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Immigrant Victims of Abuse Seeking Legal Aid Face Challenges Under Trump



When one of Maureen Abell’s undocumented clients was arrested on felony hit-and-run charges in Mecklenburg County in 2017, she told him to not to post bail. Paying that fee would almost guarantee that he ended up in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s custody, she said.

“He sat in county jail for three months and then he got acquitted,” said Abell, who acts as an attorney with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Immigrant Justice Program in North Carolina. The program primarily serves those living in Mecklenburg County.

“They still came and got him. He still spent three months at a Georgia detention facility before we got him out, and that was with no criminal record.”

Abell said that client is one of many who have been unfairly detained by ICE since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. In the past, Abell said, a client who was applying for a green card would not need to have an active visa in order to avoid arrest and detention. Now, ICE agents are more aggressive, often waiting to pick up immigrants after they leave court, regardless of whether they were convicted of any criminal charges or not.

The fear can be especially palpable for victims of domestic violence, whose abusers might use the threat of deportation to hold sway over their victims. While fears surrounding ICE have always existed in the immigrant community, those worries have only been heightened by the policy changes enacted on the federal level and the increase in anti-immigration sentiment espoused by politicians. During his first year in office, Trump fought to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as rescinded the Temporary Protected Status granted to Hondurans who have lived in the country for nearly two decades. He’s recently proposed that migrant children should be held on military bases, and has declared that minors who cross the border are potentially tied to gang violence. He’s stated those children are “not innocent,” according to the Washington Post.  

Abell said that in the past, about 80 percent of all of her immigrant clients were afraid that reporting their abusers would lead to deportation. Now, she estimates that number is closer to 100 percent.

The fear of deportation is stronger among those who don’t have a visa or documented status, Abell said. However, deportation can pose a threat to anyone who doesn’t have citizenship, especially if they face a criminal conviction. For example, police sometimes charge both the victim and the abuser during a domestic violence situation.

“The threat is generally that he will tell the police she attacked him,” Abell said. “He’s usually the one who speaks better English, or any English.”

If an immigrant is convicted of a domestic violence charge, that person can be deported, even if they’re a permanent resident.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years and it’s always ‘He said he’s going to call ICE, he’s saying they’re going to come get me.’ The difference is now they’re seeing it on the news, so the fear is greater. And I can’t quite say that they’re wrong,” Abell said.

Abell said she doesn’t believe there’s been a drop in the number of people requesting services from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s immigration program, which handles the center’s domestic violence cases. The immigration program also works with clients who are seeking asylum, who have experienced housing discrimination, or who need their status adjusted in some way. Other legal groups said that they have noticed a decline in the number of immigrants reporting incidents of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Christine Poarch, the founding attorney at Poarch Law in Roanoke, Virginia, said that her firm has increased efforts to let the Spanish-speaking community know that resources are available for victims of violent crimes, including children who need asylum after suffering neglect or abuse. Poarch said she’s noticed a decline in the number of victims reporting abusers in the region. Though Poarch did not provide exact numbers, she said the law firm — which serves Southwest Virginia as well as parts of West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina — has worked with fewer minors and domestic violence victims compared to prior years.

One reason that Poarch Law has seen fewer juvenile clients in recent months is because minors can effectively no longer apply for Special Immigration Juvenile (SIJ) status in Virginia in most jurisdictions. The designation allows undocumented children to become lawful permanent residents if they’ve experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment by at least one guardian. But in 2017, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s courts cannot decide whether a juvenile’s best interest would be served by returning to their country of origin, a predicate finding for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to award SIJ status. The ruling has been interpreted by many courts to mean that they cannot enter the necessary order to grant a juvenile SIJ status, Poarch said.

“We can’t even vet them for that status because of the ruling,” Poarch said. “A lot of those cases become asylum cases because they still come from Central American countries and they’ll be subject to violence if they return.”

The White House and anti-immigration representatives have criticized the process of receiving SIJ status in the past by saying that some recipients may not have been in a dire situation, according to a 2017 Reuters article. Immigrant children can receive the designation even if only one parent or guardian is abusive or neglectful, which critics say is inappropriate given the child would hypothetically be safe once separated from that one adult. A large number of pending cases means that juveniles who apply for the status may be in for a long, arduous wait before discovering whether they will be granted the status in court. In 2017, only 11,335 people out of 20,914 applicants were approved according to data from USCIS. That same data showed there were 22,695 pending applications at the end of 2017.

ICE raids in Appalachian areas have also stoked fears among immigrants. In April, at least 15 people were arrested and charged with illegal entry in Buncombe and Henderson counties, near Asheville, North Carolina, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. An ICE official told the paper that the majority of those detained had been convicted of a crime or were illegal re-entrants, but it’s unclear what percentage of those detained fell into those categories, or how many of those arrested had criminal convictions specifically. At least 40 people were arrested across the state. Close to 100 immigrants were arrested in Bean Station, Tennessee, after ICE raided a meat-processing plant; only 11 of those were arrested on federal or state immigration charges, according to The Washington Post.

While Roanoke has not experienced any raids, the procedural changes enacted by the new administration have led to heightened levels of concern among the immigrant community, Poarch said. In the past, she said, ICE placed undocumented immigrants into categories, and prioritized those who had committed violent crimes or were part of notable gangs, like MS-13. Now, ICE officers are expected to use their own discretion when picking up immigrants. Additionally, Poarch said agents have been ordered to focus on immigrants that have been charged — not convicted — with a criminal offense or accused of abusing public benefits.

“It used to be if they needed someone on an order for a warrant, they would go in and say, ‘Hey we need this guy,’  and they wouldn’t look for anyone else,” Poarch said. “Now, they’re going in and if there’s 10 other people, they’ll get those as well.”

The change is especially troubling in Virginia, which Poarch said has historically received a high number of immigrant children seeking asylum.

At a recent panel focused on issues facing juvenile immigrants, Poarch said one participant told a story about a child who suffered abuse from a non-family member for years because he was afraid that reporting would lead to repercussions for his family.

“There’s still concern on the part of the victim on how their abuser is going to report their status,” Poarch said. “(Attendees at the panel) were very clear that they had experienced a high degree of fear from their constituency because they were fearful that reporting was going to put the immigrant juvenile or their family at jeopardy.”

Immigrants who suffer domestic violence also risk running into hostile judges when their cases are heard, Abell said. While she has not experienced that with her clients in Mecklenburg County, she said that some judges are more willing to entertain the notion that a victim is claiming abuse to gain a visa. It’s common, she said, for an abuser’s attorney to argue that the victim’s case is a scam to gain permanent residence.

“I usually just say, ‘Your honor, this is way too complicated to be a scam. She has three kids with this guy and there’s a 10-year waiting period to get a visa. If it was a scam she’d just accuse some random guy on the street of hurting her,” Abell said.

Poarch and Abell both said that the changes in how ICE agents choose to detain immigrants makes it harder to determine how many abuse and domestic violence victims are being deported alongside those with criminal convictions. The changes have made giving legal advice more difficult, as it’s harder to predict the outcome of reporting abuse or going to court.

“I used to be able to say ‘I’ve never heard of such a thing,’ or ‘That’s stupid,’” Abell said. “Now I can only say ‘I haven’t heard of that happening here, but do you have an arrest record, or are they looking for you for some reason?’”

Tiffany Stevens (@tiffanymstevens) is a print journalist living in Southwest Virginia. Their newsletter, “Happening at Home,” rounds up great reporting from two different cities each issue.

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Don Blankenship Claims Illegal Immigration Costs $130 Billion a Year. Is That True?



Seeking to represent West Virginia in the U.S. Senate, former coal mining executive Don Blankenship called for an end to illegal immigration, saying it costs billions of dollars a year.

“We have to stop illegal immigration, costing us $130 billion a year to house and feed and give benefits to people that shouldn’t be even in the country,” Blankenship said during an April 23 debate among Republican primary candidates.

We wanted to know the facts behind Blankenship’s claim on the cost of illegal immigration.

Blankenship’s statement stems from a report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that said illegal immigration costs about $135 billion a year. The group favors stricter immigration policies.

The report has drawn criticism for some of its assumptions, such as a higher-than-usual estimate of immigrants in the country illegally (12.5 million, higher than the typically reported 11 million) and for excluding tax contributions made by U.S.-born children to parents here illegally.

Overall, it’s difficult to determine a precise cost of illegal immigration due to lack of reliable data.

Report did not focus on housing costs

FAIR’s report said illegal immigration costs about $135 billion a year, and that immigrants who are here illegally contribute about $19 billion in taxes annually. That puts net costs at about $116 billion a year.

Blankenship said illegal immigration must be stopped because it costs $130 billion a year to house, feed and give benefits to people who shouldn’t even be in the United States.

But FAIR’s report did not include estimates for the cost of public housing benefits, citing a lack of reliable information.

The group also noted most welfare programs are not available to immigrants in the country illegally. But the group factored in costs for programs that benefit children born in the United States to parents here illegally.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, criticized FAIR for calculating welfare used by U.S.-born children, but failing to add in their potential tax contributions once they start working.

“Counting the benefits consumed but ignoring the tax revenue they pay (or will do so in the future) is one way FAIR gets such a negative result for this report,” Nowrasteh wrote in a September 2017 postenumerating flaws in the report.

FAIR estimated that the welfare of illegal immigration amounts to about $5.8 billion a year at the federal level and $2.9 billion a year at the state level (including school meals and child care programs).

Experts’ critique

We asked more experts about the validity of FAIR’s findings.

Their estimate is reasonable, though the cost could be more or could be less, said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors low-immigration levels.

Even though most immigrants living illegally in the United States come to work and pay billions in taxes, that does not make them a net fiscal benefit, Camarota said.

Other experts said there were flaws. For one, the report’s bottom line included federal immigration enforcement costs.

“It seems ridiculous to attribute the costs of border security to unauthorized immigrants. Would people prefer we had no border security so then the costs of unauthorized immigration would be lower?” said Madeline Zavodny, an immigration expert and economics professor at the University of North Florida.

Enforcement is aimed not only at reducing unauthorized immigration but also at reducing drug smuggling and trafficking, Zavodny said.

Kim Rueben, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said, “They are doing things in a way to try to exaggerate what the possible cost could be.”

FAIR also factored in about $3.5 billion for assumed Medicaid fraud.

We’ve fact-checked several other claims about the cost of illegal immigration based on FAIR’s reports, with experts raising concerns about their methodology and assumptions.

In 2016, we rated Mostly False a claim from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump when he claimed that illegal immigration cost the United States more than $113 billion a year, finding that he selected the highest of all possible estimates from a range that varied widely.

Our ruling

Blankenship said, “We have to stop illegal immigration, costing us $130 billion a year to house and feed and give benefits to people that shouldn’t be even in the country.”

Immigrants in the country illegally generate costs for taxpayers, but it’s difficult to determine a precise figure largely because there isn’t reliable data. Blankenship’s claim is based on a 2017 FAIR report estimating illegal immigration cost about $135 billion a year.

Experts picked apart many aspects of the report’s methodology. But relevant to Blankenship’s statement, the group’s estimate did not factor in housing costs.

For all welfare costs brought on by illegal immigration, FAIR calculated about $5.8 billion a year at the federal level and $2.9 billion a year at the state level (including school meals and child care programs).

Blankenship’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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‘You’re Watching Your Time Run Out’ — What the End of DACA Means for ‘Dreamers’ in WV



Democrats and Republicans say they want to pass immigration reform this year. Most Republicans are pushing for tighter border regulations, while some Democrats say they would like to find a way to extend work permits to “Dreamers” through the DACA program. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It provided two-year work permits to some illegal immigrants if their parents brought them into the country as children.

In September, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Obama-era DACA program. Many Republicans, including some of West Virginia’s congressional leaders, have said the DACA program was an abuse of executive power by President Obama. But some Republicans also say they support finding a permanent solution for DACA recipients, if it can be tied in with tighter border security and immigration policy.

The West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union estimates there are between 100 and 150 DACA recipients in West Virginia.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting spoke with one of those about how the debate in Washington affects her life in Mountain State.

Jackie Lozano standing outside in snow.

Jackie Lozano

Jackie Lozano is 21. Her mom brought her to the United States when she was two. Lozano said her mom came here to get a job so she could pay for Jackie’s medical care.

Lozano didn’t actually know she was an illegal immigrant until she was 15 years old, when she was starting to apply for financial aid for college. A guidance counselor asked for her social security number, and when she went home to ask her mom for her social security card, her mom told her she wasn’t a U.S. citizen. A year later, when Lozano was 16, then-President Obama announced a controversial new program, called DACA. She was able to apply for a work permit through the program.

“I’m able to drive places without having to worry about getting stopped and deported for not having a state I.D. or from not being from here. And given the fact that I have family here that I need to take care of, and a son, and a child that I need to take care of, that’s very important. It’s crucial, really, not just to have a living, but to live.”

Although she hasn’t been able to afford college, she’s been able to find steady, full-time work. She grew up in North Carolina, but she said she fell in love with West Virginia. She works for a communications company, which sent her to West Virginia for a training in 2015. She requested a transfer to move here.

She also fell in love with a fellow co-worker, and she and her partner have a 1-year old baby named Carter.

Last summer, Lozano applied, and was accepted for a two-year renewal for her DACA work permit, so she has about a year and a half until her situation would change significantly. But by June 2019, if Congress doesn’t decide to renew the program, she fears deportation back to Mexico, where she was born. She remembers the day when she heard the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the DACA program would end.

“I picked up my child and I just started crying, because I knew there is a possibility that I won’t see him for a long time. It’s as if someone grabs, you know like those little sand timers? Just flipped it over. You’re watching your time run out.”

Lozano said she does have hopes of applying for citizenship one day.

“A lot of my close friends are like, ‘Well why don’t you just get married to your to your partner? Like why don’t you just get married?’ And the way I see it is, I don’t feel like I should have to get married to get citizenship. You know, like yeah, I want to marry him one day, you know. But I don’t want the reason for the marriage to be so I can have a citizenship.”

September 2017 marked the end of the DACA program. The Department of Homeland Security says nearly 600,000 people are set to have  DACA permits expire during the next two years, unless Congress passes legislation to continue the program.

We reached out to West Virginia’s five congressional lawmakers for this story.

David McKinley:

“Dealing with undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children is a complex problem. President Obama’s answer was to make policy by executive order, which was an abuse of power, and was not a long-term solution to this problem. Previously, President Obama threatened to oppose any changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now Congress has an opportunity to step in and develop a sustainable policy that does not rely on an executive order.

Congress needs to develop a solution that does not unfairly punish people who arrived in America as children years ago and are contributing to society, while making sure we don’t incentivize more illegal immigration in the future. Fixing the DACA program is just one of many steps Congress needs to take to fix our broken immigration system. Securing the border and improving enforcement throughout the country need to be part of the discussion as well.”

Evan Jenkins:

“President Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by creating the DACA program through an executive order. We are a nation of laws and have a responsibility to secure our borders. I remain firmly opposed to amnesty and am committed to ensuring our nation’s immigration policies are constitutional and lawful.”

Shelley Moore Capito’s Press Office:

“Senator Capito could support an immigration solution that provides for increased border security to protect Americans and provides relief for those in the DACA program. She is encouraged by ongoing negotiations between the Trump Administration and members of Congress to improve immigration policy and add resources for enforcement.”

Alex Mooney:

“The West Virginians I represent want border security, including building the wall, prior to any discussion of various amnesty proposals. Procedurally, I believe separate issues deserve separate votes.”

We didn’t hear back from Sen. Joe Manchin by the time this story was filed.

This story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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The true cost of a wall may ultimately fall on small business owners



Alfredo Gomez moved to America 23 years ago. The owner of Casa Fiesta and Casa Café has raised three boys in Richmond, Kentucky, a town of approximately 35,000 people.

“I like the way my family grows here,” Gomez said.

He has made a life for himself in Central Kentucky and is proud of his restaurants’ success. While half of his family, including his mother and siblings, remain in Mexico, Gomez believes if he had stayed there, he wouldn’t be as fruitful as he is in America.

“For me, I’ll stay here forever.”

Since Donald Trump became President of The United States, he has signed 18 executive orders and memos in his first 17 days in office. One order, in particular, signed January 25, vows to improve border security and immigration with the construction of a physical wall along the Mexico-United States border.

During his campaign, Trump promised supporters that the wall would cost U.S. taxpayers nothing, even going so far as to say that Mexico will foot the bill.

However, as tensions rise between President Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over paying for the wall, House of Representative members offer up a solution. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said part of a “buffet of options” for wall financing is a 20 percent tariff on imported Mexican goods.

Gomez relies on Mexican products for his restaurants, but he is also involved with an avocado farm in Michoacan, Mexico, a state south of Mexico City. He said his partner in the organic operation is uncertain of the fruit’s future.

“[My partner] was looking to send them to the U.S., but I don’t know about now,” Gomez said. “I think [this tax is] going to affect everyone…Who’s going to pay for it? We’re going to pay for it.”

Now, Gomez’s partner is considering exporting his avocados elsewhere, like Canada or Taiwan.

Gomez believes President Trump is a “smart guy” who can come up with a better solution. Though he’s aware of the negative preconceptions many people hold about undocumented individuals, Gomez knows several who are genuinely “good people.”

“You come here, you can live better,” he said, noting why many escape the cartels in Mexico.

Gomez said he plans to continue to buy his produce for his restaurants at a good price. He has customers who depend upon affordable prices.

“If prices go up, it’s going to be not too good.”

Economic experts have been vocal about issues with such a tax, from increased prices on goods to implementation.

Dr. Gyan Pradhan, professor of economics at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), said the tariff essentially taxes U.S. consumers.

“The consumers are really the ones who will be paying for this wall,” Pradhan said, calling the plan “backwards.”

“Free trade is touted as beneficial, making the market more efficient. When you have an efficient market, both producers and consumers make mutual gains as demand increases,” he said. “Any kind of restriction on trade would be detrimental to U.S. consumption, trade volume and existing and potential trade agreements. I think it’s shortsighted on a number of levels – economically speaking.”

Austin Shearer, an EKU student, said while he has stayed up-to-date with actions of the Trump administration, he admittedly hasn’t thought much about the repercussions of the proposed tax on the U.S. economy.

While the tax isn’t a set policy for funding the wall, Shearer worries about threats of illegal immigration.

“It seems a little bit of a gray area,” he said. “… I don’t want [this tax] to hurt our economy, but it seems that drugs and what comes with that also hurt our economy and our people.”

Trump won the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the general election with 62.5 percent of the vote.

According to Fahe, a collaborative network in Berea, Kentucky, working to eliminate Appalachian poverty, the Appalachian Regional Commission estimated Kentucky had the worst poverty rate in the 13-state region. At 25.4 percent, Kentucky’s Appalachian communities saw 6.5 percent higher poverty rates than the rest of the state between 2010 and 2014.

Mark Lynn Ferguson, editor of the Revivalist, worries that Mexico could reciprocate trade restrictions, noting Mexico’s purchase of coal from the U.S. In 2015 and 2016 Mexico bought 5.3 million short tons of coal from the U.S.

“The 20 percent tax, of course, threatens to drive up prices on many products, ranging from produce to cars,” Ferguson said in an email interview. “It’s no secret that Appalachia has some struggling areas. That’s not the kind of blow they need right now. It’s hard to see how any of this could be good for the Appalachian economy.”

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100 Days