HURRICANE ‘Harvey’ shifted the flood of Trump tweets from closing borders to opening doors.
North of Houston, Dallas announced the opening of a “mega-shelter” capable of accommodating 5,000 evacuees at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center while Austin – the state’s capital – prepares for at least 7,000 flood and hurricane-ravaged Texans, regardless of color.
But immigrant-suspects as “job stealers and benefits-availers” cannot afford to go with the flow; the presence of border patrol agents with rescue teams keep the level of fear at high levels.
Latino and Asian migration numbers have nearly doubled in 20 years and Houston is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the US placing it third in the rankings for cities with the largest population of illegal immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Federal and state entities as well as non-profit organization and immigrant advocates say Houston has the third-largest population of Mexicans, Vietnamese and Hondurans, with large pockets of Pakistanis, Nigerians, Indians and anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 Filipinos in permanent and temporary resident status.
And it does not help that before Harvey struck there had been a sharp increase in immigration arrests as the Trump administration pursues its action against sanctuary cities. In fact, the Houston office of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 10,000 arrests this year, the second highest in the country after Dallas.
While Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia suspended the implementation of a Texas-passed law—Senate Bill 4—requiring local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration agents to hold unauthorized immigrants and enforce deportation procedures, somehow the sight of border patrol agents on rubber boats conveys images of arrests than rescue efforts.
While there has been a lull in removal proceedings, the respite is temporary. The need to legalize one’s stay in the US – regardless of country of origin or border crossed – continues to be a permanent watermark.
In Washington, the proposed bill to cut legal immigration in half and limit family-sponsored categories to just the spouses and minor children of US citizen and green card holders is considered to be gaining strength especially with the endorsement of President Trump.
Permanent residency options
For those outside the US, the current family- and employment-based categories remain open albeit with numerical limits.
The State Department’s Visa Bulletin shows the fiscal year 2017 limit for family-sponsored preference at 226,000: for employment-based preference immigrants the annual cap is 140,000. The overall worldwide total is spread out to a per-country limit of 7 percent of the total annual family-sponsored and employment-based preference limits, or 25,620, with dependent area limits at only 7,320.
The limited numbers in both categories are also available to intending immigrants already in the US. However, the ability to remain in the US to apply for permanent residency in the country instead of applying for visas at consular posts outside the US presents the probability of being separated from the petitioner as well as other family members, including the chance of not being able to return if their visa applications are refused.
Once a visa holder (who was inspected at a port of entry i.e., presented a valid visa and admitted for a specified period of time to remain in lawful status) enters the twilight zone of unlawful presence as an overstayer, the options become limited to the 3-A solution: asylum, amnesty or asawa.
Political asylum for Filipinos may be a viable option at this time when the US State Department remains critical of human rights abuses under the Duterte administration but offering and granting amnesty is beyond its grasp, given the Trump administration’s contempt for refugees and undocumented immigrants especially from Mexico, referred to as “drug dealers, rapists and criminals.”
The last “A” option left is sponsorship by a US citizen spouse.
However, the road to permanent residency is littered with IEDs – improvised enforcement decisions—by the US Immigration and Enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.
Recent cases show that being married to US citizens and having US citizen children do not deter immigration agents from deporting unauthorized and unlawfully-present-in-the-country aliens regardless of whether they have been conscientiously paying taxes and are productive members of the community.
While President Trump may not unilaterally change the visa allocation system already in place, he can continue to issue executive orders that seek to deport immigrants or at least make it really difficult for them to stay.
Constant harassment and threat of immigration raids at the home or workplace keep undocumented aliens on edge, ultimately forcing them to cross the border back which apparently fits the pattern of how President Trump gets rid of those who do not kowtow to him: Tweet-shame them into retirement, or tell them “You’re fired” from a distance.
It worked with former FBI Director James Comey. And Trump has not given up on shaming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and in his incessant ridicule of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, including Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. These elected legislators he cannot fire since that is beyond the caprice and authority of an Apprentice President.
That is, until the trickle of Republican discontent transforms into a flood of Harvey proportions.