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Immigration attorneys see uptick in clients, fear as enforcement increases

May 16, 2018

This spring, Tom Linkel is getting more and more worried as he watches the grass grow and his business sink.

The Batesville man is the co-owner of Linkel Co., which regularly contracts with Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to keep the grass along the roadways mowed. To do the work, Linkel relies on the same group of 30 workers who have come from southern Mexico every summer season.

He has already filled out the H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visa applications, just as he has done for the past several years, and submitted all the necessary paperwork to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Unlike past years, Linkel is still waiting to get approval and bring in the guest workers. The delay in the release of the visas is being linked to the Trump Administration, which has taken a harder stance against immigration.

A Trump supporter, the businessman disagrees with the president on immigration. Linkel maintains the H-2B visa program is getting mixed up in the debate over immigration and the guest workers are being treated the same as undocumented residents. Shutting down the H-2B visa program is going after the wrong issue, he said.

Linkel has advertised for workers to fill the summer positions that pay $12 to $16 an hour, but few have applied. Immigrant labor keeps his business afloat. But now that the guest workers are barred from entering the United States, Linkel is falling behind every day and is increasingly concerned he will lose some of the contracts and, possibly, his entire business.

Since Donald Trump took office, not only has the rhetoric about immigrants become harsher but enforcement has been stepped up and the processes to either maintain or establish legal status have been slowed down.

Nationally, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made 143,470 arrests in 2017, a 30 percent increase from the previous year, according to ICE’s fiscal year 2017 report. The agency also made 142,356 requests to local law enforcement around the country to hold and notify the federal government before a “removal alien is released from criminal custody.” Furthermore, detentions from ICE’s interior enforcement efforts jumped 42 percent to 108,077.

From the National Immigrant Justice Center office in Goshen, Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services, has plenty of stories to illustrate the statistics.

A mother and her 6-year-old child seeking asylum were separated and held in different detention facilities for four months. Immigrants are getting pulled over then getting their legal status checked and being arrested. ICE agents are going into businesses to arrest one person but then checking the status of the other employers and arresting others.

Last August, ICE picked up two minor Honduran girls at the border who were fleeing sexual abuse. They were released to their mother in Indiana but the federal agency then started deportation proceedings against the woman, accusing her of smuggling the girls into the United States. The NIJC intervened and stopped the proceedings.

Koop pointed out the stories are alarming for good reason. “I think there is somewhat of a coordinated attack on immigrant rights and due process,” she said.

Longer process for the routine

All the activity coupled with the news reports from around the country are making immigrants anxious about what could happen next and businesses, such as Linkel Co., are frustrated at seeing longtime employees get snagged on an immigration matter and watching their bottom lines drop.

At Popp & Bullman in Bloomington, partner Christine Popp has seen an uptick in immigrants coming for legal advice since Donald Trump was elected in November 2016.

“There is a lot of fear among immigrants, both documented and undocumented,” Popp said. “Everybody is very scared.”

The clients, fearful about their future, have roots in their local communities, working there for 20 years, owning a home or business and raising their children. They do not want to be deported to their countries of origin, which not only can be violent places, but also are unfamiliar because the clients often have lived in the United States for many years.

Although government officials refer to the immigrant’s place of origin as the “home country,” Popp noted the term is inaccurate. “It’s not really your home if you came here when you were 3 years old and that was 30 years ago,” she said.

The process for clients to get legal status remains long and expensive, requiring the help of an attorney. But Popp has noticed that even the straightforward process of maintaining legal status has become more arduous since the change in administration. The federal government is requesting more evidence with each application, and the processing time more than doubled from about six months to 17 months.

durham-michael-mug Durham

Michael Durham, partner in the South Bend office of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, noted a similar slowdown in the process businesses use to file visa petitions for workers. Getting approval of applicants is taking longer and getting more cumbersome as federal officials are requiring more evidence and questioning the supporting documents.

Durham speculated the crackdown might cause employers to pause when hiring foreign nationals. Large international companies can recruit globally and when they find a candidate for a position, they will work to get the individual a visa. Now, with more awareness over the complexity and uncertainty surrounding immigration, businesses may be thinking twice.

Domestic violence decision

Like Popp in Bloomington, Rachel Van Tyle, director of immigration services at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis, also has been counseling more immigrants who are coming to seek help. Even the refugees who have permanent status are afraid because their experiences have taught them to be distrustful of any government.

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She looks upon her job as being a “truth teller” and giving the clients an honest assessment of their chances of remaining in the U.S. Still, she doesn’t understand the actions of the current administration.

“I think some of it feels like they are being obstructionist just to be obstructionist,” she said.

However, a filing in Matter of A-B- by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions might indicate that a harder line is going to be drawn.

The case involves an El Salvadoran women who is a survivor of domestic violence. She lost her bid for asylum in federal court but the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned that decision. Then Sessions referred the case to himself for review.

The attorney general since has posed what Koop described as a convoluted question and asked for amicus briefs. The NIJC submitted a brief, but Koop sees the possibility that Sessions could overturn the board’s ruling, which would set a precedent making it more difficult for domestic violence victims to be granted asylum.

“This is new and frightening,” Koop said.•

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