Supreme Court focuses on immigration amid deportations

If you were expecting a calm before the U.S. Supreme Court immigration storm, think again.

The Supreme Court is set to rule sometime this month — no one knows when — on the legality of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, the program that President Barack Obama instituted by executive order in 2014.

DAPA, as it's known, allows parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents relief from deportation and lets them apply for work permits if they meet certain conditions. Obama's executive action also expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program announced in 2012. DACA defers deportation for those brought to the United States illegally as children.

Texas and 25 other states sued over the executive action, saying it goes beyond presidential authority and will cost them millions of dollars in public benefits to the estimated 4 million people who would be granted legal status by the programs.

It is unknown how the court will rule or how the court vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year might affect the ruling. If the justices come to a 4-4 tie in the case, lower court rulings that block DAPA would stand.

Even as the Obama administration fights in court to stop deportations of people already in the United States, it also seems bent on deporting those still seeking asylum here from Central America, especially women and children.

On Thursday, several prominent Catholics held a press briefing to add their voices to the growing call to stop the deportation raids that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials began in January. Another round of raids began in May.

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said the CARA Pro Bono Project, which partners with three other organizations to provide free legal representatives for asylum-seekers held in Texas detention centers, has seen repeatedly that detainees at the detention centers and those rounded up in immigration raids are denied their rights to legal representation and due process.

"These deportations are contrary to U.S. law. We know from our experience that families and children are not given adequate legal information," Atkinson said. "We can see they have not had adequate due process."

Administration officials say that those arrested in the deportation raids have used all legal remedies and have final deportation orders, but CARA officials say every person arrested that they represented was released, raising questions about administration claims.

Maria Paz, who took part in the press briefing, said her 18-year-old son was deported to El Salvador despite having a scheduled hearing. She said four ICE agents waited under the stairs for him to leave for school then grabbed him. In phone calls from El Salvador, he told his mother that being in the country is like being in prison because he cannot leave the house for fear of the gangs that threaten to kill him unless he joins them.

"Please stop hurting our families," she said through an interpreter. "Stop the deportations."

Jesuit Fr. Mike Tyrrell, secretary for social and international ministries for the Jesuit Conference of the United States, and Kevin Appleby, director of international migration policy for the Scalabrinian International Migration Network, said U.S. efforts to deter asylum-seekers through detention and deportation is not working and the United States needs to instead work with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to provide safety and stability for their citizens.

"It's clear that the strategy is not working, and yet surprisingly, it appears the administration is preparing to double down on it," Appleby said. "It's time for a new strategy."

In the meantime, the fight over detaining children continues, as well. On June 1, a Texas state judge issued an injunction preventing the state from giving a child care license to the detention center in Dilley, Texas, saying the exemptions the state was giving the facility would put children in danger.  

Last year, a federal judge said detaining children violated a 1997 agreement known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs how children can be held, and ordered the government to start releasing them. In response, Texas changed its rules to allow the two federal detention centers there to be licensed as child care centers.

The injunction only affects the center in Dilley, but officials expect that if the Supreme Court rules against the state, the license issued to the facility in Karnes, Texas, would be voided.

If a British company has its way, there could be a third detention facility in Texas. The Guardian reports that security firm Serco has been lobbying the U.S. government to open and run a detention center for more than a year. Now, the company has partnered with officials in Jim Wells County to convert a closed nursing home in San Diego, Texas, into a facility to hold up to 600 immigrants.

The Guardian says Serco has been "implicated in numerous immigration detention centre scandals in the UK and Australia," including complaints of sexual assaults and inmates harming themselves.

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[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]