They pull tricks and do things quietly where no one is looking

Flyers in Portland and New York ask migrants for personal information. The DOJ continues its assault on longstanding immigration law.

The immigration system is a funny thing. The only people who truly understand its ins and outs are those trapped inside and those trying to help them — and the government, which does its best to hide what’s actually going on.

This opacity has increased in the Trump administration. The latest example comes from Portland and New York and probably a lot of other places, although it’s hard to tell because the defining characteristic of the system is that it’s a black hole of information.

Eileen Sterlock is an immigration attorney in Portland. A recent situation she dealt with was passed on to me by an advocate source in Texas. I contacted Sterlock, who told me she knew of the same situation happening in New York through the internal and informal network of attorneys and advocates who deal with this stuff each day.

It goes like this:

Sterlock’s client is an indigenous Mayan woman from Guatemala. She is out on some form of release while her asylum case is being tried in immigration court. As a condition of her release, she must check in with an official working for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the least transparent of all immigration agencies, which is like being fattest person at Golden Corral — a tough prize to win. On a recent visit, Sterlock’s client was given a flyer that said ICE was conducting a survey. How old are you? Did you attend university?

Then, Why did you leave your country? And Why did you come to the United States?


These are important questions for an asylum-seeker, because the answers might determine whether or not the government believes you are truly in fear for your life or, you know, trying to seek a better life for you and your family by working in the United States. If you say the second thing, you will not get you asylum. If you say the first, you might. The flyer was in English and Spanish, neither of which Sterlock’s client speaks.

The flyer was then explained to her in Spanish because the second defining characteristic of the immigration system is that nothing makes any sense and migrants have few rights and fewer resources.

The client took the flyer to Sterlock who advised her to absolutely not fucking call that number and give ICE any information. Typical lawyer stuff.

“I don’t know why they’re doing it now but based on everything the administration has done to target, discourage, and discriminate against asylum-seekers, I’m assuming this survey is to help support that mission,” Sterlock told me. I can’t imagine that it would be helpful to Central Americans at all.”

Sterlock was upset, naturally, and called ICE to ask why it gave the flyer to her client. They said they didn’t know, but Sterlock persisted.

Eventually, ICE admitted that it was paying a contractor to conduct the survey, which the agency insisted was completely innocuous. The company conducting the survey is a sub-contractor of GEO Group, one of the biggest private prison corporations in the country and a huge beneficiary of policies that lock up as many migrants as possible for as long as possible.

If you believe the survey is harmless then you haven’t spent much time looking into the black hole of the immigration system.

“I assume they could use these answers to create statistics that say people are coming here for work, not asylum,” Sterlock said.

That would help the administration back up its claim that too many people are being granted asylum, which is part of its master plan to reduce total immigration as much as possible. If you listen to the people working in the black hole they say these types of things constantly. Yesterday an attorney in California told a reporter that the new Remain in Mexico policy was just the latest part of this government-wide effort to reduce immigration as much as possible.

“From step one, it seems that the administration has tried to do everything they can to put as many hurdles in front of these individuals, and make it as hard as possible for them to make their [asylum] claim,” said Andrew Nietor, an immigration attorney in San Diego.

I can’t count the number of times immigration attorneys have said nearly those exact same words to me.

Because the days are extremely long now, further evidence that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to reduce immigration came last night. That’s when the American Immigration Lawyers Association announced that wait times for green cards and citizenship have increased exponentially in the last few years — even though the number of applications has gone down.

You must be willfully blind to not understand what this is about: Republicans and the Trump administration are engaged in a historic radicalization of immigration policy in an effort to keep as many brown people out of the country as possible. To say otherwise is to ignore the facts that many people work very hard to dig out of the black hole each day.


Sterlock asked around about the flyer and found a lawyer in New York whose client was also given one. I tried to get a hold of that lawyer through a non-profit she used to work for, but got pulled down a rabbit hole when I discovered a post on their website about an obscure decision that is now pending with acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.

That was when I was in El Paso and I’ve been straightening it out ever since. I can report now that Whitaker plans to undo protections for victims of domestic violence, including child victims of sexual assault, who are seeking asylum. Basically, he’s going to change U.S. immigration law to say that someone who is abused by a family member can’t obtain asylum because they’re fleeing family violence.

They do these things quietly.

Thanks to the fact that we’re still a functioning democracy there are certain things that the government can’t do in the black hole, where they tried to trick migrants like Sterlock’s client into giving up personal information in a bogus survey that would have probably been used against her. One of the things they can’t necessarily do in the black hole is radically change immigration law, which Whitaker will do when he makes his decision on domestic violence asylum claims.

For an administration that was founded and elected on fear-mongering about immigrants, you’d think they’d be proud to announce that they’re changing the law dramatically through executive fiat in order to reduce the number of people admitted into the country. But they’re apparently not, because they announce these decisions on a remote corner of the Justice Department’s website where most people who aren’t always searching for things in the black hole will never go.

There are no press releases that say We Plan to End Protections for Child Victims of Sexual Abuse.

The U.S. Government Doesn’t Care About Central American Children Abused by Their Relatives, the chyron on Fox News will never say.

Now, there’s another black hole they’re looking to exploit. While lawyers here find the time to talk to people like me and tell us what’s going on in the black hole, the black hole in Mexico is more difficult to penetrate. That’s why the Trump administration has started sending migrants back there to wait while their cases go through the immigration court system. It’ll be harder for attorneys and people like me to find the migrants in Mexico and ask them what they’ve gone through.

Disposable people. Sub-human. This is the third defining characteristic of the black hole: It consumes and spits out people without regard to their humanity.


P.S. All the photos in this post except for the flyer were taken by Zach Nelson, who rolled with me on the VICE piece about life in the borderland a few months back. The first photo was taken from Juarez looking back to El Paso, where there’s this weird DMZ-type area that migrants walk into in order to be purposefully picked up by Border Patrol and apply for asylum. Once they got in those SUVs, who knows where they went. They could have ended up in Georgia or New York for all we know. The second photo was taken in an area west of Juarez where a source had seen a ladder leaned up against the wall there. That’s how good the wall that’s already there is working, in case you wondered... Zach and I are digging in to a new project to expand the type of coverage we did at the border that’ll include all types of issues, if we ever find the proper time for it, that is.