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In early December the acting deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ronald Vitello said he was “very concerned” with the increased number of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. Border in late 2017. This concern isn’t his alone. Immigration attorneys and human rights groups started to take note of the rise in unaccompanied minors months, and even years, earlier.

These minors, officially termed unaccompanied alien children by the United States government, are taking dangerous overland routes from Central American countries to find employment and safety in the United States. Most arrivals are in their mid or late teens, but some are as young as seven or eight years old. As the term would suggest, these children come alone, without parental guidance, and without a plan after crossing the border. Poverty and unsafe work conditions are always of concern – and in the current political climate, so is the very presence of unaccompanied minors in the United States. Yet, they continue to come in droves from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

These unaccompanied, and often unprepared, minors present unique immigration issues for Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), detention facilities, New York immigration lawyers, and human rights groups and lobbyists.

How Many Unaccompanied Minors Come to the U.S.?

 According to the Pew Research Center, the number of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala jumped 25% between 2007 and 2015. In the two years since their research was compiled, it’s believed that the number of people, including undocumented individuals, from these countries, rose at the same rate. During these same time periods, these countries have experienced a massive increase in homicide rates, gang activity, and other violence.

These factors, along with lack of economic opportunities in Central America, led a significant number of children and young people to leave their homes for the United States. Between 2013 and 2014 the number of unaccompanied minors from Central American apprehended at the U.S. Border doubled. That’s an unprecedented 50% increase in the spans of a single year, and a total of 47,017 unaccompanied minors arrested.

Of course, this doesn’t account for the many undocumented minors would evade Border Patrol and enter the U.S. illegally. Best estimates tell us that three of every four unaccompanied minors coming to the United States are from these Central American countries. The steep rise in unaccompanied minors continued through 2014 and 2015, prompting then President Obama to call the situation an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

In response, the government developed a policy of border enforcement to stop unaccompanied minors and families from entering the United States. As indicated by the 25% rise in the arrest of unaccompanied minors at the border, this was believed to be a good policy to deter young people from taking dangerous steps to come to the U.S. and prevent problems after their undocumented arrival.

In the final months of the Obama administration, Border Patrol stopped 48,681 unaccompanied minors. However, the federal government and customs officials are taking a different approach today.

What’s Changed Under President Trump?

A few days ago, the federal government finally released the annual numbers on detainment, deportation, and immigration enforcement for the previous fiscal year. Unlike the financial year, which runs from January 1 until December 31, reports for immigration start on October 1 and end each September 30th. The information provided shows the clearest picture of how President Trump’s approach to immigration is carried out by Border Patrol and ICE officers.

The most noticeable figure is a steady increase in the number of interior removals. These are individuals detained and removed from the United States away from the border. In the one year period, these deportations increased by 25%, with a 37% increase since President Trump’s inauguration. This substantial rise in interior removals is matched by a noticeable drop in the number of people arrested by Border Patrol.

In the same one-year period, the arrests by Border Patrol dropped by 25%. Border Patrol detained just 310,531 people between October 1, 2016, and September 30, 2017, whereas 415,816 people were arrested in the same period a year before. That’s the lowest number of arrests by Border Patrol since 1971.

It’s possible that some of this shift is attributed to fewer people attempting to cross the U.S. Border illegally. Change in rhetoric and political climate could deter some individuals from trying, but the corresponding change in border arrests and ICE internal removals indicates an entire shift in policy. When it comes to all undocumented immigrants, the focus appears to be on detainment and deportation of individuals already in the country.

Impact on Unaccompanied Minors

The policy shift means that more unaccompanied minors are making their way to the United States. There isn’t conclusive evidence of this yet, but the statement by Vitello of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the continuation of undocumented immigrants from Central America indicates that this is likely.

Once in the United States, these young people are at a much higher risk of detainment. Yet, there are restrictions and laws on holding minors detained by ICE. Minors are only held in certain circumstances, which causes substantial problems with hearing dates and deportation. Under the current administration, there’s a stronger use of ICE enforcement and removal, even for unaccompanied minors.

Recent articles and research have considered the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. Border from Central and South American countries. To learn more about the status of unaccompanied minors, their treatment as undocumented aliens in the U.S., or the continued trend of their arrival in the U.S. – contact New York attorney Kyce Siddiqi.

The month of November 2017 has already been a rollercoaster ride for a number of immigration programs and processes. There are still questions around the future of DACA, continued suspense over possible changes to the Priority Date system for specific visa schemes, and overall a general uncertainty regarding the U.S. approach to immigration. However, no immigration issue has received more attention this month than the Diversity Visa Lottery.

What is a Diversity Visa Lottery?

Each year in October and early November millions of people from around the world apply to the Diversity Visa Lottery. It is expected that before this year’s November 22nd deadline, 14 million people will submit applications to the Diversity Visa Lottery. It’s a long shot to be selected, but as a true lottery the chances are even for everyone who properly submits an application. No sponsor or family member in the United States is needed.

The program was part of the Bush Administration’s Immigration Act of 1990 and welcomed its first participants in 1995 under President Clinton. If selected in the lottery the Diversity Visa allows the individual to enter the United States as a permanent resident. Thus, the program is alternatively called the Green Card Lottery, and for many people it is seen as the best opportunity to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

However, the Diversity Visa Lottery is only open to foreign nationals from specified countries. It’s meant to provide immigration opportunities for individuals that are underrepresented in the United States today. This includes a majority of people coming from Africa, being 44% of all recipients from the Diversity Visa Lottery over time, and smaller or Eastern European countries. In 2016, the most recent year of reporting on Diversity Visa Lottery recipients the majority of individuals came from Egypt, Nepal, Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uzbekistan and Ethiopia.

Why is the Diversity Visa Lottery Being Questioned?

The current presidential administration has hinted at an end of the Diversity Visa Lottery since taking office in January, but recent events have brought the program under more scrutiny from the federal executive branch.

On Halloween, right here in New York City a terror suspect carried drove his vehicle through a crowd of people – killing eight people and injuring several others. This isn’t news to anyone in New York or the United States, but what many people don’t know is the violent actor in this case was an Uzbek national who received permanent residency in the United States through the Diversity Visa Lottery in 2010.

Within two days of the attack in Lower Manhattan, President Trump called for the end of the Diversity Visa Program and implementation of other immigration control processes. The request to end this program came via Tweet from the President, which doesn’t provide any immediate legal implications. But as past policy decisions from the Trump Administration exemplify, the President’s opinions over Twitter often become part of official policy.

The argument for ending the Diversity Visa Lottery is that it would provide an opportunity to increase merit-based visa programs, which would allow for more controlled and intentional immigration. Of course, on the opposing side are valid points that the Diversity Visa Lottery provides an opportunity for unskilled and underrepresented, but needed, workers to come to the United States. Without this program these individuals wouldn’t have any access to other residency schemes.

What to Expect in 2018?

The Diversity Visa Lottery for the year 2019 closes on the 22nd of this month. Nearly all the applicants for this round of recipients have already submitted the appropriate paperwork, but that doesn’t guarantee the federal law will still be in effect for the lucky individuals selected. It is possible that initiatives and policy reform from the federal government will discontinue the program and cancel the awarded Green Cards prior to 2019.

While the rhetoric from the executive government can create a lot of unease and uncertainty for recipients of the Diversity Visa Lottery in upcoming years, the President can’t act unilaterally on this point. The legislative branch, federal agencies, and lobbyists are certain to have a hotly contested conversation and debate on the continuation of this visa program and whether or not a replacement is provided.

Concerned About Your Immigration Status

As a top immigration attorney in Long Island and representing clients across New York and the United States, the Law Firm of Kyce Siddiqi has seen significant changes in approach and process for immigration in recent months. Concern over immigration status and continuation of specific immigration programs is valid. But turning that concern into planning and proactive steps is beneficial. Call 888-915-7333 to speak directly with a qualified immigration attorney today.

We are at a pivotal point for American immigration policy. In the months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, most aspects of U.S. immigration policy have come into question. In many instances, the Trump administration found these questions called for changes. Yes, there was always talk of the “wall” and tighter immigration restrictions on the Mexican border. Then, there were changes to the Obama Era’s policy on Cuba and retraction of the steps taken under the former administration to open relations with the island nation.

Among the big immigration news there have been several less discussed modifications to the American approach to immigrants, in particular undocumented individuals. Border security is tighter, detainment and deportation are higher, and the mindset of immigration law enforcement is narrower. These changes to approach and mindset are hardly surprising as Trump campaigned on a promise to remove all 11 million of the U.S.’s undocumented immigrants.

Accompanying the changes to broad immigration policies and specific laws comes uncertainty. For individuals completing immigration applications or living in the United States under certain immigration schemes, this uncertainty is more than inconvenient, it is unsettling.

Start of a Discussion About DACA

In September, President Trump’s end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a source of debate across the country. DACA was a federal program, started in 2012 by the Obama Administration, that allowed children illegally brought to the United States at a young age to live, work, and study in the United States without the fear of deportation.

In addition to an age requirement, DACA had specific other application criteria. The young people who applied for DACA and received the privilege of staying in the United States for work or school are called Dreamers.

After President Trump’s announcement, immigration attorneys in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and across the country started to prepare clients and Dreamers for the uncertain ramifications and consequences of losing their immigration status. The Dreamers are securing jobs in America’s largest corporations, attending university, and going to high school, but their protected status in the United States could not change at any moment.

A Deal for Dreamers?

After President Trump’s announcement on DACA, several lawmakers began pushing for a deal that would prevent hundreds of thousands of Dreamers from being deported. Congressmen and women from both sides of the aisle expressed a desire to find a legislative solution to continue DACA, or some form of protection for the young immigrants who qualify as Dreamers. However, in the past few days, it has become apparent that the executive branch has its own ideas about what measures should be included in a deal to keep Dreamers in the United States.

President Trump has revealed a list of immigration initiatives that could be compromised by the Democrats to keep Dreamers protected and in the United States. Among the demands was a crackdown on sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are those municipalities that vow to provide robust immigration protection to the individuals living in their boundaries. Also, Trump’s list included agreement to build the controversial border wall and other border security measures that would try to prevent unaccompanied children from crossing into the United States.

Overall, Trump’s list is a robust set of policy changes that would affect a huge number of immigrants in the United States. It is also a list that is unlikely to be considered by the Democrats in Congress, which have staunchly refused any concession to a border wall. Some Trump critics have stated that the proposed measures are a purposeful move to use the Dreamers as bargaining chips in the Trump administration’s bigger immigration plan. Others have simply said the proposed compromises are unrealistic.

Thus, a month after Trump’s announcement to end DACA, the uncertainty continues.

Addressing the Uncertainty

The ever-changing and ongoing conversation around DACA and the Dreamers not only represents uncertainty for these immigrants, but also reflects a broader uncertainty felt by all immigrants and long-term visitors to the United States. Immigration to American, on nearly all levels, is in flux. Gigantic questions regarding how America protects its borders, accepts visa applications, and deals with undocumented immigrants are debated every day. In New York, the upcoming months could determine a great deal about who can come here, who can live here, and the process for doing both.

If you have questions about naturalization, the process for immigration, or your immigration status, contact an immigration lawyer right here in New York. At the Law Firm of Kyce Siddiqi, we are ready to take your call. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to have conversations regarding the status of immigration laws and changing policies.

For a free, initial consultation call our Long Island office toll free at 888.915.7333 or our local number at 646.930.4488.