Archive for the ‘Immigration, General’ Category.

Cities and Counties Stand Up for the Constitution

shutterstock_103176035Cities across the country have been following a federal policy that law enforcement officials increasingly describe as harmful to public safety and that courts now call unconstitutional.  I’m glad to know that Philadelphia is no longer one of them.

My mayor, Michael Nutter, signed an executive order last month preventing law enforcement officials from keeping people in jail on the basis of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer request, unless it’s accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person has been convicted of a violent felony.  These detainers request that state and local police hold people in jail, without a warrant or the guarantee of a prompt hearing before a judge.  States, counties and cities have spent millions of their own tax dollars complying with detainers that jail people who may (or may not) be deportable from the United States.  As an immigration attorney, I know first-hand the disastrous impact that reckless immigration enforcement practices can have on families and communities and I’m proud that my city and mayor have said no.

When issuing the order, Mayor Nutter cited the impact on public safety as one reason for his decision. “As a result of overly aggressive use of these detainers, there has been a negative impact on some immigrants who will not report crimes to the police, don’t want to be witnesses, and suffer accordingly.”  The University of Illinois at Chicago recently found that 44% of Latinos were less likely to call the police if they became the victim of a crime, when they live in jurisdictions where police are heavily involved in immigration enforcement.

Philadelphia is not the only place that’s saying no. More states and localities around the country, from  California (San Diego County and San Francisco just announced as well) to Connecticut, are refusing to honor these hold requests.  And the courts are agreeing with them.  In the last few months, three separate federal cases have confirmed that detainers are voluntary requests and that local law enforcement can be sued for violations of the Constitution if they choose to honor these ICE requests, including a case involving Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. And just recently, a federal judge held Clackamas County, Oregon liable for violating the Fourth Amendment for holding an individual solely on an ICE detainer without probable cause.

The Oregon decision sent shockwaves through counties all over the Northwest. Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County, Colorado called the judge’s decision in this case a “game changer.” Law enforcement officials from counties in Oregon, Washington and Colorado immediately announced they would no longer continue business-as-usual with respect to these immigration holds—joining places like Philadelphia that have already said no.

Detainers are fundamentally flawed. They are not making communities safer. They are expensive. That’s why states and localities are pushing back.  They’re making their own decisions about what’s best for their communities. As the president of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association Gary Bettencourt said, “We will no longer violate anybody’s constitutional rights, I can guarantee that.”

If AILA members and the public want to advocate against detainers, it’s plain to see we have plenty of company from law enforcement and the courts. Let’s work to get more cities and localities across the nation on board.

William Stock, AILA Second Vice President

The Sorry State of Our Detention System

shutterstock_122688160Saluja Thangaraja was tortured, beaten and held captive in Sri Lanka, her homeland. She was lucky and managed to escape before she was killed. When she arrived in the United States – the land of freedom she was seeking turned out to be the exact opposite: she was imprisoned in a federal detention center near San Diego for over four and a half years before a federal judge ordered her release.

She is not alone. Immigration detention is in overdrive. In the past two decades federal immigration detention has grown dramatically with over 400,000 people locked up each year, about five times the number detained twenty years ago, costing American taxpayers $2 billion annually.  These are not people serving criminal jail terms.  Instead they are people facing possible deportation—a civil process that is not supposed to be punitive.  Conditions in institutional detention facilities are marked by severe deficiencies—at least 141 people died while in detention in the last decade.

Many are detained unnecessarily without any opportunity to appear before a judge.  Thousands are held for months despite the fact that they have families and jobs and pose no threat to public safety.  Locking up individuals facing civil immigration charges should be a last resort, used only when other means of supervision are not feasible. There are effective alternatives to jail detention, such as bond, supervised release, or electronic monitoring, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be using.  But DHS overwhelmingly prefers detention over smarter alternatives.

As a nation founded on liberty, due process and fairness, we should be striving to minimize detention except where justified and absolutely necessary.

Now a chorus of legislators are calling for immediate reform, including Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) who introduced a bill this month to improve detention conditions. He joins Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and more than sixty House members who are calling upon DHS to reduce the use of detention or provide impartial custody hearings before judges.

Recently, AILA joined calls for reform by filing two briefs requesting that Attorney General Holder make good on his promise of fairness and sensible immigration enforcement by adopting a comprehensive, rational immigration detention policy.

He should do two things. First, establish a national policy to provide hearings before immigration judges for everyone detained six months or more.  Overwhelmingly courts around the nation are ruling that no one can be detained for a prolonged period without a hearing before an immigration judge.  Our Constitution requires such hearings—often called bond hearings—to protect a detainee’s rights.  The 3rd, 6th, and 9th Circuit U.S. Courts of Appeals and a federal district court in Massachusetts agree.  But despite those decisions, the Department of Justice has yet to implement a national rule that would provide bond hearings to people who have been detained over 6 months—the presumptive period that the Supreme Court has deemed is too long.  With courts already deciding in favor of such a rule, there is no reason to wait.

Such a rule would ensure that Warren Joseph, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, who honorably served in combat roles in U.S. Army, would not have spent more than 3 years in detention because he illegally purchased a handgun – a minor offense for which he served no jail time. During the years he was detained, he never got a hearing on whether his detention was justified. We need a national rule for bond hearings because without one, our system deprives thousands of their freedom without any chance to plead their case.  This is inexcusable and unconstitutional.

A second problem is a federal policy that requires immigration officers to use jail detention on certain individuals even though alternatives to detention would be just as effective and cheaper.  Many of these individuals do not pose any threat to public safety and would be ideal candidates for alternatives to detention with families, jobs, and strong ties in their communities.  Again, the Attorney General has the authority to clarify what the law requires and, in so doing, greatly improve national policy to ensure public safety, reunite families, and save taxpayers money in the bargain.

As a member of AILA’s Amicus Committee, filing these briefs are part and parcel of our efforts to bring common sense to our broken immigration system. The examples I use are just two of the names and stories that make up the true human cost of the status quo. Mr. Holder needs to seize this opportunity, take action against injustice and stand up for our Constitution.

Written by Stephen Manning, Member,  AILA Amicus Committee

Want more information? AILA’s Quicktake with Stephen is available to view for a quick rundown. A more in-depth discussion of the issue is offered in this longer animated video that Stephen developed.

H-4 Work Authorization: A (First) Step in the Right Direction?

shutterstock_170161988On May 6, 2014 DHS announced proposals to “attract and retain highly skilled immigrants.”  Along with my other business immigration colleagues, I was thrilled when the news broke.  While it isn’t comprehensive information reform, it is a step in the right direction.

Let’s look at the issue of work authorization for spouses of H-1B workers, which got the most press following the announcement.  I have seen quite a few articles in which immigration advocates and experts express disappointment with the proposals noting that the change is minor and not that big of a deal.  But let’s look at this provision more closely.  According to DHS Director Mayorkas the changes would benefit as many as 97,000 spouses in the first year and about 30,000 a year after that.

Consider that the entire annual cap subject H-1B allocation is 85,000 and according to the Department of State nonimmigrant visa data more H-1B visas are issued every year than any other work visa.  This proposed rule is therefore pretty significant in the grand scheme of nonimmigrant work visas.  From my corner of the world of immigration law, there is indeed cause for celebration.

But looking at the proposals, and perhaps giving some inspiration to the administration, why not provide work authorization to all H-4 spouses (or dare we wish, all spouses of nonimmigrant work visa holders)?  Under 214(a), the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to make these changes broader and better.  Here’s why the change, again while welcome, is so limiting –

To qualify, the principal applicant beneficiary must have been granted an H-1B extension under AC21 or an immigrant petition must have been approved for the H-1B principal applicant.  In practice, this means the H-1B worker will have already been in the U.S. for six years in this status.  Alternatively, the sponsoring employer would have to have completed its portion of the permanent residence process for the individual, which in my experience is not normally in the first years of the H-1B but more commonly when an H-1B is extended or nearing the six year maximum.  In addition, a lengthy process must have been completed before the spouse can qualify for work authorization: a PERM Labor Department application must have been filed, which realistically takes six months to prepare; the PERM must then be certified, which will take months; the immigrant petition must be prepared and filed with USCIS, and USCIS must approve that petition—a process that currently takes four to six months, and has been known to take considerably longer.  This therefore leaves thousands of H-4 spouses who won’t qualify under the new provision or who will likely need to wait years before they do.

This particular change will therefore provide a benefit to a large number of H-4 spouses, but why stop with a narrowly carved out subsection?  Changes are welcome, and we can do more.  Let’s do it.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary

What’s Happening to Florida?

shutterstock_33919990Last week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that are heading to Governor Rick Scott, who has stated that he will sign them. One grants in-state tuition to undocumented “Dreamers.” Another will allow Jose Godinez-Samperio, a DACA recipient and law school graduate, the ability to be a licensed attorney in the State. Jose was in Tallahassee in the gallery on the day the Florida House passed the bill. He was given a standing ovation.

I am still shaking my head. What happened to Florida? Gov. Scott ran on a platform in 2010 that called for Arizona-type laws to be enacted. Four years later, he is supporting significant pro-immigration legislation. I thought we could easily count on current Florida leadership to remain oppositional to any pro-immigration issue that was not forced upon them.

It would be easy to be cynical and chalk it up to politics. It is an election year, after all, and perhaps some politicians are finally realizing it is not a bad idea to try to garner favor in the  immigrant community.

Certainly I believe that is a big part of it. But, I also think that we may be witnessing a change in attitude across the board.

After the vote last Friday, I was contacted by a local newspaper columnist who had written earlier in the week in support of the Jose Godinez-Samperio bill. He had received responses from readers asking questions such as “Why didn’t he apply for citizenship?” “Why does he need a special law, couldn’t he have started the citizenship process during law school?” “Didn’t he want to become a citizen?”

He contacted me to make sure he was not missing anything – that there had been no change to federal immigration law recently of which he was not aware. I assured him that no, there had been no recent change.

The columnist, Tom Lyons, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, then wrote a follow-up column clarifying that Jose did not have the option of obtaining citizenship and said of the questioners:

the more I thought about those people who wanted to know why that would-be lawyer hadn’t applied for citizenship, the more I thought kindly of them. Though they apparently missed a key point in the nation’s immigration debate, I think their question was based on a nice assumption. They assumed that U.S. law couldn’t be as rigid and mean as it actually is.

This illustrates what I believe is also happening in Florida; people are becoming more educated about the issues. And as they get more educated, they may be becoming more compassionate…and passionate to do the right thing.

I only hope that the individuals in office at the national level take a look at what is happening in Florida since I hear Florida might just be a tad bit important when it comes to presidential elections.  I hope they realize that the House really needs to follow Florida’s lead and move forward on immigration reform.

By Victoria Jaensch Karins, Chair, AILA Central Florida Chapter

LGBT Rights and Attitudes in Ukraine: the Immigration Perspective

As immigration lawyers, we know that global conflict affects immigration law and policy. I wanted to take a closer look at what is going on in and around Ukraine as it affects LGBT individuals since persecution and fear may drive people out of that region and toward asylum in the U.S.

Amidst the turmoil in Ukraine, the general view has arisen that it is a clash between social and political ideals: that of Russian or the European Union (EU).  However, even though the current government in Kiev is moving towards a westernized system, it is important to note that the majority of Ukrainian society holds far less welcoming views than Western Europe on LGBT issues.  A poll in 2013 showed that 80% of Ukrainians held negative attitudes towards homosexuality.  Recently, according to Ukraine’s Justice Minister, in negotiations between the EU and Ukraine, the EU dropped a demand requiring the inclusion of sexual orientation in an anti-discrimination bill in order for Ukraine to receive a visa liberalization package, which would strengthen ties between Ukraine and the EU.

In the human rights country report on Ukraine for 2013, the U.S. Department of State reported that there were complaints of widespread societal intolerance for LGBT persons.  The report also noted many incidents of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity – including a high number involving violence or the threat of violence.  It also included a number of reports of harassment carried out by law enforcement officials as well as instances of failure to investigate or take action in hate crimes.

In a recent article – “The Closeted Revolution: Kiev’s Gays Keep Quiet to Deny Putin a Propaganda Win” – the author discusses the effect of the recent events in Ukraine on LGBT activists.  He writes that LGBT activists have toned down their activities recently in order to avoid giving Putin propaganda material to use in swaying Ukrainian support away from the EU and towards Russia.  This fear exists because of the still very real homophobic views that many Ukrainians hold.  While these LGBT activists are very much in favor of getting closer to the EU because of the possible benefits, they realize that to say so openly would likely sway favor towards joining Putin’s increasingly homophobic Russia.

While they may have quieted to hopefully influence a pro-EU result in this conflict, the rest of the world should not forget that there is still much work to be done in Ukrainian society in raising awareness of LGBT rights and issues.  Much of Ukraine is still homophobic and closer relations to the EU will not change that overnight.  Given the great amount of turmoil in the country, it is hard to predict what may happen in Ukraine in the future.  However, even if a more liberal government remains in control and moves Ukraine closer in relations to the EU, it will likely be years before significant change occurs in regards to LGBT rights and attitudes.  Thus the plight of LGBT asylum seekers from Ukraine continues!

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Face-to-Face Meetings Make a Difference with the Media

Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Outside the state-of-the-art Bloomberg View offices, April 28, 2014

Talking on the phone is great.  E-mail can be incredibly convenient. But nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.

That’s the motto Leslie Holman and I were living by as we went from one meeting to another at a pretty rapid fire pace this past Monday and Tuesday during the press tour that AILA National Communications staff organized.

What difference does meeting face-to-face make?

The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them. When you meet someone, get a chance to sit down and dig into the issues, it turns you from a voice on the phone or letters in an email to a real live person. You see the smiles, you see the gestures that emphasize a particular point, you can “read” them and get a gut feeling about their honesty, their attitude, and what they know.

Reporters live and die by accuracy. Their ability to relay the story with the facts in line is what makes or breaks their reputation. Their jobs depend on knowing who to approach for the answer to a question and getting that information right.

Leslie and I tag-teamed a lot of the reporters, sharing information and the on-the-ground knowledge that only AILA members have about how immigration law and policy really work (or not).

Some of the issues we brought up were focused on business immigration, like adjudications for L-1 and other visas that seem to have tightened up in the past few years without much information about why. We also talked about expedited removals which along the Southern border are surging in numbers, but Leslie was able to give concrete examples of how the Northern border is also being affected.

We tried not to let their eyes glaze over with too many acronyms, though that can be difficult in immigration law.

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Leslie talks with International Business Times reporter Laura Matthews

Naturally, the latest removal and return numbers came up in several of the conversations and we did our best to explain what the numbers really mean and how they were being sliced and diced differently in some stories but that the absolute numbers, and what they show when it comes to enforcement, remained the same.

The tour included discussions with Public Radio International, the New York Times, WNYC, Bloomberg View, the International Business Times, Fox News and Fox News Latino, the Guardian and the Associated Press. At each and every meeting, AILA Communications staff had set us up to succeed because of their day to day press outreach efforts.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard about the stories that they’d helped on, the extra mile they go to make sure AILA is well-represented in the media, and the vitally important help that they give to reporters on deadline.  All of that work made our meetings start off on a positive note that we were able to build on and frankly made me proud.

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

Outside the Time Warner Center, April 29, 2014

And this media tour isn’t just a one way street.  We can learn from them as well.  We heard repeatedly that AILA is utilized as a knowledge base because we are a bar association dedicated to advancing the practice of immigration law and our expertise is without question. A couple of reporters actually made comments that served to reinforce my belief that to keep that status as the place for accurate and unbiased information, we must strive even harder to avoid positioning ourselves as an advocacy organization that leans one way or the other.

While we were in NYC, we also reconnected with Jeremy Robbins who heads up the Partnership for a New American Economy one of former NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to bring together mayors and business interests in a centrist organization aimed at getting out the message that immigration reform would be good for the economy. We’re going to be taking a look at their efforts and determining where we may be able to offer the expertise and knowledge about immigration in their districts to help bolster the case that reform is necessary, it’s the right thing to do, and huge side benefit guys: it’ll be good for our country’s bottom line.

As we wrapped up the meetings at the end of Tuesday and began our journeys home, I was grateful for the opportunity and felt that the meetings with these press contacts were invaluable.  I was grateful for the hard work of the AILA Communications team who not only made the meetings happen, put together the background materials for our informational packets, and who I know will make sure that these contacts are cemented and strengthened.  I was also incredibly grateful for the partner I had by my side during the tour: Leslie Holman, our President-Elect.  She was a strong voice for our membership in each and every meeting and I was honored to introduce her to the press as my successor.

So, get out there!  I want to encourage each AILA chapter to consider organizing an event and reach out to their local media.  Each chapter has reporters who reach out to them for stories but strengthening those connections through face-to-face meetings, or through a reporters’ roundtable on immigration, will only make your message more powerful.

And if you’re at a loss as to how to get started, please reach out to George Tzamaras, Belle Woods, or Ellie Rutledge at AILA—they want to help, they have resources they’ve developed and ideas to share.  With their assistance, you can ensure your face-to-face interviews are a success!

 Written by T. Douglas Stump, AILA President

The Revised Credible Fear Lesson Plan: Enough is Enough!

ENOUGH2This is not just a blog post, but a call to action.  Over the past six months, we have seen dog-and-pony hearings by Congress and a series of administrative changes to our asylum system that have deviated from the United States’ longstanding obligations under domestic and international law to the detriment of bona fide refugees.  The most recent of these deviations is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Asylum Division’s revisions to its Lesson Plan on Credible Fear of Persecution and Torture Determinations.

Implicit in the core humanitarian purpose of U.S. asylum law is the requirement that it be as effective as possible in offering reliable protection to bona fide refugees.  While effectively protecting refugees may seem like a simple concept, the human rights considerations involved in U.S. asylum law often collide with the challenges involved in maintaining the integrity of the application process.  It is this collision that led to the development and implementation of the expedited removal and credible fear provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA), which took effect on April 1, 1997.

Expedited removal was a direct result of the Congressional perception that individuals arriving at ports of entry with false or no documentation were abusing the asylum system.  Nonetheless, under U.S. asylum law – which was derived directly from international law – the government is prohibited from returning refugees to countries where they would face persecution.  In an attempt to address the potential for violations of this obligation of nonrefoulement through the implementation of the expedited removal process, the credible fear provisions were also enacted.  Under these provisions, rather than being subjected to immediate removal, an individual arriving at a port of entry who expresses a fear of persecution or torture will be referred to an asylum officer for a “credible fear” interview.  If the individual substantiates a “significant possibility” she could establish eligibility for asylum under INA § 208, the asylum officer will find her to have a credible fear of persecution.  Such a finding grants the individual her rightful day in court, allowing her to present a full asylum claim before an immigration judge in INA § 240 proceedings.

For those who have been following recent developments in U.S. asylum law and procedure, the rhetoric surrounding – largely unsubstantiated – claims that our asylum system is under attack by abuse and calling for sweeping changes that threaten the core humanitarian purpose of U.S. asylum law sounds all too familiar.  With a significant and steady influx of refugees fleeing the violence and turmoil stemming from the entrenchment of gangs and drug cartels in Central America, the human rights considerations involved in U.S. asylum law are once again colliding with the challenges involved in maintaining the integrity of our asylum system.  Unfortunately, this collision has resulted in a series of changes that have deviated from the United States’ longstanding obligations under domestic and international law to the detriment of bona fide refugees.

Over the past six months, we have seen border officers overzealously using expedited removal to deny individuals fleeing real persecution and torture the opportunity to seek asylum.  We have seen Congress focus its attention on a series of hearings entitled “Asylum Laws and Abuse,” designed to attack those seeking protection rather than the faulty implementation of the expedited removal and credible fear provisions by Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  We have seen the Board of Immigration Appeals, in Matter of M-E-V-G- and Matter of W-G-R-, dramatically increase the evidentiary burden on asylum-seekers while seeking to rationalize a legal test that is irreconcilable with U.S. obligations under domestic and international law.  And just last week, we saw the USCIS Asylum Division join in the backlash against the influx of refugees at our borders with a notable narrowing of the “significant possibility” standard for credible fear determinations made by its asylum officers.  Is anyone else out there thinking, “Enough is enough!?”

In this most recent development, USCIS revised its April 14, 2006 Lesson Plan on Credible Fear of Persecution and Torture Determinations, which it uses to train asylum officers.  In releasing the revised Lesson Plan, USCIS issued a memorandum describing the changes and the reasons for these changes (see AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 14041845).  In explaining the need for these revisions, USCIS notes the significant increase in credible fear referrals to the Asylum Division and its need to allocate more resources to credible fear adjudications than ever before.  Instead of recognizing that this increase in resources devoted to credible fear adjudications may be due to the overall increase in individuals seeking protection at our borders, however, USCIS seemingly attributes this increase to its concern that “the application of the ‘significant possibility’ standard has lately been interpreted to require only a minimal or mere possibility of success.”  Although USCIS claims that “these modifications…do not change the ‘significant possibility’ standard or alter the screening function of the credible fear process,” in practice these revisions will considerably narrow the longstanding “significant possibility” standard.

The main problems with the 2014 Lesson Plan stem from deviations that thwart the legislative intent behind the expedited removal and credible fear provisions.  The legislative history of IIRAIRA indicates that Congress intended the credible fear provisions to be a safety net and the “significant possibility” standard to be a low standard that would catch any potential refugees in that net.  The 2006 Lesson Plan previously included several explicit references to this intent, but in the 2014 Lesson Plan, all such references have been removed.

Moreover, Congress intended the credible fear process to serve as a threshold screening mechanism for protection claims to ensure that, in its implementation of the expedited removal provisions, the United States was still abiding by its longstanding obligation under domestic and international law not to return an individual fleeing persecution to his or her persecutor.  The credible fear process was not intended to be a full assessment or adjudication of an asylum claim, but rather, a gateway to the full assessment and adjudication process.

Contradicting this Congressional intent, the 2014 Lesson Plan: (1) directs officers to apply the significant possibility standard through the lens of a full adjudication, (2) emphasizes that a claim that has only a minimal or mere possibility does not meet the “significant possibility” standard, (3) creates a three-prong test that did not exist in the previous 2006 Lesson Plan standard, requiring the asylum-seeker’s testimony to be “credible, persuasive, and…specific”, and (4) includes extensive statements of the current regulations and case law, similar to those discussions included in the Lesson Plans on full asylum assessments and adjudications.  These changes seem to require an asylum officer to complete a full assessment of the asylum-seeker’s potential asylum or Convention Against Torture (CAT) claim, rather than a safety net preliminary screening for a potential refugee.

These changes are likely to yield confusion among asylum officers, as well as a blending of the credible fear standard with the full asylum and CAT standards.  Furthermore, they will likely lead to officers applying prohibitively high standards during credible fear interviews, creating yet another source for the increasing number of bona fide refugees who are denied the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.  Finally, since these changes are likely to generate assessments that are closer to full asylum and CAT adjudications than screenings for potentially successful claims, these changes are ironically likely to cost USCIS even more time, money, and resources.  Notably, USCIS did not consult key non-governmental organizations or non-governmental stakeholders during its revision process.

Although these Lesson Plan revisions may seem minor in the grand scheme of our broken, punitive, and increasingly unworkable immigration system, to me, they signify another drastic deviation from our system’s founding principles and legal obligations.  I don’t know about you all, but for me, “Enough is enough!”  As another AILA year concludes and a new AILA year begins in June in Boston, let us re-commit ourselves to working together on all fronts.  Only together can we fill the next six months with developments that restore protection for bona fide refugees and renew our obligations under domestic and international law, while still maintaining the integrity of our asylum system.  This is not just a blog post, but a call to action.

Written by Dree Collopy, AILA Refugee & Asylum Liaison Committee Chair

The Agents of [Operation] S.H.I.E.L.D.

Photographs of the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse in Denver, Colorado. Carol  M. Highsmith, Llibrary of Congress

Photograph of the Byron G. Rogers Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse in Denver, Colorado. Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress

The Federal Protective Service has a heavy responsibility.  Their mission is to keep federal properties safe and secure for employees, officials and visitors, alike.  One such property is the newly renovated Byron G. Rodgers Federal Building in downtown Denver.  Among other tenants in this otherwise public building, sits the Denver Immigration Court where the fates of many immigrants and their families are determined.

Last week, under the banner of “Operation Shield” more than a dozen armed FPS personnel descended on the building’s entrance lobby.   The operation sought to restrict public access to numerous federal offices housed in that building, temporarily detaining and subjecting unsuspecting visitors to full criminal background investigations if they could not—or would not—produce valid US-government issued ID.

Predictably, immigrants, their family members, even witnesses and attorneys seeking to attend court proceedings were caught in this flash op.  Many immigrants—even those who are in the process of legalizing their status—rely on passports or foreign-issued identity documents until their case is resolved.  No matter that all visitors to the building pass through an almost airport-level of security screening, ensuring no weapons or other hazardous materials can be brought within.   No matter that immigration officials have already conducted background checks in conjunction with the applications of immigrants attending hearing.

Was this bristling display of law enforcement prowess calibrated to respond to a credible threat of terrorism?  No.  Was there a security breach, concerns about a potential insider attack, or a bomb threat?  Nope.  Was the operation hoping to detect “unauthorized persons” or potentially disruptive or dangerous activities?  Hardly.

What it did accomplish was to draw the attention and ire of many, including attorneys with the Colorado Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who in response filed a federal lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order to stop these intimidating practices. The lawsuit requests a federal judge to intervene and issue an injunction to immediately stop the abuse.  Today, the government has agreed to end these practices while a review of security measures takes place.

“Homeland Security” cannot be magic words that make us forget we have a Constitution.  Overbearing and intimidating practices such as these have no place in a country built on liberty and access to justice.

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Immediate Past President and Member, AILA Colorado Chapter

Governor O’Malley Moves Baltimore City Away from Secure Communities

shutterstock_176840825At a time when Federal stalemate and local hostility prevents us from giving practical help to the 11 million souls in our midst without a country, I am proud to live and practice law in a state led by a governor who practices what his faith preaches.

Governor Martin O’Malley took a strong stand on behalf of the undocumented when he advocated and signed into law in Maryland a bill guaranteeing in-state tuition for undocumented students.  Now he has come forward again, and announced an end to the use of the ironically-named “Secure Communities” program at the Baltimore City Jail.

If I were to criticize Governor O’Malley at all in this context, it would be for taking so long to take this step in the first instance. This program is anything but secure for communities.  It separates children from their parents, forcing state and local governments to step in and spend time and resources doing the parents’ work at the expense of other families.  It has led to the deportation of individuals who offer no threat to our national interest at all, and who have violated little more than traffic laws.  Even worse, it has led to the under-reporting of far more serious, even violent, crimes, from fear of being accidentally caught in a deportation system whose own resources are so overwhelmed that it can no longer adequately discriminate between those who deserve mercy and those who do not.

But, rather than focus on criticism, it is more appropriate, especially at this time of year, to focus on praise.  As Christians celebrate Easter, and Jews observe Passover, it’s worth noting that both faiths support the struggle for freedom, and the good to be found in sheltering those among us who are strangers and sojourners.   In ending the “Secure Communities” program in Baltimore, Governor O’Malley has honored his faith as a Catholic, and upheld his belief in America as a promised land for everyone.

Written by Cynthia Rosenberg, Chair, AILA D.C. Chapter

Could Religion Be the Common Ground for Immigration Reform?

The Catholic Church is no stranger to the headlines.  As a Catholic I am often disappointed by its focus in the media and its presentation and stance on many issues.

However, since the selection and inauguration of Pope Francis, much of the conversation in and around the Catholic Church has changed.  Last month, when the Pontiff met with President Obama, immigration became the latest issue to make international headlines from the self proclaimed “Pope of the Poor”.  Pope Francis highlighted the struggles of migrants and the often inhumane U.S. immigration policies and laws.  A ten year old girl from Los Angeles, who was able to speak to the Pope, shared the story of her father who had been in detention and who she hadn’t seen for two years.  Shortly after the story broke, her father was released from detention.  USCIS claimed the two events were unrelated – perhaps it was the Pope’s first miracle?

To me, this time the Catholic Church is on the right side of the debate.  Other recent efforts by the Church to draw attention to the need for reform include the Mass held at the border on April 1, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, which brought together family members on both sides of the border fence to remember those who had died trying to cross the border into the U.S.

Across the country, many Catholic leaders are repeatedly and publicly enjoining their congregations to see immigrants as people first, as human beings who are imperfect, as we all are, most of them just trying to build a better life for themselves and their families and calling for immigration reform.

These Catholic voices are joined by thousands of others of varying faiths.

They are joined by Jewish leaders who recognize the relevance immigration has played in their religion’s histories, teachings, and U.S. experiences. They are joined by Methodists who see the destruction that our current broken system brings to communities.  They are joined by Muslim faith leaders who underscore the dignity of the human life and experience and the need for laws that respect that dignity.

In one recent multi-denominational vigil in Los Angeles, all of those faiths and more were represented, all calling for immigration reform and the change necessary to keep families and communities together.

Faith leaders, who may disagree on the finer details of dogma, agree that immigration is a moral issue and one that impacts those of all faiths.  This has not gone unnoticed by President Obama who on April 15 met with faith leaders to discuss immigration with the hope of reaching consensus across party lines.

People of faith, like Pope Francis, see the universality of the human condition. He calls on all of us to show compassion for our fellow man. Immigration reform done right would reflect that compassion.  Perhaps religion, which we too often see as a source of division, can this time serve as a bridge to unite us and serve as a basis and foundation for immigration reform.

Written by Anastasia Tonello, AILA Secretary