Staining America’s Image

Author: on March 16, 2017


Tuesday night, I spoke at a “Know Your Rights” event in Tucson, Arizona, to a large group of concerned and fearful refugees from all over the world, including countries such as Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Afterward, I spoke individually to several of the attendees who expressed anguish about the anti-refugee sentiment being spread throughout the United States by both our state officials and the federal government.

One man explained to me that he came to the U.S. with the impression that we would welcome him. But now he feels unwelcome. He said he loves this country but is worried about what the future may bring to him and his family. It was so disheartening to hear this. Another man told me of the gut-wrenching decision he made to leave his native land. In making this choice, he has separated from his elderly father, and most likely will never be able to see him again as his dad is extremely ill. I had to explain to him that being unified with his father would either require humanitarian parole (unlikely) or take an extremely long time via immigrant petition. While it was incredibly difficult to listen to these stories, the experience once again re-affirmed my personal commitment to help refugees and push for laws and policies that reunite families.

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Why You Need to be in D.C. Next Month

Author: on March 15, 2017


The actions and rhetoric throughout the first weeks of the Trump Administration have placed immigration at the top of the national agenda. Beginning with the three Executive Orders the first week, followed by the chaos at the airports due to the Muslim/refugee ban, and the stark realization that Candidate Trump was now President Trump with the full power of the presidential office behind him, immigration lawyers saw a shift in their everyday lives.

What may have once been a calm and quiet discussion of next steps became a frantic, terrified preparation session “in case” the worst was to happen and a family was torn apart. Business attorneys faced harried calls from Human Resources staff trying to figure out which if any of the presidential orders affected their current or future employees and how to address any gaps.

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Reactions to the President’s Joint Address to Congress

Author: on March 1, 2017


Several members of AILA’s Executive Committee share their reactions to President Trump’s Joint Address to Congress on February 28, 2017:

“We agree that we have to restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders, and especially to the agencies responsible for enforcing that law. The record of disregard for basic rights by officials of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including warrantless searches and seizures of Americans, demonstrates the urgent need for oversight of enforcement at our borders by Congress and the courts.” Bill Stock

“We should not forget our Nation’s founding principles; we must remain a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable and lead by example, providing a viable and secure system for those seeking to flee persecution and violence.” Annaluisa Padilla

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Is ICE Making Us Safer or Less Secure?

Author: on February 16, 2017


What is the mission of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? Its website states:

ICE’s mission is to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety. This mission is executed through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes and focuses on smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and goods.

In the past week, ICE has aggressively ramped up its enforcement efforts, sending shockwaves across the nation, as many ponder just how far ICE will go to execute the practically limitless deportation priorities laid out in President Trump’s January 25 Executive Order. The order casts a net so massive that ICE could easily shatter the record of people deported under President Obama. Trump’s actions have instilled fear and anxiety across immigrant communities, and has even spawned scam artists posing as ICE agents and demanding that immigrants pay up to avoid deportation.

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Standing Firm Against Discrimination

Author: on February 1, 2017


The past 100+ hours have certainly been the most tumultuous we as immigration practitioners have seen in a long while. I could write another article or blog post about how many concerns we as lawyers have with the Executive Orders (EO) or how they were abruptly rolled out but that just keeps us stuck in the mud.

Rather, I was impressed by the response of immigration lawyers, corporations, schools, communities and the immigrants themselves.  The call to action was swift and resistance was organized. Once it went public with protests, restraining orders and airport assistance, the press and politicians took notice. Communities came together to support the families of those affected and corporations and schools spoke out in support of their employees and their employees’ families who were directly impacted by long holds, refusals to board airplanes, and outright bullying to give up their green cards.

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Running a Marathon Every Day

Author: on January 19, 2017


I journeyed to Dilley, Texas, in December to volunteer at the South Texas Family Residential Center, where up to 2,400 women and children seeking asylum in the United States are detained.   Each day, we arrived at the facility before 8am and stayed for more than 12 hours, and my heart was broken over and over again. It felt like we were running nonstop from dawn until midnight, step by step trying to help these vulnerable families.

As a legal volunteer at Dilley, I met with more than 50 women and their children and heard their stories of why they left their countries and fled to the U.S., so that I could prepare them for their credible fear interviews (CFI) in front of an Asylum Officer. Passing the CFI is the first step in a successful asylum case. Once the women and children detained at Dilley pass the CFI, they are generally released. Depending on how they entered the U.S., they could be forced to wear an ankle monitor or pay a bond ranging from $1,500 to more than $5,000.

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Change in Policy for Cuban Immigrants

Author: on January 18, 2017


I started working in the nonprofit sector in 2008, where I witnessed and helped a slow trickle develop into a healthy stream of Cubans on the West Coast needing representation. They refer to me as “la Chinita.” The Cubans, just like any other immigrant community, disseminate news amongst each other rapidly, both true and false. So, when President Obama announced the immediate elimination of the parole policy for Cubans, my phone and email inbox seemed to burst into flames with inquiries from concerned Cubans already in the United States awaiting their green cards, and from other attorneys that know of my large pool of Cuban clients.

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Why All the Worry Over Senator Sessions as Attorney General?

Author: on January 13, 2017


The veterans among us know all too well the vast power that the Attorney General of the United States (AG) has in immigration matters, but for those who are new to the practice of immigration law, or just interested members of the press or public, here is a primer on th read more


We Cannot Turn Away from Mesa Verde

Author: on December 21, 2016


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies force hundreds of asylum seekers into detention in the Central Valley, one of the most rural parts of California. In March 2015, ICE contracted with GEO Group, a private prison company, to re-open the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, California. Although ICE contracts with other jails throughout the state for bed space to house a limited number of immigrant detainees, Mesa Verde is a former prison that is now an immigrant-only detention center holding 400 individuals at any given time, the majority of them asylum-seekers. Mesa Verde is five hours away from the San Francisco immigration court, which has jurisdiction over all of the detainees’ cases. According to the San Francisco Immigration Court Administrator, the detained immigration court docket in San Francisco has nearly doubled since the opening of Mesa Verde.

Shortly after opening the detention center, ICE began transferring recently arrived asylum seekers there from the border. These asylum seekers are from countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America and speak dozens of languages, including Spanish, English, French, and Haitian Creole.

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Asylum Backlogs Wreak Havoc with Our Clients’ Lives, Part 2

Author: on December 14, 2016


(This is part two of a two part blog post; the first part can be found by following this link. Please note that all client names are pseudonyms)

As of October 31, 2016, there were more than 521,000 cases pending in our nation’s immigration courts – the most ever. By comparison, just 10 years ago, there were less than 169,000 cases pending; and five years ago, there were fewer than 300,000. Nationwide, Texas has the second most immigration cases with more than 93,000 total and 11,000 in Dallas. The immigration courts, which are part of the Department of Justice (DOJ), have hired some new immigration judges in 2016, bringing the total number nationwide to around 300. Dallas added one judge, upping the total number to six. But these appointments have been insufficient to address the backlog. On average, immigration judges have 1,500-1,800 pending cases. According to some studies, it would take each judge about 2.5 years to adjudicate all of the current cases in the system. But with more new cases being filed each month than being closed, the backlog continues to grow.

My client Ali came to the United States in early 2011 seeking asylum because government agents in Ethiopia repeatedly arrested and tortured him for his political activities and because he belongs to a minority ethnic group. During one period of detention, government agents whipped him with electric wire and threatened to inject him with HIV-infected blood. His case was referred to the immigration court in June 2012. His hearing was originally scheduled 2 years out from his initial court date, and then cancelled and reset to the spring of next year – more than 5 years after he originally applied for asylum. Meanwhile, back in Ethiopia, police continue to question his mother and brothers regarding his whereabouts. Although Ali appears stoic, a psychological evaluation recently revealed that these repeated delays have taken a significant emotional toll on him.

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