This week in immigration news, we read about the new immigration counselor at the White House, mistreatment at immigration detention centers, and how ICE is purposely targeting immigration activists.
The Biden Administration hired Lucas Guttentag to serve as a senior counselor on immigration policy. Previously, Guttentag worked as a senior counselor in immigration under the Obama administration. He was also a law professor at Stanford and Yale Law Schools. Guttentag will help reduce some of the restrictive immigration policies created during Trump’s presidency.
While Biden planned to hire someone to specifically focus on immigration policies, the process has taken over six months. Many immigration activists have expressed disappointment over this. Many viewed the delay as an indication that immigration is not a priority for President Biden.
“The anxiety levels are higher than I’ve ever seen them in my 25 years here in Washington in terms of trying to undo what was done because the Trump administration was so absolutely purposeful about getting people in the administration right away who were really focused on, on making mischief,” said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
In his role, Guttentag will help dismantle Trump’s immigration policies and will also help put new policies in place. The Trump administration made hundreds of alterations to immigration policy. Millions of immigrants are waiting for these policies to be overturned. Many anxiously await these changes, especially as border agents continue to expel migrants seeking asylum.
Alexander Martinez, migrant from El Salvador, says he has faced homophobia, abuse, and harassment while seeking asylum in immigration detention facilities. Martinez has been cleared to seek asylum in the U.S., but is still in a detention center. Since the end of February, the number of detainees has more than doubled.
Many immigration activists are disappointed that President Biden hasn’t moved sooner to reverse President Trump’s harsh immigration policies. There are many concerns over President Biden’s lack of action on immigration policies. In particular, many are concerned over the number of asylum seekers detained for prolonged periods.
There are many asylum-seekers, such as Martinez who are wrongfully being detained. Martinez currently resides at Winn, a detention center that has long angered civil rights groups. Winn has a history of abuse, medical neglect, racism, and mistreatment. We hope that President Biden will address these issues sooner rather than later.
“I just want what everyone wants,” Alexander Martinez said, “to get out, be free and help support my family.”
Activist Maru Mora-Villalpando has long organized protests at immigration detention centers. Soon after she got the attention of ICE, Mora-Villalpando was placed in deportation proceedings. Activists say this is an example of ICE specifically retaliating against immigration activists.
ICE denies the allegations that they’re specifically targeting activists. Many argue that there’s enough evidence to prove otherwise. After being specifically targeted, Mora-Villalpando fought back. She obtained internal emails from ICE that served as examples of retaliation.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says that using retaliation against activists is “unacceptable.”
Immigrant activists were relieved to hear that representatives have deemed this behavior “unacceptable.” However, they want the administration to condemn it directly. Activists have also said they live in constant fear of retaliation. Activist Claudia Muñoz says she and a colleague were banned from visiting immigrants at ICE facilities due to being undocumented. Muñoz filed a Freedom of Information request. She discovered that ICE had been gathering personal information about her using her social media accounts.
“They gave us a larger microphone, you know, a larger bullhorn to say this is wrong and this is why we’re going to continue fighting,” says Mora-Villalpando. “I’ve always believed that when we get attacked, it’s because they’re afraid of us.”