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Families suffer under broken immigration system

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jul 18, 2019 - 12:33:30 PM

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As the national debate rages about immigration reform, protection of U.S. borders and treatment of refugee and asylum seekers from Mexico, Central and South America, one Georgia mother has been separated from her family. Her case is indicative of a harsh and broken immigration system that’s killing and hurting many people, according to experts.

Ruth Muhammad, 47, was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. when she was seven years old in the 1970s, but never documented. She was denied reentry into the U.S. from Mexico in early May while attempting to gain a visa from the American Consulate.

Stanley and Ruth Muhammad, married for 30 years have been battling the U.S. immigration ordeal. Ruth Muhammad was brought to the U.S. as a child from Mexico was but recently denied entry back onto the U.S. while attempting to gain a visa.

Ms. Muhammad has been married for nearly 30 years with nine children, seven grandchildren and established a productive life in the U.S. which should have helped qualify her for citizenship.

“Actually, our attorney said we were the perfect candidates for the visa,” said Stanley Muhammad, her husband and a Nation of Islam student minister in College Park, Ga.

Everything looked optimistic for his wife’s case and Stanley Muhammad recalled his lawyer saying she had handled worse cases where visas were granted.

“We never thought in our wildest imagination there would be any kind of problems getting the visa,” he said.

Ms. Muhammad started paperwork toward legalization in 1996 out of a desire to reunite with her father, who she was separated from after relatives left Mexico with her. The Muhammads eventually acquired a I-130 status for citizens who petition on behalf of a relative for citizenship. The couple later obtained a I-601A hardship waiver which should have allowed for reentry into the United States.

In May, the Muhammads were directed to the American consulate in Juarez, Mexico to submit additional paperwork and complete the visa approval process. That’s where things went sour.

A U.S. consular officer denied the petition citing missing vaccination shots and concern Ms. Muhammad would become a “public charge” or dependent on the federal government. The Muhammads contend her records showed otherwise.

“The problem with that is my wife is not a public charge. She lives with me, and they have the record and know she’s not getting government assistance,” Mr. Muhammad explained. “They’re acting as though it’s a new case … that I flew to Mexico, married her, and am asking permission from the government to bring her across the border for the first time.”

The couple provided health records proving compliance and claimed religious exemption from further vaccinations, said Mr. Muhammad. Financial information on assets, like their home and business, was rejected with questions about whether Mr. Muhammad could raise the amount in money in a year.

“It is one justification of them not qualifying my wife for a visa after another,” he said. The ineligibilities led to revocation of the hardship waiver.

The Muhammads are established business owners with an audio and visual company for the hospitality industry and a track record of public service.

With community and family support, a “Sister Ruth’s Way Home” campaign of letters, emails and phone calls to elected officials and relevant agencies began.

Organizers are requesting Consul General John Tavenner in Mexico expedite and grant a humanitarian permit due to extreme hardship. Ms. Muhammad is primary caregiver of her disabled 10-year-old daughter, who suffered traumatic brain injury in a 2016 automobile accident. The daughter is experiencing anxiety related epileptic seizures since being separated from her mother. Calls to the consulate by The Final Call were not responded to by press time.

Ruth Muhammad’s ordeal is part of a larger immigration problem in what has been condemned as unjust and xenophobic responses from the Trump administration.

At Final Call press time, immigration agents were conducting raids in 10 major U.S. cities.Critics called the raids inhumane and denounced them as needlessly separating families and targeting immigrants.

“You have to understand, there is no mercy in our immigration law,” said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta-based immigration lawyer. “It’s just the law, you either qualify or you don’t, it doesn’t matter how good you are … how much money you made … what great a mom you are. Generally speaking, it just doesn’t matter,” he said.

Mr. Kuck represented Grammynominated recording artist 21 Savage, who was detained earlier this year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for an expired visa. The Black British citizen, whose birth name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, grew up in America, where he has lived from age seven. He was facing imminent deportation and spent 10 days in a Georgia detention center. He was released and is restricted to travel within America for now.

Advocates say people desiring “lawful status” enter a quagmire because of an automatic 10-year ban against re-entering the U.S. if an undocumented person leaves the country.

“Many people who qualify for green cards based on their relationships to U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives are caught in a Catch-22,” said a fact sheet provided by the American Immigration Council. Current law requires leaving America to apply for a green card, but when migrants depart, they are immediately barred from re-entering. So, immigrants who have a chance to gain legal status may not be able to. “Instead, they must choose between leaving … taking the risk they might not be able to return, or remaining … without legal status,” said the American Immigration Council.

“It’s awful, because it’s stopping about three million people from legalizing their status,” said Mr. Kuck. “It’s not because they want to, it’s because they have to.”

Pew Research Facttank, citing 2017 figures, reported 66 percent of undocumented adults have lived in America more than 10 years.

Immigration has become an overwhelming problem, says the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. In a July 2 report, the Inspector General said migrants detained on America’s southern border are experiencing inhumane conditions in detention facilities.

Homeland Security has long complained about record numbers of migrant families crossing the border with Mexico.

The report from acting-Inspector General Jennifer Costello issued an urgent call for Homeland Security to address “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detention” of children and adults at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The report said nearly a quarter of a million arrests were logged in the first eight months of 2019—a 124 percent increase compared to 2018. Most apprehensions involved families, said the report. At the time of the inspector general’s visit, Border Patrol was holding approximately 8,000 people in custody, with 3,400 held longer than the 72 hours permitted by law. Of these 3,400 migrants, upwards of 1,500 were held more than 10 days.

United States Customs and Border Protection is responsible for providing short term detention for people arriving undocumented. The time is to allow for initial processing. Migrants have a right to apply for asylum in the United States.

Overcrowding existed in four of the five border patrol facilities, and prolonged detention existed at all five facilities, said the Inspector General’s report. The Inspector General warned of “an escalation” of security issues and concerns about unaccompanied children and families. In addition to holding roughly 30 percent of minor children longer than 72 hours, several facilities struggled to meet standards for unaccompanied children and families. The Inspector General observed children at three of five facilities had no access to showers, change of clothes and zero laundry facilities. “While all facilities had instant formula; diapers; baby wipes … juice and snacks … we observed two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals ... until the week that we arrived,” said Ms. Costello.

In some facilities, adult detainees were in cells above the maximum occupancy allowed by law. At one facility, migrants were in “standing room only conditions” for a week and others over a month.

Senior managers at several facilities raised security concerns for agents and detainees. One called the situation “a ticking time bomb.”

“We ended our site visit at one Border Patrol facility early because our presence was agitating an already difficult situation,” wrote Ms. Costello, She described how detainees, seeing their presence, desperately shouted, banged and pressed notes to cell windows citing the amount of time they were detained.

The Inspector General remains concerned Homeland Security isn’t taking sufficient measures to address the problems.

Children who cannot be immediately returned to their countries are supposed to be relocated to facilities managed by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. Single adults are supposed to be moved to longer term facilities managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Then there was the discovery of “vile and crude” Facebook private social media exchanges by Border Patrol officers mocking migrant deaths.

In tweets responding to negative reports about facilities holding migrant families and children, President Trump said the conditions were an upgrade compared to their home countries. In a July 3 tweet, he retorted “if illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”

The immigration tug-of-war between the Trump administration and immigrant rights advocates is being fought in the courts. A federal judge in Seattle blocked a Trump administration policy that would keep thousands of asylum seekers detained while they pursue their cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sued to stop the policy as part of a national class action suit. “The court reaffirmed what has been settled for decades: that asylum-seekers who enter this country have a right to be free from arbitrary detention,” said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Thousands of asylum-seekers will continue to be able to seek release on bond, as they seek protection from persecution and torture.”