R. MARK FREY
Immigration Law & You
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Dec. 24, 2015) — Charles Dickens wisely observed in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” And, so it is with all things related to immigration, especially in this eventful year.
We saw Donald Trump and other Republican candidates spar over immigrants in what has become a race to the bottom to demonize “the Other”. Earlier this year we heard Trump decry the influx of Mexicans pouring over the border like a swarm into the United States, notwithstanding the fact that experts report a larger number of Mexicans departing the country than coming here. More recently, we’ve heard Republican frontrunner Trump insist that Muslims be denied entry into the United States.
What’s next after implementing that action? Go after U.S. citizen and permanent resident Muslims living, working, and raising families here? Kick them out? Round them up and place them in internment camps as was done decades ago with thousands of Japanese Americans in the 1940s?
And, so it goes with other related matters. We continue to see people, predominantly young children, fleeing the violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) for the United States to seek asylum while hearing at the same time about the sorry shape of the detention facilities housing them as they await a decision on their cases. What happened to refugee processing under the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program (CAM) to help those individuals avoid the dangerous conditions of travel north to the United States on their own? Recent reports have noted that an abysmally low number of children have been interviewed to date through CAM.
We’ve seen, as well, President Obama’s Executive Actions get mired down in the courts as his opponents have sought to limit his executive authority in matters involving enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in January 2016 whether it will hear the matter before the end of its term.
In Europe, we’ve witnessed a massive movement of irregular migrants and refugees from Syria, Africa, and South Asia fleeing their countries decimated by war, persecution, and poverty. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Geneva-based intergovernmental organization, over a million people have arrived in Europe this year alone, creating a crisis on a scale not seen since World War II.
At the same time, we’ve heard an increasing number of reports about climate change and its impact on the planet: warmer temperatures, drought and increased desertification, rising sea levels and loss of coastal land, and more extreme weather in general. These developments can no doubt contribute to increased competition over resources.
In August of this year, Secretary of State John Kerry decried the impact of climate change on social and political stability and offered a new phrase for those migrants fleeing conditions in their home countries, “climate refugees”. He further noted that climate-related migrations have exacerbated existing conditions. “You think migration is a challenge to Europe today because of extremism, wait until you see what happens when there’s an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival.” In terms of far-reaching impact in coming years, climate change will not doubt be one of the key factors affecting the migration of peoples around the world.
All of this seems to suggest the year was a bleak one for immigration. However, that may not be the case as we look back years from now. In early December, an agreement was signed by almost 200 countries in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to lower green-house gas emissions to avert the problems associated with climate change. It may well prove to be the biggest immigration-related story of the year and offers a most hopeful sign for the long-term prospects of our planet. The significance of the climate accord lies in the fact that after several decades of discussions and negotiations virtually all nations have now agreed to lower their carbon emissions and participate in a system reporting their efforts.
And, hopefully, it’s the first of many steps to follow.*
*Further information about the International Organization for Migration and its report on the situation in Europe may be found at http://www.iom.int/sitreps/europe-mediterranean-migration-crisis-response-situation-report-17-december-2015. Additional information about the Paris Climate Agreement may be found at http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.