You have the right to set the time and place for the interview.
  • You have the right to find out the questions they will ask beforehand.
  • You have the right to have an interpreter present. There are legal organizations in Houston that may be able to provide you a free interpreter.
Remember: There is NO automatic deportation – you have many due process and procedural rights, such as the right to attorney (not at government expense), the right to hearing, and more.

What should I do during the interview?

  • Ask to see a badge or business card at the beginning of the interview.
  • Ask the person for their name, title, agency, phone number, and email address. Write it down, and keep a record.
  • Write down what was asked or discussed during the interview. You may also record the interview on your phone instead of keeping written notes.
  • You have a right to refuse to hand over documents
  • If you do not understand the question, seek clarification before answering.
  • You have the right to answer only the questions you feel comfortable answering. No matter what, assume that everything you say is on the record.
  • You can end the interview at any point if it becomes combative, you feel uncomfortable, or you want to speak to an attorney. 

Remember: It is a criminal offense to knowingly lie to an officer.

Can I give to a charity organization without becoming a terror suspect?

  • It depends. You may continue to give money to the causes you believe in, but you should be careful in choosing which charities to support. You should not support charities that are on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.[1] Providing financial or other support to groups that the U.S. views as suspect may impact your immigration status and may cause other legal problems for you and your family members.

Is it safe for me to practice my religion in religious institutions or public places?

  • You have a constitutional right to practice your religion. You have the right to go to a place of worship, attend and hear sermons and religious lectures, participate in community activities, and pray in public. Remember, the law is on your side to protect you.
  • If you experience any acts of hatred, contact the police, a refugee resettlement organization, and/or a free legal services organization.

What should I do if I feel unsafe?

  • If someone threatens you or makes you feel your life is in danger, try to get away from them, and call 911 for the police.
  • Inform your resettlement agency for additional support.
  • If your child is bullied at school, inform your child’s school and your resettlement agency.

Where can I find more information?

  • Speak to someone at your resettlement agency
  • Call the Council on American Islamic Relations Houston (CAIR) at 713-838-2247
  • Visit the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative website at www.houstonimmigration.org

[1] For a list of organizations designated as terrorist by the U.S. government, see http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

 

On January 12, 2017, the President ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban migrants, meaning that DHS will no longer grant parole to Cubans based solely on their nationality – thus limiting the number of Cubans who will be eligible for adjustment under the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Cuban Adjustment Act, as a law, is not affected by this decision. The Act allows Cuban nationals to become lawful permanent residents if the person (1) was inspected and admitted or paroled (2) physically present in the U.S. for at least one year, and (3) is otherwise admissible).

Further, Cubans may now be subject to expedited removal if they attempt to enter the United States without inspection or without valid entry permits. Note that the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program has not ended, so beneficiaries of certain approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions to travel to the United States before their immigrant visas become available, rather than remain in Cuba to await a visa.

The end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy is not retroactive. Generally speaking, Cuban nationals with final orders, or adjustment of status pending, on orders of supervision will not be negatively affected; however, a Cuban national who has committed a new crime or has some negative issue outside of this migration policy could be subject to enforcement action on other grounds that have nothing to do with this new policy. Cubans with currently on orders of supervision are not affected by this new policy and should continue reporting on the order of supervision if nothing has changed for them personally.

DHS has not clarified what is the effective date trigger. It is not yet clear whether date of entry is the operative act, or the date of the “encounter” with DHS. (If the latter, then more Cubans will be affected as those who have entered the US but not encountered DHS will not benefit under the old “wet foot, dry foot” policy). Further, it is not known whether the new administration will make any change to the Obama Administration’s new policy.

For more detailed information, see this commentary by Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Clinton administration and involved in the negotiation and implementation of “wet foot, dry foot” policy:

  • The policy change ends the automatic parole into the United States of Cubans presenting themselves at or between land ports of entry. Cubans who reach U.S. soil are now to be treated the same as all other migrants who arrive without prior authorization. Fuller details on how the new regime will work in actual practice have not yet been detailed. However, they are likely to involve using expedited removal procedures at the borders or granting a credible-fear interview to those who assert a claim for political asylum. Those found to have a possible claim or other grounds for relief would be admitted to the United States pending a hearing in immigration court. Those who do not assert a claim for asylum would be placed in expedited or regular removal proceedings.
  • At the heart of the change is Cuba’s agreement to accept the return of its nationals who seek entry to the United States but are ineligible to remain. For decades, Cuba has refused to take back its nationals who have been ordered deported. At the same time . . . special legislation . . . [means] Cubans who arrive in the United States are eligible for legal permanent residence (getting a green card) one year after arrival. Under a separate 1980 law, certain Cubans are also eligible for welfare benefits similar to refugees. No other nationality group has such preferential or immediate access to green cards and welfare benefits, which include financial support, medical benefits, and other assistance.
  • Cuban arrivals . . . have nearly doubled since fiscal year (FY) 2014, rising from 25,338 to more than 48,500 as of July 2016.
  • The United States is ending Cuban Medical Professional Parole.
  • Cuba has also agreed to consider on a case-by-case basis the return of Cuban nationals who were found removable before January 12, 2017. Media reports suggest that as many as 34,000 Cubans with final orders of removal remain in the United States.
  • Finally, several other aspects of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuban migration accords remain in place. Key among them are in-country refugee processing, the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, and the assurance that at least 20,000 Cubans will be legally admitted from Cuba annually.

More information available at:

Seven things you need to know about “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” (Univision)

DHS Fact Sheet

  • DHS has eliminated a special parole policy for arriving Cuban nationals commonly known as the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy . . . It is now Department policy to consider any requests for such parole in the same manner as parole requests filed by nationals of other countries.
  • DHS is also eliminating an exemption that previously prevented the use of expedited removal proceedings for Cuban nationals apprehended at ports of entry or near the border.

Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy

  • DHS “is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”

Statement by Secretary Johnson on the Continued Normalization of our Migration Relationship with Cuba

  • “Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to illegally enter the United States will be subject to removal, consistent with our enforcement priorities. The United States is also ending the special Cuban Medical Professional Parole program.”
  • “Though the Cuban Adjustment Act and certain Cuban laws remain in effect, today’s announcement goes a long way to putting our relationship with Cuba on equal terms with our relationships with other neighbors.”

Joint Cuban and American Statement

  • “From the date of this Joint Statement, the United States of America, consistent with its laws and international norms, shall return to the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of Cuba, consistent with its laws and international norms, shall receive back all Cuban nationals who after the signing of this Joint Statement are found by the competent authorities of the United States to have tried to irregularly enter or remain in that country in violation of United States law”
  • “The United States of America shall continue ensuring legal migration from the Republic of Cuba with a minimum of 20,000 persons annually.”

Information on the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (which remains in effect), including details on how to apply, can be found on this USCIS website.