The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe announced March 27 that the US Secretary of the Interior has issued an order disestablishing its reservation on Massachusetts' Cape Cod and taking its land out of federal trust. Chairman Cedric Cromwell Qaqeemasq said in a statement: "[T]oday—on the very day that the United States has reached a record 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and our Tribe is desperately struggling with responding to this devastating pandemic—the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed me that the Secretary of the Interior has ordered that our reservation be disestablished and that our land be taken out of trust. Not since the termination era of the mid-twentieth century has a Secretary taken action to disestablish a reservation."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 24 filed a lawsuit against US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) calling for the immediate release of at-risk immigrant detainees in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. The suit was brought on behalf of 13 immigrants that are currently held in California detention centers. The suit calls for the immediate release of these immigrants due to their "advanced age and underlying medical conditions" that make them "especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection while they are confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible." The plaintiffs suffer from conditions such as diabetes, severe asthma, high blood pressure, gout, hypothyroidism, severe anemia and more.
The Department of Justice has called on Congress to grant the US Attorney General emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Politico report March 21. The proposal would allow federal judges to pause court proceedings, giving them the ability to detain people indefinitely without trial. Critics such as Norman L. Reimer, director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, are raising concerns over violation of habeas corpus rights. Reimer said the proposal "means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency...is over. I find it absolutely terrifying."
At least 10 detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ, began a hunger strike March 17 and dozens more have agreed to join in, according to detainees, jailhouse advocates and attorneys. They are demanding to be released on bond, possibly with ankle bracelets to track their movements, and some even said they're ready to be deported. Inside the jail, they have been following news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say they'd rather die on the outside with family than locked in cells. They also say that if loved ones die, they want to be with them rather than hearing the bad news later. Essex County has a multi-million dollar contract with ICE to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings. County officials said they are monitoring the situation. (WNYC)
Some 60,000 asylum-seekers sent back by the United States to Mexico until their claims can be heard in US courts face a longer wait in Mexican limbo after the US Supreme Court issued an order on March 11 that allowed a controversial anti-immigration policy to stand. An appeals court in San Francisco had ruled that the policy—officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, but known as "Remain in Mexico"—was unlawful in the two border states under its jurisdiction: Arizona and California. The new order means asylum-seekers must now pin their hopes on the outcome of an expected formal appeal by President Donald Trump's administration—but that might not play out through the courts until early 2021.
Three groups filed suit against the Trump administration on Feb. 29 in federal court over the administration's diversion of funds allocated to the Department of Defense for border wall construction. The Trump administration has announced its plan to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds and $2.5 billion in other military funds for wall construction. The administration is attempting to use these funds despite Congress' exclusive appropriation of $1.375 billion for border wall construction under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019. When President Trump signed the CAA into law, he also issued Proclamation 9844, declaring a national emergency along the southern border. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sierra Club, and Southern Border Communities Coalition sued, asking the US District Court for the Northern District of California to block the diversion of the funds. They claim that as Congress did not appropriate the funds for border wall construction, the president's actions usurp the constitutional budget allocation powers of the Legislative Branch.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
Maryland federal judge Peter Messitte on Jan. 15 blocked the Trump administration's order permitting state and local governments to prevent refugees from settling in their respective jurisdictions. The order stated that refugees must apply for written consent from local governments before settling in their areas of choice. It was challenged by three immigration advocacy groups, the Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). The preliminary injunction puts a temporary hold on the order. Messitte's reasoning was grounded in respect for statutory authority and separation of powers: "By giving states and local governments the power to veto where refugees may be resettled—in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and constitutional doctrine to the contrary—Order 13888 does not appear to serve the overall public interest."