April 15, 2020 - Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia of Penn State Law said current U.S. immigration practices seek to create more undocumented people in the country during a Zoom conference book talk presented by the University of Houston Law Center’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee on Tuesday.
Wadhia's comments came from her new book "Banned: Immigration Enforcement in the Time of Trump," which combines personal interviews, immigration law, policy analysis, and case studies and examines immigration enforcement and discretion during the first 18 months of the Trump administration.
"As the diversity and inclusion speaker Professor Wadhia offered insightful analysis about the plight of immigrants in this country," said Clinical Professor Geoff Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the Law Center. "She is a renowned scholar, advocate, and clinic professor."
Wadhia began by introducing a chapter called, "Everyone is a Priority." It discusses the idea that the government has the choice to decide who it is going to target as its highest priorities for removal.
"This matters because there are limited resources. According to one guideline from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for immigration enforcement, the government has the funds to deport 400,000, about less than 4 percent than the 10 million or 11 million people living in the U.S. without papers. Who is targeted for removal really matters not just for economic reasons, but humanitarian ones.
"What we've seen and what we chronicle in this book is that there is no prioritization in the Trump administration. Early documents and memos from the administration point to a very broad list of people who are considered to be priorities. One advocate told me that everyone is a priority. It doesn't matter if you have been in the country for 20 years and you have never committed a crime."
Wadhia continued that the idea of immigration enforcement has extended to branches of the Department of Homeland Security that don't have a historical role in enforcement, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"It is the agency that's responsible for asylum applications, citizenship applications and requests for DACA," she said. "This new mission for the so-called services arm to enforce the law, to arrest more, appears to be very different from previous administrations."
On the topic of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals being in jeopardy of losing their legal status, Wadhia noted that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter on Nov. 12, 2019. Parties were tasked with answering the following questions:
"We could receive a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this month," Wadhia said. "We've seen more demands and advocacy by the DACA community in the wake of COVID-19, especially showcasing the merely 30,000 DACA recipients who are healthcare workers in the frontlines, who are not only benefitting from their own DACA status but are also benefitting American healthcare as a whole."
Wadhia referenced other long-term residents with formal legal status are also vulnerable to immigration enforcement and deportation, including the Temporary Protected Status population.
"It was a durable status enacted by Congress in 1990," Wadhia said. "It allows people to be here because of a situation in their home country - it might be a civil war, an earthquake or a man-made disaster. These are some of the reasons why someone might be eligible for TPS.
"This administration has tried to end TPS for hundreds of thousands of people living in the U.S. in a legal status, but is unable to so far because of litigation. You see a sort of engineering to expand the number of people who are undocumented by ending legal status for people who have it today."
Wadhia is a Clinical Professor, the Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law. Her focus is prosecutorial discretion and researches the intersection of race, national security and immigration. She has authored more than 30 law review articles, book chapters and essays, including her first book "Beyond Deportation."
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