Action on Immigration is Long Overdue

Author: on 09/02/2014

shutterstock_106049372Over the past week I spent some time considering the pros and cons of President Obama taking executive action on immigration. Is this really the right approach to handling our mounting immigration problem? Should we wait on Congress to finally get a bill passed? If we wait on Congress will our current batch of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients be at retirement age when that happens? I finally came to the conclusion that executive action is the appropriate step and it should not wait until after the November elections. A couple of interactions finally convinced me that unilateral action is the right move from the President:

Last Monday morning I received a call from a man who was frantically trying to stop the removal of his wife, Maria, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is not an isolated occurrence, by the way. The call came in at around 11:00 a.m. and ICE already was in the process of executing the removal. They said she would be on her way to Mexico at 2 p.m. The removal was being expedited because the women had been previously deported by the border patrol without a judicial hearing over a decade ago. Therefore, she was subject to reinstatement of removal.

I rushed down to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Office in south Tucson. There I met her husband where he provided me with a small file folder filled with random documents. He explained to me that she suffered from seizures since the age of 3 years old and needs to consistently take an anti-seizure drug and receive medical care. He also explained that he himself suffers from numerous ailments including diabetes, hypertension and a chronic shoulder problem. Maria cares for him and he could not envision her being sent to Mexico with a high probability of not getting back to the United States. Maria has a U.S. citizen child, a child with DACA and she also is the primary caregiver to her 72-year-old mother.

ICE accepted the form but only gave Maria a temporary Order of Supervision requiring her to report again in 30 days while they review the request. Will they grant the stay of removal? It is difficult to say, but ICE denies a significant number of these requests.  Maria and her husband asked, “What else we can do?” What could I say? I responded with, “Pray that the President will announce something soon.” It is the same line I have told hundreds of people looking for options to fix their immigration dilemma: “Hopefully reforms will come soon.”

The next day I consulted with a surgeon from India. After several years of being on both J-1 and H-1B visas, he was hoping to become a permanent resident of the United States. I explained to him that there is currently a backlog for most highly skilled immigrants from India that could cause the process to take between 5-15 years. He was perplexed by the wait time and told me that he was already considering a move to either Canada or some other developed country that may appreciate his skills more.

For over a decade, I have been saying the system is broken. The U.S. government has failed on immigration, and in the meantime millions have been deported and families have been torn apart. Businesses have to wait each year for a random lottery to determine whether they will even be eligible to pay, on average, over $2,000 in filing fees just for the government to determine if they can hire a foreign worker with specialized skills. Businesses have been forced to outsource their labor or set up operations outside the United States due to this mounting problem as well as other immigration obstacles.  Aspiring immigrants are stuck waiting for several years and oftentimes decades to become permanent residents.

These are only a couple of examples of the damage our messed up immigration system has had on our economy and our community.  It is time for drastic changes to take place.  Maria, her husband and family need immediate relief.  The President taking action is long overdue. If Congress won’t do their job, I believe the President should do it for them. Go big Mr. President!

Written by Mo Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee

The United States Must Do Better for Same-Sex Partners of Asylum Grantees

Author: on 08/29/2014

shutterstock_164979410Through established asylum and refugee laws, the United States offers protection to individuals who have been persecuted or who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or because they are perceived to be part of those communities. It is clearly documented by the Department of State (DOS) that over 70 countries around the world actively criminalize homosexuality and target lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) persons with hate and life-threatening violence. Just last year Russia passed new laws to criminalize homosexual “propaganda” and the India Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality, overturning a lower court’s previous decriminalization decision. Multiple Middle Eastern countries continue to impose severe jail and death sentences in condemnation against LGBT individuals or those perceived as such.

By the very nature of these regressive laws, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is held illegal and immoral. There is no concept of equal treatment under the law in these homophobic countries nor any legal recognition whatsoever of same-sex relationships. Herein lies the conundrum for partners of LGBT asylees: only legally-married spouses are able to follow-to-join an asylum grantee to the United States. While same-sex marriage in the United States is now legally recognized for immigration benefits thanks to the June 2013 Windsor case, LGBT individuals who flee their home countries may leave behind a same-sex partner who cannot become a spouse, as same-sex marriage is not legal in the asylee’s home country. Without a legal spousal relationship, the same-sex partner of an asylee does not qualify to follow-to-join under U.S. immigration law.

The above is the general rule, so one would assume that there must be an exception to protect these vulnerable minorities. Yet, there is no clear policy or easily-accessible path for same-sex partners of asylees. A fair process for these same-sex partners would be consistent with the Obama administration’s policy for equality on LGBT rights and immigration’s historical pro-family unity polices, former Secretary Clinton’s statements on International Human Rights Day in 2011 that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,”[1] and the fact that the Department of State ostensibly allows a change in venue in LGBT immigrant visa processing when the safety of an LGBT applicant may be an issue.[2]

The harsh reality, however, is that both DOS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), up until now, are ignoring the very urgent need of same-sex partners and are denying tourist visas and humanitarian parole in even the most compelling of cases. A policy change on this issue is needed from each agency that adjudicates cases involving LGBT applicants, including DOS and DHS. Until the United States addresses this issue, there are untold LGBT individuals who are subjected to the fear of harm or actual violence because of who they are. This hole in the law, while probably unintended, continues to do nothing more than support the forced separation of families.

The only current legal options that exist for same-sex partners of asylees are through either a tourist visa or humanitarian parole. A tourist visa through DOS would allow a same-sex partner to marry in the United States, facilitating the pursuit of an immigrant visa once the asylee becomes a permanent resident. Even then, no immediate immigrant visa would be available to the partner due to visa retrogression, further complicating the goal of family unification. However, anecdotal reports suggest that tourist visas to the United States are being denied citing INA § 214(b), which may be proper under the law but seemingly unfair under the circumstances.

Another viable option is for the same-sex partner to seek humanitarian parole through DHS. With § 214(b) in mind, this may be a more appropriate route. Yet, DHS has denied such requests by same-sex partners of asylees, closing the door of legal possibilities for those couples. Humanitarian parole, while discretionary, should be a suitable option in these cases, especially since the law limits the use of follow-to-join to married spouses, not partners, and tourist visas raise immigrant intent issues for the same-sex partners of asylees.

Finally, the President and DOS should make every effort to make the resettlement process easier for same-sex partners of asylees through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). While most refugees need to be outside their country of origin to process, the President may authorize some individuals to process in their home countries.

If the United States truly believes there is a special humanitarian concern for LGBT individuals and their partners in countries that seek to persecute them, our government must step up to create and implement clear policies that provide a path forward. Only then will we actually protect LGBT individuals abroad by reuniting same-sex partners with their families in the United States.

Written by Michael R. Jarecki, AILA Chicago Chapter Treasurer and Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee


[2] AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 14020741

Ignoring the Economics of Immigration

Author: on 08/27/2014

shutterstock_188334569Jeffrey Dorfman’s recent opinion piece in Forbes purporting to make the economic case against comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t stand up once his underlying data and unstated premise are examined.  With regard to the data, his piece relies almost entirely on a Heritage Foundation report released last year which attempted to assess the possible fiscal costs that might come from legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The report (a retread of a 2007 study by the same authors), was widely rejected by conservatives for shoddy methodology.

Both reports rely on faulty assumptions to inflate apparent costs, including unrealistic projections of how many immigrants could become legalized; double counting categories of immigrants (counting temporary workers as immigrants when they arrive, for example, and then again when they are allowed to stay permanently); and  assuming that nearly all immigrants would bring extended family to the United States.  The study also fails to account for the economic benefits of a growing, legal workforce, highlighted by both the Congressional Budget Office and conservative writers.

The Congressional Budget Office looked at the economic benefits of immigration reform in a comprehensive way and you know what they found?  That the benefits of an increase in legal residents from immigration legislation (S. 744) – which includes a pathway to citizenship – would far outweigh the costs. The findings in their report give proof that implementing smart immigration reform will strengthen the U.S economy. Creating an immigration system that puts immigrants on a path to citizenship will not only boost wages and entrepreneurship, but will also bring more tax contributions and spending in local economies. The report estimates that in the first decade after enactment, the immigration bill’s net effect of adding millions of additional taxpayers would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion, even with higher spending on border security and government benefits. Over the next decade, the report found, the deficit reduction would be even greater – an estimated $700 billion, from 2024 to 2033.

So much for the data.  But what about the unstated premise of Dorfman’s argument?  Assuming the data is correct that anyone in the United States – from illegal immigrant to US citizens—receives more in government transfer payments than in taxes they pay, he argues that immigrants who are already here should not be granted a path to legal status.  If his argument is correct, however, why stop there?  If US citizens are a drain on government coffers if they lack a college degree, should they be removed as well?  And why stop at individuals?  According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Mississippi, West Virginia and North Dakota all receive more per person from the federal government than they pay per person in taxes, so perhaps Dorfman would prefer that those states be removed from the Union?

Dorfman’s argument against legalizing lower-skilled immigrants ignores the important role that those immigrants play by increasing the productivity of the economy as a whole.  These immigrants work in more strenuous occupations than Americans, on average.  The ability of college-educated Americans to subcontract the work of food preparation, domestic chores and child-rearing to Americans and immigrants without a college degree is a win-win: complementing each other’s skills makes both groups more productive.  And finally, as Dorfman himself said in another context, “this win-win idea is not just in terms of income. In a capitalist society, people get rich by making somebody else better off.”  The economy will prosper when we make our currently-illegal workforce better off by legalizing their status, allowing them to raise the price of their labor in the market, thereby increasing the share of taxes they pay and their purchasing power.

Dorfman frames the choice on comprehensive immigration reform as being a “balance of compassion versus cost.”  Legalizing immigrants may be compassionate, but Dorfman ignores the substantial evidence that it will be an economic benefit as well.

Written by Bill Stock, AILA First Vice President

After a Month in Artesia

Author: on 08/26/2014

Artesia1I left Artesia on Saturday morning after about a month of volunteering. In that month, the days were approximately 16-19 hours long and full of horrific stories and circumstances that attorneys outside of Artesia can barely begin to imagine. So it’s not surprising I’m sure, to those who have volunteered in Artesia and have returned home, that I am struggling to process the emotional toll that this work has taken.

Every day, I think about how this system is broken, and about how shocking it is that people outside of Artesia don’t seem to know or care. I think about the flagrant violations of the rights of these women, on top of everything else they have endured, and how much of a betrayal that must be to those who thought the United States would help them escape these desperate situations in their home countries.

As an attorney, justice and the rule of law are two things that are so important to the foundation of my career that it hurts me deeply when I see the mockery of U.S. law that this system embodies. As an attorney, I usually trust judges to have an even deeper appreciation of our legal system, and to that end, I feel that we are on the same side in many ways. In Artesia, all of these ideas and beliefs are suspended, and any belief I had in the legal system in the United States crushed.

This is politics, pure and simple. It’s disgusting that the matters of life and death these women face are purely political in the eyes of people I normally trust to uphold the laws of the United States. It’s disgusting that the government argues against bond for these women without having stepped foot into the hellhole that they now call home. It’s disgusting that they would send women and children to their deaths, without affording them their rights under the law to have their cases heard, just to make an example of them.

I am so hurt, offended, disillusioned, and panic-stricken by the events unfolding in Artesia. All I can do as an individual is try my best to contribute my time in any way I can, whether that be coordinating volunteers, taking on individual cases, or helping people argue for bond. My grief and anxiety are paralyzing, and it is all I can do to focus on the underlying feelings of determination and strength that these women show me on a daily basis so that I can continue to move forward.

I appreciate the work of everyone in Artesia currently, as well as the work of those who have returned home. All of us together are giving these women something, even if it’s not all that we would like to give in the end. They are being shown that there are people who care about them, who are willing to fight for them, and who are willing to accept them here in the United States. We will do what we can, together, to give them a fighting chance. I love you all. I wish you all the best of luck, and I look forward to seeing all of you again this fall.

Written by Christina Brown, AILA Member and Artesia Volunteer

When Justice Isn’t Allowed to be Blind

Author: on 08/22/2014

shutterstock_142037272When I saw the name “Tabaddor” in this article, it grabbed my attention. As soon as I read it, my jaw dropped. Judge Tabaddor, one of the most impartial and brilliant judges that I have encountered in my 18-year career as an immigration attorney, was actually ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to recuse herself from all Iranian cases due to her ethnicity!

As a disclaimer, I must say that I am also a proud Iranian-American and active in many social causes – mostly having to do with my LGBT community. The first thought that ran through my mind was what if a gay judge was told not to decide any gay cases….or a Latino judge was told the same regarding south of the border cases. I was infuriated.

I then remembered an immigration case many years ago – when I was still a law student – involving Jordanian/Palestinian Respondents – informally called the “LA 8” in the court room of another highly respected – now retired – immigration judge, Bruce Einhorn, a proud Jewish-American – also socially active in his Jewish community.

I contacted Judge Einhorn wanting to gauge his reaction to the DOJ recusal order. Not surprisingly – the good judge gave me a piece of his mind! Below I recount part of my exchange with him about this incredibly important issue:

Bolour: Judge – have you heard about this DOJ order re Judge Tabaddor?

Einhorn: Yes. It’s very disturbing.

Bolour: How well do you know IJ Tabaddor?

Einhorn: I have known her for more years than either of us cares to admit. As a law student, she served as my summer intern. She then served as my judicial law clerk and thereafter my attorney-advisor before being justifiably appropriated to the legal staff of then Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy. Judge Tabaddor then served with distinction as an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation in Washington, D.C., and later as an Assistant United States Attorney back in L.A. We even served together as immigration judges in Los Angeles. She was the first of my former law clerks to become my colleague. She is also my friend.

Bolour: Do you think there is any basis for the DOJ order?

Einhorn: I know Judge Tabaddor well enough to know how fundamentally unfair it is for the Executive Office for Immigration Review to disqualify her from hearing any removal/relief cases involving Iranian nationals. Ashley Tabaddor is a proud Iranian-American, and justifiably so: her ethnic community, composed of several faiths, is one of the most successful and contributive in recent U.S. history. Judge Tabaddor is an active leader in the Iranian-American bar, a status encouraged by Justice Department regulations that support the community service work of DOJ employees, including IJs. Also, Ashley Tabaddor was afforded the honor of attending an August 2012, White House meeting to discuss federal government initiatives involving the Iranian-American community. EOIR had advance notice of Judge Tabaddor’s attendance at that meeting.

Bolour: I remember that you were also once involved in somewhat of a similar situation, Palestinian Respondents. Can you please share your own experience?

Einhorn: When I was an immigration judge, I handled, and ultimately dismissed with prejudice, the deportation cases against two Palestinian-Jordanians who were accused of assisting in terrorist activities. Defense counsel moved me to recuse myself from the proceedings because of my role as an American Jewish community leader. With EOIR’s support, I denied the motion because there was no convincing evidence of actual or apparent partiality on my part in the adjudication of respondents’ cases. In my dismissal of the motion, I noted that if I were to recuse myself from the actions at bar, then by the same reasoning, actively and traditionally Catholic judges and women judges should not be allowed to hear abortion rights cases, Arab-American judges should not be allowed to hear the asylum cases of Jewish respondents, African-American judges should not be allowed to hear civil rights cases, and so forth. We would be left only with white Anglo-Saxon male judges from Nebraska – unless, of course, they were active in inter-faith, inter-racial, or inter-ethnic fraternity groups.

Bolour: Judges are expected to be impartial. How did you balance your own social activism with your time on the bench?

Einhorn: Judges are not monks, nor should they be. They are in and part of the American community. As long as they scrupulously avoid actions that cast doubt on their fairness as jurists, they should be allowed without retribution to show their love of country by serving it off the bench as they do on it. Judges and their legal advisors should park their politics at the courthouse door – and that is exactly what Ashley Tabaddor has always done. I should know. Ask her colleagues on the bench and the attorneys for both the government and respondents who have appeared before her. They will agree with me.

Bolour: Any final thoughts on Tabaddor v. Holder?

Einhorn: We cannot afford to lose a judge of Ashley Tabaddor’s experience, intelligence, and integrity in the adjudication of all removal cases. The correctness or not of her decisions should be left for appellate review. EOIR should afford her the same fairness and presumption of innocence that respondents receive. She is one gallant woman.

Once again, Judge Einhorn, as he did many years ago when he let me visit his chambers as a law student, reaffirmed my belief in our justice system. I am confident that IJ Tabaddor will prevail in her quest to reaffirm her rights both under the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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

Beyond Artesia: Without a Choice in Karnes Detention Center

Author: on 08/19/2014

I attended the first Kshutterstock_195505013now-Your-Rights (KYR) presentation as a volunteer lawyer at the Karnes Detention Center on Friday.  The KYR was offered by American Gateways in Austin.  The organization has stepped up to offer weekly presentations, but does not have funding to do more.  Just like Artesia, there is an astounding lack of due process and an emergency need for volunteers.

The facility reminds me of the T. Don Hutto center post-litigation.  The Hutto with murals on the wall and new mulch on the plant beds outside.  But they’re not fooling the prisoners.  It’s still jail.

The presentation was offered in the lunch room with all the kids present.  Needless to say, it was quite loud and chaotic.  Because the facility has only been housing women and children for less than two weeks, everyone is in the very early stages of the asylum process.  Of the over 100 women at the presentation, only five had passed their Credible Fear Interviews (CFIs) and many had failed, even those with clear eligibility for asylum.   I heard several reports of asylum officers interrupting applicants.  One said her asylum officer told her she “doesn’t get to just say what she wants to say.”  No one had seen an immigration judge or been issued a bond.

During our one-on-one consults, the women reported being held in the infamous hieleras (freezers) used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for up to a week, and sheer relief to be in a place that was warm with access to edible food.  And yet, the kids were all sick and coughing, either from the hieleras or confinement at Karnes.  Most moms wanted to have their kids released to family members in the U.S. rather than be subject to the expedited removal process with mom.  I can’t imagine that awful choice, our modern day Sophie’s Choice, where a mother would rather lose her children to possible safety than keep them close but subject to danger.  They don’t even get that choice though, because even though children are not supposed to be placed in expedited removal, that’s exactly what’s happening.

There is major need right now for representation in the CFIs and the appeals of CFI denials.  American Gateways needs funding to continue their work.  And we need to be loud and outspoken against family detention.  It is absolutely barbaric to detain children.

Written by Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, AILA Member and volunteer at Karnes

Leaving Artesia

Author: on 08/13/2014

Artesia1Only a few members of our Oregon chapter are able to stay on longer in Artesia at this time. I’m not one of them, and I’m feeling really guilty about leaving. I think it is amazing that our chapter has rallied behind the effort in Artesia and that people are making personal donations to support this cause. One of the hardest parts about being in Artesia (and there are many) is not being able to tell the women we worked with this past week whether anyone would be there to help them tomorrow. If there is additional funding available beyond what is needed to cover the travel costs of the members of team Oregon who are able to stay now, I hope the chapter would consider starting a fund to support sending a second team down the line.

The lack of justice, due process, and the gross infringement on basic human rights at Artesia is truly staggering. We need to keep fighting for these women and children long term. We need to send our members here to see and experience what is happening firsthand, so that they can shed light on this very dark place. I have no doubt that our own government is detaining these women and children–refugees–at Artesia for the sole purpose of deporting them as quickly as possible and discouraging others from coming. These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and our government is using them to send the message that America’s southern border is closed. As advocates, we can’t sit by and allow this voice of hate to be the loudest.

I am not the same person leaving Artesia as I was when I came. I thought after spending a year with the Florence Project and working with detainees every day at the Eloy Detention Center that I had a strong stomach, that I knew just how messed up our immigration system was. Those experiences were nothing compared to one week here in Artesia. I have been gutted by what I have seen here, and I am still trying to process this experience and find the best way to share it.

For now, I just want to share one image that still haunts me. I had my first bond hearing here. I knew going in that the only bond granted so far from Artesia was $25,000. So I was fortunate to be able to watch Philip Smith in a bond hearing just before mine. His hearing took over an hour. During that hearing, they never discussed the Respondent or her child. Instead, they spent that time discussing whether ALL of these women in Artesia should be categorically denied bond because they are a threat to national security. And I watched the Respondent’s three-year-old son swing his little feet back and forth, so far from touching the ground, and then spin his chair around in boredom.  Because he’s three and that’s what children do.

Thank you to everyone who has been or will be part of the effort to stop this. Artesia, I will be back.

Written by Eileen Sterlock, AILA member, Oregon Chapter

A Volunteer’s Experience at Artesia

Author: on 08/07/2014

Artesia1I spent last week at the Artesia “family detention” center, a 4-hour drive from both Albuquerque and El Paso.  We had a group of roughly ten volunteers (attorneys, translators, and administrative staff) trying to stop the rapid deportations and see that the women and their children get some modicum of due process.  This was the first week there has been a full time volunteer attorney presence on site during the month it has been open.

The first impression you get when you walk into the “law library” (a FEMA trailer with one computer for the ‘residents’ to use, one printer, one copier that was out of ink and NO books) is that all the children are sick, with coughs at minimum.  They are dehydrated and listless.  They are cold – there were two mornings where the temperature was around 60, and there were no jackets or blankets, so mothers and kids walked around with towels wrapped around their shoulders for warmth.  Nearly all of them have valid claims for asylum – the majority based on domestic violence or gang issues.  An unfortunate number were already deported without the opportunity to even consult with an attorney.  Some mothers are giving up and asking to be deported because their kids are so sick.

Our team prioritized preparing women for credible fear interviews, representing them at CF reviews before the IJs (who are on video from Arlington), and requesting bond.  As of today’s date, we are not aware of anyone actually being released on bond, though attorney Olsi Vrapi just sent an email to say that IJ Owens set a bond at $25,000(!).  ICE is filing a boilerplate 131-page exhibit that claims all these families are a security risk and thus should be continued in custody.  And of course, ICE’s policy memos on parole after positive CFIs are being completely disregarded.

Around 200 women (the entire capacity of the location is 600, including children) have requested a consultation with a pro bono attorney.  The project is unable to keep up with demand, and trying to figure out ways to best utilize limited resources.  In some cases where there has been an obvious error by the asylum office, we were successful in getting a new CFI.  None of the three organizations on the free legal services list provides direct representation, and only one, out of El Paso, is available to come on site and do Know Your Rights presentations.

After the IJs deny (or set unreasonably high) bond, the women are being given 3-4 weeks to prepare for individual hearings.  They are expected to prepare the form I-589 (which is only in English, and many of the women have no or very little education) on the one computer in the “law library” to present their case.  CBP interviews are being used to impeach the women’s credibility, though many report that they did state a fear of returning to their home country but CBP refused to believe them.  Or, CBP asks whether they intend to work in the U.S., and once they say yes, CBP claims no stated fear of return.

In sum, the reality on the ground feels like the worst of all the border legislation that was proposed and failed actually passed – people are being herded through the system en masse, with no genuine regard to due process whatsoever.  Why bother to change the law when Washington can accomplish the same goals by impeding people’s access to attorneys and to release from custody, as well as rush them to a final hearing where an application written in a language they don’t understand is their only lifeline?

Having said all that, I still think there is a moral imperative to making the trip and your work can make a difference.  These women need to know there are at least some people in the U.S. standing up for them.

Regarding  budget, my expenses were:  airfare $900 (b/c I flew on short notice to ABQ, a flight to Roswell w/a 2 week lead is $550); $400 to rent a car for 6 days, plus 6 nights in hotel at $170/night (LaQuinta in Artesia) was $1020.00.  So, if you fly to Roswell, you can do a week for around $2,000; plus food if you have time to eat.

Written by Kim Hunter, AILA member, Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter

What Do Starfish and Artesia, NM Have in Common?

Author: on 08/03/2014

StarfishArtesia is a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico that has been thrown into the national spotlight because the federal training center located there has been turned into a make-shift detention center for women and children fleeing violence in Central America.  It’s dry, it’s dusty, it’s hot, and it’s nowhere near an ocean.  So, what could Artesia, NM possibly have in common with starfish?

Several years ago, AILA Colorado presented a Lifetime Achievement award to Betsy Bedient, an AILA Colorado member, who in addition to battling the USCIS for years, had just won her second battle with breast cancer.  During her acceptance speech, Betsy told a story about saving starfish, which is her mantra for her work as an immigration attorney.  She described being on a beach where a number of starfish had been stranded and the frantic efforts one person on the beach made to return the starfish to the water as soon as possible.  In the story, the person is criticized for a futile effort that wouldn’t make any difference.  The person responded, as she threw one back, that she made a difference to that one.  Betsy said that in her practice she couldn’t save them all, but she saved as many as she could and her work made a difference to those that she could help.  Our clients and the people we represent are like starfish.  We can’t save them all, but we can save them one at a time.  Saving starfish has become AILA Colorado’s motto.

And this brings us back to Artesia, NM.  The women and children stranded in Artesia are like the starfish on the beach.  Immigration attorneys from around the country are dropping everything, abandoning their practices, their families, and racing to Artesia, NM to frantically work together to protect these women’s and children’s due process rights.  It is hard work.  It is frustrating.  It is heartbreaking.  Yet, these attorneys are making the impossible possible – they are saving starfish!  And what’s even more incredible is that what’s happening in Artesia is starting to happen everywhere.  Immigration attorneys are volunteering around the nation, wherever they are needed, to help these women and children.   As a witness to these valiant efforts, I feel humbled, I feel hopeful, and I know that our efforts are not in vain.

Written By Lisa Helen York, member of AILA’s Board of Governors

The Heartbreak of Artesia

Author: on 08/01/2014

shutterstock_151907147Driving home from a week in Artesia, New Mexico to Glenwood Springs, Colorado and all the emotions start overwhelming me. I think because the need was so constant and so immediate while I was there with the families and undaunted volunteers I never had time to stop and acknowledge the emotional side to everything. But as I drive, looking at the dramatic desert scenery, I can’t keep from crying for the women and children who will never get to see what I am seeing out my car window or feel the safety and protection I feel from harm. Talking with them, having personal interactions, touching them, hugging them, playing with the children made them feel human. The children are sweet and smart and funny – All of them hungry and thirsty and scared. I could see their appreciation for our work in their eyes and tears.  However, they face a constant barrage of harshness – harsh voices from officers, harsh living conditions, harsh weather, harsh medical care, etc. These women and children are desperate. They left unfathomable atrocities and suffering for America, for a chance of something else – something good. Yet while here in America, they are treated like farm animals to be dealt with and put in order, without care for their feelings. There is no humanity from the government. We can tell them about their rights to counsel and help them tell their story and help them be recognized as human beings with rights and dreams and fears. I wish I could have done more while I was there. This experience has forever changed me. My young children want to know the names of kids I met and why they can’t play with certain toys. They want to know where the mothers and children sleep and what they eat. They want to know why they would have to go back to a place where they will be hurt. They cry too, and my answers are not justifiable for them. They cannot understand why this would happen. I will return because the work is not over.

Written by Jennifer Smith, AILA member, Colorado Chapter