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Top DHS officials defended the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, the “Remain in Mexico” program has kept many asylum seekers in border cities and tent camps near the U.S.-Mexican border while they wait for their immigration court dates in the U.S. The policy has been criticized as endangering the asylum seekers by forcing them to face both possible violence and lack of sanitary conditions, especially in the tent camps. Particularly vulnerable individuals, like pregnant women and some LGBTQ people, are not supposed to be part of the program, yet there have been reports of both pregnant women and transgender individuals being returned to Mexico where they are unsafe. Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan defended the program saying now the “loophole” of bringing a child to get into the U.S. has been closed, and that having families remain in Mexico is the administration’s alternative to detaining them for the whole duration of their case (which is prohibited by the Flores Agreement). Acting Director of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli argued that the policy “achieved” the goal of stopping “catch and release.”

A record number of children were held in detention in the U.S. in 2019.

 69,550 children were held in detention in 2019, a number higher than any other country. The U.S. has acknowledged detaining children is psychologically harmful, but increased the number of detained children by 42% between just 2018 and 2019. Because the federal government was aware of the risks of family detention when it implemented it, on November 5 a federal judge ordered the government to provide mental health screenings and treatment to families who were separated and are now traumatized. 

A federal judge in Boston ruled that suspicionless searches of electronics at the border are unconstitutional.

 District Judge Denise Casper ruled on Tuesday that border agents need reasonable suspicion to search through travelers’ phones and laptops at airports and other ports of entry. Current ICE and CBP policies allow for routine searches of electronics with no suspicion. The number of electronic searches at U.S. ports of entry has increased greatly during the Trump administration, from 8,500 in 2015 to more than 30,000 in 2018. Since this decision is at the district court level, it is not binding on higher courts.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on DACA

President Trump announced the end of DACA more than two years ago. Due to litigation, it is still in effect, and now the Supreme Court will have the final word. The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on 1) whether federal judges are able to review DACA, and 2) whether the way Trump went about ending DACA violated the law. The government argued that ending DACA falls within normal discretion, while plaintiffs argued the government’s ending of DACA violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The justices seemed split, though many justices kept their feelings close to their chest. A decision can be expected by summer.

USCIS has proposed increased fees and a fee for asylum applications.

On November 8, the Trump administration announced a proposal that would increase fees significantly for a range of immigration applications and forms, including citizenship and DACA renewals. The proposal would also institute a $50 fee for asylum applications and a $490 fee for work authorization. The proposal was officially published on November 14 and will have a month-long comment period.

USCIS announced a proposed rule to deny some asylum seekers work authorization.

USCIS announced a proposed rule that would deny work authorization to asylum seekers who entered the U.S. outside of a port of entry. The proposed rule also seeks to automatically end work authorization for asylum seekers whose application is denied and administratively final. Additionally, all asylum seekers who did not file asylum applications within 1 year of their last entry into the U.S. are ineligible for work authorization. The rule also clarifies that if an asylum seeker fails to appear for their appointment, their asylum application or work authorization can be denied. Last, any asylum seeker who was convicted of a felony or certain public safety offenses is ineligible for work authorization. The rule also gives discretion to officers to deny employment authorization for “unresolved arrests or pending charges.” The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register and is open for comment until January 13, 2020.

Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan admitted that much of the new border wall construction is just replacing old barriers.

The president declared a state of emergency at the border in order to be able to transfer billions in military and pentagon funding to building the new border wall. On November 14, CBP acting Commissioner Morgan acknowledged that the 78 miles currently in construction has been replacing existing or “insufficient” barriers. The administration has just now started to break ground on building a wall where no barrier existed before. Morgan also acknowledged how acquiring private land for the border wall will continue to challenge the Trump administration.

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