Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

Who Are We Turning Away?

Helping handA pregnant woman, separated from her husband in a time of regional conflict and instability, flees the central region of her country with a single suitcase and her 2 year old daughter and 1 year old son. The goal is to travel by train to the closest major southern land border in the hopes of reuniting soon with her husband who is fighting far away from home. Every day, people gather around the border crossing waiting for the gates to open and the glimmer of opportunity to cross into another sovereign land. If you miss the timing and fail to cross, the consequences may be worse than death. With her suitcase in one hand and her 1 year old son holding her other, her two year old daughter grabs onto her mother’s dress as the crowd pushes forward trying to get through. Immovable by the throngs of bodies pushing, the pregnant woman lets the crowd sway her and her children through to the protection promised by the neighboring country.

Once on the other side, she reevaluates her surroundings acknowledging the luggage in one hand, her son in the other and only then is aware that her daughter no longer clings to her dress. She screams amongst the shouting crowd, “Where is my daughter? Where is she?” On the other side of the crossing is the two year old daughter with her eyes only able to see the back of people’s legs unaware of where her family went. With a quick motion, she finds herself atop the shoulders of a man she does not know, a man wearing a business suit walking past the crossing. Disoriented, she is still unaware of where she is or how she lost her mother and brother. This little girl cannot tell time and does not know how long it took before she could her hear her mother’s cries and reunited with her. Without even realizing, this little girl is forever labeled by her mother as “lucky” in their native language. And the identity of the nice gentleman in the business suit is never discovered.

The tale told is not a unique story. Although it happened in 1949, it continues to be a story relatable in our present day. As a young child, I remember my grandmother recounting the horrors of a civil war that destroyed her comfortable life. I never understood what my grandmother meant when she said repeatedly that my mother was so very “lucky.” She rarely talked about everything that happened during that time that pitted Chinese against Chinese. I would only hear snippets growing up. But as I got older, I heard more from other family members, even as my mother told me she had a difficult time remembering much of anything during her younger years in Hong Kong.

When she passed away unexpectedly in 2011, I was in charge of taking care of all the family matters with her death. I vividly recall going through her unorganized stacks of important papers kept all over the house and finding a photocopy of a document titled “Refugee Resettlement Land Allocation” something or another. And in this document was a blurry photo of my mother and her family; her as a preteen and my youngest auntie in my grandmother’s arms.

My mother and her side of the family never lamented how they lost everything in the fighting. Instead, they talked about how grateful they were to be alive and the chances they took to ensure the family’s survival. Despite living in a shanty on a hill in Hong Kong, they were grateful for the British Colonial government’s generosity in allowing them to have a place to call their own, to be safe from harm.

I have spent almost 7 of my 8 years of practice as an immigration attorney hearing stories no different from my family’s own history. What my clients seek under the U.S. asylum law is no different than what my family sought when they asked for refuge in Hong Kong. My clients just want to be able to live their lives in safety, to give their children of the opportunities they didn’t have, to move on from a limbo state of violence and begin anew.

But things have gotten much harder. For instance, in 2008, my asylum clients could reasonably expect to have an interview and receive a decision within 4 months. Now, a current client finds themselves in a U.S. asylum system where the wait may be well over two years just for an interview to present their case before an asylum officer. In the meantime, they are ineligible to apply for work authorization until their case has been pending 150 days. And even once that deadline has passed, many face further delays and cryptic reasons for the inability of the U.S. immigration service to process their request.

In my practice, I find myself telling clients that they may wait years before an interview is scheduled. I find myself having to give them cold hard numbers to understand the uphill journey they will set themselves on if they decide to apply for asylum. I tell them that in our jurisdiction, the asylum office has over 10,000 backlogged cases waiting for an interview. I tell them that an average 900 new cases are submitted monthly with only 300-600 cases interviewed that same month.

During this time, they find themselves physically safe but still in a state of panic thinking of their families that stayed behind. The only way for them to bring their children or spouses away from the dangers in their country is for them to win their case. Unlike what my mother and her family went through, my clients find themselves living in limbo never knowing how long or when they may be able to tell their stories. They spend each day wondering when and if they can ever reunite with their family members in safety.

How did my family story end up? Well, at the age of 17, my mother was recruited to train as a nurse in England. She eventually immigrated to the United States in the late 1960’s and brought my grandmother, two aunts and two uncles to the U.S. My mother’s family was small. They only had each other. If my mother tried to bring over her family in the present day, it would most likely only be my grandmother that would be allowed to immigrate. The decades long wait times for brothers and sisters would eliminate any possibility of a timely reunification. What would be lost would be an entire generation of people. Every child from my mother and her siblings (we were all born in the U.S.) went on to graduate from colleges such as Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, University of Southern California and University of Texas. This is what the U.S. loses out on when delays in adjudications go on for years.

As the immigration debate intensifies into politics, what often gets forgotten are the individuals, the living beings, affected by the current broken system. As rhetoric takes aim at increasing funding for enforcement and a growing police state near the borders, people lose sight of the lack of resources and funding needed to help people who are waiting in limbo.

Politics has gotten in the way of what truly matters in this debate: fixing the laws to reduce wait times, reinforcing existing infrastructure to allow the immigration agency and its employees to adjudicate cases, giving people the opportunity to have their cases heard and allowing people to begin their lives. Immigration is about people, not politics, and President Obama should do all he can to make our system work.

Written by Tammy Lin, AILA Media Advocacy Committee Member 

National Inaction Leads to Local Legislation

image On Friday, New York City’s (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio signed local legislation, Introductions 486-A and 487-A, which will significantly restrict the city’s cooperation with inappropriately broad federal immigration enforcement practices, except in instances where there are public safety concerns, i.e., criminal activity. Another effect of these bills is to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) presence at Rikers Island prison and all City facilities.  A few of us attended the press conference, where the Mayor actually signed the legislation which will  go into effect in 30 days.

In essence, the bill drastically limits ICE’s use of the New York City Criminal Justice System as an arena in which it can enforce its removal and detention operations.  The new laws will lead to the release of many non-citizens who since the inception and implementation of the Secure Communities and Criminal Alien Programs have actually chosen to remain in criminal custody by not posting bail and refusing to resolve even the most minor of criminal cases in an effort to avoid their inevitable transfer into ICE detention.

Prior to this signing, New York Chapter members Cory Foreman and Hedwin Salmen-Navarro, testified in front of New York City Council, representing AILA’s position that the then current practice of detaining non-criminals was inhumane, cruel and financially crippling to an already vulnerable community.  As part of their testimony, they said:Neena 1

“In light of a number of recent court decisions holding that federal law does not require local law enforcement to honor detainers, a growing number of cities and municipalities across the country are refusing to cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement following a foreign national’s release from police or Department of Corrections custody.  There are a number of legal, policy and humanitarian reasons why it is critical for New York City to stop honoring immigration detainers except in the most extreme cases.”

ICE issues detainers to local law enforcement agencies, such as the NYPD or Department of Corrections, asking them to hold an individual even after his or her cases have been resolved, often without a warrant. The detainers allow the person to be picked up by federal immigration authorities, who often hold the person for months before initiating deportation proceedings.

486-A and 487-A will limit the NYPD or Corrections to only honoring a detainer if it comes with a federal warrant, and even then, only if the individual in question has been convicted of a violent or serious felony in the last five years, or is a possible match on the terrorist watch list.

Mayor de Blasio has been a keen supporter and advocate for immigrant rights, and sympathizes greatly with the plight of undocumented workers.  I recall seeing him speak at the immigration rally October 2013, where he spoke in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  As he signed these bills he said, “What these bills do is they protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, of visa holders, and legal permanent residents alike, all of whom have suffered under the previous approach, and ultimately prevent families from being torn apart.”

This is not the only immNeena 3igration stance he has taken.  The Mayor has also introduced the idea of municipal identification for undocumented individuals, and has always been a vocal advocate of the Dream Act.

The usual opponents and naysayers claim that these new laws restricting ICE’s scope of authority will compromise safety, however as we know, and as the Mayor conveyed at the press conference, undocumented immigrants will be more likely to approach police for help or with tips if they do not fear deportation.  He said: “When people understand in all cases police are here to protect, and will not be part of deporting, it will encourage people to come forward.”

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also spoke at length about federal inaction causing harm by separating families and the pain for undocumented individuals, as they are unable to apply for any relief, nor leave due to the fear of not being able to return.

As we all anticipate some form of executive action, or see if this game of chicken or immigration stalemate will come to an end and we hope to see some significant, meaningful reform, local governments recognize the need for action.  I hope that local legislators continue their important efforts, but I think we all hope that the federal government starts acting soon, because immigration is a federal concern, not just a local one.

Written by Neena Dutta, AILA NYC Chapter Chair

Administrative Action Wish List, Part 3

AdminReform_300x200As immigration advocates we generally find ourselves in the position of trying to rationally explain rules and regulations that we personally find maddening. Maddening how? Well, come with me for a few moments as I sit down with “Muresh” and discuss immigration rules with him. He’s not real but, maddeningly, his story is.

Muresh is from India.  He came to the US when he was 18 years old.  He attended a prestigious US university and obtained his bachelor’s degree in computer science with honors.  Muresh decided he wanted to pursue a master’s degree in computer science and moved on to another US university where he earned his advanced degree. While studying for his master’s, Muresh met the love of his life, a fellow  student who also hailed from India. Muresh was thrilled, his fiancée was thrilled, his parents were thrilled. Life was good and soon they were married. Muresh and his wife obtained six figure positions in large employers in the IT field.

They were living the American dream. They were just like the “rest of us” or so they thought.  They bought a house in the suburbs, paid taxes on their salaries, went to the farmer’s market on Saturdays and out to dinner whenever they could.  Soon, they were expecting a child. Their joy knew no bounds. They had it all.

Then Muresh’s employer asked me to explain to Muresh why he and his wife would have to wait 8 years for a green card based upon the current system.  I was asked essentially to explain the unexplainable. Muresh sounded hopeful on the phone so I knew I would have to crush his hopes gently with the truth of the matter. Should I retell the EB-2 v. EB-3 story for the 100,000th time in my career? (Shorthand: very smart v. not smart enough.) Or should we just go with the reality that our antiquated system allows only 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas for hundreds of thousands of applicants?

While the system is antiquated and the maximum number of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas is arcane for the world’s best economy, we can and must do better with the cards we have been dealt.  INA §201(d)(1)(A) does not proscribe the method of distribution for employment-based immigrant visas nor does it explicitly state that Muresh and his wife should be counted for two visas rather than one against the quota.  Therefore, it would seem that this issue is ripe for an administrative resolution.

The benefits to addressing the reallocation of employment-based immigrant visas are great.  It all breaks down to three points both political parties should agree on:

  • We are a nation that wants the best and brightest so why are we making those whom we claim to desire most wait the longest? We should be welcoming them and thanking them for staying to use their talents to benefit our great country.  After all, why is the United States educating these talented men and women if we do not want to keep them?
  • It’s the economy, right? All of these individuals are earning good salaries at employers around the USA.  They are paying federal and state taxes (well in Massachusetts they are paying state taxes).  They are buying houses, shopping and generally adding to our economy.  Why would we want this economic benefit to leave?
  • They’ve done everything right, they got in line! Isn’t that what all the hardliners tell folks to do?  Muresh got an F-1 visa, two or three H-1B visas (if he’s lucky) and then applied for a green card.  He did it all the right way.  Why is our messed up immigration system punishing him for doing exactly what he ought?

It boils down to this: by counting the principal immigrant and his or her derivatives as a single family unit, we would reduce the current immigrant visa backlogs in both the employment-based category and even the family-based preference category.  There is no rational reason to not employ this administrative fix to help thousands of people obtain their green cards and achieve their American Dreams.  We can do better, and we should, for the benefit of all.

Written by Matt Maiona, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

Administrative Action Wish List, Part 2

AdminReform_300x200During the past several presidential election cycles, politicians of all stripes have acknowledged that our immigration laws are antiquated and need reform. Unfortunately, for all of their bluster, nothing has been accomplished through Congress. Lacking Congressional action, the President announced earlier this year that he will be issuing executive orders to address some of the problems in the current immigration system.

There are a number of actions the president can take through the Department of Homeland Security that would provide relief for many immigrants already in the U.S. while supporting family unity, promoting economic growth, and ensuring national security through documenting masses of people who are currently undocumented and unknown to our government agencies. One such action is through expanding parole in place (PIP) – a process that is familiar to DHS and the public and is already available to a small number of foreign nationals.

PIP is currently a form of relief available to immigrants who entered the country without authorization but have an immediate relative who has either served or is currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. The process currently involves the immediate relative service member or veteran applying for a parole document on behalf of the foreign national. Once granted, the foreign national receives a parole document that serves as an inspection document without having to leave the country and re-enter. With this parole document – and with an approved or concurrently filed I-130 – the foreign national might be eligible to adjust his/her status by using the parole document as proof of authorized inspection for the purposes of an adjustment of status. Of course, the foreign national still needs to be otherwise qualified to get a green card.

The authority for parole in place comes from INA § 212(d)(5)(A), which allows for the Secretary of Homeland Security to parole in foreign nationals who are seeking admission to the U.S. or who are already unlawfully present in the U.S.

President Obama should expand this system to include all immediate family of U.S. citizens. This would allow foreign nationals who have an immediate U.S. citizen family member who’s only bar of adjustment being their unlawful entry to the U.S. to be eligible for permanent residency. This, like the current PIP process, would not cure any other inadmissibility issues such as criminal activity, but would allow for otherwise law abiding residents of this country to gain legal, documented status.

This action would provide several benefits: providing for a permanent status for people who would be living in the country anyway, ensuring that residing foreign nationals are not separated from their immediate U.S. citizen family member, documenting previously undocumented people, and thus providing information and security for the rest of the populace.

There will be little or no expense to the government for doing this – since most immigration applications have a processing fee that DHS will use for their adjudication.

This action would also have the added benefit of unclogging much of the current immigration system by allowing for a quick and easy process for non-dangerous foreign nationals to gain lawful status and allow for DHS and ICE to spend their limited and currently stretched resources on detaining and removing violent and dangerous persons.

With so many benefits available in expanding PIP, President Obama should direct the Secretary to use his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant parole to unlawfully present aliens to all foreign nationals with immediate U.S. relatives.

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

What It Boils Down To

shutterstock_170940386Well, pundits are hashing over what happened on Tuesday but here’s what it boils down to: Republicans will have control of the Senate in the next Congress (at least 52-43), as well as strengthening their majority in the House (at least 243-175).

A new Congress offers possibilities, offers the hope of action to revamp our immigration laws. We had quite the time over the last Congress with the Senate passing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. We were full of hope. And then…crickets chirped while we stood waiting for the House to act.

No such luck. But here’s the thing, AILA worked with both Republicans and Democrats as we always do and will continue to do so, offering expertise about what parts of our immigration system are broken and solutions for how to create a new system that actually works for business, families, and our country as a whole.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the majority of Americans want action on immigration reform, and that the possibility of legalizing the undocumented still wins out over “deport them all.” That’s heartening as we head into the holidays and the last few weeks of this lame duck Congressional period.

We have some time left before 2015 and President Obama must keep his promise to deliver major administrative reforms by the end of the year. Delay has only meant more broken families and frustrated businesses. These are folks I hear from every single day. What we want, in the absence of our real need for legislative reform, is for President Obama to do what is within his legal authority to fix the immigration system.

I know some are worried about executive action not helping matters, but here’s the thing: We can’t afford to wait any longer. Businesses can’t afford to be left hanging, trying to hire the best person to stand up a factory, or create new products. Entrepreneurs from all over the world who have big ideas and want to start their companies here shouldn’t have roadblocks thrown in their way. Families can’t wait any longer for the chance to be reunited with a loved one when the only thing bogging down the process is our convoluted bureaucracy. And we can’t continue to deport people with close family in, and long-term ties to, the U.S.

So, let’s turn from this election with renewed energy. Push for administrative action while strengthening relationships with Hill offices from both sides of the aisle. Offer information and expertise to the newly elected coming to D.C. And greet this next chapter in the fight for immigration reform with strength and determination.

Written by Leslie A.  Holman, AILA President

Latinos: History Proves Your Votes Can Make a Difference

shutterstock_37571284Elections are just around the corner and given the likelihood that Republicans will take control of the Senate the Latino vote is more crucial than ever.

But why would Latinos pass on voting this year?  The answer: most are dissatisfied with President Obama’s broken promises on immigration reform.

In 2012, Latinos played a major role in awarding President Obama a second term. They gave him 71% of their vote, relying on Mr. Obama’s promise to enact immigration reform.  A few months after the election, and with the support of the White House, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform package.  But the House GOP leadership refused to act—finally admitting in June of this year that they had no intention of considering immigration reform legislation.

President Obama responded by promising to use his executive authority to make the immigration system work as best it could—and he said he would act by Labor Day.  Yet once the summer heat subsided, and the green leaves faded to beautiful fall colors, Mr. Obama’s promise gave way to a delay in the use of his executive authority until after the midterm elections.  Once again, it seemed, party politics trumped unjustified deportations.

Is it any surprise then that Latinos feel used and abused by the politicians in Washington?

For them, immigration isn’t simply a political issue.  It’s personal.  It’s about loved ones who have been detained and deported without reprieve since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.  His decision to delay using his authority to provide temporary relief to millions of undocumented immigrants has, understandably, angered Latinos and led them to seriously question the President’s commitment to issues that affect their community.

Some immigration reform advocates, arguing that Democrats should be held accountable for inaction on immigration, have gone so far as to call for a boycott of the November midterm elections.

But I disagree.  The enormous power of the Latino vote should not be wasted on a boycott. To the contrary, Latinos should stand proud at the polls next Tuesday as part of an historic movement of change and progress for our nation.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans can take the Latino vote for granted.  Historically they have been a swing constituency and it is only in recent years that Latinos have voted in far greater numbers for Democrats.  Ours is a vote to be fought for–and big elections will be won or lost depending on which way we vote.

History has proved the power of the Latino vote in state elections too. One clear example of such power is the 2010 California gubernatorial race.  Back then, California Governor Jerry Brown was struggling with Latinos. His campaign seemed indifferent to the concerns of Latino voters until his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, started making gains. In 2010, anti-immigrant legislation was trending across conservative-led states, including Arizona, Georgia and Alabama.  Latino advocates showed the negative economic effects of the states’ racial profiling policies and Governor Brown then understood the power of the Latino community.  Now, Governor Brown has a record of signing laws that have truly set the national standard for pragmatic, well-reasoned policies regarding immigrants.  These include pushing back against detainers, allowing undocumented immigrants the right to practice law and qualify for driver’s licenses and, more recently, codifies the jurisdiction of state courts to issue orders regarding protecting unaccompanied immigrant minors.

Two decades after California voters backed Proposition 187—which was later declared unconstitutional—Governor Brown gets it.

Like they did in California, Latino voters nationwide have an opportunity—indeed a responsibility—to show America that real change happens when citizens vote.  What matters more than who they vote for is the fact that they vote and show their power. The Republicans, Democrats and Independents may continue with their political gamesmanship, but Latino voters need to get to the polls and show the politicians that immigration reform is not only the right thing to do, it’s smart politics.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, immigration attorney and Second Vice President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

Artesia: A Day in the Tour of Duty, Part 4

Artesia1This is what you need to know:

The due process violations are still going on in Artesia.  While the nation’s attention is on other concerns like Ebola and the mid-term elections, mothers and children are still being detained in Artesia and other facilities.  The work of the Artesia Volunteer Heroes is making a difference.  More families are being released on bond than being deported, to the frightened shock of the Artesia Mayor.  “This administration has changed their view on the rapid deportation, as it was the stated goal to begin with, and had just determined that they will simply release them into the United States,” Artesia Mayor, Phil Burch, said.  Of course, like many in this debate, he is quick to dismiss our country’s international law obligations and commitments, asylum law, and immigration law standards dictating release of bona fide asylum seekers.

Denver Immigration Judges are granting significantly lower bonds than their previous Arlington colleagues. This proves these families have bona fide asylum claims and the Administration is wrong about their national security claims.  Schools have now opened for the children in Artesia.

Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to believe things are getting better.  Let’s be clear, what is happening in Artesia is wrong, illegal, and morally reprehensible. The recent allegations of sexual abuse at the Karnes Family Detention Center, serve only to emphasize again our country’s failure to protect these vulnerable asylum seekers.

Ten US Senators have sent a letter to DHS Secretary, Jeh Johnson telling him it is “unacceptable” to detain women and children seeking asylum. The Senators asserted, “Mothers and their children who have fled violence in their home countries should not be treated like criminals. They have come seeking refuge from three of the most dangerous countries in the world, countries where women and girls face shocking rates of domestic and seArtesiaShirtxual violence and murder.”

This week, 32 House Democrats sent a letter raising three concerns, “We have identified three principal concerns with the rapid, mass expansion of family detention: (1) the “no-bond/high-bond” policy for families; (2) the disparity in credible fear rates for families in detention; and (3) the lack of appropriate child care within facilities.Nevertheless, the Obama Administration continues plans to open new Family Detention Centers.”

Please do not disregard what is happening in Artesia and in other detention centers.  Never forget.  I challenge you and others to take the Tour of Duty in Artesia, offer help at Karnes, or work remotely on bond motions. Volunteer. Donate. Be part of the solution.

These last four blogs posts are dedicated to the Artesia Volunteers and supporters who are changing the face of this debate.  “I think what we are seeing in Artesia now is the result of attorneys actually being in the facility, having access to these families and being able to ensure some actual oversight and accountability of what is happening in Artesia,” Policy Counsel for Detention Watch Network, Madhuri Grewal, said.

As the hometown High School Artesia Bulldogs’ motto describes: The Desire to Serve, The Courage to Act, the Ability to Perform, is what drives our vArtesiaShirt1olunteers.  Chingon.

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, Southern California Chapter AILA MemberVolunteer and AILA President-Elect

Miss the first three parts of this blog?

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

 

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Artesia: A Day in the Tour of Duty Part 3

Artesia1*Some details have been changed to ensure privacy of clients.

The rest of my day went like this:

2:45 pm.  I return to the attorney’s trailer.  I prep two more clients for credible fear interviews taking place the next day.  I meet with a young mother who belongs to the Maya Mam indigenous group in Guatemala.  She speaks very little Spanish.  I ask why she came to the United States. In her broken Spanish, she responds, “They believe I am not Torres.” Huh?  It takes me several tries but I start deciphering what happened. In her small rural town everyone is indigenous.  Everyone is also very dark skinned. Both of her parents are dark skinned.  She was born with light skin. No one can explain it. Everyone rejects her. Her father disowned her.  Her siblings are forced to ignore her.  Her extended family does not accept she is part of them. Villagers violently beat and kick her, because they know no one will come to her defense.  Her young son is also constantly attacked. Everyone wants her out. Her family’s name is Torres but they disowned her. They believe she is not their blood. “God gave me the color of my skin.  I cannot change that. This is what he wanted,” she says with tears flowing from her eyes.  I cannot help but take two enormous gulps to keep from being overwhelmed and losing my composure.  I hold her hand, look into her eyes, and assure her, “your skin color is beautiful.”

She needs very little prepping. She says “they attack me because I am a single mother, indigenous woman, who has been disowned by my family and town due to the color of my skin.”  She has a strong case. Like my previous client, she also needs counseling.  Nothing is provided by the Detention Center.

Before she leaves, the client gives me 7 “papelitos,” or small pieces of paper.  This is how the mothers communicate with the attorneys.  These “papelitos” have their name and “A” number on them.  This is how they communicate that they want to talk to the attorneys.  She even gives me a bracelet belonging to another mother.  She could not write her name, so she gave her bracelet to send her message.  These mothers will be called the next day for intakes.

4:00 pm.  For my last duty of the day, I attend a credible fear decision.  The CIS officer wants an attorney present for the decision.  We are escorted to another trailer. The mother, her teenage son, and young daughter enter the room.  The daughter goes to play with the toys and puzzles. She is also drawing. The CIS officer goes through the findings with an interpreter on the phone.  It is a positive determination. For her accomplishment, the mother is served with a Notice to Appear and a court date.  I inform her she can now ask an Immigration Judge for a bond.

It is time to leave the room.  The CIS Officer walks out and so do mother and son.  The daughter is still trying to put all the toys away.  The CIS officer tells her, “Just leave them there.”  The young skinny girl refuses to listen; she is determined to put everything away like she found it.  “And these kids are national security threats?” I catch myself thinking.  She reminds me of my 8 year old daughter.  When she is done, she walks directly towards me and without saying a word, hands me her drawing.  It is a beautiful colorful house with a chimney and a big yellow sun shining in the sky.  I am stunned! Immobilized. This was her way of thanking me.  This is all she had to express her gratitude.  It is worth a million dollars.

I walk back to the attorney room behind my clients and the officer with tears running down my cheeks. I am taking deep breaths trying not to make much noise.  I think about how this facility is separating these families from their loved ones, and separating me from mine.  After everything that I have seen and heard today, I decide it is okay to violate the “be strong” code and allow myself to release some emotions. It’s okay. I am human.ArtesiaFence

5:00 pm..  We leave the facility and stop at a restaurant for a quick meal.  Our Big Table meeting with all the volunteers starts at 6:30 pm.  On the way, I notice that most of the stores close at 6 pm.  Even the gasoline station near the church is closed. “How do they make their money?” I ask myself.

6:30 pm.  We have our daily Big Table meeting recounting the events of the day.  Everyone shares their stories and important facts.  We discuss strategy and what to watch out for. For the next 4 hours, we prepare and cases are assigned for the next day.  The rest of the night is dedicated to printing motions, putting evidence packets together, translating documents, filling out asylum applications, and cracking a joke once in a while to lighten the mood among the volunteers.

10:45 pm.  I decide to call it a night because I am starving. I leave to see if I can find something to eat.  On the way to the hotel, I spot a Burger King Restaurant and I see people inside.  I speed to the drive thru and I hear a voice say, “Can I help you?”  I said “Yes, give me a quick minute.”  I look over the menu and say that I am ready to order.  Then I hear four words that will ruin my night, “Sorry, we are closed.” What? You’re kidding me, right?  “No sir, we are closed.”

I head back to my hotel for more oat and honey bars and I add a trail mix pouch for dessert.

I prepare my clothes for the next morning.

12:30 am.  I retire to bed.  I will sleep a couple of hours and start all over again at 4:45 am.

To be continued…

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, Southern California Chapter AILA Member Volunteer and AILA President-Elect

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 4

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Artesia: A Day in the Tour of Duty, Part 2

Artesia1*Some details have been changed to ensure privacy of clients.

The day continues:

10:00 am.  I get notified the Immigration Judge is ready for another client’s bond hearing.  I quickly ask for my client and request to be escorted to the trailer housing the Immigration Court. As we are walking to the Court, I ask the escorting officer if I could make a quick stop at the restroom.  He said sure and pointed to three port-a-potties on the sidewalk.  Not ideal. At the completion of our tenure, we were allowed to use a regular restrooms without locks located inside the trailers.

I arrive at the Courtroom, shocked to see its contents. I had heard the descriptions, but seeing this in person is something else.  A small table faces a computer screen with a video feed, located about 4-5 feet away.  You cannot really make out the judge.  You cannot see the government’s attorney. But you can hear their conversations.

As we start our hearing, the screen freezes. The small object that appears to be the judge is no longer moving.  After several seconds, the entire video feed is disconnected. Quickly, the ICE officer in the room runs toward the computer screen and tries to recover the feed.  Several minutes pass and we are once again connected but the video screen shows the Immigration Judge is no longer on the bench.  They took a break. I ask the officer to place the feed on mute so I can use the time to further prepare my client.

When the Immigration Judge comes back from his break, we start the hearing.  The government attorney announces there is no bond in this case. They are opposing bond because they believe my client is a threat to national security. I am prepared to face the statement, but hearing it in person, sitting next to a helpless, tiny, indigenous woman with her young son running circles around the table giving me a “high five” every time he completes a cycle, makes me realize how much the system is broken.  From experience, I know the government attorney probably does not believe in the national security argument, but is being instructed by higher-ups to follow the structured talking points.

The Immigration Judge focuses on whether my client used the services of a “coyote” and how much she paid him.  She says her brother paid the coyote about 25,000 quetzales, which is about $3,500 dollars. She explains that the father of her child constantly abused her.  Hits, kicks, and bruises were common.  My client says she was gainfully employed constructing traditional Maya regalia for her indigenous community. Her partner would strip her of her regalia and burn it, all while using derogatory names to shame her indigenous background. The violence upon her was too much.  She had already filed five restraining orders against him.  The police did nothing.  Her brother had confronted the partner, but he was threatened as well.

The Judge interrupts stating, “I do not want to hear the merits of the case.”  We continue to present testimony of why my client is not a danger to the community or a flight risk.  “I want to attend my hearings to present my asylum claim.  It is in my best interest,” responds my client to a question determining whether she would attend her future hearings.

The Government attorney then counters, “If you were being attacked so much, why did you not leave sooner? Why wait until June, 2014 to leave your country?” On redirect, my client responds, “I had to recover from my injuries.”  Her last attack was in March of 2014. She explains her partner was riding a motorcycle with a friend.  He spotted her in town and decided to drive the motorcycle towards her.  He grabbed her and dragged her on the street until he let go.  My client bears the scars of the dragging and of her injuries, yet they mean nothing because the Immigration Judge cannot see them through the primitive video system in place at Artesia.  We close arguing my client was a bona fide asylum seeker, and the regulations authorized the Judge to release my client on her own recognizance or at the very minimum issue a $1,500 bond.  A $3,000 bond is granted.  I do not know if my client will have the ability to post the bond.

As I step back to allow the next volunteer to start her bond hearing, I reflect on the hearing that just took place.  I replay the Judge’s statements, “the asylum application has already been filed,” “the five restraining orders have been submitted with translations,” and “the positive credible fear interview notes are also in the file,” and it becomes crystal clear this bond victory has been a collaboration of many people and many volunteers.  From the volunteer translators, to the volunteer law firms in Denver that walk over our submissions to the Immigration Court, this is a team operating with a level of love and commitment that I have rarely seen.  I am emotional and I start getting the “Laura Lichter” sweaty eyeballs. But I hide my emotions, because we were instructed to be strong in these situations.

12:30 pm.  I go back to the attorney trailer room.  It is lunch time, but there is no lunch.  You cannot decide to walk out of the detention center and look for lunch. It’s against the rules.  I reach for my bag with my oat and honey bars.  I eat one apple.  Another attorney next to me did not bring any fuel.  I offer her my other hotel apple.  She shines with gratefulness.  I neglect to inform her that the hotel apples have a hollow taste to them.  I do not want to ruin her lunch.

Any free time that we have is used to input notes and updates on the computer data system detailing our actions with each client or with the court.

12:45 pm.  My name is called.  I have to go to court to represent a client who had a negative credible fear determination.  I had prepped her the day before and was informed she would be represented by another attorney.  However, the other attorney is stuck in another credible fear interview.  Escorted, I make my way to the Immigration Court trailer.

I walk into an ongoing bond hearing.  The attorney informs the Judge that the mother’s  infant child has been sick for the past week and was prescribed medication.  She further states that the detention center doctor stopped the medication because they realized the child was prescribed medication not appropriate for his age. I’m horrified.  To top it off, as part of her arguments, the government attorney states, “Well, ma’am, your son looks fine.  He is active and full of energy.”  In reality, the infant was crying and fussing, trying to escape the clutches of her mother’s arms, showing us his unhappiness and ill health compounded by medical error.

This is the first negative credible fear determination before the Denver Immigration Judges.  We do not know if they will allow the attorneys to participate in the hearing.  Knowing my client, I know she needs help.  She is so traumatized and withdrawn, that she can barely speak a sentence. I tell her this is her last opportunity to tell her story. I do not know how much I can help her if she does not testify.

I decide to jump in and interrupt the Judge before he begins questioning my client. I point to an anomaly in the credible fear finding. The Judge says that according to the interview, she is only afraid of general violence and this is not enough.  I inform the Judge she will testify today about the beatings she suffered at the hands of her partner.  I share that the reason why she did not mention this during the interview was because her young son was next to her.  She did not want him to hear about the violence that she suffered. She did not want him to hear the things his father did to her. The Judge asks my client “is this true,” she says “yes.”  I explain to the Judge that credible fear interviews are done in a small room with the children present.  I explain to him that this is a common occurrence. Mothers do not want to discuss the violence they suffered with their young children in the room.  The Judge says, “But he is 4 years old, he can stay somewhere else.”  I inform the Judge that I was tied to my mother’s hip at age 4.  The Judge chuckles.  He says, “But he has to go to school.”  I agree, but not until the age of 5, he is now 4.  The Judge says he will overturn the negative credible fear finding. The client is now given the opportunity to present a bond hearing on a separate date.

My day is not yet done, but I, and the other attorneys have made a difference already.

To be continued…

Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis, Southern California Chapter AILA Member Volunteer and AILA President-Elect

Missed Part 1? Read it here

Read Part 3

Read Part 4

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

Championing the Vulnerable

shutterstock_170933780As an immigration lawyer from Vermont, I was thrilled to see the recent letter that Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy (D-VT), one of my Senators, led the charge on. What does that letter to the Department of Homeland Security condemn? The heartless and inhumane expansion of family detention.

It is appalling to me that our government is ramping up jails for mothers and children who are fleeing violence – domestic or gang-based – and desperately seeking safety. These women and children are kept in facilities, far from anywhere with a large contingent of immigration lawyers who could help them make their legitimate case for asylum to an immigration judge.

Instead they are stuck in makeshift facilities like Artesia, NM, and Karnes, TX and soon Dilley, TX as well. Our stalwart members have volunteered in shifts, making their way to these outposts and advising these women, fighting for their rights to due process, and making a huge difference.

I’m so happy to see these ten Senators standing with these women and children. Instead of ramping up detention, we need to look at humane and effective alternatives to detention. These moms and their kids aren’t national security threats that need to be confined for our safety, they are victims and they need our help.

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

“This decision threatens to make permanent a practice of presumptive detention for families and marks a reversal of this administration’s family detention policy.  We fear that the result will be the ongoing detention of asylum-seeking women and children who have shown a credible fear of being returned to their home country and pose no flight risk or danger to the community. We are particularly concerned with the negative consequences of long-term detention on the physical and mental well-being of young children.”

“Mothers and their children who have fled violence in their home countries should not be treated like criminals. They have come seeking refuge from three of the most dangerous countries in the world, countries where women and girls face shocking rates of domestic and sexual violence and murder. Here in the United States, we have just celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, a law we hold out as an example of our commitment to take these crimes seriously and to protect all victims. The ongoing detention of women and children who have made credible claims that they have been victims of those very crimes is unacceptable.”

Read the full letter for yourself. I sure hope the Administration does. We need our government to bring its actions back in line with our country’s values and stop throwing moms and kids into jail for doing what any reasonable person would do: flee persecution.

Written by Leslie Holman, AILA President

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If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to http://www.aila.org/beavolunteer or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at mtaqui@aila.org–we are looking for more as the work continues and we could really use your help.

If you aren’t able to come help in person, consider donating at http://www.aila.org/helpthevolunteers. And thank you!

To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.