ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published. Thousands of migrants who agreed to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings in the United States are now finding out they may not be eligible for asylum at all. They’re stuck at the Kafkaesque intersection of two Trump policies designed to crack down on those seeking humanitarian protection. First, when they came to the U.S. to seek asylum earlier this year, they were given court dates but forced to wait in Mexico for their hearings.
A stressful two-year chapter of Kadhim Albumohammed’s life is coming to a close.
Since July 2017, Albumohammed lived, along with his wife and daughter, in the basement of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Albuquerque. On Wednesday afternoon, he addressed a crowd of about two hundred supporters after he learned that he can finally leave and go home without the fear of being detained by federal agents.
“I love you guys,” Albumohammed told the crowd.
Two years ago he showed up for an appointment with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, fully expecting to be detained. But, because of demonstrations by supporters, ICE cancelled Albumohammed’s appointment. But at his next scheduled appointment, Albumohammed’s lawyer showed up with a letter stating that her client decided to seek sanctuary instead. Albumohammed immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq out of fear of retaliation after supporting the U.S. during the first Gulf War.
The debate over enforcement of immigration law was front and center this week, with images of children separated from their parents and held in cages along the border in newspapers and TV news. The White House flip-flopped on its explanations and who was to blame, as shown by a damning video in the Washington Post. Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at stopping the same separations the White House said previously could only be ended by Congress. Even that didn’t stop the outcry, with critics pointing out that it would still allow family separations in some cases and that it would allow indefinite detention of families. While children would not be taken from their parents to be put in federal facilities, they would be held together with their respective families until immigration prosecution could take place.
Hundreds of Iraqi refugees currently detained by the U.S. federal government could be released as early as next month. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has until Feb. 2 to show “clear and convincing evidence” that Iraqi refugees being detained are a public safety or flight risk. U.S. Federal District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote that while immigration proceedings are pending, “the aliens who were arrested have now languished in detention facilities — many for over six months — deprived of the intimacy of their families, the fellowship of their communities, and the economic opportunity to provide for themselves and their loved ones.”
The mass detentions go back to a travel ban implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration last year. While Iraq was one of the countries included in the ban, the U.S. government agreed to exclude Iraq from the ban in exchange for the Middle Eastern country allowing political and religious refugees back in the country when they are deported.
This summer, a Kansas City man named Edwin got a call from immigration officials. They had picked up his nephew at the southern border and wanted to release the teen into his care. So Edwin went online and bought a bed. Later that week, he was contacted again, this time by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detective who knocked at his door. The agent gave Edwin a letter saying he needed to come to headquarters for an interview about three federal crimes: conspiracy, visa fraud and human smuggling.
Glen Thamert wears a perpetual smile and favors a hug over a handshake. The retired Lutheran minister has lived in Jemez Springs since 2001 and raised both his adult children in Albuquerque. Next month will mark 29 years since Thamert was acquitted in an Albuquerque federal courtroom after helping two women, whose lives were in danger, leave their home country of El Salvador. Thamert’s trial was part of the sanctuary movement that sprung up in the 1980s when military forces killed hundreds of thousands of people in Central and South America. Community leaders and others often use the word “altruistic” to describe him.
Last week Albuquerque resident and Iraqi refugee Kadhim Albumohammed, through his lawyer, announced he would seek religious sanctuary instead of submitting to federal detention by immigration officials. In a letter delivered by his lawyer, Albumohammed informed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of his location but opted against publicly announcing where he is living. The idea of seeking refuge in a religious facility to avoid detention from immigration officials actually comes from ICE itself. In 2011, then-ICE director John Morton issued a memo to the agency’s field officers, agents and legal counsel, providing guidance on “sensitive locations,” or areas where agents should not make arrests except under extraordinary circumstances. It’s unclear to what extent ICE is monitoring Albumohammed’s location, but in a statement last week, the agency made it clear they are taking Albumohammed’s case seriously.
One morning in February, lawyer Marty Rosenbluth set off from his Hillsborough, North Carolina, home to represent two anxious clients in court. He drove about eight hours southwest, spent the night in a hotel and then got up around 6 a.m. to make the final 40-minute push to his destination: a federal immigration court and detention center in the tiny rural Georgia town of Lumpkin. During two brief hearings over two days, Rosenbluth said, he convinced an immigration judge to grant both of his new clients more time to assess their legal options to stay in the United States. Then he got in his car and drove the 513 miles back home. “Without an attorney, it’s almost impossible to win your case in the immigration courts.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus won’t stop its criticism of Donald Trump’s immigration policies. That’s the word from Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico lawmaker who heads the caucus, which is made up of Hispanic members of Congress from around the country. All are Democrats (the Congressional Hispanic Conference is made up of Republican members). Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told members of Congress to “shut up” or change the law after his department faced criticism from members on its deportation practices. “If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,’’ Kelly said earlier this week at George Washington University, according to reports.
One state legislator acted quickly after news that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly authored a draft memo calling to mobilize National Guard troops in several states, including New Mexico, to apprehend those in the country illegally. State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, introduced legislation that would keep New Mexico National Guard troops from conducting immigration operations. Related: Reported plan to use National Guard to apprehend immigrants included NM
“In New Mexico, we will not order our dedicated National Guard members, many of whom would be asked to deport their neighbors and possibly relatives, to participate in ripping families apart and terrorizing our immigrant communities,” McCamley said in a statement. “I hope and trust that our governor would support this legislation that protects New Mexicans from the divisive and hateful policies of the current presidential administration.”
Related: Bill would stop NM National Guard from aiding in ICE immigration actions
The Catholic Church in the state denounced the idea of using National Guard troops to apprehend those in the country without documents. From the AP: Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Friday the Roman Catholic Church in the nation’s most Hispanic state would strongly oppose any effort to use National Guard troops to find and deport immigrants.